The term “indie rock” gained traction in the late 1980s, but the genre’s foundations can be traced back to the mid-1980s, when it emerged as an alternative to conventional pop music. These bands typically produce and release their music independently of major record labels, and their sound has evolved into a rich tapestry of subgenres since its inception.
A Brief Overview of Indie Rock’s Origins
While the genre has existed for several decades, it wasn’t until the 1970s that it was officially recognized as “indie rock.” British journalists coined the term to describe various bands that had signed with small, independent labels and were not part of the mainstream music scene.
Soon, indie rock’s influence spread beyond the UK, reaching North America and other parts of the globe.
Indie rock artists retain full control over their releases, the recording process, and even album artwork. This autonomy allows them to focus on creating authentic music, rather than chasing mainstream success.
Distinguishing Indie Rock from Traditional Rock
There are several key differences:
1. Indie rock prioritizes the song over the artist. Bands often focus on creating the music they’re passionate about, rather than aiming for chart-topping hits. If their songs achieve mainstream success, it’s usually an unexpected outcome.
2. It embraces a more organic sound. Indie musicians typically experiment with both traditional instruments and modern technology, crafting their own distinctive sound. In contrast, rock and pop artists frequently incorporate cutting-edge technologies, resulting in a polished sound that may be less emotionally engaging.
3. Indie rock values artistic expression over commercial success. It is not uncommon for indie artists to make little or no profit from their music, with limited presence in record stores or on streaming platforms. However, they are content with the knowledge that their music is being heard and appreciated.
Iconic Indie Rock Bands Through the Years
Its genre has remained a prevalent force in the music industry for decades, with several notable bands making their mark:
- The White Stripes
- The Strokes
- The National
- The Black Keys
- The Pixies
- Yeah Yeah Yeahs
- The Velvet Underground
- The Smiths
- The Shins
- The Libertines
To be classified as indie rock, an artist need not release their music through an independent label. However, the music must embody an independent spirit that contrasts with the popular music distributed by major record labels.