Indie. The incredibly versatile, interchangeable word that gets tossed around way too often. To be fair, Indie was once a word that described independent music, as in musicproduced independently from a major record label, often referring to a more DIY approach to an artist’s sound recording and brand development. Being independent also meant that these bands were not confined to a particular style or genre as dictated by a label head. Without a label’s input, they did not feel the need to sound like what was popular at the moment, whether it was Rock or Pop or anything that was getting major radio play. This gave them the leeway and freedom to become more experimental within the genre, thus leading to Indie being referred to as a sub-category of music in and of itself.
Indie rock is a genre of alternative rock that originated in the United Kingdom in the 1980s. Indie rock was extremely diverse, with subgenres that include indie pop,jangle pop, and lo-fi, among others. Originally used to describe record labels, the term became associated with the music they produced and was initially used interchangeably with alternative rock.
Eventually, Indie became somewhat synonymous with modern and new wave music. Anything that sounded mildly more ‘exploratory’ was branded as Indie. However, it also had a connotation to bands with an underground, non-mainstream appeal free of corporate ties. With the advent of sites such as Myspace taking over the music world in the early 2000’s, indie rock acts began to grow a sizeable following and get signed to major record labels, leading them to reach commercial success. So if the music is no longer independent, no longer ‘underground’, then what does Indie really mean? The term lost its sense when the shaky nuances were blurred by mainstream success and constant reappropriation, leaving us all with abstract definitions of what it meant. The term was no longer associated to Rock or Pop, but was also taking off with EDM genres, and tossed around in the skyrocketing popularity of digital music.
Indie this, Indie that, what is Indie? No one knew, but it sounded good.
The constant metamorphosis of the word and multiple connotations calls for a re-thinking of what it means to brand something as Indie. Considering that bands don’t get born into a record deal, aren’t all bands at some point in their career, Indie? Furthermore, with the constant innovation of music due to advancements in hardware, software and creative minds pushing the limits of their instruments, doesn’t the majority of new music sound different and experimental? Maybe the real definition of Indie refers to the moment where musicians were no longer expected to fit within the familiar structure of traditional genres. In other words, Indie is the experimental pursuit of innovation in sound within established genres, synonymous with defying conventional stylistic norms. The definition is as large as the people who toss it around permits it to, giving a general idea of its broad understanding. Maybe one day we will have a universal definition of the word, but for now it is as diverse as the genres who exhibit it. Understood in a way that is fittingly abstract, it evolves alongside the ever-changing face of the music industry.