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4-1-2006
Indie Rock Subculture: Hamilton as Microcosm
Kathleen Davies
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INDIE ROCK SUBCULTURE: HAMILTON AS MICROCOSM
INDIE ROCK SUBCULTURE: HAMILTON AS MICROCOSM
By
KATHLEEN DAVIES, B.A.
A Thesis
Submitted to the School of Graduate Studies
In Partial Fulfilment of the Requirements
for the Degree
Master of Arts
McMaster University
© Copyright by Kathleen Davies, April 2006
MASTER OF ARTS (2006)
(Music Criticism)
McMaster University
Hamilton, Ontario
TITLE: Indie Rock Subculture: Hamilton as Microcosm
AUTHOR: Kathleen Davies, B.A. (McMaster University)
NUMBER OF PAGES: v, 123
11
ABSTRACT
In recent years, interest in the indie rock subculture has exploded, both in the
popular press and among popular music scholars and culture theorists.
This is an ethnographic study of the indie rock scene in Hamilton, Ontario.
Hamilton represents a microcosm of what is happening in other local indie scenes. The
geographical, historical and cultural locality of Hamilton creates a sense of shared
identity among individuals connected by the common interest in indie rock.
This study focuses on how independent rock's network of social practices and
economic institutions works to locate subjects within Hamilton's local network while
connecting them to the larger framework of interlocal scenes. Aspects of the local and
interlocal are explored through narratives of indie aesthetics, style, fashion, institutions,
cultural practices, authenticity and investment. Cultural practices, including the
production and consumption of indie rock are examined through the lens of Bourdieu' s
concept of cultural capital, which exposes constructions and configurations of class,
generation, ethnicity, and gender.
111
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Thank you to:
Dr. Susan Fast for her encouragement to pursue my Masters degree.
Dr. Christina Baade. As my supervisor of research, her guidance and encouragement
helped ensure this project came to fruition.
Dr. Catherine Graham for being a helpful and enthusiastic reader.
The promoters, venue staff, musicians, and music fans who shared stories about their
lives and the music they love.
Michael McCullough for his editing assistance.
Danuse Vrba, for being an inspiration.
Sherrie, Brock, Brad and Mel Davies for their support.
Paul Quigley for his love, support and encouragement.
IV
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Dare To Be Surprised: INTRODUCTION
CHAPTER 1 Gimmie Indie Rock: Indie music aesthetics, style, history
Homemade: Indie Music Aesthetics
Wrapped up in Books: Overview of Theoretical Writings
Steps into Miles: Methodology
CHAPTER 2 Home: Hamilton as Local Scene
The Fence Feels its Post: Institutions
Donut Rock City: The Hamilton Sound
Storytelling: Narrative Histories
CHAPTER 3 All Dressed Up: Practices and Identity
I Smell a Rat: Authenticity
Round-n-round: Sharing Practices
I Don't Think We Should Ever Meet: Labels
Live as if Someone is Always Watching You: Practices and Fashion
Devotion: Investment
CHAPTER 4 Rescue Us From Boredom: Labels and Media
Speak, See, Remember: Production for Producers
Life Stories For Minimum Wage: Monetary Investment - Bands
The Difference Between Listen and Feel: Indie Labels vs. Major Labels
That's When The Audience Died: "Selling Out"
Information Travels Faster: Media
CHAPTER 5 The Past and Pending: CONCLUSION
BIBLIOGRAPHY
APPENDIX A: POSTER
APPENDIX B: LETTER OF INFORMATION
APPENDIX C: LETTER OF CONSENT
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Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
Dare To Be Surprised: INTRODUCTION
l
No one ran against me. I was the only candidate and won by default. My
duties consist of extracting the strange melodic and lyric bits of myself that
wake me up at night. The ones that make me shiver and sweat with fear. As
President, I am obligated to polish these words, tunes and thoughts into
glorious gems of absurd truth, brimming with dangerous significance and
thrust them outward, for the betterment of everything. I must execute
performances where indescribable things happen. I wear my uniform, sweat
and make everyone lose their minds. I do these things the best I possibly
can, forever. I am navigating uncharted territory here. I collect bits of
guidance only from the brutal road. I learn and change. I have met
difficulties and will meet more. I will grow and change forever. I won't
stop. People dance and celebrate when I rock. They celebrate change,
suffering, glory and excitement. Every day, I get more certain. Every day, I
meet new friends and work harder. I have taken these troubled bits of self
and fashioned them into the most entertaining, witty and engaging one-man
rock-spectacle imaginable. As President of Indie Rock I intend to incite and
spearhead a focused cultural revolution that will transform this country, and
ultimately the entire world, into a glowing ball of pure, blissful, creative
strawberry juice. Rock And Roll Armageddon is approaching. I will
continue to work, to refine my vision and my craft. I will become more
entertaining and more profoundly relevant to our age with every breath that I
take and sound that I utter.2
Wax Mannequin
• "Are you going to the show tonight?"
* "Who's playing?"
• "Wax Mannequin, that one-man-band guy. He's got a drum machine ... he opened up for
the Riderless in London at the Courtyard, Remember?"
* "Yeah, he played a great set - The self elected President of indie rock right?"
1 The Folk Implosion, Dare To Be Surprised, The Communion Label compact disc COMM45,
1997; and Chapter titles and section headings consist of song and album titles by indie rock bands that
relate to their topic. This was done to inject an indie rock aesthetic within the thesis.
2 John Bruhm. "Wax Mannequin: 'Chad Kroeger Stalks Me, '" Chartattack (17 December 2003)
(accessed 18 March 2006) <http://www.chartattack.comldamnl2003/12/1705.cfm>.
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Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
• "Yeah."
* "Who's opening up tonight?"
• "Hibakusha and B.A. Johnston. Eight bucks. I've never seen them before, but B.A.
toured with Mayor McCa."
* "We should check that out. Why don't you come by my place at nine? We can have a
few drinks and be at the club in time to see both bands."
While these people are deciding whether to attend the show, the bands are already
at the venue preparing for the show. The bands arrived to the club at 7 p.m. for sound
check. Wax checked first, followed by the second band, and finally the opening band. The
bartenders were busy loading fridges full of beer while the bands hung out and talked until
the doors opened at 9 p.m. The girl at the door took eight dollars from each person and
stamped their hands. "Enjoy the show." Audience members walked in the club, saying
"hi" to familiar faces and finding a comfortable place to stand for the show. B.A. took the
stage at about 10 p.m., played to an attentive audience for forty-five minutes or so, and
then watched Hibakusha's set. The audience chatted and went outside to smoke during
the break while the bands tore down and set up their gear. B.A. and members of
Hibakushajoined the audience during Wax's set. After Wax finished, people bought CD's
and mingled. The next day, people talked about the show on local message boards.
I have been fortunate to see Wax Mannequin perform numerous times. Regardless
of whether the audience is fewer than ten people or numbering in the hundreds, Wax
consistently performs his best. Like Wax, most indie rock bands would agree that they
have "met difficulties and will meet more." As bands "meet new friends and work harder"
2
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
they aim to refine their vision and craft - much like Wax. Hamilton-based Wax has toured
Canada, coast to coast, for years. He generally performs solo with an electronic drum
machine and electric guitar, although lately he has been playing shows with a bassist and
drummer, aligning with his mission to "become more entertaining and more profoundly
relevant to our age." The indie rock president persona was based on ironic humour - a
. ffi 3
reverse nurror e ect. As much of independent rock is wrapped in ironic humour, indie
audiences generally appreciated his finger pointing at indie cultural practices. (Wax has
since moved away from the persona, avoiding the threat of it becoming passe.) It is
difficult to determine if ironic humour is a product of the music or the music is a product
of ironic humour. Indie bands spend hours in a vehicle, load gear, playa show, load gear
again, and sleep on someone's floor or in a bed with a band member in a cheap motel, only
to wake up and do it allover again. That's without the vehicle problems and the "we'll-
only-be-able-to-pay-you-in-beer" promoters, whom bands often face.
Like Wax's persona, my role in the scene has shifted over the years. I am currently
active as an audience member but also play in a band. My past involvement in the scene
includes attending countless shows, playing locally and touring in a handful of bands, and
working in two of Hamilton's primary indie rock clubs as a door person. My academic
study of music and cultural studies, combined with these personal experiences, led me to
become interested in studying indie rock as a music subculture. It was people like Wax,
whose involvement in the scene proved how important it was to document the Hamilton
indie rock music scene, depicting its position as a local scene within a constellation of
3 Interviewee J, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 13 February 2005.
3
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
interlocal scenes, but more importantly, how its people function locally and in interlocal
scenes. This approach contributes to a new understanding of indie music by placing the
focus on the people involved in the subculture. Not only did I observe things about the
people involved in the subculture, but also I asked them about it. This approach of making
subcultural observations and gathering responses from subcultural members led to a
deeper understanding of the subculture: who is involved, what they do, how they do it,
where they do it, why they do it, and why it is relevant.
My thesis presents findings attained through the accumulation of years of personal
experience in the scene, combined with months of observations and interviews.
Throughout the proceeding four chapters, I explore different aspects of the local and
interlocal scene. Chapter 1 presents background information pertaining to indie music
aesthetics, style, musical characteristics, and theoretical history as well as providing an
outline of the methodology used to conduct this study. This examination of the indie
aesthetic through the words of indie participants, presents indie rock music culture as a
diverse collection of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) cultural producers. These groups of
individuals participate in a culture rooted in accountability as the DIY cultural participants
privilege control of their creative and business pursuits. Chapter 2 highlights the primary
indie rock institutions in Hamilton, including performance venues, record stores and labels.
These institutions provide physical spaces for members of the scene to interact and thus
hold an important position in the local network of scene participants. The personal
narratives of scene members combine with characteristics of Hamilton music to create and
identity for Hamilton indie rockers linked to the cities geographical location. The
4
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
Hamilton scene is also positioned in relation and contrast to other localities, identifying the
similarities and differences between scenes and the relevance of this in terms of local and
interlocal networks. Chapter 3 discusses the sharing practices common to the scene, along
with cultural practices and fashion, through the lens of Bourdieu's concept of cultural
capital. The approach of this study involved observing common practices but also asking
participants about them; it yielded particularly fruitful results with respect to cultural
practices. This chapter emphasizes the narrative of process over product and examines
such cultural practices as wearing band tee-shirts as a signifier of one's membership to the
subculture, taste, and participation in subcultural social practices, which position the
wearer in resistance to mass cultural production. Chapter 4 examines the commitment and
investments of participants involved in the scene and their perspectives on the corporate
industry (i. e. indie vs. major labels), authenticity, and the function of media within the indie
community. The social, cultural, political, and economic reasons why indie rock bands
operate within a DIY structure are explored and lead to a discussion of why people get
involved, stay involved, and often become deeply invested in this subculture.
5
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticisr
CHAPTERl
Gimme Iodie Rock: Iodie music aesthetics, style, historyl
There are those who want nothing of it, there are those that are visiting, and
then there are those that just like music; there are those people who like
chocolate and want to eat chocolate bars all the time.
2
The man who said this uses chocolate for a metaphor for independent music. He
doesn't read Rolling Stone, go to stadium shows, or buy CD's at HMV. He is a fan of
music who operates within an entirely different world: the world of independent rock
music. Independent music fans write and publish their own magazines, put on their own
shows, and buy music directly from the performers. the people involved, the
independent music community becomes more than just a pastime or entertainment; it often
becomes their lifestyle and ultimately a part of their identity, both within their local
community as well as the interlocal network of indie rock music
The term independent or indie is often used to refer to unsigned bands or bands
that are on small independent record labels. \Jndie acts generally produce their own albums
(production and distribution) and rely on touring, word-of-mouth, and airplay on
independent or college radio stations for According to the participants
interviewed for this project, indie is now an umbrella term composed of disparate music
genres. Despite being musically diverse, indie rock bands are connected through a
common aesthetic and set of practices. Social involvement in a scene often leads
1 Sebadoh, Rocking the Forest, Domino compact disc WIGCD2 (1992).
2 Interviewee V, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 14 March 2005.
6
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criti,
participants to become involved in the production and consumption of indie culture and
often leads to lifestyle changes and considerable investments.
Qhe ethnomusicologist Leslie Gay states that music "provides context for their
[people's] lives, an interest so strong that its activities become central to their
In her study ofrock musicians in New York City, Gay explores how the local lives of these
musicians functioned within a globally interconnected world. Using Hamilton, Ontario, as
a case study, I overlay the notion of local and interlocal community onto the positioning of
music in the lives of participants in the independent (indie) rock music scene, within an
interlocal network. The geographical, historical and cultural locality of Hamilton creates a
sense of shared identity among individuals connected by the common interest in indie rock.
Cultural practices, including the production and consumption of indie rock, are linked to
constructions and configurations of class, generation, ethnicity, and gender. The research
discussed herein consists of an ethnographic case study of the local indie music scene in
Hamilton as a microcosm of what is happening in general and explores the notion of
locality and interlocality. Thus, participation in this culture leads to a sense of identity for
people within their local scene, but also as part of a network of interlocal scenes sharing
similarities and celebrating difference.
Social networks are one of the defining features of local mUSIC scenes, and
contribute to the larger interlocal social network of independent rock music scenes.
4
For
the owner of an independent singles label based in Champaign, Illinois, business
3 Leslie Gay "Rockin' the Imagined Local: New York Rock in A Reterritorialized World," in
Popular Music - Style and Identity, edited by Will Straw, et al. (Montreal: Dufferin Press, 1995), 123.
7
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
connections are largely responsible for his awareness of being part of a broader network of
people with shared knowledge and interests:
If I were to go to San Francisco, I've got a bunch of people I could call that
would go, "Oh, you're Geoff from Parasol, and I would know who they are
and I would know what kind of music they listen to ... But you have to find
the right people ... there are people allover the place who know who we
are ... We could go anywhere and find somebody who knew who we were,
but we couldn't just randomly pick people.
5
Will Straw's claim that points of musical reference are likely to remain stable from one
community to another; is supported by Leslie Gay's finding that "interactions and
connections made through mediated forms often suggest that individual musicians are
indeed closer 'neighbours' to those miles away than to those who live on the same street.,,6
This is because interlocal networks bring institutions and people in disparate local scenes
together in broader systems of cultural production and dissemination. Straw argues that
interlocality makes alternative music scenes somewhat paradoxical; they are part of a
"musical cosmopolitanism" that allows the localism that marks their characteristic "small-
scale infrastructures of production and dissemination" to be "reproduced, in relatively
uniform ways, on a continental and international level.,,7 I argue, however, that
independent rock music's social and economic structures are overlapping networks that
locate subjects within a specific local social network as well as connected them within a
larger interlocal network.
4 Holly Kruse, Site and Sound: Understanding Independent Music Scenes. (New York: Peter
Lang Publishing: 2003), 134.
5 Ibid., 136.
6 Ibid., 137 and Leslie Gay "Rockin' the Imagined Local," 126.
7 Will Straw, "Systems of Articulation, Logics of Change: Communities and Scenes in Popular
Music," Cultural Studies 5,3 (1991): 378.
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Homemade: Indie Music Aesthetics
8
The majority of interview subjects described indie rock as "music that is not meant
for the mainstream"; and explained that it is "something you kind of have to work at, it
doesn't tend to be immediately something that catches your ear as a listener. .. [It is] music
that musicians really tend to appreciate.,,9!Jthers articulated a more specific aesthetic:
They're taking, arguably, a commercial style, a popular style of music and
they're twisting it in their own way so that it's not as catchy and as
accessible to mainstream culture. Specifically what that might mean is things
like, lo-fi recording quality, less melodic song structure, more experimental
ideas of what kind of instruments to use to make the sounds, than just typical
bass, drum, guitar combination. A particular band that comes to mind, as an
example of that is a regional band from Guelph called Barmitzvah Brothers;
I'm a pretty big fan of this group because they make rock sounds with un-
rock instrumentation. That's indie rock. 10
Holly Kruse, in Site and Sound: Understanding Independent Music Scenes, states, "For
many fans and music scene participants ... 'indie' described a sound and a point of origin
more than it describes a specific economic relationship."ll
Since live music occupies the central role in the community of indie rock, one
would assume that promoters would book bands carefully to include music of the same
genre on a bill together. Interestingly, though, promoters often showcase unexpected
combinations of bands on the same bill. Opening bands that play similar music may not be
a v a i l a b l e ~ thus, a promoter has to find an alternative. Bills that include a variety of genres
display that indie audiences are generally open-minded.
8 Sebadoh, Bubble & Scrape, Sub Pop Records compact disc SPI92b (1993).
9 Interviewee 0, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 18 February 2005; and
Interviewee F, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 8 February 2005.
