In October 2009, Sasha Frere Jones, a music critic for the New Yorker, wrote a notorious article about how “hip hop is dead.” He chose the wrong target, he should have written about indie rock. Why? Because indie rock is dead.
I think Pete Wylie had it right when he coined the phrase “rockism.” Rockism is an ideology of popular music critics and it essentially treats rock music as the normative standard across the board. It’s not rockist to only enjoy rock music, rockists may listen to other genres such as soul, r&b, pop. However, it’s the tendency to always frame conversations about these genres in a rock context. I can’t tell you how many countless debates I’ve had about music and what’s truly groundbreaking and it all boils down to some indie rock act.
My question is, who cares? There’s not much interesting happening in the world of indie rock right now. I would bargain that there’s not much of a difference between indie rock and “mainstream” rock, the lines have become completely blurred. So why are we so fascinated with what indie rock has to offer?
Indie rock has become splintered into so many different genres and sects of music; however, the bands that critics always applaud fit the same stereotypes. I almost wonder if these music critics keep a secret checklist of band stereotypes to allude to when writing for such occasions. The bands that receive the most attention from music critics have simply recycled the same washed up material over and over- it’s like watching tie dye shirts get made.
Let me describe your typical indie rock “band of the moment.” This band is called the Blokes and they sound like a dry mix of the Arctic Monkeys and the Strokes (even though the music they play really takes all its cues from late 70’s, early 80s post punk). The lead singer of the band worked at a coffee shop and discovered music while singing crappy obscure songs in his bum college town. He’s white; he wears Chuck Taylors, tight jeans and horn-rimmed glasses. The guitarist worked at a small mom and pop record store where he learned about “superior” indie bands such as Pavement and Q and Not U. He is also white, plays a Fender Jazzmaster and wears Chuck Taylors. He used to idolize the Mars Volta, but Pitchfork Media bashed them so he doesn’t care for the band anymore. Nobody cares about the bassist and drummer, unless it’s chicks.
As we slowly come around full circle, I really want to know, why are we still talking about this so called phenomenon called indie rock through such rockist lenses? I can understand how artists like Flying Lotus or Animal Collective receive praise due to their contributions within the electronic realm. Progressive metal bands like Mastodon and Boris are fascinating and continue to intrigue audiences worldwide. I remember when Battles released their album Mirrored in 2007; I was blown away by how unique it sounded. Even an old indie dinosaur like Beck is an exceptional artist. He continues to break new ground and bend genre after genre on each new album, but nobody writes about him as if he’s the next David Bowie.
Indie music fans and critics have a tendency to worship these old rock legends; we sneer at the pop stars and canonize the underground band of the moment. We applaud bands that utilize the same rehashed riffs, but display scorn at mainstream figures that attempt to blend into a similar mold. Stop acting as if indie rock will last forever, anything can be blown away with the winds of change. The lifespan of the average bubblegum pop album is about the same as the lifespan of the next big indie hype. Indie rock is dead, pay your respects and move on.