Friday, 16 January 2009

Electrocrap: In Defence Of Indie

Does anyone else out there think that Lady Gaga’s video bears a striking resemblance to the Use A Condom Adverts gracing our TVs at the moment? You know, the everyone’s-having-fun-now-but-in-the-morning-she’ll be-pregnant-with-deformed-quintuplets-and-he’ll-have-stage-three-syphillis ones. (Incidentally, just how creepy would it be if every time you got a girl’s knickers off the voice of responsibility issued forth a whispered “gonorrhoea” from her fallulah?)

Anyway, she must be doing something right. The writhing, bewigged mannequin that is Gaga has stormed to number one this last week in what a load of people are saying is the start of the female electro-twat invasion. Sorry, I mean electro-pop.

All the major record labels have got a girl in their clutches for this latest fad. Fiery-haired soul-singing Florence and The (money-making) Machine is in the clutches of Gaga’s own Island, while Polydor goes redhead to redhead with La Roux, and Warner will be hoping Little Boots has a fighting chance as most people’s more credible outsider.

The majors aren’t signing bands anymore, because apparently guitar bands are dead. (Perhaps this explains why the market is awash with reissues and boxsets from yesteryear, all promising ‘never-heard-before’ material in pretty packaging for a pretty package of your hard-earned cash, too?)

The truth is, the majors are wrong, and have been about most things for some time now, which is why they’re in so much trouble. In fact ‘indie’ music (read: guitar bands signed to independent labels) is alive and well – and there’s plenty of ribcage rattling evidence to the contrary in some of 2009’s biggest and best indie hopefuls. Here’s who to look out for:

Prog-pop pschedelia was reinvented for the kids by Brooklyn’s finest, MGMT, last year. There are going to be plenty of people riding this colourful wave in their wake in the next twelve months. The (major-signed) Amazing Baby will be filling more than a few column inches, but there’s better to be had with Cambridge’s (the other Cambridge’s) Passion Pit (right), who concoct dreamy electronica of marginally psycheledic influence, that still feels somehow born of MGMT. And if that isn’t psychedelic enough for you, Perth’s Tame Impala will knock you out with their lysergic guitar riffs and intoxicating vocals. This attractive three-piece have got an album in the pipeline this year, which, if last year’s EP is anything to go off, will be just about as good as it gets.

The other big thing last year was wonky toytronica in the vein of Metronomy and Late Of The Pier – if you liked it, refer yourselves immediately to We Have Band and the slightly less sonically nonchalant Cats In Paris. Ragged indie rock is still about and sounding pretty spectacular in the form of Tigers That Talked and gig-circuit veterans Bombay Bicycle Club – you might think the latter have been going at it for an indie-epoque, but it’s only know that we’re finally sniffing an album release (smells good).

If you like your indie thick with nu-age modernism, School Of Seven Bells (left) make silken, looped psych-pop with laptops and twins. No, really. Meanwhile, Dinosaur Pile Up is the best grunge-revivalist act to hit the airwaves since the real thing, and Ten Kens are a must-listen, much blogged four-piece of staggering inventiveness and guile whose music grins from the darkest corners of American alt-rock.

And, though they don’t fit anywhere, if you liked the whole Marling nu-folk thing last year, for goodness sake listen to some of her contemporaries to hear some of the most humble, sincere and organic sounding stuff out there – this scene really is the antidote to Gaga and her gaggle. Mumford & Sons especially are ones to watch as they work towards an album release in 2009.

Apologies for the way in which the last few paragraphs are organised like I just vomited band names onto a page – but this is absolutely a reflection of the prolific, diverse and downright fantastic stuff about (most of it indie). Gaga and the viral popularity of outspoken, synthetic and stylised marionettes might dominate airwaves and column inches thanks to the gawp-and-swallow lowest-common-denominator consumer. But don’t let any brainwashed major marketing man convince you that indie is dead – one listen to any of the above will convince very much to the contrary.


tamtamtam said...

Articulate and accurate. I concur.

I'd add in a couple of must sees for this year: The Phantom Band (dark and course in Scot style - think along lines of Frightened Rabbit and The Twilight Sad), My Toys Like Me (the wonkiest of wonky pop) and personal favourite Everything Everything - this years White Denim; if there is any justice in the world.

Anonymous said...

Yeah you've touched on a good few points there, majors are in big trouble, in fact most won't make money this year and will probably merge and make redundancies as they go.

One thing you must remember though is that many 'successful' indie labels are backed by majors. This is so majors can earn from 'cool' acts without having to stand them alongside their pop acts. Merok for instance (Klaxons, Crystal Castles, Teenagers) is backed by larger (sort of indie) label XL (Dizzee, Bassment Jaxx, Radiohead).

Also, many of the bands that are rattling ribcages on the gig circuit are losing money, and while you might be able to see them play, are currently in a far from thriving environment.
Only around 5% of acts actually recoup their advance which is why many bands come and go with one album. (Vampire Weekend probably won't recoup, if 2nd album doesn't do too well will probably be dropped.)

One contributing factor to this is illegal downloads (an easy thing to say, i know) but indie is one of the genres where most fans will get the music free. Luckily, they'll probably buy a tshirt and gig ticket too, hence the introduction of 360 deals where the band will get more money from a cd sale, but will sacrifice merch and gig money to the label, traditionally this would never reach their hands.

Its sad that money rules music but there aren't many acts out there who are just in it for the love, they've all got to eat!
The only reason they've come this far is thanks to groups you might not like (James Morrison/Blunt, Take That, Coldplay, Snow Patrol) who are bankrolling all of the flash in the pan hype bands who probably expect a 10 album career until the NME decides they're not hip anymore and the fans move on.

All i'd say is don't hate majors, because without them the music you like might never have left the bedroom or garage. And don't be upset when a million people buy a less credible bands music and a cool band don't chart. Its a credit to their songwriting abilities and a knowlege of what the only people left buying cds, will actually want to buy.

Anonymous said...

The 'electro' thing will be gone soon anyway so don't worry.

It's a natural progression on from the scene but I doubt anyone will match or better what M.I.A. did with 'Paper Planes' in terms of revenue and appeal.

This year expect more boy bands, commercial dance and pop/rock. But in the meantime if the labels can make a quick buck off the back of a passing fad, don't be sad, it might mean they can fund a band you want to hear.

Hazel Sheffield said...

who are you anonymous? that's a fairly comprehensive comment... xx
(do you work for a major perchance?!)