10 Interviewee L, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 16 February 2005.
11 Kruse, Site and Sound, 8.
9
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
The diversity of musical styles that function within the circuit of indie rock music
production represents the open-mindedness of the community of music makers. The
disparate genres that share the indie circuit position themselves in connection with each
other and in contrast to mass music. Indie music resists generalization and easy
categorization: this is a function of its resistance to corporate ways of marketing music by
linking audiences and music preferences.
Recently, the term indie rock has become so broad that literally hundreds of other
genres can fall under its umbrella. Because of the weaknesses of traditional sources on
pop music in this area, I consulted the online resource, Wikipedia. Established in 2001,
this free encyclopedia, has rapidly grown into the largest reference website on the Internet.
Written collaboratively by people from all around the world, Wikipedia demonstrates the
diversity of the field of indie rock with its description:
New folk ... (See: Sufjan Stevens, Iron and Wine)
Freak-folk ... (See: Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom, Animal Collective,
Six Organs of Admittance)
New Weird America ... (See: No-Neck Blues Band, Tower Recordings,
Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice)
Dance-punk ... (See: LCD Soundsystem, hellogoodbye, The Rapture, !!!, Out
Hud, Radio 4)
Garage rock revival ... (See: The White Stripes, The Strokes, The Fiery
Furnaces, The Von Bondies, The lonics)
Nu-gaze ... (See: Sigur Ros, Scarling. Ulrich Schnauss, M83, Serena
Maneesh)
Indietronic ... (See: The Postal Service, The Notwist, Manitoba, Dntel, Lali
Punai
2
The resource also lists the sub-genres of Jangle pop, Lo-fi, Math rock, Noise pop, Noise
rock, Paisley Underground, Post-rock, Post-punk revival, PsychobiIly, Sadcore,
12 s.v. "Indie Rock" (accessed March. 19 2006)
10
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
Shoegazing, Space rock, and Twee pOp.13 One cannot begin to draw unitary musical traits
in such a plethora of music.
By exploring instrumentation, we can place more emphasis on what some indie
musicians do. The contrast in band construction and, in effect, instrumentation creates
difficulty in drawing conclusions as to common musical traits. Singer-songwriter Julie
Doiron plays electric guitar. The dance-rockers Shy Child employ electric guitar and
drums, while the alt-country band The Silver Hearts involves up to a dozen musicians,
including a trombonist, a sousaphone player, and a violinist. These three examples of indie
rock employ a diverse range of instrumentation, again highlighting the challenge in making
generalizations about the genre of indie rock.
One important factor of indie music is the quality of the packaging and the lyrics.
Indie bands often create their own handmade or hand designed artwork. Crudely made
cover art heightens the distinction between substance and production - again the idea of
process enters here. For example, Pavement's Slanted and Enchanted album features a
red cover with the band name and album title scrawled in capital letters in what looks to
have been a bottle of white-out; while the Microphone's Song Islands includes a
reproduction of a hand written song list and cover artwork consisting of rough, gray
paintings of figures and faces. 14
<en. wikipedia. orglwitilIndie-rock>.
13 Ibid.
14 Pavement, Slanted and Enchanted: Luxe & Reduxe, Matador Records compact disc OLE 557-
2, (2002); and The Microphones, Song Islands, K Records compact disc KLP125, (2002).
11
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
Although instrumental bands exist, such as Rachel's, many indie fans place value
on lyrics. 15 This emphasis on lyrics connects with a narrative of education among
participants in the indie rock scene, as the participants said they enjoyed "thoughtful"
lyrics, highlighting the intellectual appreciation of indie music over bodily appreciation
such as dancing.
16
The indie interest in lyrics, contrasts with the catchy hook construction
of most commercial pop music. For example, in his song "The Price," Wax Mannequin
smgs:
Somebody's raised the price since you last paid the price
The price is not the same and I blame
All of the price that's left to go
All of the price that's left to pay
Someone has raised the price since you last paid the price
The price was raised today and I say
You take the price with all your violent might
You crash price into the
Earth
17
In "Legendary," Lou Barlow sings:
I know I wanted more than you could give to me
I know there'll come a day I'll understand
Until then I'll be trying to solve a mystery
Wonder why I couldn't make you stay
Smiling through denial my specialty
I thought that was a good thing for a while
You gave me all your secrets were you testing me?
How could I do anything but smile
18
Although lyrics are valued among many indie listeners, generalizations cannot be drawn as
to common themes, constructions, or language usage, for again the diversity is too great.
15 Interviewee A, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 1 February 2005.
16 Ibid.
17 Wax Mannequin, The Price, Coqi Records, compact disc (2004).
18 Lou Barlow, Emoh, Merge Records compact disc MRG254 (2005).
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Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
Song length also positions indie rock in contrast to mainstream popular music.
Indie rock songs generally do not conform to the standard for radio edits. Depending on
the sub-genre, songs can run much shorter or much longer than three minutes. A high-
energy shout-rock band like Sailboats are White can pound out some songs in just one to
two minutes whereas a post-rock band like Godspeed You Black Emperor! can take up to
twenty minutes to gradually build up instrumentation and rhythmic drive involved in their
compositions. This contrast in song length again points out the impossibility of drawing
generalities between the many genres of indie rock.
As shown by Wax Mannequin, sometimes an understanding of indie rock culture is
presented as an ironic construction, a presentation often adopted by indie artists. David-
Ivar Herman Diine is an indie musician from Paris. In his song "Time of GloryINYC," he
sings self-referentially about being an indie musician: "At the end of the night I got well
rewarded with a ticket for a free drink, the choice is Red Stripe or Pabst. It was my time
of glory in New York City.,,19 He continues
I almost lied when my mother asked me ifI was making any money. I almost
lied but I knew I sucked at it and confessed that I was broke and couldn't
afford a coffee, and was getting skinny. Holes in my three-day shirt, well I
guess I smell now,z°
The lyrical content is complemented by the simple instrumentation. Guitar, and sparse
percussion accompany David's singing. Again, it is substance over production.
One conclusion that can be drawn from this discussion is that indie music situates
itself closer to art-music than mass music production. Many scene participants expressed
19 David-Ivar Herman Dune, Yaya, Shrimper Records compact disc SHR145CD (2004).
20 Ibid.
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Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
an interest in, and a respect for, music of the past. Indie scene participants were generally
appreciative of and knowledgeable about a variety of musical genres from classic rock to
punk and blues. Participants had their own explanation for such musical experience.
Some grew up listening to their parents' vinyl collections, others worked in record stores,
and others explored whatever "leads" they were given. For example, if a band they liked
had a link on their website to other bands, the indie fan would explore the referred bands'
sites. One can follow leads about indie bands influences all the way back to bands like the
Velvet Underground and Talking Heads.
Indie rock can be traced back though DIY punk and early grunge bands. The
message of punk was that anyone could make their own music, which carried through in
the grunge movement and is now present in indie rock cultural practices. Tom Carson,
critic for the Village Voice and Rolling Stone in the late 1970s, explains
For most of the audiences and a good many of the bands, punk was the first
thing they'd created on their own. Where mass culture inevitably seeks to
homogenize, they were diverse ... it was also a revolt of the outsiders-oddball
smart kids ... but their songs rarely stressed that; instead, they exalted the
ordinary?l
The participants/fans of punk, grunge and indie see themselves as an alternative to the
aesthetic models of mass musics such as pop music?2 For them, it is less about defining
what indie is, (a DIY subculture), and more about defining what indie is not (music for the
masses).
In the late 1980s, underground "punk" music was re-Iabelled "college" music, as it
was played by student deejays and generally listened to by students at college radio
21 Tom Carson "Stop 'N' Rock," The Village Voice (3-9 December 1980): 46.
14
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
stations. College music became associated with particular geographic sites, or "scenes";
the first recognized scene being Athens, Georgia, from the late 1970s through the mid-
1980s. As college bands from this area such as the B-52's, REM, and Love Tractor,
started to receive attention from commercial radio, "college" music was dubbed,
"alternative." The early 1990s release of Nirvana's Nevermind heralded the grunge
explosion. Alongside fellow Seattle-area bands like Pearl Jam, Mudhoney, and
Soundgarden, "alternative" was established as its own commercially viable radio format
and paradoxically became "mainstream," - music that was played on top-40 FM radio.
In response, subcultural audiences took a tighter grip on the music that they
deemed "authentic" and turned their focus to marginal forms of independent rock
including bands, and musicians such as Sebadoh, Pavement, and Calvin Johnson. This
trajectory has led to the current state of indie rock as a collection of people involved in
local scenes connected by a web of interlocality, evidenced most recently by the rise of the
Montreal indie bands Stars, The Stills, The Dears, and the Arcade Fire. With its own trade
paper, College Music Journal (CMJ), its own chart in Rolling Stone, annual seminars, and
most importantly, the web of communication provided by the Internet, the possibility exists
for independent artists to earn a living (modest as it may be) by playing music without the
support of a major record label.
With the development of indie rock music and its associated communities, have
come a set of shared values, aesthetics and history related to the scene. An interest in
studying indie rock has also developed among academic theorists.
22 Ibid.: 43.
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Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
Wrapped up in Books: Overview of Theoretical Writings
23
The subculture of indie rock as a youth subculture aligns with Roy Shuker's
findings that members of youth subcultures rely on leisure and style as a "means of winning
their own cultural space," and thus represent cultural oppositional politics at the symbolic
level. 24 Similarly, theorists at the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies
agree with the commonly asserted thesis that youth cultures appropriate and innovate
musical forms and styles as a basis for their identity, and in so doing, assert counter-
cultural politics. This is related to the work of Hal Niedzviecki, We Want Some Too:
Underground Desire and the Reinvention of Mass Culture, that uses the term "lifestyle
culture pioneers" to describe people employing a DIY attitude:
Lifestyle Culture is simple: we make the stuff that isn't supposed to matter -
movies, bands, fashion, toys, TV shows, and an endless world of possible
products - matter. We give that stuff prominence in our lives. We elevate
the meaningless because we have grown up believing, being taught, that
through mass culture we can find meaning. 25
In contrast, one indie participant described the scene:
In terms of content and politics, it's just so diverse and colourful.. .It's more
open in mind and spirit, more accepting of the alien and avant-garde. It
strives to define a new vision of community, of the music industry. 26
There is a sense of realness in the community within the Hamilton scene and scenes
abroad. People do welcome "strangers" into their homes and show local hospitality to
touring bands. This type of social practice is linked to the music, the scene and the overall
23 Belle & Sebastian, Dear Catastrophe Waitress, Rough Trade compact disc 83216 (2003).
24 Roy Shuker, Understanding Popular MUSiC, (New York: Routledge, 1994).229.
25 Hal Niedzviecki, We Want Some Too: Underground Desire and the Re-invention of Mass
Culture, Toronto: Penguin. 2000), 22.
26 Interviewee X, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 16 March 2005.
16
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
DIY ethic of independent rock music production and consumption. Most importantly,
these social practices come down to issues of identity and community.
The indie rock community is based on music - primarily live music performance.
There is a certain anticipatory pleasure of attending a concert, especially if the band is
obscure or travelled a great distance; the physical pleasure of handling vinyl records, tapes
or CD's; the pleasure of finding a rare recording; and the intellectual and emotional
pleasures associated with "knowing" about particular artists and genres valued by one's
peers. These forms of pleasure and knowledge as cultural capital are central to the
understanding of indie rock consumption as a factor in identity construction. The types of
people who are inclined to take pleasure in such things are the people described in this
paper: educated, band tee-shirt wearing, headphone wearing, show-going people. This
study places indie rock in relation to subcultures and cultural capital while its methodology
links it to other studies that have focused on local scenes in particular geographical
locations.
Pierre Bourdieu's work on cultural capital will be discussed throughout this thesis
in relation to indie rock. In indie rock circles, music serves as "taste," which scene
members use to differentiate and distance themselves from others, outlining social status
positions. Bourdieu defines taste as follows:
Taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier. Social subjects, classified by
their classifications, distinguish themselves by the distinctions they make,
between the beautiful and the ugly, the distinguished and the vulgar, in which
their position in the objective classifications is expressed or betrayed. 27
27 Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, (Cambridge:
Harvard University Press, 1984),435.
17
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
Internally, the music scene, or "field," works as a social arena in which people manoeuvre
in pursuit of desirable resources or social positions. Social capital, cultural capital, and
symbolic capital are recognized within the social space of indie rock scenes as markers of
identity. Consumers of indie rock occupy a critical social space where knowledge,
experience, and participation in the production and consumption of the culture are valued
as capital and acquire meaning and significance within local scenes and interlocal scenes.
As the set of shared values, aesthetics, and history developed, an interest in
studying indie rock also emerged. Most of the theoretical work that has been done on
indie rock has focused on local scenes in particular places, and outside of Canada. This
study brings in ideas of subculture, cultural capital, and social practices in a Canadian city.
Holly Kruse is one of the most important theorists writing about indie rock
subculture today. Kruse's articles, "Subcultural Identity in Alternative Music Culture"
(1993) and "Institutional Practices in Alternative Music Scenes" (1995), have ultimately
led to her book Site and Sound: Understanding Independent Music Scenes (2000)?8
Kruse focuses on the subculture of college music scenes, examining how the social,
cultural and economic formations allow members to define themselves as separate from
mainstream culture. Specifically, Kruse looks at indie cultural practices as situated within
specific spaces and places, through her research in Champaign, Illinois, which the fall 1991
issue of Rolling Stone called a "fledgling music Mecca. ,,29 Site and Sound examines indie
28 Kruse, "Institutional Practices in Alternative Music Scenes." In Popular Music - Style and
Identity, edited by Will Straw, et al. (Montreal: Dufferin Press, 1995.); and Holly Kruse, Site and Sound:
Understanding Independent Music Scenes. (New York: Peter Lang Publishing: 2003).
29 Kruse. "Subcultural Identity in Alternative Music Culture." Popular Music 12, 1 (1993): 33.
18
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
music history, independent record labels, and sites of indie music distribution: radio, video,
retail and live venues, and issues of social networks and identity.
Cotton Seiler and Tom Carson's preliminary writings based In Louisville,
Kentucky, are also important documents of indie rock music. Tom Carson began
investigating indie rock in 1980 .. .in Louisville, Kentucky. He spent a few weeks with
local bands at rehearsals, going to house partieS/shows and described his findings in his
article "Stop on' Rock." He observed that "it's arrival [regional music] now not only
defines a central change in rock and roll, but also suggests - in however small a way - the
beginnings of a radical realignment in the ways popular art is created and disseminated in
this country.,,30 In 2001, Cotton Seiler picked up Carson's line of inquiry in Louisville and
attempted to sketch out how the Louisville scene developed as a nodal point in the
subculture of indie rock in the late 1980s and 1990s. Seiler described the city's distinctive
scene and "Louisville Sound," a "geographically and historically singular product of the
subcultural impulse, [and] a site-specific example of the indie aesthetic expressed
musically. ,,31
Additional study of indie rock are Sara Cohen and Ruth Finnegan's ethnographies
of British music communities. The bulk of Cohen's data is derived from her observation
of and interviews with two Liverpool bands, in the mid to late 1980s. She looks at these
Liverpool bands within their particular social, cultural and economic contexts by
describing the production and performance of the music. Cohen explores "the
interrelationships between art and society ... the tension between creativity and
30 Carson, "Stop 'N' Rock": 43.
19
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
commerce.,,32 The focus for this study, like the work of Cohen and Finnegan,. is situated in
local music practices as a matter of active collective practice rather than passive mass-
controlled consumption.
33
In her study of Milton Keynes, The Hidden Musicians, Finnegan argues the
importance of looking at processes rather than products, at informal grass-roots activities
rather than formal structure.
34
Cohen supports this approach in the introduction to her
1991 book, Rock Culture in Liverpool; she describes the lack of ethnographic data
detailing both the process of music-making and the means by which bands struggle to
become successful at a local level. 35
By focusing exclusively on local practices, both Finnegan and Cohen's studies
overlook an important way in which musicians and others involved in local scenes
understand their own involvement: as something that both identifies them with and
differentiates them from individuals and groups in other communities. 36 For example,
involvement represents cultural capital for members of the music scene and serves as a
marker of identity in relation to the scene. 37 Placing emphasis on these functions of
identity and cultural capital privileges the personal and social uses of music in people's
lives, and supports the narratives of identity, locality and interlocality.
31 Cotton Seiler, "Indie Rock in Louisville," Journal o/Popular Music Studies 13, 2 (2001): 190.
32 Ruth Finnegan, The Hidden Musicians: Music-Making in an English Town (Cambridge:
University Press, 1989),8.
3 Ibid., 297.
34 Ibid., 8.
35 Sara Cohen, Rock Culture in Liverpool: Popular Music in the Making, (Oxford: Oxford
Press, 1991),69.
