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A Manifestation of Indie Rock

[The Walkmen is a classic example of an indie rock band, as made obvious through the definition this paper gives in terms of the genre as a whole. Indie rock’s young age and relative popularity among college students entice audiences into sticking with the genre and waiting excitedly for what is to come. The genre itself is examined on several levels in the following document, which includes a brief history as well as the names of other indie rock artists, to name a few prevalent topics.]

“Indie rock takes its name from ‘independent,’ which describes both the do-it-yourself attitudes of its bands and the small, lower-budget nature of the labels that release the music. The biggest indie labels might strike distribution deals with major corporate labels, but their decision-making processes remain autonomous,? according to www.allmusic.com. Indie rock can be dissected through various approaches, but the history, biography, performance, and cultural aspects prove to be the most well-equipped to define and sum up the genre as a whole.

In terms of history, indie rock commenced in the 1980s and continued to develop through the 1990s and 2000s. The genre is “very much rooted in the sound and sensibility of American underground and alternative rock of the ‘80s, albeit with a few differences that account for the changes in underground rock since then? (www.allmusic.com). Though very popular in the United States and the United Kingdom in comparison to other countries, Ireland and other European lands are known for producing many great indie rock groups. More and more bands have emerged in the past decade, such as Bloc Party, LCD Soundsystem, and Tapes ‘n Tapes, but most are greatly influenced by bands of the past two decades (Sellers 193). Many such groups have gained fans and recognition by sharing their music through college radio stations and performing at universities, which provides students of all backgrounds and interests with an opportunity to discover different music. This genre habitually exhibits songs that replicate the artists’ personal experiences and shy away, for the most part, from any connection to societal happenings. For example, in Nada Surf’s song “Always Love,? the singer reflects on his life lessons, as is popular for most: “To make a mountain out of life is just a choice / But I never learned enough to listen to the voice that told me / Always love / Hate will get you every time? (www.letssingit.com).

There are many distinguished indie rock bands, but a few of the most important to note are Pixies, Sonic Youth, and The Smiths due to their role as some of the first indie bands to gain success in the 1980s (www.nationmaster.com). These bands have excelled among other indie rock bands for great stretches of time, with Sonic Youth still continuing today since their debut in 1981 (www.nationmaster.com). The fact that these bands were among the first in indie rock has provided many later-formed bands with a heavy influence. The above performers have pursued their musical dreams and encouraged others to experiment with new sounds and to grow with the music. The newer bands have then developed their own style and, in turn, influenced still others in style and technique.

Generally, indie rock bands employ guitar, bass, drums, keyboard, and vocals in the majority of their songs and performances. Performance practices are fairly traditional in the sense of stage set-up, venue, and core instruments, but such traditions are not passed from band to band through notated texts, but rather through experience and preference. For the most part, the only lights are pointed onstage toward the performers, who are either a few feet in front of the audience on the floor or above the audience on a platform stage. Most venues played by indie rock artists are small-scale, though not necessarily. It is traditional for the bands to tweak or improvise the rhythm or pace of their songs, as well as add instrumental solos in the heat of the moment of performance. The skill of the performers is displayed through instrumental solos or verbal recognition from the lead singer. If the performance is relatively low key, bands will prepare for a show by checking out the venue and doing a sound check hours before the show, if anything at all. In larger shows, the band is much more likely to rehearse onstage prior to show time. To prepare, bands practice their songs for months before the set date, though it is not uncommon for an artist to present a song that has not yet been perfected, to the delight of the crowd.

