The indie-rock hierarchy

Let me return to my comments about musical condescension and musicitas. A friend who read my post directed me to Pitchfork’s official review of Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah. It was a predictable read that says less about the music than about the indie-rock climate the record is being reviewed in.

“There’s something really refreshing about stumbling across a great band that’s trembling on the cusp without any sort of press campaign or other built-in mythology– you actually get to hear the music with your own ears,” the review says.

So it’s not about the band’s music as much as it is about the band’s status. They are still relatively new, they are not that easy to come by and they haven’t signed with Sub Pop Records (The Shins, Postal Service and now Sleater-Kinney) yet. Yes, Clap Your Hands might make good music, but it doesn’t seem to matter. The review goes on:

“While a lot of bands view the promotional apparatus as a necessary evil, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah prove that it’s still possible for a band to get heard, given enough talent and perseverance, without a PR agency or a label. Indie rock has received a much-needed kick in the pants, and we have the rare chance to decide what a band sounds like of our own accord before any agency cooks up and disseminates an opinion for us. Damn, maybe this is how it’s supposed to work!”

That being said, Pitchfork takes it upon themselves to slap a 9.0/10 on the record and automatically become the PR agency that validates the band. But they won’t assume responsibility for pushing the band, because that would also imply assuming responsibility for reviewing the band’s second record (which will most likely see a larger release) by listening to the music first.

I’m not saying Pitchfork is the hypocritical deux-machina of the indie-rock game, but it’s another blade of grass in a field populated with music snobs, who would take status over music any time.

I just read an article I’ve seen mentioned in a few blogs recently quoting a record executive from Vice who says Deathcab for Cutie, The Arcade Fire and the likes are responsible for creative a generation of “indie-yuppies” (BrooklyVegan chronicles the debate here). Their music, the Vice executive says, is “like fancy-coffee-drinking, Volvo-riding music for kids.” Ironically, Vice manages the account of Bloc Party, one of the Arcade Fires of today if you’re talking hype.

When did indie-rock become such an exclusive and patronizing genre?

These yuppies, their critics blurt are corporate spies in the land of organic, preservative-free music. They dare playing the above mentioned bands on iPods strapped to jeans that made the Style section of the Times. For them regular coffee pales in comparison to any mixed java and they pick up their music speculatively from the “visionaries” (my choice of quote marks) who despise them.

Wow, the hierarchy of indie-rock. This is fascinating.

Say my brother starts a band — an indie-rock one because he heard that wave is good for surfing. Their element of new is provided by band members slapping each other across the face to produce sound effects comparable to a tambourine. They also employ two talkative parrots in their live shows. I am a fan of my brother’s band (your blood is your blood is your blood) and I blog about it until the people who read me are entirely convinced Jesus v. 2005 has descended upon indie-rock. This first tier of people I’ll call indinives (indie-naives). They actually think my brother’s band is the shit!

Ten people pack the band’s first show and six of them post pictures on their blogs along with some badly recorded concert sound — enough to make out the slaps and the parrots though. The second tier of people gets a hold of this through downloads and coffee-house surfing. They are indie-snobs and they love the idea that they can make or break a band. These indie-snobs are the ones the mainstream public (or media) with no time to query the indinives turn to for advice.

The moment the indie-snobs speak out, the iPod carrying indie-yuppies get a on it. At this stage of the process the indinives have deserted my brother because he dares play larger clubs and not give shout-outs to everyone in the audience. My brother’s band sells out their upcoming show and the audience is split between indie-snobs, still cocky and proud of their role, and the yuppies and the curious public who heard of this new phenomenon.

The next morning the snobs break-up with the band and the New York Times prints an article on my brother’s song-writing abilities. Fast forward a few months and my brother’s band makes the soundtrack of a pathetic TV series of your choice. They still play the same music and slap themselves just as much. But they have changed their fan base at least three times in six months, where they now play for the people who have heard the band on the radio and seen them play a quick set on late night television.

The above is a simplified and speculative image of the indie-rock hierarchy, this world’o’crap where the only thing that matters is the pack you run with. Screw the artist, screw the music — there’s enough out there to keep you moving from product to product wherever you are in the hierarchy.

I’m not surprised people don’t have favorite bands anymore. One of my friends is a loyal Ben Folds fan — I wonder how that would go over. Another friend is a Beatles fan — she might be better off because in this screwed up value system the Beatles are such an uncool choice they might just be underground favorites again. It’s a good thing they don’t play live anymore – having an indie-snob bury them would really piss me off.

Yes, I do like the Arcade Fire and yes, I think the Decemberists are brilliant (view a video of theirs here) and yes, I would pay to see System of a Down play the Continental Arena. Why? Is it so wrong to just enjoy the music?

4 Responses to “The indie-rock hierarchy”

  1. Beatles fan here.

    Um…one thing that must be mentioned in this debate but seems so obvious I guess it’s not worth it, right?

    Money. For the band, I mean. I doubt some of them give a fuck about what kind of fans they have as long as they get on some sort of radio and get paid.

    By the way…can we really call any of this “indie” any more? I’m skeptical. But, then again, you know I don’t follow all this.

  2. Ben Folds fan here. My half-baked theory is that “indie rock” is the new “alternative rock.”

    You want indie rock snobs, look no further than the guy who writes music reviews for the paper I’m at.

    I also remember my college paper, where the guy who wrote the record reviews wouldn’t even look you in the eye, like he was the editor of RollingStone (it took him 6 years to graduate).

    I’m disdainful of critics (even myself, when I do that)– music is music and all that really matters is whether you, the listener, enjoys it, regardless of trend. I like Arcade Fire. I have mixed feelings about the Decemberists, but enjoy their non-Yiddish melody inspired music (sans-shofar).

    My sister loves stuff I think is pure crap–i.e. Train– yeah, I’ll joke that they’re doing what the Counting Crows did better 10 years ago, but what does it matter to put it in context of pop-history? As much as I think Train sucks, she likes them– the choruses, the hooks, the lyrics.

    Of course, with the new Ben Folds record, he’s cemented his status as “adult contemporary.” How does that go over? Girls seem to like it (well, the right ones, anyways). Most people say “oh, he’s the guy who wrote brick, right?”

    The music snobs usually don’t have too much to say– Ben’s first song that catapulted him to Arcade Fire-buzz almost 10 years ago is still just as relevant today. It’s called Underground– a satire of indie-snob culture.

  3. I don’t get it. What is wrong with just liking, even loving, the music? Why does the fact that there is an indie-rock-snob scene affect you, or anybody else?

    “Look who bought the myth,” a wise man once said, before he and his comrades became so 1992…

  4. What the hell is wrong with just liking music? I really don’t care if something is indie, maintream, whatever. In my book, Hootie and the Blowfish are just as good as Neutral Milk Hotel. I’m not afraid to say that (if I had an ipod) the New Pornographers are right next to Flock of Seagulls on my playlist. You can like indie rock and think mainstream stuff is cool too. You should judge by the quality of the music, not what type of label a band is on, or whether anyone’s ever heard of them or not.

Leave a Reply