6 Kruse, "Subcultural Identity in Alternative Music Culture": 38.
37 Shuker, 247.
20
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
Cohen's studies focus on local practices without much consideration of the
relationship to practices in other localities. Finnegan acknowledges this fact, and Cohen,
in her more recent work, has begun to address the issue of interlocality. I agree with
Kruse that the relationship between the local and the trans-local in the construction of
oppositional musical identities is an issue that should be addressed in detail in ethnographic
research. This thesis attempts to explore the relationship between music consumers and
producers and how this relationship in tum defines participants in scenes. Stuart Hall
argues that identities are produced within an ideological field where signs "can be
discursively re-articulated to construct new meanings, connect with different social
practices, and position social subjects differently.,,38 This study outlines issues of identity
rooted in participants' involvement in the scene, through a discussion of bands, labels and
media. Narratives of cultural capital are present throughout this discussion of indie rock
participants.
In terms of scenes, Kruse and I disagree with Straw's claim that "the relationship
of different local or regional scenes to each other is no longer one in which specific
communities emerge to create a forward movement to which others are drawn. ,,39 The
emergence of bands in Champaign in the mid to late 1980s, which sought to duplicate the
"Minneapolis sound," such as the Replacements; the prominence of the Seattle scene in the
early 1990s; and the recent interest in the Montreal scene with bands like the Arcade Fire,
confirm to the contrary to be true.
38 Stuart Hall,The Hard Road to Renewal: Thatcherism and the Crisis of the Left, London: Verso
Books, 1988),9.
39 Straw, "Systems of Articulation, Logics of Change": 378.
21
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
Steps into Miles: Methodology40
This case study was designed to collect information leading to an understanding of
practices in the Hamilton indie rock community, why and how these practices emerged and
continue, who among the community members take part, the social forces that bind
together members of this community, and what contributes to the development of
interlocality. My research was tailored to Hamilton, as a particular geographical
community, and the indie subculture that exists within it, but it was also framed in relation
to other indie scenes.
I believe my "insider" position helped rather than hindered the research process.
As a subculture, this community could have been critical of a researcher wanting to
conduct interviews. However, the subjects trusted my objectives as a researcher and were
willing to give of their time to be interviewed without remuneration. My personal
experience in the scene as a musician, a fan of indie rock and a resident of the city helped
me build a rapport with my interview subjects. Interviewing subjects from a distinct
subcultural community upholding certain ideals, I made a conscious effort to wear clothes
without brand or band names to avoid influence on subject's responses.
Participant observation occurred in public settings where bands performed with
other members of the indie scene in attendance. I did not disclose my role as a researcher
at these shows; rather, I attended as a music "fan" and observed behaviours that provided
background knowledge for the interview process. Over the course of the eighteen months
during which this study was conducted, I went to approximately one indie rock show,
40 Hayden, Moving Careful, Sonic Unyon Records compact disc SUNCD032 (1996).
22
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
three to four bands per show, per week at local venues that book indie rock music,
primarily the Underground and the Casbah. I used participant observation as a tool to gain
an understanding of the key players in the scene, i.e. venue bookers, prominent bands, and
"die-hard" music fans. Band members, audience members and bar staff were observed in
terms of cultural practices, their interactions with others, styles of dress, and vocabularies
used. I also participated in three east coast tours with my band, and the recording of two
albums during the duration of this project, which gave me first hand experience with other
localities, scene members and processes.
Conducting ethnographic research as part of this study has allowed me to explore
subcultural issues that were not explored fully in previous studies, such as fashion practices
like wearing band tee shirts and pins. In addition to participant observation, I sought out
primary subjects with significant positions in the scene, including venue promoters, label
owners, writers, and record store workers, bar staff and/or band members. Secondary
subjects responded via email to an "Indie Rock Research Study" poster displayed inside
and outside local venues, on information boards at local record stores and on information
boards on the McMaster University campus. These posting areas were selected, because
they are places frequented by members of the community under study. Subjects who
responded to the poster self-identified themselves as appropriate research subjects for the
study by answering "yes" to any or all three example questions on the poster: 1) Do you
like independent music? 2) Do you see bands perform? 3) Do you play in a band? These
questions were used to interest a scene participant into become involved in the study as
well as differentiate people involved in the scene from people who were not. The subjects
23
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
ranged in involvement in the scene from band members to people who had only seen a few
live shows. (The poster is included as Appendix A.)
Although it was not the intent of the research, "snowball sampling" ended up being
an additional method of gaining subjects. After completing an interview, many subjects
recommended someone they knew whom they thought would give a "good interview" and
thus benefit the study. It was often the case that these recommended subjects were already
part of the study, which revealed that the scene is small enough that people know each
other, and that the interviewees agreed on who were the dominant figures in the scene.
I conducted twenty-four face-to-face, semi-structured, interviews. The interviews
lasted one hour, on average, but they ranged from as little as forty minutes to as long as
three hours, depending upon the subject's involvement in the scene and interest in the
study. I conducted the interviews either on the McMaster campus or at a location
convenient for the subject, usually a coffee shop in downtown Hamilton. Efforts were
made to optimize the level of participation, and quality of information provided by subjects
by not conducting interviews at live music venues, which would have provided a loud and
distracting interview setting.
The primary and secondary subjects were both male (sixteen) and female (eight)
between the ages of eighteen and forty-nine. Ten subjects were between the ages of
eighteen and twenty-one, six subjects were between the ages of twenty-two and twenty-
six, three subjects were between the ages of twenty-seven and thirty years and five subjects
were above thirty years of age. I also spoke to a supplementary group of informants while
doing participant observation at live music venues. These informants ranged from people
24
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
in bands, either performing on that bill or in attendance, to people working at the venue as
door people, bartenders, busboys/busgirls, and promoters.
Each interview participant received a Letter of Information outlining the objectives
of the research study and written consent was obtained from each interview participant.
(See Appendix B for the Letter of Information and Appendix C for the Consent Form.)
Many subjects inquired as to why written consent was required to "talk about music," but
all obliged after a brief explanation of research ethics. This fits into the DIY ethic of the
scene, as interviewees unanimously reported that the scene operates within the narrative of
people doing what they do because they enjoy it and that it is based on social alliances and
not formalities; thus, they found it peculiar that I would propose such a formal
arrangement.
I agree with Holly Kruse when she states that the "relationship between music
consumers and producers and how this relationship defines participants in scenes needs to
be problematised.,,41 The meaning of indie rock practice for producers is analyzed in this
study of the Hamilton indie rock scene, which supplies a new look at relationships and
practices within local and interlocal scenes. My approach helps address the gaps in
research on this subculture as it draws upon my experiential understanding of the
subculture. My personal experience in the scene provided me with background knowledge
that led to a casual style of conversation during the interview process rather than a formal
question and answer process, because many of the interviewees were familiar musicians
and scene members. This advantage produced exciting results with regard to what
25
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
information scene participants shared, how candidly they shared it, and how these findings
address issues of identity, community, and cultural production and consumption.
41 Kruse. "Subcultural Identity in Alternative Music Culture." Popular Music 12, 1 (1993): 39.
26
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
CHAPTER 2
Home: Hamilton as Local Scene!
One thing that everyone can agree on about Hamilton is that it is a pretty
dirty town, it has a pretty raw sound ... at least 1 don't see a lot of poppy
artists coming out of Hamilton. There's a lot of screaming people, but 1
don't know if that's frustration or if that's what they enjoy, or if it's just
what 1 see coming out ofHamilton ... really honest Rock and Roll.2
The city of Hamilton is situated between Toronto and Niagara Falls along the shore
of Lake Ontario. Residents and non-residents alike often refer to Hamilton as the
Hammer" or "Steel town." Steel remains the primary industry of the city and employs a
substantial percentage of the population of Hamilton. The gritty nature of the steel
industry is imbedded in the city's landscape, environment, history, culture and people.
According to interview respondents, this gritty aesthetic can also be found in the music:
1 would associate Hamilton with some sort of an aggressiveness, maybe a
quirky or downtrodden aggressiveness ... 1 just think of the culture of
Hamilton and the environment of Hamilton, 1 think of that as represented by
music, a downtrodden, suffering kind of thing.
3
Despite Hamilton's gritty and working class character, most participants in its indie scene
are relatively privileged in terms of education and other markers of social identity. It's not
steel workers making this music: it's college kids choosing to be a part of the culture.
When asked to describe Hamilton's indie audience, people often began their
description with a level of formal education. Nearly all of the interviewees were pursuing
or already held post-secondary diplomas and/or degrees, and a few were taking part-time
post-secondary courses at the time of interview. "I'd say that they're primarily educated,
1 Lou Barlow, Emoh, Merge Records compact disc MRG254 (2005).
2 Interviewee T, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 13 March 2005.
27
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
young people under the age of thirty-five, I would say primarily white, primarily
heterosexual, primarily male, and I guess artistic probably toO.,,4
This description is representative of what most interviewees cite as true and was
reflected by my interview sample. All of the sixteen males interviewed for this study fit
that description. Similarly, all of the females interviewed were white, heterosexual and
artistic. One promoter who has booked indie rock bands for nearly a decade explained:
The kind of people that we're talking about here are people that need to be
stimulated intellectually, they're too smart to be brainwashed by somebody.
They're able to get away from all that brainwashing entity that's involved in
commercial music.
5
With this level of homogeneity, age - not gender, class or education - became the
most significant factor in determining differing attitudes. Most questions received two
contrasting responses. Subjects aged eighteen to twenty-one often responded differently
from subjects over twenty-two. Age affects how interviewees experienced the scene
differently as it affects their attendance at venues and the significance of other institutions
differs for members of different age categories. For example, the older scene members
often worked at record stores and clubs, whereas younger members were patrons of such
institutions. Venues, record stores and labels are the primary institutions in indie rock
social interaction. This chapter will outline the importance of each institution and how
they relate to the local scene and scene participants in Hamilton. This is an important part
of this study as it displays the multi-function of scene participants and how their
interactions represent a communal interest in the development of the culture. An example
3 Interviewee J, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 13 February 2005.
4 Interviewee L, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 16 February 2005.
28
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
of this is one scene participant who played in a band, attended shows as an audience
member, and also worked as a bus boy at a local venue. These types of involvements
represent different personal investments, such as creativity, time and money that attribute
to scene members gaining a sense of identity from their involvements. This is important
because such institutions exist in other localities and highlight issues of interlocality,
making this look at a local indie music scene a microcosm of what is happening on a much
larger scale.
Fifteen out of the twenty-four people interviewed for this project called Hamilton
their hometown. Of the remaining participants, five interviewees lived in surrounding
cities and four were pursuing post-secondary education in Hamilton. All of the
interviewed subjects were involved in Hamilton's scene. The majority of the people
interviewed for this project lived in the downtown neighbourhood, where the independent
rock venues are located, along with the majority of independent record stores, vintage
clothing shops, instrument stores, and tattoo shops - shops patronized, according to scene
members, by the people involved in this culture. It is important to note that these venues
and shops are within a small geographic area, because the majority of people in this
subculture do not have vehicles and prefer walking or public transit to owning a vehicle.
Both age categories place an emphasis on the eclectic nature of the music being
produced in Hamilton.
I think Hamilton allows for so much experimentation that every band ends up
sounding quite distinct. I wouldn't say there's a characteristic Rock and Roll
sound here, because the majority of people here don't care and it's a very
5 Ibid.
29
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
small unit of people that comes to support this music and those people are
very open-minded. It's a very underground thing.
6
The Fence Feels its Post: Institutions
7
In Site and Sound, Holly Kruse states, "Live musical performance is arguably the
most immediate means available for disseminating college music, since it locates performer
and audience within the same physical space.,,8 Cohen suggests that a physical space is
also a social space, one in which audience members and musicians are united in common
activity.9 Through attending live performances, participants are aware of a shared musical
knowledge and taste; furthermore, audience members and performers often know each
other. Audience members at concerts are often musicians themselves, or are friends of the
band on-stage, and consequently support a sense of equality and unity between audience
and performers. 10
Subjects relayed the excitement they felt in sharing new bands and music with their
friends. "I try to bring people to shows because I think: they'll have a good time. Once
you see it yourself, you just start coming back."ll As Tom Carson found in Louisville, the
gig "was a celebration for both the band and the audience." He claimed he "found what so
many people had always looked for in rock and roll, and almost never found - the sense
that where I was, right at that moment, was the center of the universe, the single most
6 Interviewee K, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 15 February 2005.
7 Frog Eyes, The Folded Palm, Absolutely Kosher Records compact disc AK043 (2004).
8 Holly Kruse, Site and Sound: Understanding Independent Music Scenes. New York: Peter Lang
Publishing: 2003). 102.
9 Sara Cohen, Rock Culture in Liverpool: Popular Music in the Making, (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1991), 102.
10 Holly Kruse, Site and Sound, 121.
II Interviewee F, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 8 February 2005.
30
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
important place in the world to be.,,12 This view of the live show, as a special and
important experience, was confirmed in my research findings. In general, interviewees
focused on attending shows as entertainment, yet always included something about
learning. Here we see informal education also being celebrated. One interviewee claimed,
"It's about a good time, it's about enjoying music and learning.,,13 Interviewees
emphasized the importance of the live venue as a social space to learn about music. With
most bills including three to four bands in a night, and with regulars cycling through a few
clubs in a night, indie rock audiences tend to be exposed to a lot of new music at live
musIc venues.
Interviewees spoke at length about shows they attended and sometimes about how
a certain show was sadly unattended. Most shows in Hamilton do not sell out; the ones
that do are often bills with headlining touring bands. The appeal of something that
shouldn 'f be happening such as a well-known indie band playing a small venue in a city
like Hamilton is a dichotomy music fans valued. In her case study of the Liverpool rock
scene, Sara Cohen notes that the majority of local acts drew only between fifteen to twenty
patrons. 14 A similar trend could be observed in alternative music clubs in most United
States' college towns in the 1980s and 1990s and continues in independent rock shows in
Hamilton, Ontario, in 2005.
15
The function of the music venue as social space is emphasized by how often people
attend shows. Most interviewees claimed that they "only go to bars that feature live
12 Tom Carson "Stop 'N' Rock," The Village Voice (3-9 December 1980): 48.
\3 Interviewee G, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 8 Febrmuy 2005.
14 Sara Cohen, Rock Culture in Liverpool, 104.
31
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
music," with most interviewees seeing live music "two to three times a week.,,16 The
difference between the younger age category and the older age category was highlighted
by a contrast in responses regarding how frequently they attended live shows.
Younger interviewees tended to go out often: "It's sporadic, this week twice,
sometimes seven nights a week;" and, "I go to probably, more shows than I should go to,
.. .in a month, I'd say five or SiX.,,17 In contrast, many of the older scene members said
they didn't experiment as much as they had in the past. They no longer go out "just based
on hearsay, 'Oh this band's supposed to be really good, check them out. ",18 Others
explained how their work affected the amount of shows they attend.
Not as often as I once did, not as often as I'd like. I think I probably peaked
from 1990-1995, when I'd be at shows at least three nights a week, many of
them out of town, while I was in university. I may check out three a month
now, primarily because my job carries a lot of overtime. 19
The participants' financial situation also affected the frequency they were able to
attend shows. Most of the younger audience members (aged eighteen to twenty-one) were
still attending post-secondary education and living either with their parents or on their own
with the assistance of a student loan. The older participants were living on their own and
often working to payoff student loans. This, as well as a difference in experience and
taste refinement affected their attendance. Younger fans attended more shows and older
fans attended fewer. Patrons claimed that "touring bills are usually ten to twelve bucks,
15 Kruse, Site and Sound, 104.
16 Interviewee R interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 8 March 2005.
17 Interviewee U, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 13 March 2005; and
Interviewee M, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 18 February 2005.
18 Interviewee N, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 18 February 2005.
19 Interviewee S, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 11 March 2005.
32
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
and a local bill is usually five to seven bucks. ,,20 All interviewees agreed that these charges
are fair; many of the audience members are musicians themselves and know how much it
costs a band financially to acquire instruments, transportation, and time off work to play
gIgS.
Fans therefore respect bands for the sacrifices made to tour through cities,
especially smaller cities. It is not uncommon for a fan of a band to try to
convince other people to attend their show. According to respondents, word
of mouth is the most important way of obtaining information about a band or
a show. One might read about a band in a local weekly paper and/or hear
their music on local college radio, but word of mouth is the chief method of
promotion, for someone who enjoyed a live show might recommend the
band to a friend the next time they play in town. The valuing of personal
opinion has value and relates to the social ties that developed between
participants in the independent music scene. Live music venues are the
primary location for socialization amongst indie rock fans, and are important
institutions within indie scenes.
