The Problem With Indie Rock in 2014

Bittles‘ Magazine | 28.03.2014

This March saw the sad demise of The Fly Magazine, which had been entertaining and informing the pale indie-loving public for a good 15 odd years. A monthly magazine dedicated to the type of music beloved by spotty teenagers and ›cool‹ twenty-somethings everywhere, the mag was a staple for any dedicated gig-goer. By JOHN BITTLES

lc_350One of the main reasons given for its downfall was the collapse of one of its foremost distribution outlets in HMV. As a free magazine The Fly survived through adverts. The loss of over 80 outlets of HMV dramatically reduced the mag’s bargaining power with the advertisers leading to a collapse of its key source of income.

The NME, or ›The Indie Bible‹ if you will, has also seen dwindling sales and lack of interest over a protracted period and is being tipped by many as the next music magazine to fold. With sales dipping below 20,000 for this magazine so beloved of introverted girls and boys with long hair and skinny jeans the signs are not looking good. The loss of this publication would be a great shame as it is one of the few magazines left that both celebrates this culture and encourages quality journalism. Something all too rare today!

One of the main problems that both of these magazines have had to face in recent years is the simple lack of quality indie music which they can write about, praise, and promote in order to shift as many units as they can. Not since the Arctic Monkeys way back in 2006 has a bunch of skinny white boys with guitars erupted into the public consciousness to become a bona fide commercial success.

Sure, bands like Warpaint, The National and even Arcade Fire have had some degree of success shifting considerable album units and selling out shows throughout the land. Yet these are not bands that have moved into society’s wider consciousness so that you hear the kids listening to them on their iPhones on the bus, or your Mum humming one of their tunes on the way to work. They don’t inspire active devotion, and they don’t represent a new exciting movement or sound that they will come to define. Meanwhile bands like Drenge, The Palma Violets or The Savages will indeed inspire a dedicated following, although through the very nature and limitations of their music, (loud, boisterous rock) will only ever appeal to a very narrow demographic of the music loving public.

New releases from the likes of Howler, Foster the People, Hospitality and Eagulls may well have their fans salivating in ecstasy yet are hardly likely to send the hearts of the masses soaring in delight. Let’s face facts here, right now indie music is a niche market with a limited area of appeal. By looking to the past it has cut off its future and lost its appeal to the youth market who have been brought up on a diet of American hip hop, grime and the mass market appeal of EDM.

And that’s the thing! There seems to be a real dearth of ideas in the indie music scene right now, with most new bands content to simply replicate the sounds of the past. By trying to sound like their Britpop, grunge, folk or shoegaze heroes they have forgotten the most important thing: forming your own identity and creating a sound of your own. I can’t remember the last time that I listened to a guitar-based album and thought ‘Wow!’ or ‘I’ve never heard anything like that before’, and with the prevalence of Spotify, Soundcloud, and Amazon which brings thousands of albums into your living room why should you spend valuable time with these young pretenders when you can luxuriate in the originals with a simple click of the mouse.

Surely all we need though is for someone to step forward with a magic touch, a killer fringe and a youthful swagger to unite all the sun-neglected teens everywhere. Just as The Smiths, The Stone Roses, Oasis, The Cure, The Libertines and The Strokes did before, a group of young pretenders may yet emerge onto the stage and prove themselves to be the real thing. Suddenly Avicii might not seem so appealing anymore! And that Pitbull album you’ve been playing the last few weeks will finally be exposed as the piece of crap it is.

Lovers of indie should take heart from the fact that before the whole EDM explosion, supposed music critics had been predicting the end of electronic music for years. This is partly why some are loath to write off guitar music too soon. It just needs some catalyst, a new sound, or for one band to emerge brimming with hunger, attitude and talent to herald a new rock dawn. A few years after the emergence of acid house came bands like Primal Scream and The Stone Roses, who sculpted this new musical form into an indie template giving the listeners something relevant and new. Will The Strokes emerge with a new album produced by David Guetta? And more importantly, where is the Andrew Weatherall of this time?

Maybe that’s the thing; indie bands just need to loosen up, experiment and not be so scared of attempting new things. Ok Computer could have ended Radiohead‘s career! Instead it broadened their appeal and forged a new direction for rock music in the process. Until something like this happens again it seems like indie musicians will have to be content to exist in the doldrums. And lets be honest here, if a new release by the likes of The Rifles, Perfect Pussy or The Head and the Heart are enough to get you overly excited then you really need to get out more.

| JOHN BITTLES

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