How Indie Rock Reshaped the Music World


Bryce Alan Coffey

Although indie rock has gone through a lot, it has stood the test of time when it comes to popularity. Here, we’ll delve into how it has changed music forever.

Hope for Rock Enthusiasts

Figure 1: Dark concert halls were a common place for indie rock gigs to take place. Debauchery was often synonymous with alternative music styles like indie rock.

With R&B & rap dominating the music scene globally, you may have wondered if rock will conquer the music charts again? For many like myself, this question leaves us wondering if it’s worth picking up a guitar or playing the drums again since the music scene is filled with fewer instruments.

After all, you probably picked up an instrument in the first place to become famous one day, right? Rock brought about that possibility. Thankfully, some genres of rock have continued to be popular. Today, I’d like to talk about how indie rock reshaped the music world forever in ways that may surprise you.

Origin Inspires Many To Join From Countless Areas
Even though it isn’t easy to pinpoint exactly, indie rock’s roots can be traced back to Manchester UK band Buzzcocks. Essentially, indie piggybacked off the 70s & 80s success that punk & post-punk created.

Figure 2: Buzzcocks were a British band that is often credited as being the first to not only sign to their own record label but also to be considered an indie rock band.

As indie rock & pop grew in fame, many bands joined record labels; moreover, the term shifted to describing a band’s music style instead of their label status.

It didn’t take long for indie to develop & spread in the USA. It took on its own form originally in college towns like Athens, Georgia & cities like NYC. These origins were one reason for its huge influence on the music world.

The rise of indie proved to the music world that a movement doesn’t need wealthy sponsors nor large cities like Memphis to start.

A music genre can begin in multiple places far away from each other like Manchester, England & Athens, Georgia. The University of Georgia was a breeding ground for many bands to form like REM. Much of the indie movement took place in Athens. Television also made it possible for indie to set its roots in two separate countries.

An Ideology That Embraces The “Can-Do” Spirit
On both sides of the Atlantic, the setup & culture stayed the same, even though the musical styles were slightly different. Nevertheless, there was a spirit that united everyone in both countries. That spirit revolved around rebellion, independence, & freedom. It was more than just a movement that went against social norms at that time, though.

Concerts were impromptu, & people embraced the DIY (do it yourself) attitude that formed the essence of indie.

Even the term itself conveyed the mindset that inspired this music scene in the first place as “indie” is short for independent. Initially, people labeled any musician or band “indie” if they stayed independent from any big record label companies like Sony.

Thus, the term “indie” wasn’t confined to rock bands. For this article, we will be exclusively discussing the rock aspect of the “indie” movement & its influence.

Music Breaking Social Barriers & Norms
Indie wasn’t just about music. Most individuals saw concerts as an escape from the stresses of daily life.

Since social media wasn’t invented yet, flyers were pinned to telephone poles & numerous posters coated every area where a concert & fans can come together as one community. These were successful in attracting people throughout with little to no cost.

Indie fans & artists were resourceful in looking for secretive rooms, alleys, or halls to meet up for events. It was commonly the case to see guitarists play ragged riffs while drummers would play solos that made John Bonham sound like a rookie. Songs would have a cynical tone to their politically charged lyrics.

Although one would think that the spotlight and attention would be something many artists would want, it went against its anarchic nature. Instead, a lack of mainstream spotlight appealed to many throughout much of the 70s, 80s, & 90s.

Unlike most popular music styles, indie songs were structured & cleaned, as was the case in surf music. Radios, especially at the beginning, refused to play many indie rock songs throughout the daytime; therefore, you would only hear it if you tuned into MTV.

Figure 3: MTV was the place to be if you were a Gen X artist or fan. Here, you could see music videos from 1979 onwards. Indie rock artists leveraged this platform.

Another interesting nuance to point out about indie is its participatory approach. With a lack of barriers - figuratively & literally speaking - between the musicians and their fans, this music style made it possible for anyone to form a band and become successful fast.

Even though it owes much of its early success to its punk counterparts that introduced the whole “underground” scene to mainstream music, it was indie that took it to the next level.

Figure 4: The indie and punk scene's underground nature was a one of a kind type of experience for many. Besides the music, this is what appealed to an entire generation.

Years later, the media that initially rejected indie rock saw how successful it had become as Gen X was becoming an increasingly important radio demographic.

Thanks to its popularity, radios started to play this music and other songs with profanities (something unheard of thirty years prior).

Figure 5: From the grunge capital of the world, a.k.a. Seattle, 90.3 FM, was one of the first public radio stations to embrace alternative music. It specializes in airing indie rock that ranges from The Pixies to Death Cab for Cutie.

Along with that, the fashion intertwined with indie & other related genres began to be commercialized to the general public.

Movies, shows, & music-related websites started to discuss this movement & countless others in greater detail via forums. Stores like Hot Topic & Zumiez promoted fashions that owed their success to the indie movement.

Inspiring Other Genres
As hinted in the last paragraph, indie wasn’t the only movement that promoted this sense of rebellion against society; it was a catalyst.

Sure, punk & college rock preceded indie. However, they never brought together an alternative lifestyle with a sense that a “nobody” can become “somebody” in one performance.

Unlike most genres of rock, indie was loosely defined. Its music styles ranged from amplified depressive noises and distortions to a rush of percussive instruments.

Figure 6: Much of the indie scene revolved around bands with a drummer that would play endless solos. Sticks would be thrown to the audience. Indie rock was one of the first genres to popularize destroying instruments on-stage.

In the decades to follow, indie began to break off into smaller genres such as noise rock. Bands like Sonic Youth took indie from the underground scene to Hollywood. Nevertheless, all these smaller categories continued to be umbrellaed under indie rock.

Figure 7: Sonic Youth was one of the earlier American indie rock bands out there. They started in New York but went global in a matter of months after their formation.

Indie not only formed friendships that spanned decades. It made it socially acceptable to have skinny jeans long before skaters wore them at hangout places.

Figure 8: Skinny jeans were a fashion staple that represented much of the indie movement. Here, Cage The Elephant’s lead singer can be seen here wearing them.

Not only did it create a sense of realism that vibed with many across the world, but it also brought about a whole new ethic in the world of music, as rappers & hip hop artists also took this idea into their ethos. None of this would have happened if indie rock hadn’t existed in the first place.

To Summarize
Indie rock’s founding premise was what allowed its traits to cross into other music genres over generations. However, none of its legacies could topple the fact that anyone could play music & experiment with riffs & sound effects.

Figure 9: Most likely thanks to indie & other underground movements, a recording-breaking number of amateur musicians took to the stage & became a success.

All that was required was that you:
• Had the guts to get in front of an audience
• Had no shame in your appearance

No matter what your background, indie rock showed us that we all have the power to make a success out of our music.
Posted in News Features By

Bryce Alan Coffey


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