I’d like to start a campaign to remove certain words from the English language. They are either too offensive (e.g., ho; yes, I’m talking to you, Don Imus), too gross (e.g., pus), or too meaningless (wait for it) to retain their pathetic existences. Today’s offensively meaningless word is: indie.
How about we just do away with the label altogether? Can I get an “Amen” from the hipsters? Does "indie" music refer to music released on a particular label not affiliated with the major-label conglomerates? A particular sound? A movement first associated with college bands in Boston in the 1980s? Unsigned bands/artists? Some band that only eleven people have ever heard of because they've only played one show for their friends and grandmothers in some dank basement in Seattle? All of the above? None of the above, and something else entirely?
From what I can tell, "indie" is used above all as a marketing term. It's a code word for "cool" and "hip". It's the same idea that is used to sell designer jeans with pre-ripped holes in them and Camel cigarettes. And frankly, I can't stand it. "Indie" is a label that can mean anything, and nothing.
So I asked a friend about it. And he told me that “indie” music refers to any music "not coming from within the walls of the Hollywood or Nashville music ghettos." Good enough as far as it goes, but it still doesn't really tell me anything. It tells me what the music isn't, but it doesn't tell me what it is. Thelonious Monk, Bill Monroe, and Bjork all fall outside the realm of the Hollywood or Nashville music ghettos, but a music label that would lump these folks together as "indie" would convey absolutely nothing about the very different types of music they
He also told me that “indie” has an ideological component. Yeah, buddy. And let me tell you, I'm very wary of the ideological connotations of the word. "Indie" music plays up the anti-industry, anti-authority angle pretty heavily. But here's a musical marketer's dream: a million kids all buying the same album, each thinking that his or her little hip group of friends is onto something special that they and a few others have discovered. This is, in fact, pretty much the ideal scenario that music labels would like to create in the minds of music consumers. Tacking an "indie" tag onto a particular album is a great asset in this process.
So here's today's conundrum: What does it mean for someone who "fits that anti-music-industry sound" to sell 500,000 albums? Pretty soon the anti-industry, anti-establishment, anti-authority hordes will descend on places like Bonnaroo, and 100,000 identically clad rebels in tie-dyes will groove to their favorite indie bands. Rebellion has been big business for the past forty years.
Today’s true ideological lesson: we should be aware of and think about the images that are being marketed to us. And "indie" is an image that I find particularly problematic.