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WHAT IS INDIE MUSIC?
- 29 Jun 21
The Indie genre as a whole can seem pretty ambiguous, as everyone seems to interpret it differently. This is partly because of its multitude of subgenres (something we’ll get into later); and the fact it continues to evolve…
But we can all agree that there’s often a certain off-kilter edge in the sound, and that it contains sonic elements of the independent spirit of the original artists of the post-punk era. In the DIY punk spirit, artists bypassed the major record labels to release music on their own terms, got creative with their marketing by making their own cover art, launched their own labels and clubs, and generally marked themselves out by their can-do attitude? Why? To get their sound out there without big marketing budgets.
Nowadays, indie music is a kind of catch-all term for a conglomeration of sounds, looks and attitudes that have splintered off from its original pioneers. Let’s look back to its origins, almost fifty years ago in the late 70s.
Indie Music History
So although indie music once came from the originally independent labels, it now overlaps a huge number of genres, from indie-rock to indie-folk to indie-pop, but all share a certain off-kilter sensibility.
Speaking of indie music, if you’re intrigued by the genre and perhaps have an offbeat project to bring to life with a cool soundtrack, we have hundreds of indie tracks for you to sample, download and use in our catalogue. Start exploring our indie discovery page and our indie playlist once you’ve galloped through the history below.
- What is indie music genre? Indie music definition
- The Scene
- Album Art and other stuff…
- Great Indie Bands
- The Buzzcocks
- Joy Division
- New Order
- The Smiths
- The Fall
- The Strokes
- Arctic Monkeys
- Florence + The Machine
- New Indie Music
- Indie music for your next project
What is Indie music?
So, ‘indie’ is short for independent, a term first used to describe artists who recorded and released records themselves, rather than through a label. But the term now stretches far beyond the original definition. These days, many indie music artists are signed to major labels, and the genre is more descriptive an attitude, a sound, or an alternative way of making music (which, confusingly, can often serious commercial successes anyway). Nowadays, indie music is rarely ‘indie’ in the original sense!
Its roots stretch back to the 70s and the DIY punk ethic. In the 1970s, artists who pushed the boundaries of the accepted pop sound weren’t signed to major record labels, as their maverick approach wasn’t deemed commercial enough.
Music lovers found this boundary-pushing a refreshing antidote to the contrived pop and rock pushed by big record labels. Today, indie music retains elements of its roots – although the jury’s still out on how to define it!
Inspired? To discover great new indie music to license for your projects, take a look at our Indie Top 40; explore tracks on our Indie Folk page, Indie Rock page, Indie Pop page and Electro Indie page.
Pre-social media, bands had to get out and create a following IRL Some music venues have attained legendary status as they were such were an essential part of fledgling indie bands’ success, including:
The Manchester club feted during the Acid House and early Rave era was originally a rock club. Founded by Factory Records and the band New Order in 1982, it hosted early gigs by the likes of The Smiths and Echo And The Bunnymen.
Later, a host of others including Blur, Placebo and Supergrass gigged there before it finally shuttered in 1997. And perhaps in a wry comment of the increasingly commercialised nature of indie music, the building was demolished in 2002 to make way for… The Haçienda Apartments.
King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, Glasgow
This legendary Glasgow venue is now marked in history as the place Alan McGee first saw Oasis play in 1993, leading the Creation label boss to sign the Manchester band on the spot. Founded in 1990, it has played host to Radiohead, Manic Street Preachers, The Verve, Coldplay, Snow Patrol, Muse, Elbow, The Killers and many more.
The 100 Club, London
This basement club opened in 1942 but has only operated under its current name since 1964, Its Punk Festival in September 1976 changed everything: the Sex Pistols, The Clash, Buzzcocks, The Jam, The Stranglers and The Damned all performed. Siouxsie And The Banshees made their live debut at the event with Sid Vicious on drums.
The 100 Club is one of the few music venues left in the West End and recently IDLES, The Specials, Turin Brakes, Babyshambles and Florence + The Machine have played there.
What else made it Happen?
Two notable indie record labels were Factory Records and Rough Trade, which were behind the success of iconic bands such as Joy Division and The Smiths. Bands also pushed the boundaries of working with what they had – pushing the capabilities of their instruments, creating memorable vinyl cover art (think Joy Division’s iconic Unknown Pleasures album cover), and building up a following through setting up and promoting their own clubs. This DIY route to music stardom gave independent artists a unique sound (broad though it was), that was un-embellished, relatable and – that now overused word – authentic.
