Defining the Essence of Indie

Maybe you’re like me. Whenever I say I’m an Indie music fan, or I announce my favorite bands include Mates of State, The Great Lake Swimmers, and Freelance Whales, I am usually met with a confused expression. I have even met the occasional inculto who denounces Indie music as boring, low-fi dribble that is hardly listenable. Maybe Indie is an acquired taste, or maybe, most people just haven’t been properly educated beyond the Nick and Norah’s Playlists of Hollywood or the occasional television commercial:

Or maybe, most people have been brainwashed by the catchiness of the otherwise monotonous melodies and lyrical dribble of the so-called “radio playable” mainstream.

Of course, Indie-lovers will disagree with the mainstream mumbo jumbo that Indie is just low-fi boredom. But the problem of Indie may be even more complex for us aficionados. After all, ask 100 Indie fans what Indie is, and you’ll get 100 answers. Heck, ask one Indie fan what Indie and you’ll get 100 answers, or 100 bands, whichever comes first. Either way, none of the above helps anyone answer the question: How does one know if one is listening to Indie.

Strictly speaking, Indie music is music developed and produced by Independent artists (those either unsigned or represented by an Independent label). This definition presents a further problem: What if an Indie band is signed by a non-independent record label. Does said band thus forfeit its right to be Indie?

Of course, that’s ludicrous. So the only other answer is that there must be an Indie-ness to Indie Music—an essence that qualifies it as Indie. After all, Indie is neither Alternative Rock nor Bubble Gum Pop, but yet there is Indie Rock and Indie Pop.

Clearly, there is a need to conceptualize “Indie”. And, of course, it has to be more than whether the music was featured on the Juno Soundtrack or whether the band’s name looks like it was derived from random Wikipedia pages (i.e. Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, Ha Ha Tonka, and Architecture in Helsinki).

The heart of Indie may be in its rejection of the mainstream mundane, and though this has led to numerous permutations of what could be considered Indie, in this wake of musical revolution, some hallmarks of Indie may be notable, including its vocal variety, fusion of musical styles, instrumental innovation, and lyrical superiority to mainstream radio-playability.

Over the next several weeks, I’ll be devoting this blog space to building a case for what constitutes Indie-ness, complete with legally FREE DOWNLOADS, which is also a hallmark of Indie. Stay tuned.

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Take up the Indie cause – It’s for the children!

We the Indie Music fans of the world have a duty.  The world we’re leaving for our children is in terrible peril! While the media has pumped us full of Save he Whales, Save the O-Zone, and Save the world from the likes of John and Kate, there is a much more threatening evil on our doorstep.

Yes Indie Citizens…I’m talking about carbon copy, teeny-bop, pop.

I’m talking about the Jonas Brothers. I’m talking about Hannah Montana…or Miley Cyrus…or Hannah Montana…oh whatever. I’m talking about The Cheetah Girls! Yes. It’s horrible. And it’s threatening to lead our children down the path of musical starvation, turning them into Star whatever point whatever and KIIS FM  zombies who won’t know the difference between a good song and a radio jingle!

In the same way that my father saved me from Debbie Gibson, Maddonna, Tiffany, Milli Vanilli, and Vanilla Ice with the Beatles…I believe we should all fight the mainstream music maleficence take and introduce our kids to good music. Music that doesn’t feature just 3 power chords. Music that doesn’t feature “jaded” in the lyrics . Yes, music that doesn’t suck.

Let me help get you started. Here are some songs that have gone over like the Berlin Wall on my kids:

  • Mates of State – My Only Offer. My kids love this song. EVERY one of them, ranging from 8 years old to 4, even the 6 month old likes it.
  • Architecture in Helsinki: That Beep: This song has been so requested at our house that I’ve almost had to hide the CD.
  • Of Montreal: Brush, Brush, Brush. Ok, I don’t care that this song is off the soundtrack for the weirdest kids show on TV. Yo Gabba Gabba has the Teletubbies and Poobah beat for psychotic mental trip, and truth be told, I really can’t stomache the show, but this song is cool. And Of Montreal is one of the indie-est Indie bands on the planet.
  • They Might Be Giants. (see video below). You can pick just about anything from John and John. Their music is fun and wacky, and they even do kid music. I’ve actually been listening to their kid stuff for years with my kids, and let me tell you: they sure beat Raffi! In fact, you don’t even have to buy a CD to get your kids started. Go right over to Itunes and subscribe to the Friday Night Family Podcast (or click here to watch it in “syndicate”). Other great TMBG hits your kids will love: “Experimental Film,” “The Mesopotamians,” “Man It’s So Loud in Here,” and even the classic “Birdhouse in Your Soul”. Below is a ditty from their new Kiddie Album.
  • Dan Zane and Friends – Hello. Ok, this guy really IS a kiddie musician, but this song was featured in a recent Coke Ad, and it’s very cool. (sorry, no download link).
  • Dogs Die in Hot Cars – Godhopping. Just a cool song all around. Fast paced, and it talks about children in poor countries…so bonus points for teaching kids social responsibility.
  • 8 1/2 Souvenirs – Happy Feet. This is a great swing outfit. Their stuff is…well…happy.
  • Forro in the Dark – Asa Branca (Featuring David Byrne). Brillian brazilian beats. Used to be a legit free download on music.download.com, I’m sure it still is somewhere.
  • Guster – Amsterdam. Pretty much anything of this album (Let’s Keep it Together), is great. In fact, I think this album is one of the best (if not THE best) indie albums of all time. Yes. I just said that.
  • Oingo Boingo – We Close Our Eyes. Come on, it’s Halloween. I had to include something from Boingo.

Indie Spotlight: Architecture in Helsinki

Question: What do you get when you mix high school ska/alternative with refined indie?

Answer: Architecture in Helsinki

I have been a fan of this oddly-named band for a few years now, and have only heard them outside of my own music collection once, on a local college station. But they’ve got some dark-horse indie classics, even if they are relatively under-known.

The only thing I have against AIH is that they’re the kind of band that can be REALLY good when they’re good, but REALLY strange when they’re strange (and when I mean strange, I mean barely listenable). But they’re worth a listen.

Indie-Ana Smith Picks: Maybe I can Owe you, No need to shout, Hold Music