21
Interview subjects agreed unanimously that small venues are ideal for watching
bands perform. Not only does a small venue place the audience and performers closer
spatially, creating an intimate environment, but the capacity of smaller venues limits the
experience to no more than a few hundred people (although most shows have a smaller
tum-out than that).
What I know I like about it is I can go to a local bar and watch it with ten
other people, twenty other people, maybe one hundred other people, but it's
such a small intimate environment, that I feel like 'Wow, for seven dollars I
just experienced something when they could be playing to 40,000 people'
and I wouldn't bother to go, because I don't like a big crowd.
22
20 Interviewee U.
21 Ibid.
22 Interviewee T.
33
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
I like to sit, when I go to a bar or to see a band. I can't stand and be
shoulder to shoulder with people in huge arenas just to see a half hour's
worth of a crap set when I'd rather be in an intimate environment. 23
Hamilton has two main clubs, the Underground and the Casbah, which hold a few
hundred people each. Like most Canadian cities, it also has local pubs that act as music
venues with smaller capacities and an almost makeshift feeling.
I think it has to do with the unavoidable intimacy of that situation, that the
band and audience have a more visceral give and take happening. It works
better for young, unproven acts and divergent or aberrant material. That can
be the only way you actually get to see it performed.
24
It's kind of like an anti-star type thing, because nobody's like, "This is the
star, this is the audience." You have the opportunity to talk to whom you're
seeing if you want to talk to them. 25
When you go see an independent band ... a band that you have some of their
music at home and you really enjoy it and you go see them play to thirty
people and you talk to them at the show, it's much more personal than an
audience of 10,000. When it's shared with that many people you can't really
take it personally, but when you're one of the few in the room it can be
special. 26
Over half of the people interviewed for this project played in bands at the time of
interview, and those not in a band at the time of interview, even those who were not
musicians, claimed to have wanted to play in a band. The fact that fifty percent of the
scene members interviewed are musicians themselves demonstrates that active cultural
production - performing music - is given privilege over consuming mass culture. This
reduces the distance between performers and audiences, since other performers compose a
23 Interviewee R.
24 Interviewee X, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 16 March 2005.; and
interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 16 March 2005.
25 Interviewee M.
26 Interviewee A, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, I February 2005.
34
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
portion of the audience. Further, as Sara Cohen observes, the gap between performers
and audiences can be narrowed by interpersonal contact that takes place at venues during
the off stage time, before and after sets and shows.
27
The DIY perspective is evident in the
lack of distance between performer and audience; intimacy within the live performance
environment is often heightened by shared practices, like music collecting, which serve as
markers of knowledge of, and interest in, the music. 28 Therefore, a concert does not
consist of skilled musicians on stage while unskilled audience members watch them
perform; rather, it is a case of musicians playing to other musicians: a concert becomes a
production for producers.
Touring bands play an important role in the production of this culture. Most major
label touring bands stay in hotels, but the financial constraints of indie bands, adherence to
indie ideals, and interest in community often lead touring bands to be housed by a local
band on the bill. The courtesy is often re-paid when the local band in turn tours in the
hometown of the visiting band; thus, the construction of community within the indie rock
subculture extends from bands to other bands. Other people in the subculture also
participate in the housing of touring bands, with some bands asking during their set
whether anyone has space for them to sleep for the night. In the world of indie rock tours,
every dollar counts: if a band can save the seventy-five dollars a hotel would cost, they
often opt to sleep on someone's couch or floor. The hosts, whether band or scene
members, often take their "visitors" to their local record shops, studios, music shops and
vintage stores, reflecting a communal interest in such forms of shared culture. Although
27 Cohen, Rock Culture in Liverpool, 40.
35
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
many are commercial venues, they are often of an underground nature. The people who
work at such shops are often familiar faces or friends of the bands, and again, the sense of
an underground community is strengthened.
The respect among indie participants for touring bands creates a co-operative
atmosphere at venues: "I'd like to think that it is welcoming, that it is a place where people
would like to go without being ridiculed or hassled or stared down or beat Up.,,29
Participants see venues in Hamilton as welcoming social spaces - some interviewees
contrasted the Hamilton scene to scenes in other cities, which to them often appear
intimidating: "I think Hamilton is a lot more open and the scene is so diverse that you
don't have that edgy, kind of pricky, general feel and you're not going to have anyone
looking down at you. ,,30 One female interviewee offered a different perspective, however.
She said that live clubs were intimidating to her as a gender minority. "For younger
people, it's the same with girls, it's the intimidation factor, like this is where all the older
indie rocker people are hanging out and I'm intimidated.,,31 Here, a female scene member
identifies with under-agers, who are both minorities in this tight and homogenous
subculture, although it appears things are changing - for the under-agers.
Before June 1, 2004, when a by-law passed which banned smoking in public
spaces, minors were not allowed into the city's live music venues because patrons were
permitted to smoke on the premises. Since the smoking by-law changed, more minors
attend shows, play in bands and are present in the scene. One local club hosts early shows
28 Kruse, Site and Sound, 121.
29 Interviewee 0, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 18 February 2005.
30 Interviewee U.
36
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
directed toward the under-age crowd, followed by late shows geared toward a nineteen-
plus audience. Although minors are admitted to either show, the promoter books bands
geared toward each group. Older interviewees were concerned at the beginning of the by-
law change that they would essentially "lose their social turf' to an "all ages crowd" at the
clubs they frequented. Older participants realized, however, how important getting
involved in the music scene at a young age had been for them and were consequently
willing to share their social space so that younger people can see shows and connect with
people of similar interests and practices. This I would argue has reduced the intimidation
factor that younger fans experienced when they were not permitted in venues as they now
have the opportunity to attend shows and gain cultural knowledge and experience.
F or promoters, having minors, as patrons can be both an advantage and a
disadvantage. Bar sales are lower at all-ages shows, but the shows can be seen as
investments in a future audience. Promoters book younger bands to open for more
established bands: "The energy and enthusiasm of younger audiences is real, and it's great
to be able to allow younger bands the chance to play alongside more established bands or
just enjoy them from the audience. ,,32 The energy and creativity of younger bands led to
their acceptance within the scene. Older participants and promoters have welcomed the
new younger bands into the scene as opening bands and sometimes as headliners. This
cross-generational atmosphere helps the younger generation of scene participants develop
a body of experience surrounding indie cultural practice, and therefore helps the music
scene thrive, by involving upcoming generations.
31 Interviewee D, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 4 February 2005.
37
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
Most older scene participants said they enjoy the financial benefits of having minors
at shows, most of whom are high-school students, live at home, and have part-time jobs.
I think it's fantastic for bands, because right now I look at my life and the
only access I have and the only time and energy I have to research new music
is minimal compared to when I was fourteen, fifteen, sixteen. I had so much
time to hang out and toss the word around so I think its fantastic that there is
more underage people because they have more time to talk and form their
own bands and form their own tastes and stuff 33
Minors pay the cover and purchase merchandise which helps performing bands financially,
but also stands to help promote the future scene, "I started to go to shows young and I
think if the city wants to support the independent music community they need to get
people into it young, because for me it sort of became a lifestyle.,,34
If live venues are the heart of Hamilton's indie music scene, independent record
stores are its daytime community centers, while the label Sonic Unyon has supported the
coalescence of Hamilton's distinct musical aesthetic. Alternative music fans can purchase
recorded music off the stage at live shows, but they can also obtain it from independent
music shops. Holly Kruse finds independent record stores, along with clubs, to be the
most visible sites of interaction within independent pop/rock music scenes. She states,
"Within any given locality the stores that tend to have the greatest commitment to local
alternative rock/pop, and to alternative rock/pop in general, are not the chain stores but
are locally owned businesses. ,,35 The handful of independent record stores in downtown
Hamilton reflects the number of indie music fans supporting such enterprises: Cheapies,
32 Interviewee X.
33 Interviewee R
34 Interviewee A.
35 Kruse, Site and Sound, 96.
38
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
Screamin' Mimi's, Dr. Disc, Sonic Unyon, and Reigning Sound. Five out of the twenty-
four interviewees, four of whom played in local indie bands, worked in record stores. One
band member explained that working in a record store helped him evolve into a "broad
music listener. ,,36 Most of the independent record stores in Hamilton have hours of
operation from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., or until "Whenever," in the case of the sign at Reigning
Sound. As Barry Shank found in his study of popular music practice in Austin, Texas, this
presence of active scene participants working behind the counter in Hamilton's local
record stores creates a daytime community space for scene participants. 37
For indie music scene participants, record stores are not merely retail outlets: they
are spaces of social interaction and socialization. Kruse asserts that "customers often seek
advice from, or seek to exchange knowledge with, store employees, and through this
process learn not just about various artists, records, and genres, but also about the local
music culture. ,,38 As the people working at local music stores are often musicians as well
as scene members, they signify an informed position or authority on music. Employees in
such stores often decide what music to stock and to play on the store's sound system; this
reflects their taste, influences patrons, and, in some cases, helps shape the store's specialty
in certain sub-genres. Unlike larger retail chain stores, independent record stores connect
the local music to the local audience, often working in tandem with clubs: they often carry
local bands' albums and EPs on consignment, provide handbills for local shows, sell tickets
for shows as well as hold in-store performances by local and national acts. Record stores
36 Interviewee I, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 10 February 2005.
37 Kruse, Site and Sound, 95.
38 Ibid. 94.
39
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
also provide poster boards for local bands and musicians to communicate: the po stings
generally include instruments for sale, and bands looking for new members. Like
performance venues, record stores display upcoming show posters created and posted by
band members and/or clubs and make available handbills, or pocket size posters, on their
counters.
Donut Rock City: The Hamilton Sound
39
Kruse defines regional sound as a particular geographical site of localized musical
production involving particular common characteristics to the music. Although all of the
subjects describe the current Hamilton scene as eclectic, they also agree upon unifying
forces within the scene, particularly the presence of Sonic Unyon Records.
I think stepping back through the past decade or two there are currents or
threads that come up in a lot of the Sonic Unyon bands. Bands like Gorp I
think were really influential ... and Golden Lake Diner, Sianspheric, Tristan
Psionic. I would think that some of those threads might constitute a
Hamilton Sound. 40
Another interviewee supported this perspective,
I don't know that I feel that Hamilton has a scene per say, I think it did at
one time with the emergence of Sonic Unyon [record company] and the
bands that were on it. It felt like that was a scene because there was some
common identifiers, some sort of ties between the bands.
41
Both of these comments were made by members of the older age category and reflect
commonalities between bands involved with Sonic Unyoll, which helped constitute what
they considered a Hamilton Sound. The bands mentioned above all shared similar
39 Tristan Psionic, TPA Flight 028, Sonic Unyon Records compact disc SUNCD028 (1996).
40 Interviewee J.
40
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
production practices and established a national reputation for being hard working bands
from a hard working city. Today, Sonic Unyon has a large distribution roster and does not
have the same connection to local bands. The Sonic Unyon Record Company has been an
important factor in the development of the Hamilton indie scene. It started in a spare
room in 1992, "a glorified closet," according to one of its partners.
42
The three young
twenty-something men who started the company were university educated and playing in
Tristan Psionic, a respected indie band from Hamilton. They "signed" friends' bands and
put out tapes, dropping them off at record stores on consignment on their tours across
Canada and the United States. When they returned month's later on subsequent tours,
they visited these record stores again to deliver more new releases and pick up any money
received from purchases. These kinds of personal connections between bands and record
stores were the first threads that connected the now close web of musicians, record stores,
venues and indie rock fans in different geographical locations. Many respondents viewed
Sonic Unyon as a label that, by releasing music through a DIY approach and helping
touring bands play shows in Hamilton, launched the Hamilton scene. 43 One label partner
explained, "all the bands helped. Everybody helped put together cassettes and dubbing
cassettes, everybody pitched in." An older scene member expressed a similar perspective:
There were an umbrella of bands that were on the label that really were the
nucleus of the indie rock scene in the '90s: bands like Sian, which later
became Sianspheric, Shallow, which later became Shallow North Dakota, as
well as Gorp and Golden Lake Diner (both defunct bands now). There was
also, (what I feel was really important) was the high school music scene in
the nineties. There was a lot of coffee house performances that were
41 Interviewee A.
42 Interviewee P, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 20 February 2005.
43 Ibid.
41
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
organized at high schools, there was late night concerts in the gymnasiums,
there was house shows, and ... bands eventually got ballsy enough to propose
to bars to have all-ages shows in the clubs and that was something that kind
of happened at the same time that Sonic Unyon was developing, so you had
this label and then you had these non-label bands that were kind of the
opening bands for the bands on this label, so there was a relationship that
was developed between it all. So, I think it was ... the high school music
scene that sort of established a realization that you could do this yourself and
you didn't need to have some big venue company or big promotions
company running something or for something to happen, they could do it
themselves. 44
When asked to describe the current Hamilton mUSIC scene, respondents
unanimously described an eclectic scene involving a variety of bands, and often situated
the bands historically within the development of the Hamilton music scene. Most
respondents used the word "diverse" to describe the diversity of music being produced
under the generic umbrella of indie rock. Their word choice does not reflect a diversity of
race, ethnicity, sexuality, or gender, as the overwhelming majority of scene participants are
white, heterosexual males. Each interviewee spoke with respect about local artists and the
scene, reflecting the personal value the scene provides them as well as their understanding
of the music community. Describing the trajectory of Hamilton music and musicians, one
interviewee pointed to the guitarist Ronnie Hawkins
I think it's that legacy that started with Ronnie and it just keeps getting
passed on and on and on right down the line. There's a great respect in this
city, and it doesn't always happen in other cities, for what has come before
and it's because there is a community here. It's not like Vancouver or
Toronto where the competition's huge, so musicians rely on each other a
little bit. The way Tom Wilson and Dave Rave (both in their mid forties)
look up to Jackie Washington, or Harrison Kennedy who is in his 60s, and
Jackie's in his 80s. Then you got the Ride Theory kids and their folks who
started out the folk scene thirty years ago. There's an intergenerational give
and take here that you don't see in a lot of communities. You get Brad
44 Interviewee L.
42
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
[singer/guitarist] of the Marble Index watching bands like Junkhouse at
Festival of Friends, and watching the way Tom Wilson does his stage thing
even though Tom's twenty years older, that rubs off That allows Brad to
become a really good performer. Then you got the guys behind [bass and
drums] doing really good guitar rock. And I don't know if that would have
come out of a Queen West scene.
45
This person describes the importance of local history and how the musical
community functions in a different way from complementary scenes. This could be
because Hamilton is large enough to have a decent music community, but small enough to
maintain the sense of interconnectedness and history. Many respondents positioned the
Hamilton indie scene in contrast to the Toronto scene, noting their choices to stay in
Hamilton rather than moving to a bigger city. This is similar to what Tom Carson found in
Louisville back in the 1980s, that for the bands and a good deal of the audience,
Staying in Louisville, doing what they do, is a matter of choice, as temporary
or permanent as they want it to be, That the smart kids are now deciding to
stay in their home town - assuming that they can say whatever they have to
say right here, and drawing sustenance from the very culture, social
hierarchy, and regional peculiarities they would normally be expected to flee
- is, to me, among the most important things I found in Louisville. 46
Most believe that because of the diversity of the music currently being produced in
Hamilton, the only common characteristic is that the music is, "genuine because you can
tell they're not jumping on trends, they're just doing what they want to do.,,47 Reflecting
on current bands in town, one interviewee explains:
I think Hamilton is pretty eclectic in its sound. I don't think that there's one
particular sound that people call a Hamilton Sound ... Hamilton artists don't
seem to get influenced too much by what the guy next door is doing. They
do it themselves, the way they want to do it and if someone happens to like it
45 Interviewee W, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 15 March 2005.
46 Carson, "Stop 'N' Rock": 44.
47 Interviewee K.
43
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
that's great, but if they don't that's fine too . You don't see a certain sound
develop like Toronto or Montreal or Buffalo even, and then that bleeds into
Hamilton and the way the music is made here ... because they're not
influenced by larger markets, and a lot of the times it lacks commercial
success because of it ... 1 can name all kinds of bands that locally, in Hamilton
are highly successful, there's no denying they're good, and the only reason
they're not succeeding in Toronto is because their sound is not considered a
hip thing in Toronto at the time.
48
The Hamilton scene as a local community is rooted in its eclectic history and is contributes
to the development of people's narratives of their identities within it.
Storytelling: Narrative Histories
49
The above discussion relates to the two important means by which subjects located
themselves within the social space of independent pop/rock music scenes, according to
Kruse: genre identification and personal narrative histories of involvement with the genre.
