Indie rock

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Indie rock is a genre of rock music that originated in the United States and United Kingdom in the 1970s. Originally used to describe independent record labels, the term became associated with the music they produced and was initially used interchangeably with alternative rock or "guitar pop rock". [1] In the 1980s, the use of the term "indie" (or "indie pop") started to shift from its reference to recording companies to describe the style of music produced on punk and post-punk labels. [2] During the 1990s, grunge and punk revival bands in the US and Britpop bands in the UK broke into the mainstream, and the term "alternative" lost its original counter-cultural meaning. The term "indie rock" became associated with the bands and genres that remained dedicated to their independent status. [3] By the end of the 1990s, indie rock developed several subgenres and related styles, including lo-fi, noise pop, emo, slowcore, post-rock, and math rock. [3] In the 2000s, changes in the music industry and a growing importance of the Internet enabled a new wave of indie rock bands to achieve mainstream success, leading to questions about its meaningfulness as a term. [4]


In the early 2000s, a new group of bands that played a stripped-down, back-to-basics version of guitar rock emerged into the mainstream. The commercial breakthrough from these scenes was led by four bands: The Strokes, The White Stripes, The Hives and The Vines. Emo also broke into mainstream culture in the early 2000s. [5] By the end of the decade, the proliferation of indie bands was being referred to as "indie landfill". [6]


The term indie rock, which comes from "independent", describes the small and relatively low-budget labels on which it is released and the do-it-yourself attitude of the bands and artists involved. Although distribution deals are often struck with major corporate companies, these labels and the bands they host have attempted to retain their autonomy, leaving them free to explore sounds, emotions and subjects of limited appeal to large, mainstream audiences. [3] The influences and styles of the artists have been extremely diverse, including punk, psychedelia, post-punk and country. [2] The terms "alternative rock" and "indie rock" were used interchangeably in the 1980s, but after many alternative bands followed Nirvana into the mainstream in the early 1990s, "indie rock" began to be used to describe those bands, working in a variety of styles, that did not pursue or achieve commercial success. [3] Aesthetically speaking, indie rock is characterized as having a careful balance of pop accessibility with noise, experimentation with pop music formulae, sensitive lyrics masked by ironic posturing, a concern with "authenticity", and the depiction of a simple guy or girl. [7]

Allmusic identifies indie rock as including a number of "varying musical approaches [not] compatible with mainstream tastes". [8] Linked by an ethos more than a musical approach, the indie rock movement encompassed a wide range of styles, from hard-edged, grunge-influenced bands, through do-it-yourself experimental bands like Pavement, to punk-folk singers such as Ani DiFranco. [9] In fact, there is an everlasting list of genres and subgenres of indie rock. [10] Many countries have developed an extensive local indie scene, flourishing with bands with enough popularity to survive inside the respective country, but virtually unknown elsewhere. However, there are still indie bands that start off locally, but eventually attract an international audience. [11] [12]

Indie rock is noted for having a relatively high proportion of female artists compared with preceding rock genres, a tendency exemplified by the development of the feminist-informed Riot Grrrl music of acts like Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, 7 Year Bitch, Team Dresch and Huggy Bear. [13] However, Cortney Harding pointed out that this sense of equality is not reflected in the number of women running indie labels. [14]


Post-punk and indie pop

The Jesus and Mary Chain performing in California in 2007 Jesus and Mary Chain 2007.jpg
The Jesus and Mary Chain performing in California in 2007

The BBC documentary Music for Misfits: The Story of Indie [15] pinpoints the birth of indie as the 1977 self-publication of the Spiral Scratch EP by Manchester band Buzzcocks. Although Buzzcocks are often classified as a punk band, it has been argued by the BBC and others [16] that the publication of Spiral Scratch independently of a major label led to the coining of the name "indie" ("indie" being the shortened form of "independent").

"Indie pop" and "indie" were originally synonymous. [17] In the mid-1980s, "indie" began to be used to describe the music produced on post-punk labels rather than the labels themselves. [2] The indie rock scene in the US was prefigured by the college rock [18] that dominated college radio playlists, which included key bands like R.E.M. from the US and The Smiths from the UK. [19] These two bands rejected the dominant synthpop of the early 1980s, [20] [21] and helped inspire guitar-based jangle pop; other important bands in the genre included 10,000 Maniacs and the dB's from the US, and The Housemartins and The La's from the UK. In the United States, the term was particularly associated with the abrasive, distortion-heavy sounds of the Pixies, Hüsker Dü, Minutemen, Meat Puppets, Dinosaur Jr., and The Replacements. [19]