The cultural aspects of indie rock are somewhat predictable. Considering its birth in the United States and the United Kingdom, the majority of indie rockers are middle-class and Caucasian, though the spectrum is vast. It is not rare to see persons of color or foreign descent performing on stage, but it is not necessarily frequent. Not only are most indie rock bands comprised of white people with a knack for music, but the greater part of these bands are dominated by male members. It is a bit atypical to stumble across a strictly female indie rock group, however not hard to do. There are many female indie rock groups who have gained overall success, including A Fine Frenzy, All Girl Summer Fun Band, and Tegan and Sara (www.myspace.com). For the most part, indie rock bands generally include one female among males, if any females at all. Based on my observations, the overall sexual orientation among males seems to be mainly heterosexual, as with females, but the percentage of homosexuals or bisexuals appears to be higher among female indie rockers than male, however, there are no reliable, available sources with this information on the internet. According to my concert experiences and knowledge gained through the exploration of numerous bands throughout the years, the typical age ranges from mid-teens to mid-forties, depending on how long the bands have been playing. Obviously such ages are extremes, but the average age seems to fall in the twenties.

My perceived demographic of indie rock audiences vaguely mirrors that of indie rock performers, but the audience tends to produce a broader range of each characteristic. For example, many indie rock listeners are barely teenagers while indie rock performers are somewhat older and more experienced. The sex of the audience is rather evenly distributed between male and female, and sexual orientation is generally heterosexual. The majority of audience members are Caucasian, as with the performers, which is predictable given the societal statistics as well as the style and messages embedded in the songs. The blending of these characteristics fuses the lifestyles of the performers with those of the spectators. The performers, who are on stage entertaining others in order to make a living, merge with the audience, who are spending their hard-earned dollars and free time in exchange for a couple hours of amusement. When the music is being played, both parties from different ends of the situation come together to create a feeling of leisure and togetherness, but the people who induce such a feeling are part of a subculture in which unpopularity is embraced. The genre is not supported by mainstream societal norms due to its inclusion of songs with titles and lyrics regarding topics and ideas that are not readily accepted by society as a whole.

It is a curious situation that primarily middle-class, heterosexual, white males formulate a subculture within a society comprised mostly of this demographic. The indie rock subculture rebels against societal norms that happen to give this characterized group the most power out of any other group, which is a surprising idea. I believe that this demographic is defiant of society because society puts pressure on people with these characteristics to be successful and to look and act a certain way, while these people do not want to fit into a mold and live up to such expectations. All crowds have outcasts and rebels, but what makes the indie rock crowd stand out is the fact that the people in this group are the people with the most collective power.

The band I saw, The Walkmen, fits snugly into the indie rock category in all facets mentioned. They consist of all straight, white males between the ages of 25 and 35 who reside in New York (www.myspace.com). The group writes songs pertaining to everyday feelings as well as unusual and personal thoughts and experiences. Formed in the ‘90s, The Walkmen have been influenced by artists before them and have produced a unique sound all their own.

Indie rock has been my genre of choice for quite a while and I believe it will continue to intrigue me and fulfill my musical cravings for years to come. It can be described and understood in many manners, such as history, biography, performance, and cultural aspects, but words seem ill-fitted to fully illustrate the impact it has on an indie rock enthusiast. John Sellers believes that “it is simply wrong to love music halfway,? and I completely agree (182).

Works Cited

“A Fine Frenzy.? Myspace. 11 Nov. 2008 fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=3601090>.
allmusic. Macrovision Corporation. 22 Oct. 2008 amg&sql=77:2687>.
“All Girl Summer Fun Band.? Myspace. 11 Nov. 2008 index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=34757965>.
“Indie Rock.? NationMaster. 23 Oct. 2008 encyclopedia/Indie-rock>.
LetsSingIt. 23 Oct. 2008 m9f9jgg>.
Sellers, John. Perfect From Now On: How Indie Rock Saved My Life. New York: Simon &
Schuster, 2007.
“Sonic Youth.? NationMaster. 23 Oct. 2008 encyclopedia/Sonic-Youth>.
“Tegan and Sara.? Myspace. 11 Nov. 2008 fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=2096711>.
“The Walkmen.? Myspace. 11 Nov. 2008 < http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?
fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=4143976>.