This study, in congruence with Kruse, found subjects locating themselves within the
physical spaces, social relationships, and history of Hamilton's music scene. 50 Subjects
used their personal narrative histories to locate themselves within the social space of the
scene: "I used to go to all the Sonic Unyon shows ages and ages ago, I used to be an X
Club [now defunct all-ages club] guy, one of the regulars, who sawall the Hayden shows
and sat on the floor. ,,51 Implicit in these personal narratives was the idea that they
constituted a connection with a history and a set of practices, and situated these identities
both locally and interlocally. This positioning of one's personal narrative history within a
48 Interviewee L.
49 Belle & Sebastian, Storytelling, Matador compact disc OLE-512 (2002).
50 Kruse, Site and Sound, 32.
51 Interviewee I.
44
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
local history of practices helped individuals define themselves as more authentic, and more
importantly, more marginal, and in essence more connected to related marginal scenes
happening interlocally.
One of the common traits between the people interviewed for this project was that
the majority of them became involved in the local music scene young, between roughly
fourteen and fifteen years of age. Like the scene member who reflected on his personal
narrative history as an "X-Club guy" who "sawall the Hayden shows," the majority of
scene members started going to all-ages venues, such as the X-Club or Transit Union Hall,
to see local bands as well as touring bands perform. My younger interviewees did not
have the opportunity to attend these venues; they attend all-ages shows at the
Underground. The type of music featured at these venues does not appear on mainstream
radio, but rather on local independent stations at colleges and universities, the types of
stations that members of the scene were exposed to in their younger years and have
continued to patronize.
The success of local bands depends upon communication among students in high
school, college, and university.
At the local band level, it's definitely because of the school being a
communication system to keep their fans informed, I think at the non-local
level, it still holds true, mostly because it's young people that embrace this
music. As I said, it's an under-thirty-five-year-old-culture.
52
Subjects repeatedly stressed the weight of "word of mouth" advertising through
people involved in the culture.
52 Interviewee L.
45
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
I was lucky, like fourteen or fifteen, it was just hanging out with the right
groups of people and everybody I knew was playing guitar, bass, drums,
listening to all kinds of stuff I hadn't heard on the radio like old Eric's Trip,
Tristan Psionic, all those guys. 53
When asked what holds their interest in indie music, most subjects described the
"excitement of the unknown. ,,54 One subject aligned his first experience with indie music
with his discovery of non-commercial radio in Hamilton,
I felt like I was learning about something that not too many people were
learning about and I knew a secret that a lot of people didn't know about so
I felt like I was truly getting into something. I knew that if I were to talk to
people about what I've been listening to lately, most of the people wouldn't
know what I was talking about. 55
This underground knowledge made this scene member feel like a "specialist," possessing
knowledge and experience in a non-mainstream cultural practice. Subjects described the
value of following a band's development and anticipating releases: "When you get into a
band that you really like, you can't wait for the next thing to come out, because it's like
'Oh it's going to be like this but even better, or have a little twist in it,' so there's always
something to look forward to.,,56
Subjects were asked about what artists, indie and otherwise, are important. My
assumptions were that the question would prompt people to describe artists, indie or
otherwise, they considered important to the general history of the music. However, most
subjects listed bands and albums that were important in their own personal narrative
histories: "For me personally, Sebadoh's Bake Sale, Sonic Youth; Dirty, Dinosaur Ir.'s
53 Interviewee R.
54 Interviewee X.
55 Interviewee L.
56 Interviewee D.
46
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
Without a Sound, Eric's Trip's Love Tara were albums important in my youth.,,57
Although each subject had a list of bands they considered important within their personal
histories, there were certain musicians and bands that were common among the majority of
subjects. The understanding of certain key bands in the canon of indie rock is central in
locating oneself within the musical tradition of independent rock music. It aligns with
Kruse's findings:
Indie pop stresses melody and song structure, and is largely defined
historically by a knowledge and appreciation of certain (mainly non-local)
bands and musicians; and while you might trace your "guitar pop" tastes
back to the Beatles or the Beach Boys, most commonly cited as the mythic
founder of this genre is Alex Chilton, and specifically his early 1970's
Memphis band Big Star. 58
Kruse found that subjects cited influences from obscure to mainstream (i.e. Beatles, Beach
Boys); however, subjects involved in this study listed bands of a more obscure nature, and
put more of an emphasis on the quantity and the constant newness of the music to which
they listen: "The list could go on forever, and whatever I came up with I would only
change it later. ,,59
Interviewees described how their listening tastes evolved: "It's a little like
browsing in a record store. Something ignites an interest, and that travels out in forked
patterns. It's happened that way again and again.,,60 One member explained, "As I get
57 Interviewee A.
58 Kruse. "Subcultural Identity in Alternative Music Culture." Popular Music 12, 1 (1993): 36.
59 Interviewee X.
60 Ibid.
47
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
older, I listen to a lot more stuff that I wouldn't have listened to before.,,61 With this
exploration of music often comes a critical perspective:
When I was a kid I was the guy watching MuchMusic, so I don't think
there's anything wrong with that intrinsically, it's just, when you become
more critical, you start to find things you don't like in it anymore, and I think
you kind of grow away from it. 62
Just as most subjects agreed that there are advantages to getting into the scene at a
young age, they also described how their listening taste changed or developed. One
subject summed it up;t.Tastes get described a position similar to that
of the majority of subjects interviewed:
I'd like to think that now I just listen to good music, because there was a
time when I first started going to shows where it seemed cool to like
independent bands and that held value sort of in and of itself, that a band was
independent and that made a band sort of cooler or acceptable ... and you
would maybe forgive poor song writing or recording quality because of that
and ... I know that it doesn't hold a lot of weight anymore. Because I have
been going to shows for so long, I tend to find out about independent bands,
but I don't need to impress anyone by liking to independent music
anymore. 64
One subject goes one step further to say the importance of getting into indie rock at a
young age as,' "Sometimes when you're younger, music that's not as good sounds better.
So you kind of support those bands that aren't that great in the the
experience of attending shows and seeing numerous bands perform and existing in an indie
rock scene, one develops a sense of what quality music and bands are about.
61 Interviewee U.
62 Interviewee K.
63 Ibid.
64 Interviewee A.
65 Interviewee H, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 9 February 2005.
48
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
I used to like music with a lot more energy in it, the louder and the more you
could dance around and push people around the better, because we could
mosh or whatever we did (we were stupid then). Now I appreciate softer
stuff more and really good lyrics ... I guess I have a lot more of an
appreciation for artists now than I did. It was more about just having fun. It
was more about 'what can I listen to when I want to party?' and now its
more about "what am I really going to get something out of? What am I
really going to enjoy? What' s g o i n ~ to make me feel all kinds of different
emotions" and not just "Woo hoo.,,6
This interviewee stated:
The thing about Hamilton's music scene is ... people tend to think of it as
being very one-dimensional. People tend to have the opinion (and sometimes
it's justified) that Hamilton can't do anything other than indie rock.
67
This person explained how there is electronic music and hip hop music coming out of
Hamilton, but was fiustrated that outsiders tend to think of Hamilton as a one-
dimensional, indie rock city because of Sonic Unyon and the string of indie rock bands to
come out of Hamilton.
Institutions such as Sonic Unyon, record stores and venues create a sense of place
within the local Hamilton scene. The existence of a local sound is related to the city's
institutions and history of indie rock. Participant's personal narrative histories are a
product of involvement in the scene and are related to issues of social practice,
authenticity, investment and identity as discussed in chapter 3.
66 Interviewee D.
67 Interviewee F.
49
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Critici:
CHAPTER 3
All Dressed Up: Practices and Identityl
I Smell a Rat: Authenticity2
One of the most important findings of this project was around the sense of the
authentic within this music scene. Many of the interviewees described authenticity, the
notion of "honest Rock and Roll" as a positive quality in music: ~ t h i n k the heart of it is,
... ....,
it's genuine, it's an authentic art form even if it's not high art, it's just genuine.,,3 \
Theorists have remarked for years that these people celebrate indie rock as authentic music
- my question was why these participants view the music and the culture as genuine and
how this culture celebrates it. Musicians, promoters, writers and fans alike, described
indie music as authentic; genuine, honest, true, real. Indie music can be interpreted as
authentic because of the apparent coherence between sound, style, performance, and
production. In The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Erving Goffman outlines how
when an individual presents himlherself before others, hislher performance tends to
incorporate and exemplify the ascribed values of the society.
4
The expected consistency
between appearance, manner and setting, assists in creating a sense of the authentic in
indie rock practice.
/"
\Jbis sense of the authentic could be interpreted in contrast to mainstream popular
music, where the often slick production, marketing campaigns and music are not entirely
35.
1 Thrush Hermit, Smart Bomb, Murderecords compact disc MURCD004 (1994).
2 Sebadoh, Harmacy, Sub Pop RecoTds compact disc SPCD370 (1996).
3 Interviewee K, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 15 February 2005.
4 Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, (New York: Anchor Books, 1959),
50
. .,
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music C r i t i c i ~
the creations of the artist him/herself. \The fact that all of the subjects agreed that indie
. ~
music is authentic relates to why they invest so much time, and energy, and money into
./
this music culture - they believe in it. \];bey believe in the music itself, they believe in the
people making the music, they believe in the process by which this music is created,
distributed and produced, and they believe in the system within which these people
operate] These people function within a network of indie cultural production, which
operates, by and large, outside of the mainstream music industry, which involves a division
of labour, where the marketers do the marketing and the distributors do the distributing.
In indie rock, the band's work encompasses all aspects of the work, from the creative to
the business. DIY cultural practice therefore positions itself as rooted in issues of control
and accountability. In an age of pre-packaged, American Idol stars, this type of grass
roots culture and musical production and consumption are of increasing importance.
Cotton Seiler describes the indie subculture's cynicism about the commercial
mainstream as incompletely concealing romanticism about its own home-grown product.
5
I agree, as participants celebrated this romanticism and described how DIY active music
production and authenticity creates a sense of unity amongst indie rock scene participants.
One musician explained, ':.1 think the [indie] music is played for more honourable reasons,
the artists don't yet have dollar signs in their eyes. They're playing for fun, hoping that
someone likes it, at least one person. It just makes it more intimate; more honest music.,,6 --}
This ideal of participants getting involved in the indie scene and making lifestyle
changes was reflected in interviewees' responses. Many participants explained the reason
5 Cotton Seiler, "Indie Rock in Louisville," Journal of Popular Music Studies 13, 2 (2001): 191.
51
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Critic
for continuing to attend shows was for both the music and the social connections with
other people in attendance: "The people that you meet and associate with in going to those
venues become your friends and you have that in common - indie music.,,7 This sense of
shared musical interest is reflected in social interactions, "I think with the bands that I
enjoy seeing, come the kind of people that I enjoy because we have that in common."g
Participants spoke of the sense of community that evolves from friends made from shared
interests, "Working at the record store, I meet a lot of people that I have also seen at
shows or people that might have seen me. It's just getting to know people, getting to
make friends.,,9 These responses align with the findings of Holly Kruse that this type of
music offers participants a certain set of social practices - practices of consumption, of
production, of interaction - that build a sense of community. 10 Respondents described how
they placed value on this community of shared taste. Scene participants identified with the
"outsider" status linked to indie culture, participated in social practices that foster a sense
of "outsider" identity, leading to the recognition that being outsiders is as "valid a
definition of community as anything else."ll
Interviewees unanimously responded that their lifestyle is influenced by the music
they listen to. Most described music as their primary source of entertainment. One
interviewee claimed, "Music is their [scene members] primary reason for entertainment and
often so much so that all the non-entertainment things in their life are influenced or
6 Interviewee N.
7 Interviewee K.
g Interviewee T, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 13 March 2005.
9 Interviewee M, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 18 February 2005.
10 Kruse. "Subcultural Identity in Alternative Music Culture." Popular Music 12, 1 (1993): 38.
52
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
affected by that interest in that music.,,12 He calls himself, and people who fall under this
description, music "passioneers." Each respondent had his or her own personal version of
this story. Each respondent became interested once exposed to the music or the scene,
and then got increasingly involved, whether in a band, working at a club, record store or
just attending more shows. With increased involvement, a sense of community developed
and was made visible by common practices connecting all of the interviewees. This finding
is ultimately solidified by the common social codes and practices involved in the scene
which assist members in forming a sense of identity in relation to the scene. Social
practices, fashion, and lifestyle are all factors that contribute to the personal investment
associated with participation in indie rock culture.
Round-n-round: Sharing Practices
13
All of the people that 1 interviewed said that they share the music they like with
others, and enjoyed the feeling they got when sharing music they think is good. The
modes of sharing included bringing a friend to see a live show, recommending a college
radio station, making a mix tape or mix CD of a variety of artists for a friend, sending them
a link to a website, and lending them CD's from their personal collection. "I like when
people share music with me so of course I'm going to share it with other people.,,14 "I
think for a lot of people it's inherent to the act of appreciation, wanting to share that
11 Tom Carson "Stop 'N' Rock," The Vii/age Voice (3-9 December 1980): 44.
12 Interviewee L, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 16 February 2005.
13 Barlow, Lou. Emoh. Merge Records compact disc MRG254, 2005.
14 Interviewee M, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 18 February 2005.
53
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
discovery, that indefinable buzz you get from a powerful piece of music.,,15 Interviewees
spoke of these modes of sharing music as being part of a particular set of social practices.
Most respondents agreed that "shows are a good way to meet friends and you join
groups of friends with similar interests.,,16 Emphasis was put on the shared experience
between people at shows and the sense of camaraderie between people with similar taste.
"If you're wearing an obscure band tee [shirt], and someone cute comes up to you and is
like, 'you like that band?' ... It helps.,,17 Here we see how social connections can develop
because of shared subcultural knowledge, within a locality as well as between localities as
well. One touring musician stated that he "could go to Vancouver and find people with
really similar taste to someone in Halifax and their house has, not the same things, but sort
of similar." 18 A participant explained, "It's an entire way of doing things, an entire way of
dressing, an entire way of socializing." 19
These sharing practices are important to DIY culture as they serve as a DIY form
of promotion for bands. This differs from music promoted in mainstream promotional
campaigns with commercials, glossy posters and free stickers. These kinds of commercial
music activity repel indie fans as they do not align with the DIY cultural practices. Many
of the people interviewed discussed their thoughts on indie bands that had signed to major
labels, usually leaving the indie fan with a sense of abandonment. It appears that for these
people, part of the satisfaction of appreciating indie music is through helping the bands.
15 Interviewee S, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 11 March 2005.
16 Interviewee U, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 13 March 2005.
17 Interviewee F, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 8 February 2005.
18 Interviewee J, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 13 February 2005.
19 Interviewee D, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 4 February 2005.
54
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
When a band gets signed, the fans help is no longer needed and the band is branded as a
sell-out.
The practice of making mix CDs and giving them to friends is an important part of
the scene. Interviewees spoke about the motivation for doing so, how often they made
CD's for friends, and the process itself One respondent called himself a "die-hard mixed-
tape philanthropist. ,,20 Another described how he makes mixes for himself "all the time,
almost daily, just to have stuff that I can listen to at school, in my office, when I'm
driving. ,,21 The motivation for sharing is generally to expose someone to new things but
also to promote bands. One respondent stated that people generally include "obscure stuff
that you like that you think is underrated" on their CD's.22 Generally, the process of
selecting bands and songs highlights what they are listening to at the time. Respondents
agreed that it is important to customize the selection of bands and songs according to the
taste of the person receiving it. "You have to pick stuff that they'd like. My one friend is
into a lot of hip hop stuff so I try to pick stuff with a lot of bass, and another friend might
be into something a little slower so I pick stuff like that.,>23
This careful consideration of musical elements to suit the recipient reflects a sense
of musical understanding and underlying motivation to satisfy the listener but also to
promote bands. One respondent suggested:
You might want to include bands that you've gone to see together, and to
remind you of fun times with your friends, you'll include songs from artists
20 Interviewee X, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 16 March 2005.; and
interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 16 March 2005.