In the United Kingdom the C86 cassette, a 1986 NME compilation featuring Primal Scream, The Pastels, The Wedding Present and other bands, was a document of the UK indie scene at the start of 1986. It gave its name to the indie pop scene that followed, which was a major influence on the development of the British indie scene as a whole. [22] [23] Major precursors of indie pop included Postcard bands Josef K and Orange Juice, and significant labels included Creation, Subway and Glass. [17] The Jesus and Mary Chain's sound combined the Velvet Underground's "melancholy noise" with Beach Boys pop melodies and Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" production, [24] [25] [ example's importance? ] while New Order emerged from the demise of post-punk band Joy Division and experimented with techno and house music. [26] [ example's importance? ]

Noise rock and shoegazing

The most abrasive and discordant outgrowth of punk was noise rock, which emphasised loud distorted electric guitars and powerful drums, and was pioneered by bands including Sonic Youth, Big Black and Butthole Surfers. [27]

SWANS, an influential band from New York can easily, but mistakenly, be categorised as noise rock, but are more correctly identified as part of the No Wave scene which included Lydia Lunch, and James Chance & The Contortions. These bands were documented by Brian Eno on the seminal compilation album No New York. A number of prominent indie rock record labels were founded during the 1980s. These include Washington, D.C.'s Dischord Records in 1980, Seattle's Sub Pop Records in 1986 [28] and New York City's Matador Records and Durham, North Carolina's Merge Records in 1989. Chicago's Touch and Go Records was founded as a fanzine in 1979 and began to release records during the 1980s. [29]

The Jesus and Mary Chain, along with Dinosaur Jr, indie pop and the dream pop of Cocteau Twins, were the formative influences for the shoegazing movement of the late 1980s. Named for the band members' tendency to stare at their feet and guitar effects pedals onstage rather than interact with the audience, acts like My Bloody Valentine, and later Slowdive and Ride created a loud "wash of sound" that obscured vocals and melodies with long, droning riffs, distortion, and feedback. [30] The other major movement at the end of the 1980s was the drug-fuelled Madchester scene. Based around The Haçienda, a nightclub in Manchester owned by New Order and Factory Records, Madchester bands such as Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses mixed acid house dance rhythms, Northern soul and funk with melodic guitar pop. [31]

Development: 1990s

Alternative enters the mainstream

Pavement singer/guitarist Stephen Malkmus Stevemalkmus(by Scott Dudelson).jpg
Pavement singer/guitarist Stephen Malkmus

The 1990s brought major changes to the alternative rock scene. Grunge bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains broke into the mainstream, achieving commercial chart success and widespread exposure. [3] Punk revival bands like Green Day and The Offspring also became popular and were grouped under the "alternative" umbrella. [9] Similarly, in the United Kingdom Britpop saw bands like Blur and Oasis emerge into the mainstream, abandoning the regional, small-scale and political elements of the 1980s indie scene. [32] Bands like Hüsker Dü and Violent Femmes were just as prominent during this time period, yet they have remained iconoclastic, and are not the bands that are frequently cited as inspirations to the current generation of indie rockers. [33]

As a result of alternative rock bands moving into the mainstream, the term "alternative" lost its original counter-cultural meaning and began to refer to the new, commercially lighter form of music that was now achieving mainstream success. It has been argued that even the term "sellout" lost its meaning as grunge made it possible for a niche movement, no matter how radical, to be co-opted by the mainstream, cementing the formation of an individualist, fragmented culture. [34] This theory hypothesizes staying independent became a career choice for bands privy to industry functions rather than an ideal, as the principle of resistance to the market evaporated in favor of a more synergistic culture. [34]

The term "indie rock" became associated with the bands and genres that remained dedicated to their independent status. [3] Even grunge bands, following their break with success, began to create more independent sounding music, further blurring the lines. [34] Ryan Moore has argued that in the wake of the appropriation of alternative rock by the corporate music industry that what became known as indie rock increasingly turned to the past to produce forms of "retro" rock that drew on garage rock, surf rock, rockabilly, blues, country and swing. [35]

Indie electronic

Indie electronic covers rock-based artists who share an affinity for electronic music, using samplers, synthesizers, drum machines, and computer programs. [36] Less a style and more a categorization, it describes an early 1990s trend of acts who followed in the traditions of early electronic music (composers of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop), krautrock and synth-pop. [36] Progenitors of the genre were English bands Disco Inferno and Stereolab. [36] Most musicians in the genre can be found on independent labels like Warp, Morr Music, Sub Pop or Ghostly International. [36]