Indie Music in America
And we can’t write about indie without a nod to the great music that’s emerged from across the pond. A large number of indie bands and artists crossover into rock, chiefly because of their borderline discordant sound and rebel attitude. Indie rock is customarily loud, energetic and led by a charismatic frontman or woman. Compared to classic US rock, indie sounds a little more homemade and is often lyrically more experimental – think Nirvana, Pixies and Jane’s Addiction.
All-Time Great Indie Artists and Bands
The Bolton-based band are often credited with inventing indie. The band was formed solely to support the Sex Pistols, at a time when you could buy a guitar in Woolworths (the retro, high-street equivalent of Amazon – now sadly defunct). The band’s timely punk-rock sound, gritty, nonchalant aesthetic and independent status (they created their own record label) helped their debut EP, Spiral Scratch, reach the Top 40 in 1977.
To die-hard indie fans and music aficionados alike, Joy Division are deities. Their ultra-experimental producer, Martin Hannett, played a key role in their groundbreaking sound. The four-piece band – formed in Salford, Manchester during the post-punk era, split after singer Ian Curtis committed suicide in 1980.
Following the demise of Joy Division, founder members Peter Hook, Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris were joined by Gillian Gilbert to form New Order. They fused post-punk with electronic and dance music and became the flagship band for Manchester indie label Factory Records. Their 1983 hit, ‘Blue Monday’ became the best-selling 12-inch single of all time.
The Smiths were one of the most important indie bands to emerge in the early 80s, formed by singer Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr, who bonded over their love of poetry and literature. Their jangly guitar, bass and drum sound was a conscious reaction to the prevalent synth-pop of the time. In 2012, all four Smiths albums – and a compilation album – appeared in Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Cult post-punk band The Fall formed in Manchester in 1976. With their abrasive, guitar-led sound and the caustic lyrics of frontman Mark E Smith, they maintained a fierce, longstanding cult following, despite never really achieving mainstream success. By far the most prolific band of the post-punk movement, they were famously championed by BBC DJ John Peel, who notably commented that they were: ‘always different, always the same…’ The death of their charismatic frontman in 2018 closed a chapter on one of the greatest indie bands ever.
One of the leading bands of the early 2000s, indie became the genre du jour thanks to The Strokes. The Grammy-award winning band released their debut album Is This It in 2001. This time around, the indie sound was super-commercial: they won a BRIT for Best International Breakthrough Act in 2002 and an NME award for Best Band in the World – twice.
Even if you’re not the biggest fan of indie music, you can admire the impact of Sheffield’s Arctic Monkeys. Fronted by natural-born performer Alex Turner, they’ve sold 20 million records worldwide and won over 42 awards, including seven BRITs and a Mercury Prize. Their 2006 debut album, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s what I’m Not was the fastest-selling debut album in UK chart history.
Florence + The Machine
Florence + The Machine are a contemporary indie brand with a super-charismatic frontwoman, Florence Welch. Formed in London in 2007, three of the band’s four albums reached number one in the UK. Now pretty much a household name, Florence Welch is estimated to be worth $28 million.
If you’re looking for production music along the lines of the bands above, find the perfect track using our intelligent search bar, filterable by mood/emotion, instrumentation, production genre and musical style. Or, if you’re thinking of regularly using tracks from our catalogue, why not consider The Essential Edit Subscription?
New Indie Music
And the indie music scene is still very much alive, with a raft of recent releases drawing on everything from post-punk to pop and country. Want to hear some contemporary indie? Uproxx’s top 5 Indie albums of 2020 showcases some bangers:
1. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters
2. Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud
3. Yaeji – What We Drew
4. Yves Tumor – Gospel for a New Century
5. Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher
Indie Music for Your Next Project
Check out our line-up of great indie bands and artists, from the vibrant beats and colourful lyrics of John Vella, lead singer and guitarist of Sydney group Tenderfoot, to Waiting for Smith, aka singer and songwriter Harry Lloyd, widely hailed as one to watch; with his narrative, imaginative songs he’s been compared to David Bowie, George Ezra and Leonard Cohen. And there are plenty more to discover…
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