21 Interviewee F.
22 Ibid.
23 Interviewee S.
55
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
you want to them to be introduced to, so there's a lot on introducing bands
that are kind of similar to what you already listen to, the anchor of what they
like, and then from there, if they like that then the next time you can stray a
little further. 24
Others described a more detailed process
Usually I start compiling songs in my head of songs I'd want to put on and
then I use my computer (very rarely will I download things). It's usually
from music that I own. I put the songs on my computer as wave files and
then (lately I've been normalizing the volumes first so that all the songs are
sort of at the same volume) I try to put them in some sort of sequence and
then maybe edit it a little bit. 25
The respondent puts substantial effort into creating a mix CD for a friend, much like the
mix tape efforts of Rob Gordon in the indie cult film High Fidelity.26 Another interviewee
even used the movie in his description of his mix tape efforts. "You see High Fidelity and
the process he gets into .. .I'm like 'I like this song and this song and this song and
hopefully you like it too' .. .It's all sharing.',27
Most respondents claimed to not expect a mix in return for all of this effort. I
argue that the person who creates and gives a mix to someone else gains cultural capital as
they are generally introducing at least some new music to the listener and providing a
custom compilation tailored to the recipient's listening history, demonstrating mastery and
knowledge. Others have had people request a mix: "Some people have asked me to make
them tapes, people who aren't really as into music as I might be, and they just want to get
into new stuff ,,28
24 Interviewee D.
25 Interviewee A, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, I February 2005.
26 Dir. Stephen Frears, High Walt Disney DVD. (2000).
27 Interviewee R, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 8 March 2005.
28 Interviewee F.
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Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
Another common practice of indie music scene participants is wearing headphones
in public. Most of the participants interviewed often wore headphones. The reason for
this is two-fold: first, their fondness for music, and second, the advantage of blocking out
"outside" sound. "I just like listening to music. It's kind of the personal space of it,
listening to music in public, you can kind of shut out everything. ,,29 Another respondent
explained, "I like being surrounded by music ... sometimes people say hi to me and I don't
know what they are saying and I just sort of smile and nod. ,,30 One student illustrated the
social implications of such practice.
In school, I'd rather not have to talk to anybody. You can just walk through
the halls ... you're so tired, you don't want to talk to anybody. You just put
your headphones on and walk through the school and you don't have to get
bugged. But at the same time, after class I like to take the bus home so I can
listen to my music and sit there.
31
Here we see the effects of being at a show the night before, staying up late and getting up
early to attend classes. This interviewee illustrates how wearing headphones represents
the choice of music over social interactions; presumably, this is because he considers his
social group to consist of show-going scene participants and not members of the broader
society. A few older scene participants claimed to listen to headphones less than they used
to, or not at all. Wearing headphones was more unique to indie culture before the iPod,
which brought portable music to mainstream music listeners in numbers that make it
increasingly difficult to identify someone as an indie music fan by their listening to music
on headphones in public.
29 Ibid.
30 Interviewee C, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 3 February 2005.
31 Interviewee G, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 8 February 2005.
57
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
Interviewees agreed that there are no social codes or practices that are essential to
participating in the scene, although certain practices tend to be common. One of the most
common practices is pre-drinking. Participants often have a few drinks at home or at the
home of a friend before going to shows. This is more economical than purchasing all of an
evening's drinks at a venue, but it also serves a social function. People often spend time
with their closer friends at someone's home before going to a club where they socialize
with more scene members and see bands play. Although interviewees claimed that indie
rock is about the music, not the beer you drink, one local promoter claimed, "Indie rock
people will lean towards regional brewery beer.,,32 Ironically though, the most popular
beer at his shows is Labatt 50, a major corporate product - he assumes this is due to
availability.
I Don't Think We Should Ever Meet: Labels
33
The scene involves a group of people who attend indie rock shows regularly and
other people who attend infrequently. Interviewees described a relationship between one's
involvement in the scene and involvement in certain social practices as reflecting
"authentic" practice versus "inauthentic" fan labels.
Theorist Paul Willis first applied the term homology to subculture in his work
Profane Culture. He used it to describe the symbolic fit between the values and life-styles
of a group, its subjective experience and the musical forms it uses to express or reinforce
its focal concerns. He explores the orderliness of subcultures and how each part is
32 Interviewee L, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 16 February 2005.
58
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
organically related to other parts, and through the connection between them the
subcultural member makes sense of the world.
34
In indie music culture, a homology exists
between an alternative value system and the social practice of wearing band tee-shirts.
DIY culture participant's makingllistening to lo-fi music cohere as a way of life for indie
fans. All of the interviewees commented on how their musical preferences have influenced
their lifestyle choices. One experienced scene member spoke of some common traits of
scene participants as including malnutrition. "They don't eat well because they're taking
the money they should be buying groceries with and using it to buy records or cover
charges.,,35
The majority of interviewees described regular members of the scene, or
"rounders," as being musicians themselves and gave examples of how they "all tend to be
very heavily involved and invested. ,,36 Other interviewees gave detailed descriptions of the
"types" of people that go to these shows including common fashion trends, common social
practices, and education:
Poor people. Drinking, smoking, I guess fashion wise, Value Village
shoppers (if that could be a classification), not because of anything else
besides lifestyle choices. They're in school or they just really don't want to
work very much or they just want to playa lot of music as well and then just
don't get a full time job. InteIIigent people, people that, if they had taken
some other direction in life and never been to an indie rock show and never
knew what music was, that they could be sitting in their own office, running
a corporation or something, because they are really intelligent. I think it's
those kind of people that make sacrifices to go out to these shows, whether
33 Hayden, Live at Convocation Hall, Universal Music compact disc 22292 (2002).
34 Dick Hebdige, "Style as Homology and Signifying Practice; 1979," in On Record; Rock, Pop,
and the Written Word, edited by Simon Frith and Andrew Goodwin, (New York: Pantheon Books, 1990),
65.
35 Interviewee L.
36 Interviewee F.
59
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
they can afford it or not, to support. I think that's why it still exists in
Hamilton, and I think that's why it's sad when there's one really big show
and there's like 3-400 people there and you wonder "Where were you every
other night this week when there was also a good show?" So I think it's the
common people, the rounders for the music scene that are the common
denominator and that's generally what they're like. They're not too
concerned with anything else besides music.
37
One interviewee defined a rounder to be "somebody who is a regular at a lot of
different bars ... that even in one night will go to the Casbah and the Underground and the
Corktown, and work it all out so that they see every band they want to see at every
show.,,38 One promoter described these rounders/regulars as a shifting audience with out-
of-town students living in Hamilton for the length of their post-secondary programs at
Mohawk College or McMaster University.
I know that from a show promoters point of view there are regulars at my
shows but they move in and out because of the age that we're talking about.
We are talking primarily about college/university students, so you may only
have them as customers for three or four years and then they're gone and
new people replace them so it's tough to keep an idea of a number of people
we're talking about. I think at any given time, there are maybe about one
hundred people in Hamilton that you could bank on seeing in one of my two
clubs more than once a week, but no more than one hundred. 39
The sense of fans' ownership of indie music was heavily present during interviews.
A musician pointed out the irony that, "there's a camaraderie about having something not
be signed and not selling out but yet that's everyone's goal right?,,40 Interestingly, two of
the older scene participants expressed concern with the sense of hypocrisy within indie
subculture and cynicism about the commercial mainstream. One pointed out that people
37 Interviewee T.
38 Ibid.
39 Interviewee L.
40 Interviewee R.
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Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
embracing independent culture do not automatically reflect independent thought. He
claimed that "people still follow trends, get brainwashed, they're just being brainwashed
and train followed by less-corporate people. The same idea that happens in corporate
culture happens at the alternative level.,,41
Independent means not being corporate, it also means not being something to
please somebody else or not being artificial in order to get something else.
Independent means communicating art, thoughts, music and beauty on an authentic
and real scale. 42
Interviewees used terms such as "scenester" and "poseur" to describe "inauthentic"
persons involved in the scene. The fact that terms such as these exist and were utilized by
many subjects highlights the issue of authenticity within the subculture. One subject
describes indie rock as
Rather than having it held up by some corporate structure, like a bouncer at
a dance club, "You, you're pretty enough, you can come in," that's what
corporations did, and held back people from a Marxist standpoint. But Lou
Barlow and everyone else in the indie rock revolution, and Black Flag before
him, and Dinosaur Jf. before that was that you could just record it yourself
and find the means to finance it yourself, put it out, get it on the radio,
and ... simply let people hear it, let people hear the message that you're
sending and communicating. 43
41 Interviewee L.
42 Interviewee V, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 14 March 2005. He
continued, "That's why I don't like that 'independent' tenn, because ... ifyou say there are aspects of
independent rock in the beer you drink or the clothes you wear ... it destroys the essence of what you are
trying to say is independent rock which is doing something that's totally about individuality, not about
money, about expressing yourself and communicating with other people and somehow belonging to this,
yourself feeling a belonging to this world, this cosmos, this universe on a grander scale. It's about love, its
about your place in the universe, its about communicating and sharing, its that legacy you leave when
you're dead and gone, but subscribing to rules about wearing toques in a club when its 150 degrees
because 'That's cool' and 'That's indie' is as bad as nazi fascism and killing Jews. It's the same "I do it
because it's cool" and its not asserting individuality it's not being independent of outside sources."
43 Ibid.
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Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
The terms authentic, Poseur, Scenester, or Hipster are to be part of the
alternative/indie rock alternative lexicon.
44
One promoter explained that these terms have
relevance to him in his job. He explained that being aware of the trends that develop
within indie culture help him make money.
True, indie people - artistic, heavy-duty people - loathe what I'm saying right
now. But there is money to be made from indie rock and one of the primary
reasons there is money to be made is because there are such things as
Hipsters, Scenesters, fashion trends within this culture we're talking about -
certain rituals that need to be acknowledged. These are all things that make
the machine roll ... a miniature machine inside the bigger machine.
45
This promoter's statements support Kruse's theory that the indie music industry is not
separate from the mass music industry.
The notion of the inauthentic is frequently verbalized within alternative cultures,
according to the theorist Dick Hebdige. He found that within different forms of alternative
culture - Punk, Rasta, Hippie culture - there is a dismissal of inauthentic people. For
punks there are the "plastic punks," for Rasta's there are the "Rasta bandwagon," for
hippies there are the "weekend hippies" and for indie people there are the Poseurs.46 The
general illustration of a Poseur by indie scene participants was someone acting like they
have an appreciation for something but are not genuinely into it:
When those people who aren't really into the music are there, they're very
irritating and they take away from the show. I remember I went to see a
band and these girls were just talking about the singer, and I was like why
are you here? You paid ten dollars to see the show, just go away. 47
44 Interviewee J.
45 Interviewee L.
46 Hebdige, "Style as Homology and Signifying Practice: 1979," 62.
47 Interviewee H, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 9 February 2005.
62
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
Another interviewee claimed that the term relates to bands as well. "A band that
sort of has that indie mentality, that indie attitude, but really isn't, is signed to a major label
didn't really work themselves from the bottom Up.,,48 From this participant's perspective,
it was okay to be signed to a major label ~ if you worked hard to get there. Interviewees
mentioned the importance of maintaining one's "integrity. ,,49
Discussion of the term Scenester got more of a response than I had anticipated
from interviewees. Basically, the term represents a "type" of person involved in the scene
who attends many shows. They can be band members or fans, but the term basically
carried negative connotations. The respondents defined a Scenester as someone who
attends many shows "to be seen, not for the scene. ,,50 "They go to all the high profile
shows. I think they're supporting their ego a bit more [than the bands]. The people that
will go shows and they hardly even watch the bands.,,51 Interviewees described a
Scenester's "dress code," and basically depicted the term as a stereotype. 52
One interviewee compared indie Scenesters to the Mods.
53
She portrayed
Scenesters as fashion-conscious socialites. Another interviewee went as far as to describe
Scenesters as being part of a game: "Some people tend to go by scene points ... you get a
point if you show up at a show, you lose a point if you don't go. You don't have to listen,
48 Interviewee F.
49 Interviewee E, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 8 February 2005.
50 Interviewee T.
51 Interviewee F.
52 Interviewee M.
53 Interviewee D.
63
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
as long as you're there - as long as you're seen, hence the name.,,54 One interviewee
explained why she thinks people get involved in the music scene:
It makes you feel cool like a rock star and that's why its so much fun,
because you're with your friends and you get lots of alcohol and you get to
dance but also being a Scenester makes you feel like a rock star. (I sound so
silly, but I wanted to be honest). 55
These findings obviously conflict with the sense of the authentic that is privileged
in this scene. This conflict is related to the issue of Hipsters within indie culture. Most
interviewees used the term Hipster and Scenester interchangeably, although the term
Hipster did not seem to carry the same baggage. One musician described Hipsters as
"Blindly independent fans.,,56 My assumption is that the term has taken on "Poseurish"
connotations after the 2003 publication of the book, The Hipster Handbook. This book
describes and pokes fun at the social codes of the HipsterlScenester/indie music fan.
According to The Hipster Handbook, a Hipster is
One who possesses tastes, social attitudes, and opinions deemed cool by the
cool. (Note: it is no longer recommended that one use the term "cool"; a
Hipster would instead say "deck. ") The Hipster walks among the masses in
daily life but is not a part of them and shuns or reduces to kitsch anything
held dear by the mainstream. A Hipster ideally possesses no more than two
percent body fat. 57
This book identifies commonalities within Hipster culture that possibly hit too close to
home for some indie folk. The fact that their style, language and cultural practices could
be exposed and commodified in the form of a book, a handbook no less, put the label in a
lower ranked position.
54 Interviewee U.
55 Interviewee D.
56 Interviewee I, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 10 February 2005.
64
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music 0.
The issue of Scenesters is linked to the narrative of status or indie, _
(credentials) within the scene. The writer Hal Niedzviecki put it best with his summation,
"You serve coffee in a uniform, you're a loser; you ring up records in a ripped Tee-shirt,
you're cool.,,58 Most interviewees agreed that status is important in the scene and
suggested that people who have either been in bands, the media, or promotions tend to get
respect. One interviewee used the term "revered" to illustrate the level of respect shown
to some local musicians and key scene participants. 59 As music ranks high in scene
participants lives, musicians themselves are respected amongst scene participants. Among
the most visibly quantified measures of status or indie cred is represented on the local
message board. Each post, or message, sent from a user name is counted and, with
increased posts, comes a higher-ranking title: one starts off as "roadie," achieves "band
member" status and finally becomes an "icon."
explained that there was a tendency for musicians to do their specific
thing to define themselves against each other, which further fragments creative
communities] They argued that these sorts of attitudes are counterproductive to moving
forward as a community.60 One musician signed to a major label explained how at first his
band had catered to Hipsters but he now views a fan as a fan:
Elitism among indie fans .. .it's insane, that's why we have no interest in
them, that's what happened when everyone walked away when we signed, it
just made us go "fuck these guys." We used to place Hipster people on the
top of our "want to please list" ... now if it's a 40 year old housewife that
57 The Hipster Handbook. (accessed March. 192006) <www.hipsterhandbook.coml>.
58 Hal Niedzviecki, We Want Some Too: Underground Desire and the Re-invention of
Mass Culture, Toronto: Penguin (2000), 255.
59 Interviewee F.
60 Interviewee J.
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Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
likes [radio singletl because she hears it on the radio at work, that's just as
valuable to me as some fuckin' Arcade Fire-shirt-wearing-Broken Social
Scene-listening kid. It's the same thing. She likes it just like they would like
it. 62
Live as if Someone is Always Watching You: Practices and Fashion
63
Respondents involved in this study used key subcultural indicators to identify
themselves as part of, and to recognize other members in the indie scene. Much of my
discussion with interview subjects concerned the social practices and fashion of Scenesters.
"The pre-packaged glamour and sexuality of rock stars are traded for a retro, 'nerd chic'
look, a wardrobe of 'pre-permissive clothes, '" according to Simon Reynolds.
64
Cotton
Seiler similarly argues, "Indie is the residuum of the co-opted and declawed subcultural
style of punk rock. ,,65 I asked interviewees to describe indie rock style.
Indie rock performers and audience members share a common fashion style. Indie
style is based on the values invested in the subculture, as reflected in a thrift-store, vintage
look. The stereotypical indie style includes distinctions in hairstyle, shirts, pants and shoes.
The most common "look" for indie rock hair is shaggy and generally unkempt. Popular
styles of shirts include close fitting band tee-shirts, vibrant coloured vintage tee-shirts, and
button-up collared shirts. These shirts might be layered upon with a hooded sweatshirt or
"hoodie," a vintage suit jacket, or army jacket. The choice of pants often includes worn-
in, vintage style jeans or corduroy pants. Shoes of choice are most often Chuck Taylor
61 Title of radio single edited to maintain anonymity of interviewee.
62 Interviewee I.
63 Smog, Rain On Lens, Drag City compact disc DC187CD (2001).
64 Simon Reynolds, BUssed Out: The Raptures of Rock (London: Serpent's Tail, 1990),250.
65 Seiler, "Indie Rock in Louisville": 191.
66
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Cn
sneakers. The emphasis on simplicity, low cost, and the appearance of being "low
.../
maintenance" expresses the values of the music through the style is •
common between both indie rock performers and audiences. As a result, the performers'
style makes them indistinguishable from audience members, closing the gap between
performer and audience, or producer and consumer. J
I'd say that's what's common in amongst all these people is that they like
colour, even if it's just little blemishes of colour, whether it's a very dark
outfit and then there's bright socks ... or a bright scarf or some colour streak
in their hair, there's always some sort of flair of colour that's maybe not
necessarily a traditional thing to do. Jeans are common, rips in their jeans
can be common sometimes, and running shoes that are not corporate
company kind of running shoes. Used clothing in general, vintage clothing,
retro clothing from the '70's and '80's is common. Asymmetrical hairstyles
where the shapes of these hairstyles are not traditional, the way make-up is
worn is a way to identify them to, it's maybe not the traditional Cover Girl
kind of idea ofmake-up.66
Interviewees explained how this kind of anti-commercial style of dress is more
involved than it appears.