By the end of the 1990s, indie rock developed a number of subgenres and related styles. Following indie pop, these included lo-fi, noise pop, sadcore, post-rock, space rock and math rock. [3] Lo-fi eschewed polished recording techniques for a D.I.Y. ethos and was spearheaded by Beck, Sebadoh and Pavement, [9] who were joined by eclectic folk and rock acts of the Elephant 6 collective, including Neutral Milk Hotel, Elf Power and of Montreal. [37] The work of Talk Talk and Slint helped inspire post-rock (an experimental style influenced by jazz and electronic music, pioneered by Bark Psychosis and taken up by acts such as Tortoise, Stereolab, and Laika), [38] [39] as well as leading to more dense and complex, guitar-based math rock, developed by acts like Polvo and Chavez. [40]

Space rock looked back to progressive roots, with drone-heavy and minimalist acts like Spacemen 3 in the 1980s, Spectrum and Spiritualized, and later groups including Flying Saucer Attack, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Quickspace. [41] In contrast, sadcore emphasized pain and suffering through melodic use of acoustic and electronic instrumentation in the music of bands like American Music Club and Red House Painters, [42] while the revival of Baroque pop reacted against lo-fi and experimental music by placing an emphasis on melody and classical instrumentation, with artists like Arcade Fire, Belle and Sebastian and Rufus Wainwright. Weezer's Pinkerton (1996) introduced the Emo genre to a wider and more mainstream audience. [43]

Proliferation: 2000s

Signs of commercial interest

In the 2000s, the changing music industry, the decline in record sales, the growth of new digital technology and increased use of the Internet as a tool for music promotion, allowed a new wave of indie rock bands to achieve mainstream success. [4] Existing indie bands that were now able to enter the mainstream included more musically and emotionally complex bands [44] including Modest Mouse (whose 2004 album Good News for People Who Love Bad News reached the US top 40 and was nominated for a Grammy Award), Bright Eyes (who in 2004 had two singles at the top of the Billboard magazine Hot 100 Single Sales) [45] and Death Cab for Cutie (whose 2005 album Plans debuted at number four in the US, remaining on the Billboard charts for nearly one year and achieving platinum status and a Grammy nomination). [46] This new commercial breakthrough and the widespread use of the term indie to other forms of popular culture, led a number of commentators to suggest that indie rock had ceased to be a meaningful term. [47] [48]

Post-punk revival

Arctic Monkeys vocalist Alex Turner and bassist Nick O'Malley. Alex Turner and Nick O'Malley Roskilde 2014.jpg
Arctic Monkeys vocalist Alex Turner and bassist Nick O'Malley.

In the early 2000s, a new group of bands that played a stripped-down and back-to-basics version of guitar rock emerged into the mainstream, which some termed a post-punk revival, but because the bands came from across the globe, cited diverse influences (from traditional blues, through new wave to grunge), and adopted differing styles of dress, their unity as a genre has been disputed. [49]


During the 1990s a number of indie rock groups, such as Sunny Day Real Estate and Weezer, diversified the emo genre from its hardcore punk roots. A number of Midwestern emo groups started to form during the mid-late 1990s including The Promise Ring, The Get Up Kids, and American Football. Emo also broke into mainstream culture in the early 2000s, with the platinum-selling success of Jimmy Eat World's Bleed American (2001) and Dashboard Confessional's The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most (2001). [5] The new emo had a more refined sound than in the 1990s and a far greater appeal amongst adolescents than its earlier incarnations. [5] At the same time, use of the term "emo" expanded beyond the musical genre, becoming associated with fashion, a hairstyle and any music that expressed emotion. [50] During the mid-to-late 2000s, emo was played by multi-platinum acts such as Fall Out Boy, [51] My Chemical Romance, [52] Paramore, [51] and Panic! at the Disco, [53] Contrary to this Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance said the band is not emo at all.

"Landfill indie"

By the end of the 2000s the proliferation of indie bands was being referred to "landfill indie". [54] [55] , or "indie landfill", [6] a description coined by Andrew Harrison of The Word magazine. [56] Several bands achieved rapid but unsustained success, such as Joe Lean & The Jing Jang Jong and The Paddingtons.

