I have a confession to make: I don’t get indie rock music…

Even after interviewing like a dozen local indie rockers, I’m still not quite sure what to make of the genre.

Most of the purists would say indie isn’t a genre as much as it is a movement towards producing and selling music independently from record labels. Then again, to the casual listener (like myself), a lot of indie rock music in particular, has a pretty similar sound – raw, unrefined and spacy, with odd drum beats and rather cryptic lyrics.

I’m not saying the music’s bad because a lot of indie rock is actually really creative and progressive, but sometimes it feels  like some bands are just jumping on the indie bandwagon these days, calling themselves indie and trying to copy that same sound without actually understanding the concept of the movement.

Almost every new band coming up identifies as indie, and since the whole definition of the movement means every new artiste that hasn’t been signed yet is technically indie, the lines are getting more and more blurred.
I tried to find out more by asking Pop Shuvit lead guitarist and award-winning producer Jedidiah Wong about it, and he says indie is actually so much more than just garage band music.

“Indie doesn’t have to sound raw or ‘garage-y’. It’s actually up to the band’s own sound. I’ve produced for quite a lot of indie bands, and they have been pretty diverse – from death metal to 1980s alternative and even gospel,” he said.

He did admit however, that a lot of the local indie bands today seemed to be copying that same sound “to a certain extent”, and that it’s a “socio-cultural thing: people like to have something to identify with, like ‘oh, I belong to this group’, and you see it happening with hip-hop too.”

In terms of where that whole raw sound came from, Deja Voodoo Spells lead vocalist and guitar wizard Rithan believes it was something we picked up from the British.

Rithan from Deja Voodoo Spells

Rithan from Deja Voodoo Spells

“That lo-fi, raw sound originates from Britpop bands like The Verve and Suede. It goes with the whole look, the whole delivery, of an indie band.

“A lot of these bands also didn’t have the money for good gear and production, so they just made do with what they had and that’s the sound it produced,” explained Rithan.

Richard Ashcroft from The Verve

Richard Ashcroft from The Verve

While the principle behind indie music will never change, Rithan believes its sound and the way it’s played will always evolve.

“Music is like a ball, it rolls and things come and go in cycles. In the 1980s, you had to be good at playing before you form a band. Then, Nirvana came and it was cool to be raw. And recently, there were a few years when rappers like Eminem were huge. Now it’s all about indie bands.

“At the end of the day, it’s all a form of expression. If that raw, garage sound is what gets your point across, then great. But what’s not ok is if you play that sound just because it’s what’s big today,” he said.

But apart from the music, even the very principles behind indie music have come under fire. There have always been debates within indie fans and musicians alike about whether certain bands are truly indie (something almost all the bands I’ve spoken to confirmed), especially those that achieve mainstream success. I’ve heard friends say things like “I used to like them when they were indie/underground. But now they’re so mainstream”, saying that last word like it was dirty.

The funny thing is not all of them sign with major record labels, but many sign with “indie record labels”, which are perhaps the biggest contradiction in indie music considering the whole idea is to stay from record labels in the first place.

But for Jedidiah, it’s all pretty simple: if you do everything yourself, you’re independent: “Pop Shuvit is 110% indie. We do everything, from writing to management, almost every aspect of the band is handled by us.”

Anyway, I guess it really doesn’t matter whether those bands are truly indie or not. Any band that is doing double time working by day and playing gigs by night just to touch some lives with their music, deserves respect.

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