The Null Device
The Guardian's (and Smoke's) Jude Rogers looks at how the meaning of the word "indie" has changed, and attempts to reclaim it:
Indie used to be such a simple term in the Eighties - a byword for an attitude, a subculture and a territory of music that was quietly, stubbornly, alternative. In the UK it meant anti-commercialism wearing a cardigan and glasses; a protest against the mainstream sporting twee hairslides. But now it has come to mean something entirely different. A few weeks ago, Big Brother contestant Emily Parr proclaimed, hilariously: 'There's a new music taking over this country and it's called indie.' Mario Testino shoots 'indie fashion' for Vogue and multi-platinum-selling guitar groups such as the Kooks, Razorlight and Snow Patrol are 'indie bands'. Indie is now a byword for something very different: for commercial savvy and success disguised as contemporary cool. It is no longer independent of anything: indie has become the mainstream.Rogers' first stop is, appropriately enough, a gig by Art Brut, who combine the shambolicism of "old indie" with the style and marketable coolness of "new indie".
Outside, a group of teenagers in velvet jackets are handing out flyers. They positively ooze indie. 'We're independent, not indie,' says Cyan, 16, with a studied world-weariness. 'We would've been, but indie means the Libertines and the View these days. We're more DIY.' He's in a band called I Am the Arm with his friend Aimee, and they both like Art Brut because the band doesn't subscribe to any notions of 'cool'. 'Indie's not difficult or energetic at all any more. It's just music for the mainstream. It's music for poseurs.'
That said, her friend Ben, 21, says, 'Indie is something to make you look better next to the chavs.' And Emma, 23, and Jo, 26, two very well-spoken, pleasant girls with thick fringes, like the term because 'being indie made you cooler at school, because you were wearing the right kind of clothes'. They agree this isn't the kind of indie that ruled back in the Eighties, but a modern, fashionable strand. And how would they define indie now? 'Cool guitar bands,' they say, before running down the stairs to hear Art Brut arrive in a flourish of feedback.
I catch a bus to the Young and Lost Club in Shoreditch, east London. I come here to investigate a related complaint about contemporary indie: that it has gone posh as well as cool; that the music of the underdog has been taken over by the rich kids, including ubiquitous gossip-column staple Peaches Geldof. Pop critic Simon Price recently complained about indie gigs being full of 'horsey young fillies canoodling with flush-faced bucks, fresh out of public school', deeming the indie gig the new 'social club for dressed-down debutantes to see and be seen'.However, there is hope; while the word "indie" essentially means "music that was considered "white" 10 years ago", and encompasses everything from Judas Priest to Coldplay (the other variety of music is "hip-hop", which includes reggae, funk and R&B—though not Rhythm and Blues, as that's "indie"), the term "indie-pop", lacking the sort of cocky stadium-filling swagger that brings the sponsors and advertisers onside, is still cherished by legions of purists and not of interest to trendy poseurs; which means that, by the new definition, they're not very "indie":
A large part of tonight's crowd come from the indie messageboard Bowlie, an international web community that grew out of the Belle and Sebastian and Jeepster label websites. Regular member Emma, 24, laughs as she tells me what a bouncer said to her recently: 'He said, "You're the most uncool crowd I've ever seen. You're like a disco for the computer club."' The messageboard's founder, David Kitchen, agrees. 'Indie initially was never about coolness. It was about the people that Pulp summed up so well - a little bit ugly, a little bit kooky, a bit fucked-up. It's for people who want to do things for themselves, and share things together, without fear of recrimination.'
HDIF founder Ian Watson is especially delighted that this culture is booming. Thanks to the internet, and a renewed enthusiasm for stuff away from the flimflam of popular music, he thinks we're now living in a golden age for DIY music. He mentions a new indie-pop festival, Indie Tracks, to be held in a station in Derbyshire this month, and how he keeps hearing about people setting up their own clubs, bands and labels.And here, rock critic Kitty Empire writes about the history of "indie" and how it won the world and lost its soul.