The dominance of pop and other forms of music over guitar-based indie was leading to predictions of the end of indie rock. However, there continued to be commercial successes like Kasabian's West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum (2009), which reached number one in the UK. [57] In 2010, Canadian band Arcade Fire's album The Suburbs reached number one on the Billboard charts in the United States and the official chart in the United Kingdom, winning a Grammy for Album of The Year. [58]

See also

Related Research Articles

Rock music is a broad genre of popular music that originated as "rock and roll" in the United States in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and developed into a range of different styles in the mid-1960s and later, particularly in the United States and the United Kingdom. It has its roots in 1940s and 1950s rock and roll, a style which drew heavily from the genres of blues, rhythm and blues, and from country music. Rock music also drew strongly from a number of other genres such as electric blues and folk, and incorporated influences from jazz, classical and other musical styles. For instrumentation, rock has centered on the electric guitar, usually as part of a rock group with electric bass, drums, and one or more singers. Usually, rock is song-based music with a 4/4 time signature using a verse–chorus form, but the genre has become extremely diverse. Like pop music, lyrics often stress romantic love but also address a wide variety of other themes that are frequently social or political.

Grunge is an alternative rock genre and subculture that emerged during the mid-1980s in the American Pacific Northwest state of Washington, particularly in Seattle and nearby towns. The style became known as a hybrid of punk and metal. The early grunge movement revolved around Seattle's independent record label Sub Pop and the region's underground music scene. The owners of Sub Pop marketed the style shrewdly, encouraging the media to describe it as "grunge". By the early 1990s, its popularity had spread, with grunge bands appearing in California, then emerging in other parts of the United States and in Australia, building strong followings and signing major record deals.

Emo is a rock music genre characterized by an emphasis on emotional expression, sometimes through confessional lyrics. It emerged as a style of post-hardcore from the mid-1980s hardcore punk movement in Washington, D.C., where it was known as emotional hardcore or emocore and pioneered by bands such as Rites of Spring and Embrace. In the early–mid 1990s, emo was adopted and reinvented by alternative rock, indie rock and pop punk bands such as Sunny Day Real Estate, Jawbreaker, Weezer and Jimmy Eat World, with Weezer breaking into the mainstream during this time. By the mid-1990s, bands such as Braid, the Promise Ring and the Get Up Kids emerged from the burgeoning Midwest emo scene, and several independent record labels began to specialize in the genre. Meanwhile, screamo, a more aggressive style of emo using screamed vocals, also emerged, pioneered by the San Diego bands Heroin and Antioch Arrow. Screamo achieved mainstream success in the 2000s with bands like Hawthorne Heights, Silverstein, Story of the Year, Thursday, The Used, and Underoath.

Alternative rock is a category of rock music that emerged from the independent music underground of the 1970s and became widely popular in the 1990s. "Alternative" refers to the genre's distinction from mainstream or commercial rock or pop music. The term's original meaning was broader, referring to a generation of musicians unified by their collective debt to either the musical style or simply the independent, DIY ethos of punk rock, which in the late 1970s laid the groundwork for alternative music.

Pop-punk is a rock music genre that combines the textures and fast tempos of punk rock with the melodies and chord progressions of power pop. It is defined for its emphasis on traditional pop songcraft and adolescent themes, and is distinguished from other punk-variant genres by drawing more heavily from 1960s pop rock and the music of bands such as the Beatles, the Kinks, and the Beach Boys.

Alternative metal is a rock music fusion genre that infuses heavy metal with influences from alternative rock and other genres not normally associated with metal. Alternative metal bands are often characterized by heavily downtuned, mid-paced guitar riffs, a mixture of accessible melodic vocals and harsh vocals and sometimes unconventional sounds within other heavy metal styles. The term has been in use since the 1980s, although it came into prominence in the 1990s.

Popular music of the United Kingdom in the 1980s built on the post-punk and new wave movements, incorporating different sources of inspiration from subgenres and what is now classed as world music in the shape of Jamaican and Indian music. It also explored the consequences of new technology and social change in the electronic music of synthpop. In the early years of the decade, while subgenres like heavy metal music continued to develop separately, there was a considerable crossover between rock and more commercial popular music, with a large number of more "serious" bands, like The Police and UB40, enjoying considerable single chart success. The advent of MTV and cable video helped spur what has been seen as a Second British Invasion in the early years of the decade, with British bands enjoying more success in America than they had since the height of the Beatles' popularity in the 1960s. However, by the end of the decade a fragmentation has been observed, with many new forms of music and sub-cultures, including hip hop and house music, while the single charts were once again dominated by pop artists, now often associated with the Hi-NRG hit factory of Stock Aitken Waterman. The rise of the indie rock scene was partly a response to this, and marked a shift away from the major music labels and towards the importance of local scenes like Madchester and subgenres, like gothic rock.

Australian indie rock is part of the overall flow of Australian rock history but has a distinct history somewhat separate from mainstream rock in Australia, largely from the end of the punk rock era onwards.


