Is Indie Dead? :: Culture :: Features :: Paste

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Is Indie Dead? :: Culture :: Features :: Paste

In 2010, we again find ourselves in strange times. More than 20 years have passed since the punk movement and its offspring ground a steel-toed boot into the shin of America’s cultural consciousness, and in that time we’ve seen it rise up, triumph and retreat in an endless cycle, each time leaving shards of itself behind to float or sink in the mainstream. What we’ve called it has never been stable—it’s been known alternately as “punk” for its early attitude, “underground” for where it happened, “alternative” when the mainstream held it up as an antidote to its own poison—each of these picked up then sloughed off when the semantic baggage grew too unwieldy.

Most recently, “indie”—long thrown around as a signifier of how it got done (i.e. independently)—has become the nom du jour. “When I first heard the term ‘indie rock,’ it was about business practices,” says Slim Moon, who came of age as a punk fan in the 1980s, founded the Kill Rock Stars label in the ’90s, and now helms Shotclock Management out of Portland, Ore. “Major labels being publicly held corporations, their primary motive has to be to make money for stockholders. And the distinctions that I think indie labels were trying to make was, ‘We’re independent of that system so we have lots of reasons for doing this: We’re doing this for politics, we’re doing this for cool factor, we’re doing it for aesthetics, we’re doing it for community, but we’re not just doing it for money.’”

Of course, the term “indie” is troubled now, too. Indie is, at once, a genre (of music first, and then of film, books, video games and anything else with a perceived arty sensibility, regardless of its relationship to a corporation), an ethos, a business model, a demographic and a marketing tool. It can signify everything, and it can signify nothing. It stands among the most important, potentially sustainable and meaningful movements in American popular culture—not just music, but for the whole cultural landscape. But because it was originally sculpted more in terms of what it opposed than what it stood for, the only universally held truth about “indie” is that nobody agrees on what it means.



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