In defence of indie.
More and more I see people talking about indie music and linking it with classic rock acts like Oasis, Ocean Colour Scene and Cast. The relative merits, or demerits, of those bands isn’t the point of what I am about to write. The point, if indeed there is a point, is to paint a less vulgar picture of indie music and indie culture. That may seem pointless or tiresome to you but, for people like me, it is, if not important, then worth some sort of comment.
Indie was spawned, made flesh, by post-punk, new wave and 2-Tone. It was, in its earliest incarnation, genuinely independent. It was the adoration of sixties girl groups, soul, glam rock, Bowie and, like its older brother punk, rooted in aspirational working class communities. It was Green Gartside, Jerry Dammers, Morrissey, Edwyn Collins and Roddy Frame. It was delicate flowers, thoughtful writers, thinkers, poets and revolutionaries.
There were no “bangers” or “legends” or “geezers” or “captains”.
Sister, they were poets.
It was the opposition to the mainstream in every way. In bedsits across the country young refuseniks like Alan Horne and his Postcard Records (The Sound of Young Scotland) were setting themselves up as the unofficial opposition to the excesses of prog-rock and the debaucheries of the corporate machines of the big labels.
For the boys and girls in the bands it wasn’t the idea of being famous, getting your pictures in the papers, that mattered most, it was, like Pete Postlethwaite in “Brassed Off”, the music what mattered. Shy boys, pretty boys, cool girls, hip cats, floppy fringes and raincoated lovers… measuring their lives in bus stops and rain. At the risk of being parochial indie was Gregory and Susan in “Gregory’s Girl”…awkward, adolescent, innocent and sweet, but cut through with the understanding that the real world wasn’t horizontal dancing on summers evenings.
Occasionally these bands would creep close to the mainstream, enjoy an appearance on Top Of The Pops, stimulate some high brow debate and discussion on late night arts television on Channel 4. The Smiths, Orange Juice, Aztec Camera, Altered Images, Echo and the Bunnymen… but, mostly, they stayed in the shadows, happily.
And then Britpop arrived and a perfect storm, a strange brew, of all manner of things in the worlds of art, literature, music and politics took the fringe and fringes into the mainstream. Sure the Madchester thing had pulled off a similar trick a few years earlier but its wanton hedonism placed it in a different postcode to indie. Britpop from 1991-1994 was a slow build of the outsiders capturing the mainstream. Denim, The Auteurs, “Modern Life is Rubbish” era Blur, Suede, Elastica, Echobelly…strange lovers and friends.
Then came “Loaded” and Oasis. Lad culture was here and the stale faces of corporate music had something they understood again. A rock and roll band. A band who could sell records to mums and dads who didn’t really understand what Brett Anderson was and who found Jarvis Cocker as threatening as their own parents had found Boy George. The indie scene was hijacked by cocaine fuelled lads in cagoules with Liam Gallagher’s latest haircut almost overnight, and the kids like me who they would have been mocking, and worse, in the playground eighteen months earlier had lost our moment.
We were, as Jeff reminds Dobbie in “Peep Show”…freaks.
Bookworms who read books and not just rock biographies.
“How Soon is Now” isn’t an indie “banger”. It is a hymn for those of us who know what being the son and heir of a shyness that is criminally vulgar actually means. Going home, crying and wanting to die after spending all night at the school disco being ignored isn’t a “bop” for us…it’s our life story. Grotesque and lonely. Grotesquely lonely.
An act of cultural vandalism has been committed against indie culture. Something that was once literate, precious, camp, erudite and fabulous has been bent, broken, bruised and twisted into a form that suits better the vulgar tastes of those who wish to claim it for themselves. Like viking marauders they have raped and pillaged their way through an entire sub-culture, smashing skulls and breaking bones in order to own that which was never theirs.
These new owners of indie only want it so that they can wear the robes of outsider and rebel that it bestows on them. They listen to the records. They hear the music. But it doesn’t mean anything. Like Frederick in John Fowles “The Collector” they wish to possess but they cannot truly love.
“Johnny FUCKING Marr” they bellow like football casuals preparing themselves for the next act of the old ultra-violence. But he’s not Johnny FUCKING Marr to me, he doesn’t bash out bangers… when I was sitting, alone and crushed, on the edge of my bed it was his playing that soothed me. “Well I Wonder”, even without the voice or the words, was the balm of Gilead for people like me.
Worse than the people who have stolen indie are those who actually do understand what it really is but go along with the big boys and girls. People like me who were bullied and downtrodden but who now see a chance to be “in” with the in crowd. In a quiet corner of the playground I would have been sat with a copy of Edith Sitwell or Germaine Greer while those people would have pointed and stared.
There were no “bangers” to save me…and I didn’t want a “banger” either.
I wanted heart and soul.
Now there is no indie music and there is no indie culture. Boors and vulgarians stole it, aided and abetted by the very people who needed it the most. It’s all so awful. I could weep. I’m exaggerating, every now and then a new band appear who capture the spirit of what was once indie…they don’t trade in bangers and, instead, bare their souls. The Murder Capital, NewDad, Automatic, The Reds, Pinks and Purples, Lines of Flight…who are a little too raw, a little too real, a little too arch for the indie “community”. Even these bands, and the others like them, aren’t safe from being gobbled up and spewed into some massive playlist on Spotify with a title like “Every Indie Banger in the World Ever” by someone who hasn’t actually listened to the music, or understood it.
It’s not really a new phenomenon, The Smiths had lager louts and beer bellied football brats at their concerts too. They didn’t get the stuff about shyness or kindness, they just saw something they could take, some other space they could dominate and another venue to make their victims feel uncomfortable.
A couple of years ago at a James concert some genuinely awful violence broke out, leaving blood on the floor and many in the crowd upset and frightened. At a James concert. James. “Those who feel the breath of sadness, sit down next to me”…that James. Who would love and cherish a band like that and wish to use a concert of theirs as the forum for violence and drunkenness? I’ll tell you shall I? People who see them as a band who deliver “indie bangers” and who view a gig as a soundtracked football match. It’s just another space to do a couple of lines, down as much booze as they can, shove strangers, fling pint pots, touch women without permission and then hail it as a “top” night out the day after because they can’t remember any of their awfulness.
I hate these ugly hordes who have soiled something so precious. I hate that, all too often, they take the middle-aged me back to the adolescent me…fearful, uncomfortable and anxious in their
presence. I hate the language they use to describe something that means so much to me, ugly, mundane, vulgar, words and phrases that crushes all the beauty out of the music that brings me joy.