Screamo is an aggressive subgenre of emo that emerged in the early 1990s, emphasizing "willfully experimental dissonance and dynamics." It was pioneered by San Diego bands Heroin and Antioch Arrow and developed in the late 1990s mainly by bands from the East Coast of the United States such as Orchid, Saetia, and Pg. 99. Screamo is strongly influenced by hardcore punk and characterized by the use of screamed vocals. Lyrical themes usually include emotional pain, death, romance, and human rights. In the 21st century, the term "screamo" has often mistakenly been used as an umbrella term for any music that features screamed vocals.

Post-hardcore is a punk rock music genre that maintains the aggression and intensity of hardcore punk but emphasizes a greater degree of creative expression initially inspired by post-punk and noise rock. Like post-punk, the term has been applied to a broad constellation of groups. Post-hardcore began in the 1980s with bands like Hüsker Dü and Minutemen. The genre expanded in the 1980s and 1990s with releases by bands from cities that had established hardcore scenes, such as Fugazi from Washington, D.C. as well as groups such as Big Black and Jawbox that stuck closer to post-hardcore's noise rock roots. In the 2000s, post-hardcore achieved mainstream success with the popularity of bands like My Chemical Romance, AFI, Underoath, Hawthorne Heights, The Used, At the Drive-In and Senses Fail. In the 2010s, post-hardcore bands like Sleeping with Sirens and Pierce the Veil achieved success and bands like Title Fight and La Dispute experienced underground popularity.

American rock

American rock has its roots in 1940s and 1950s rock and roll, rhythm and blues, and country music, and also drew on folk music, jazz, blues, and classical music. American rock music was further influenced by the British Invasion of the American pop charts from 1964 and resulted in the development of psychedelic rock.

British rock music

British rock describes a wide variety of forms of music made in the United Kingdom. Since around 1964, with the "British Invasion" of the United States spearheaded by the Beatles, British rock music has had a considerable impact on the development of American music and rock music across the world.

Modern rock is rock music that followed the 1970s punk rock scene made between the mid 1970s to present day. Some radio stations use this term to distinguish themselves from classic rock, which is based in 1960s–1980s rock music.

Post-grunge is a rock music subgenre that emerged in the 1990s. Originally, the term was used almost pejoratively to label bands such as Bush, Candlebox and Collective Soul that emulated the original sound of grunge.

Popular music of the United Kingdom in the 1990s continued to develop and diversify. While the singles charts were dominated by boy bands and girl groups, British soul and Indian-based music also enjoyed their greatest level of mainstream success to date, and the rise of World music helped revitalise the popularity of folk music. Electronic rock bands like The Prodigy and Chemical Brothers began to achieve a high profile. Alternative rock reached the mainstream, emerging from the Madchester scene to produce dream pop, shoegazing, post rock and indie pop, which led to the commercial success of Britpop bands like Blur and Oasis; followed by a stream of post-Britpop bands like Travis and Feeder.

Post-punk revival, also known as garage rock revival, new wave revival, and new rock revolution is a genre of indie rock that developed in the late 1990s and early 2000s, inspired by the original sounds and aesthetics of garage rock of the 1960s and new wave and post-punk of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Bands that broke through to the mainstream from local scenes across the world in the early 2000s included the Strokes, the Libertines, the Killers, Franz Ferdinand, the White Stripes, the Kooks, Interpol, the Vines, the Hives, Bloc Party, Arctic Monkeys, the Cribs and Kaiser Chiefs who were followed to commercial success by many established and new acts. By the end of the decade, most of the bands had broken up, moved on to other projects or were on hiatus, although some bands returned to recording and touring in the 2010s.

An independent music scene is a localized independent music-oriented community of bands and their audiences. Local scenes can play a key role in musical history and lead to the development of influential genres; for example, No Wave from New York City, Madchester from Manchester, and Grunge from Seattle.

Emo pop is a fusion genre combining together emo and pop punk. Emo pop features a music style with more concise songs and hook-filled choruses. Emo pop began in the 1990s with bands like Jimmy Eat World, the Get Up Kids, Weezer and the Promise Ring. The genre became mainstream in the early 2000s with Jimmy Eat World's album Bleed American, including the album's song "The Middle". In the 2000s, other emo pop bands that were mainstream included Fall Out Boy, the All-American Rejects, My Chemical Romance, Panic! at the Disco and Paramore. The popularity of emo pop declined in the 2010s, with some prominent artists in the genre either disbanding or abandoning the emo pop style.


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