The vintage market is pretty work-intensive ... to make real finds; you have to
go out of your way, which is kind of the point. But therein lies the catch.
You have this balance between not wanting to look like the mainstream, but
still looking like everybody else, between being disdainful of obsessing over
how you look and cultivating this air of debonair disorder. Sometimes it's a
contrast with minimal distinctions. But the time issue isn't insubstantial. If
you don't have the time to hit the right stores and hit them at the right times
(or frequently enough, or know someone on the inside) you risk looking like
a Goodwill poster child.
67
Theorists Stuart Hall and Tony Jefferson crossed the concepts of homology and
bricolage to explain why a certain people were attracted to a certain subcultural style in
their work, Resistance Through Rituals. The reason was that the appropriated objects
66 Interviewee L.
67
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
were "made to reflect, express and resonate ... aspects of group life." They were "objects
in which (the subcultural members) could see their central values held and reflected.,,68
Observation and interviews contributed to the finding that band tee-shirts and one-inch
band pins were two of the most noteworthy and easily identified minority signifiers for
subcultural members. Other common stylistic trends included trucker hats, scarves,
shoulder bags and shaggy hair. Participants generally claimed that clothes tend to be
tighter and vintage-inspired. 69 When asked to describe indie style, one male participant
responded, "Too bad you don't have a video camera [laughing].,,70 One female participant
illustrated female style as
They basically want to look like Karen 0 from the Yeah Yeah Yeah's, so
you're going to have a lot of clothes that look like they didn't cost very
much but they really do, because they went to Toronto and bou
9
ht them on
Queen Street and they're a hundred dollars, like ripped tee-shirts. 1
Related to the utilitarian sense of style of indie rock is its co-option by such chain
retail stores as American Eagle. This store has taken the "authentic" style of indie rock
and marketed it to the general public. They sell brand new clothes that are constructed to
look pre-used. For example, American Eagle sells new tee-shirts that are constructed to
look like vintage tee-shirts, with worn logos, frayed collars, and jeans that consumers
purchase off the rack that already have holes in them. Indie rockers frown upon this co-
56.
67 Interviewee X.
68 Stuart Hall and Tony Jefferson, eds, Resistance Through Rituals, (London: Hutchinson, 1976),
69 Interviewee S.
70 Interviewee U.
71 Interviewee D.
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Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
option, because their style, and efforts to establish uniqueness and resistance to the
mainstream are silenced, as they cannot be distinguished from the mainstream.
For band members the presentation of self during daily life often coincides with the
presentation of self during performance. The majority of indie rock bands will wear the
same clothes throughout their band activities from travelling in a van, doing sound check
and performing. They generally do not wear stage clothes or costumes. It is more about
presenting themselves as they are, and to the people involved in this scene, that is an
attractive quality. When scene members were asked if they construct their "look" to
identify them in relation to the music they like, most responded "no" but thought that other
people might. Only four respondents said "yes." Each of those "yes" respondents were
female.
I think by shopping at used clothing stores, I don't know if my sweater is an
indication of that [laughing], but it's not really so much a constructed look
but it's a cheaper look than going to a mall. I guess If I like wearing band
tee-shirts, it's a constructed look, and trying to get the bands out there, so I
guess I do.
n
Age played a role in how participants constructed their looks. While most younger
and older scene participants claimed they did not construct their look in relation to the
music they like, the older participants explained that they did use their look to accord with
the music they liked. However, the younger scene participants often wore band tee-shirts,
whereas the older scene participants usually wore plain tee-shirts or ones that didn't have a
logo on it. Although they claimed to have worn many tee-shirts in their younger days,
72 Interviewee R.
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Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
older participants wore fewer now because they work in more professional environments
and purchased fewer shirts - possibly because they often attend less live shows.
Most of the respondents either wore band tee-shirts on a regular basis or had once
done so. Tee-shirts were considered a "commemorative talisman - a reminder ofa specific
band, a specific evening at a specific venue on a specific night.,,73 All of the respondents
who wore tee-shirts claimed that the primary reason for is to support the bands, and some
described the additional effects of advertising their taste and their use as a social tool. The
narrative of wearing tee-shirts in an effort to support bands permeated the subject
responses. When 1 asked to whom they were advertising, they responded, "I guess
potential new fans.,,74
1 guess it depends - because if I' m wearing a band shirt and no one has heard
of the band before, they might not know that it's a band at all, so it's not
really advertising anything, but if it's someone else who maybe listens to the
same thing maybe they'll comment or start a conversation. In a way it's sort
of like a conversation piece. 75
Thus, a band tee-shirt serves as advertising for a band and/or a conversation starter.
According to subject responses, a band tee-shirt signifies something different to indie fans
than non-indie fans, conveying shared knowledge to insiders and exclusive knowledge to
outsiders. For example,
When you're wearing a band shirt, you're really trying to make a
statement... You're identifying yourself with something - so people could
recognize it and make a connection with you... or just to stand out, "I like
this band, no one else does,,76
73 Interviewee X.
74 Interviewee F.
75 Interviewee B, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 1 February 2005.
76 Interviewee F.
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Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
As well as identity enhancement, the concept of support, promotion, and
representation are recurring themes throughout the interviewees' responses regarding band
and even record label tee-shirts. For example, "Some labels have a lot of good stuff that I
like. I might as well just buy the tee-shirt and kind of represent them all at the same
time."n Indie subcultural style is based around a No Logo ethic. The work of Naomi
Klein has influenced the work of many theorists and interviewees discussed issues of
branding in relation to indie band tee-shirts. For example:
I think the cause of support is better than wearing a brand name. I'm helping
to support music when I buy a band tee-shirt, by wearing their name I'm
maybe exposing someone else to that band, or a future discussion with
somebody who's like 'Oh, you're wearing a Despistato tee-shirt, what are
they all about?' And you can talk to that person about that, and maybe
they'd be like, 'Oh,' and maybe they'd go buy the album. Whereas if I'm
wearing a Nike shirt, they'd be like 'Oh you're wearing a Nike shirt ... what's
the deal with them?' [Sarcastically]. Then it gets into the whole sweatshop
factor with major clothing lines. 78
It's more stylish than wearing a brand name, it it's a band name, I guess
they'll know more about you than if it's a brand name, they know you listen
to that kind of music and I guess subconsciously they deem you in some sort
of category like 'Rocker' or just someone they would or wouldn't like. It is
advertising - to anybody that sees your tee-shirt. I want them to know that I
listen to that type of music, I don't really think about if they'll go home and
start downloading songs from that band, just let them know that I'm into that
band. 79
Others claimed the opposite, "If somebody is wearing a shirt that looks kind of interesting
that has a band name on it, I'll do a search for that band and see what I could find. ,,80
77 Interviewee C.
78 Interviewee G.
79 Interviewee C.
80 Interviewee M.
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Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
F or some of the more fashion conscious scene members, the design on the shirt
was of high importance. "I'll only buy the shirt if I like the design on it, I won't
necessarily buy it if I just like the band. ,,81 Others claimed that they sometimes sacrifice
personal style to help bands. "The shirt may not fit me that good or the colour may not
look good with my complexion, but I'll still wear it because I want people to know the
name of this band."s2 A local musician described wearing band tee-shirts as similar to
advertising, but on a smaller and more personal scale. He compared it to corporate
executives wearing tee-shirts for other multi-national companies that they support and
like."s3 Participants preferred the terms, "promote" and "support" to "advertising," but
agreed that elements of promotion were generally involved in their decision to wear a
certain band's shirt.
Others wore band tee-shirts to make a statement about their identity. "Usually
when I put on a tee-shirt ... there's definitely an element of me wanting to say that, 'I like
this,' and in some cases there's obviously going to be people who don't get it, and you
know there might be people who do and are interested."s4 The social implications of
wearing a band shirt can be powerful. Essentially, the comment was that "cool shirt"
connotes "cool band."
If you're a guy and you're wearing the Arcade Fire shirt, and that girl who
knows who the Arcade Fire is, it's like a billboard saying "If you like the
Arcade Fire, come talk to me and we can go on a date." And that one girl
who does will be like, "Hey, the Arcade Fire, you like them? So do I." He'll
be like, "Yeah, do you want to go to their show?" And that's how it gets
81 Interviewee Q, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 8 March 2005.
82 Interviewee L.
83 Interviewee 1.
84 Interviewee F.
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Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
started. You're looking for people who know who it is so you can be like
"Oh, we can be friends."s5
Hipsters understood and identified fashion faux pas such as wearing a band's tee-
shirt at their live show: "I won't actually go to a Burdocks show wearing a Burdocks
shirt."S6 According to the respondents in this study, a band's pin is acceptable to wear at
their show, but wearing a band's tee-shirt would be more of a "fan" activity. At many
major label band's concerts fans purchase tee-shirts and immediately put them on. It could
be that they don't want to misplace their purchase during the concert but it seems that
donning an indie bands shirt at their show would not serve the purpose of "helping" the
band and therefore take away from its purpose. According to interview subjects, indie
fans generally wait (at least) until the next day to wear a band shirt purchased at a show,
displaying a tasteful delay.
One aspect of indie rock subculture worth considering is the production of more
"feminine" style tee-shirts for sale at indie rock shows. This availability of "baby-tee's,"
which are closer fitting, cap-sleeved tee-shirts geared towards the female audience not only
proves that a female audience exists, but that it is numerous enough to have specialty
merchandise catering to it. This gender differentiation in fashion identifies that females in
the scene have similar style characteristics to the indie rock male, but they can wear more
feminized versions of tee-shirt to avoid look like a tomboy. For women, although their
presence on the scene is numerous enough to justify specialty tee-shirts, it still appears that
only when women can identify themselves as musicians do they feel they can legitimately
85 Interviewee D.
86 Interviewee G.
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Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
talk to musicians at shows without being seen as "groupies. ,,87 Even as musicians, women
feeling as if they are swimming upstream through the male-dominated scene, fighting
against some promoters' attempts at "all-girl band bills." Women who perform in indie
rock bands often position themselves as "one of the guys," playing what are gender coded
as "male" instruments and construct their physical style against standard notions of
femininity and beauty with their "boyish style" of short haircuts, band tee-shirts, jeans, and
army jackets.
Another popular minority signifier for indie participants are one-inch band pins.
88
Pins are probably the most economical way for a band to advertise and promote
themselves. They are sometimes free but usually cost about one dollar and provide
revenue for bands. For scene members they provide a simple and effective way to
accessorize, signifY one's taste, and promote bands. Respondents compared the social
significance of pins to band tee-shirts, but claimed pins prove to be more economical. One
scene member even purchased her own button maker so she could make buttons of bands
she likes. 89 Pins are generally purchased at shows, so a bag or jacket covered in pins
represents a lot of shows attended and therefore one's commitment to the scene.
I've become pretty known for buttons ... People started giving them to me so
I'd put it on ... people would be like "I want you to have my button" because
it's like an honour, you've got so many, it just gets out of control. 90
A few interviewees compared pins to scout badges.
91
87 Mavis Bayton, "How Women Become Musicians," in On Record: Rock, Pop, and the Written
Word, edited by Simon Frith and Andrew Goodwin, (New York: Pantheon, 1990),243.
88 They are also referred to as buttons/pin backs.
89 Interviewee C.
90 Interviewee N.
91 Interviewee F.
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Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
It was really trendy to put all the bands that you've seen everywhere all over
your one strap on your side bag, but now I think that there's been a shift and
that's become a no-no. That's become a taboo and instead of putting it
everywhere, you'll wear one at a time - go through them. I think it just
became too obvious. It became a thing that Poseurs do. It's changed from
wanting to wear all your pins to just wearing a select few and alternating
them. 92
Cotton Seiler describes this sort of "stealth aesthetic" as grounded in the "relative
blandness and willed obsolescence of the indie style and predicated on the exhaustion of
self-consciously radical musical subcultures as effective agents of cultural and political
critique. As a result, indie style is 'cool. ",93 All of the interviewees admitted to having far
more pins than they actually wear. Most of the younger scene participants claimed to wear
many pins at once, whereas the older scene participants wore few to none. If the older
participants do wear a few, they are carefully selected bands and often obscure. Again, we
see more connoisseur-type activity within the older scene participant age category.
All of the interviewees claimed they plan to be involved in the music scene in the
future. I was interested in the commitment of these people to the scene and the level of
involvement and lifestyle practices and inquired about relationships between the music and
a rejection of commercial culture. "I'm anti-commercial in a way so it kind of rules out
malls. I just don't like the huge amalgamation of commerce in one spot. Companies that I
don't really care for.,,94 One interviewee explained how he was, "truly a jock that listened
to mainstream rock that wore sporty sort of clothing" and then was introduced to the band
92 Intetviewee D.
93 Seiler, "Indie Rock in Louisville": 191.
94 Interviewee K.
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Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
Guided By Voices. He then started going to independent record stores, buying vintage
clothing, going to cafes, and house parties.
I just truly liked what I heard when I listened to Guided By Voices - I just
liked the sound. It was so good to me that it made me abandon everything I
was doing before. That's when I stopped being an athlete, that's when I
stopped dating stupid girls, it's when I started buying vintage clothes: I
abandoned my whole lifestyle. 95
This is a strong statement about how indie music influenced and guided his lifestyle
choices.
Over half of the respondents in this study claimed to have experienced forms of
discrimination because of the music they listen to. These forms of discrimination ranged
from verbal to physical assault. "Sometimes people assume that it is [his emphasis] like
the pretentious bull-shit type thing, 'You're only listening to indie rock because it's
different.' I get that all the time. You get people that don't know about it, that just
assume, [his emphasis] before they listen to it."%
Everybody wants to somehow assert themselves and for most people it's
belonging, so everyone wears the same kind of jeans or whatever is popular.
Then there is the other people, the way they assert their individuality is by
being different and if you are different in a world of homogeny, that's when
you get picked on.
97
Another interviewee said he experienced discrimination because he got into indie music at
a young age:
When you're a teen you want to find an identity, so you start dressing like
some of the bands you see. You start buying second hand clothes ... we
would get teased at school. They would throw pennies at us in the hall and
things, and getting yelled at from cars and having guys want to beat us up,
95 Interviewee L.
96 Interviewee M.
97 Interviewee V.
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Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
just because of the clothes we're wearing and not because they know us
personally. 98
I asked this interviewee if he thought those people listened to the same music he did. He
said no. He presumed "that what they were listening to wasn't very good.,,99
Promoters have even experienced opposition within the scene. A local promoter
explained the opposition he had experienced. "Whenever you mix art with business,
there's going to be conflict." He considered himself a businessperson who uses art as the
vehicle for his financial success and explained that musicians do not always agree with his
perspective.
1Oo
One musician stated that the primary conflict exists among scene members
themselves. "People in the indie music scene, get along well with people from any other
group but within each other, that's where the problem is.,,lOl When asked if that was
because people compete for indie cred she responded, "Yeah that's definitely it. I've
thought about it, people don't like to talk about it.,,102
Devotion: Investment
103
Social practices outline the overlapping role of scene members as fans and
producers and highlight the complex narrative of investment. For the most part, scene
members simultaneously attended shows as entertainment while also participating actively
in its production, whether through working in an independent record store during the day,
98 Interviewee A.
99 Ibid.
100 Interviewee L.
101 Interviewee D.
I02lbid.
103 Smog, Dongs ofSevotion, Drag City compact disc DC169CD (2000).
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Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
putting up flyers for upcoming shows, helping out with local music websites, or working in
the venues as bartenders or door people. You can often find the bar staff at the clubs on
their nights off; their work, the music they enjoy and their social circle are tied to the
venue. Bar staff and members of local bands are often friends as both groups frequently
share the same social space.
The amount of time and money participants invest in attending live shows and
purchasing merchandise is considerable. One participant runs a local music website
providing show listings, online articles and updates. Maintaining the website is a financial
struggle. "I've lost money, but am starting to sell ad [Advertising] space.,,104 As a result,
some bands she helped put her on guest lists for shows, a privilege she considered to be
"indirect money, because it stops me from taking cash out of my pocket at shows.,,105 Not
having to pay cover to attend shows is one of the perks often enjoyed by people who are
involved in the scene, including press writers covering shows, poster kids (who are often
co-op students or volunteers who put up show posters on behalf of venues), and staff
members of the venue.
Participating in a band is another important way of functioning in an independent
music scene. Being a member of a band ties a group of people together in many ways.
This research found that bands are most commonly built on friendship and even a bands
local following is often based on the support of friends. The collaborative nature of bands
extends from the creative aspects of song writing, rehearsing, performing, recording,
creating and producing album art, pins and tee-shirts, booking shows, creating web sites,
104 Interviewee H.
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Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
creating and distributing show posters, to touring. Bands generally carry out these
functions in a DIY manner. The vast majority of musicians interviewed were not formally
trained but rather gained their musical skills from listening and exploration.
l06
Interviewed
bands responded that musical talent was not as important to being a band member as other
aspects of musical production such as personality, creativity and listening tastes.
Involvement in a band is time consuming and requires dedication, which can make
members better friends, or cause members to quit and/or bands to break up.
Interviewees described how friendship is often the primary binding factor amongst
band members and how important friendships with other people involved in the scene are,
especially at the beginning:
The first two shows that you do, you bring everybody you know so you can
trick the promoter of the venue to think that you have fans (that's what we
did). We had the Raven packed. We had nobody [fans], we hadn't even
played a show ... we brought everyone we'd ever known and that's what you
do. We brought our friends, and then our friends kind of liked us and their
friends came, and they kind of liked us - but friends of friends, it wasn't
really fans. I go to shows in Hamilton ... I see friends of .people, I know who
knows whom, and it's friends - friends, friends, friends.
lo
A similar phenomenon is evident with regard to message boards:
I see friends posting about friends. It's cool that the friends are supportive,
but you don't really get strangers, like a guy in a Budweiser hat listening to
your music until. . . [You have success in a mainstream market]. 108
He described the transition from a local audience of local scene members, essentially
friends, to a broader audience of "strangers" with respect to radio:
105 Ibid.
106 Only two of the musicians interviewed were in, or had graduated from, post-secondary music
programs.
I 07 Interviewee I.
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Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
When we signed, the very small following that we had with the scenester
people, walked away ... There was a two-month lull where we couldn't get
people to shows in Hamilton, and then our song started to get played on the
[mainstream] radio and then [mainstream] radio listeners came and it's been
different since. 109
This binary between local hipsters and radio listeners accentuates the different audiences
attending shows at local clubs. To bar staff, the scenesters are considered regulars and the
radio listeners that attend certain shows are considered part of a mainstream audience.
One musician described his observations of the opposition between audiences for different
shows
For the bigger ones [shows], like when a touring band comes or an
established local band, it's a really interesting cross-section. There's all
kinds of people there, I see people there that I'd never expect to see at a
show. With the smaller shows it tends to be more of the die-hards, the
people who are like really, really into it who would be there no matter
what. 110
The social practices involved in the indie rock music scene are what contribute to
the sense of identity for the people involved in their local scene. Participants generally
physically identify themselves by wearing band tee-shirts, pins, and construct their physical
appearance in accordance with certain expectations that align with the "music first" nature
of the scene. These types of practices contribute to an indie rock lexicon of terms and
language used within the subculture. Having common fashion, language, and social
practices establishes a sense of community within members, emphasized by the fact that
most people involved in this subculture have been involved in this music since their early
teens. Bands members play a special role in connecting the network of indie rock scenes,
108 Ibid.
109 Ibid.
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Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
by playing shows in cities other than their own. This practice works to provide other local
scenes with a common experience or cultural capital, cementing social connections
between bands, promoters, and scene members alike, thus establishing interlocality
between particular localities. All of these things would not exist without personal
investment from the people involved in indie rock scenes. Scene participants invest many
aspects of themselves in the music for what people outside the scene might consider
insufficient payment. In the next chapter, I will explore the narrative of indie rock as
production for producers, the monetary investment of being involved in a band, the issue
of indie vs. major labels, selling out, and the media.
110 Interviewee F.
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Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music CI
CHAPTER 4
Rescue Us From Boredom: Labels and Medial
Speak, See, Remember: Production for Producers
2
"I find it satisfying getting into smaller bands that people don't know about and
then when I open a Spin magazine and see The Arcade Fire being praised, I'm like 'oh, 1
knew about them first' and I have a satisfaction.,,3 This is connected to Bourdieu's idea of
cultural capital. We see people gaining satisfaction from possessing knowledge and
/'"
experience of a subcultural product. trying to find the smallest band that has
the most potential. It's fun - it's like a game.,,4 Thus, information provides the person
with cultural capital, leading to a sense of identity enhancement] This argument is
compounded by the cultural practices of wearing obscure band tee-shirts and pins, sharing
mix tapes/CD's, and seeking out the "smallest band that has the most potential."
Many theorists have asserted that the sociology of youth directly involves the
relationship between music and identity in youth subcultures. A number of studies
throughout the 1970s and 1980s by theorists such as Stuart Hall and Dick Hebdige offered
what has become a familiar thesis: youth subcultures appropriate and innovate musical
forms and styles as a basis for their identity, thus asserting counter-cultural politics. With
respect to indie rock, the modes of production and consumption are a set of meaning
systems that express the indie lifestyle as resistant to dominant meaning systems, and serve
as signifiers of identity among members of the scene.
1 The Super Friendz, Mock Up, Scale Down, Murderecords compact disc MURD"()17 (1995).
2 Pavement, Terror Twilight, Matador Records compact disc OLE 260-2 (1999).
3 Interviewee Q, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 8 March 2005.
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Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
Indie production and consumption systems position active production in
connection to the reduced distance between performer and audience - production for
producers. This exists in contrast to major label production, which involves a highly
skilled division of labour and forms of consumption in that releases can often be purchased
from any record store without interaction with the producers. In contrast, Indie fans often
acquire their music at shows from live performers and therefore participate in the culture
they consume. The indie scene places value in indie DIY production versus mass music
production with "expert" consultants and technicians.
The concept of a "specialty" indie audience versus a general "mass" audience
enters here with regard to production and consumption patterns. A crucial aspect to this
issue is the oppositional stance that indie rock takes; there is a conscious decision to
emphasize the differences between indie and mainstream, rather than the similarities.
These differences can be observed as a Habitus, a set of dispositions that generates
practices and perceptions, and is the result of a long process of inculcation that becomes a
"second nature" according to Randal Johnson.
5
This type of "second nature" is connected
to Bourdieu' s concept of cultural capital, or "forms of cultural knowledge, competences or
dispositions.,,6 Randal Johnson explains cultural capital as
A form of knowledge, an internalized code or a cognitive acquisition which
equips the social agent with empathy towards, appreciation for or
competence in deciphering cultural relations and cultural artefacts.
7
4 Ibid.
5 Randall Johnson, "Editor's Introduction: Pierre Bourdieu on Art, Literature and Culture," The
Field of Cultural Production by Pierre Bourdieu edited by Randall Johnson, (New York: Columbia
University Press, 1993),5.
6 Ibid. 7.
7 Ibid.
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Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Ci
Therefore, fans of mass music do not have the required knowledge, experience or
cultural capital to appreciate indie rocUndie rock thus holds a unique position m'tbe,high
art versus mass music debate)To a consumer of high art, indie rock would appear to be
relegated to the field of inferior culture as the musicians are often lacking formal training,
0he cultural artefacts are created in a DIY manner, placing process over product, and the
overall aesthetic is generally unpolished. Indie music listeners often find it easier to
describe who they're not (mass music listeners) over who they are, The appeal of indie,
rock is based in obscurity and othernw and the social practices and value of cultural
capital position it as an elite faction within a larger field, sometimes referred to as Art-
Rock. In can be argued that indie rock participants operate in a social structure similar to
the avant-garde intellectuals of high culture as a group requiring cultural capital that
distinguishes them from mass culture consumef) "Mass" enters as a term indie rock
participants define themselves against.
Indie rock speaks out against the industrialization of music, described by Simon
Frith as "a shift from active musical production to passive pop consumption, the decline of
folk or community or subcultural traditions, and a general loss of musical skilL,,8 Indie
scene participants generally involved themselves in more than one facet of the subculture,
from playing in a band to hosting a college radio show to working in a record store, The
involvement in the scene of those interviewed is complex, For the most part, they
simultaneously attended shows as entertainment while also actively participating in its
production' whether it be working in an independent record store during the day, putting
84
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
up flyers for upcoming shows, helping out with local music web sites, or working in the
venues as bartenders or door people.
Thus, indie rock aficionados both consume and shape their culture. Frith writes,
"Rock was a last romantic attempt to preserve ways of music-making - performer as artist,
performance as 'community' - that had been made obsolete by technology and capital.,,9
Although the indie rock audiences generally are not performers, members of the audience
often participate in the production of indie culture.
Life Stories For Minimum Wage: Monetary Investment - Bands
lO
Musicians said the monetary investment of being in an indie band included
instrument costs and upkeep, purchasing a van to transport the band to gigs in and out of
town, gas money, poster costs, recording costs and/or recording gear costs, CD
production and distribution costs, postage costs to mail CDs and press kits to record
companies and radio stations. Participants justify such financial investments: "Monetarily,
I'm using my student loan to pay for the recording of our CD. It's always been my life,
I've always been in and out of bands since I was fourteen or fifteen."ll Local indie label
owners reflected on the beginning stages of their company, "We didn't pay ourselves for a
year and a half, which was pretty crazy. We all had other jobs, part time jobs to just
(2002).
8 Simon Frith, Music For Pleasure (Oxford: Polity Press, 1998), 11.
9 Johnson, 1.
10 Cuff The Duke, Life Stories For Minimum Wage, Three Gut Records compact disc TGROO7
11 Interviewee R.
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basically cover our rent.,,12 Each participant interviewed had a different version of the
same story to tell. They did not see their involvement in the scene as a sacrifice, but as a
means to gain satisfaction.
With most musicians spending money to be in a band, paying cover to attend
shows, and purchasing merchandise, their pay cheques have to stretch to pay rent and
groceries. The caricature of the skinny indie rock fan/participant is not far from the truth.
I think people often mistake it for fashion representation, they do it for
fashionable reasons and it's not that usually at all. They're forced to, that's
what happens to you because of your need for the music. You don't eat well
or don't buy a lot of clothes, you wear the same clothes repetitively just in
different combinations so it looks like you're wearing a lot of different
clothes ... because of the sacrifices that you're making financially, it arguably
means your day is not as organized ... The common thing to do is you wake
up late, you don't have enough time to do the things you've got to do, so
you sacrifice getting clean or you sacrifice eating or you sacrifice going to
school, and at least when you sacrifice those things you're not spending any
money. 13
The sacrifices made by indie participants therefore often include health. Many
interviewees claimed to be sleep deprived and most were smokers, which some claimed
suppressed their appetites. Smokers often rolled their own cigarettes or purchased
cigarettes produced by discount manufacturers.
One participant described how his lifestyle revolved around music and the local
music scene: from working at a record store part-time, attending band rehearsals, playing
live gigs, and managing to attend university classes.
I think being a part, a musician, it takes a lot of time and a lot of it is,
depending on where you're at, depending what you want to do, I think it can
get in the way of school. It can get in the way of sleep. It can get in the way
12 Interviewee P, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 20 February 2005.
13 Interviewee L, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 16 February 2005.
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of a lot of things. But you know what? At this age I just want to be doing
this right now more than I'd rather be doing something else. 14
Band members, record store workers, promoters and staff members are often
heavily involved in the scene and participate in the DIY nature of indie culture. Most
bands create their own poster designs and CD artwork; "I learned how to do it out of
personal needs. Bands I had played in at the time needed posters and CD artwork and
stuff - I took it upon myself to do it. And I guess over the years, just learning, trial and
error." 15 Privilege is given to cultural products made by the bands themselves such as
hand made packaging with hand drawn images over slick, "production line" product.
This DIY indie aesthetic is often present in the recorded product as well as the CD
packaging. Cotton Seiler describes the equipment most often valued by indie musicians
The home stereo, recording, and musical equipment that indie rockers value
are precisely those which were rendered obsolete by the advent of' superior'
solid-state and digital technology. The increased availability and declining
price of four-track analog and digital recorders has enabled greater numbers
of musicians to produce their own 'lo-fi' recordings, which, in terms of sonic
fidelity and production values, fall far short of the product generated in
professional, multitrack studios. 16
Since Seiler's writing in 2001, many indie musicians have embraced the availability of
digital technology, albeit in a DIY way. Many musicians record at home or at friends'
homes studios with software used in professional, multitrack studios. The difference
between the indie recording and the studio recording lies in the process. Indie musicians
aren't paying other people, in this case trained technicians, to record their material - indie
musicians do it themselves with what they have. Studio product is often influenced by
14 Interviewee U, interview by author, tape recording. Hamilton, Ontario, 13 March 2005.
15 Interviewee N, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 18 February 2005.
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cost. Even if an indie band gets a FACTOR
17
grant from the government to do a studio
recording, the money only gives the band so much studio time. From home, an indie band
can record according to their schedules and not that of a studio engineer.
Indie musicians who operate on a DIY principle save money doing almost
everything themselves, from booking shows, promotions, performing, recording,
packaging, and distributing recordings. The question is - Can one live off indie rock?
Interviewees were quick to respond, "Nobody's getting rich off of live music in this
town." 18 Although a few musicians were hopeful, the reality is all of the musicians
interviewed held part or full-time jobs or took shifts when they were not on tour.
I'm hoping I can [live off indie rock]. I know you have to invest a lot of
money and a lot of time, like years before you might even see any
recognition; so it's a huge, huge, huge risk and gamble, but I'm doing it also
for the process. 19
The process is enough for some, but not enough for others. Band members explained the
challenges of performing in bars.
When my band used to play a packed, sold-out show at the Underground
you come out of it with maybe 200-250 dollars and after you spend all of it
on booze and have none of it for the band fund and even then you're not
going to split it up and take it four ways. It doesn't pay you back.
20
For many bands, the money made from live gigs goes into a band fund for poster
printing, gas, van repairs, and tee shirt, button, and recording supplies. Linked to the
16 Cotton Seiler, "Indie Rock in Louisville," Journal oJPopular Music Studies 13, 2 (2001): 19l.
17 Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent on Records.
18 Interviewee W, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 15 March 2005.
19 Interviewee R
20 Interviewee D, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 4 February 2005.
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challenge of playing live shows is the conundrum of touring. Bands often need to spend
money making an album before they sell copies to make money.
Major label popular music artists often have what is called a "guarantee" arranged
with the venue, that they will get paid a certain amount of money regardless of attendance.
Indie bands often do not have this luxury, consequently, it is crucial that a decent-sized
audience is present, otherwise, they might not get paid or invited to play at the venue
again. Indie shows are often booked around at least one touring band and at least one
supporting local band, and range from three to five bands a night. The idea is that either
the headlining touring band will draw an audience and gain exposure for the up-and-
coming local band, or likewise, an obscure touring band gets billed with a popular local
band as the headliner.
Indie rock musicians are generally not formally trained, but accomplished flexible
players. Evidence of this is the practice of having "guest" players on songs. Sometimes
when a band is on tour they will have a local musician friend come on stage and perform a
song with the band. Other times, a solo musician will tour and play with different back-up
bands from the cities the touring musician stops to play in. Sometimes the musicians will
have a rehearsal in the afternoon before a show. Other times, the touring musician
assumes the band members know the songs from recorded CDs. Another practice is when
bands plays a few shows together on a tour, on the last night of tour the headlining band
will often invite the opening band on stage for the last song, or an encore song to play/sing
with them. This sort of communal music making highlights the community aspect of the
scene.
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The first time a band plays an out-of-town city, the chances of having an audience
are slim, and so for most bands the first tour is a challenge. If people liked the band the
first time they were in town, word spreads and more people show up when the band
returns on subsequent tours. It is especially difficult for a band playing a city for the first
time as venue regulars tend to be music aficionados so the audience a band has to win over
is probably the most discerning. One record label owner stated, "Those people that are
successful are the people that have stuck by their word and toured, because touring is
basically the life blood of being in a band ... to make a living at being in a band, you have to
do shows, and you have to want to do the shows. ,,21 Indie bands can only play so often in
their own city or adjoining cities. If a band plays a local show within a week or two, their
audience is often split, however if the band performs once every two or three months, their
audience has an opportunity to build up anticipation for the show. Therefore a band
generally has to play other cities to make money. Indie bands make money from playing
shows, which often means touring.
This truth is emphasized by the importance of merchandise [merch] sales. Merch
sales are often an important source of income for a band. One label owner described the
importance of playing gigs and having merch available.
You're there, the kids are there to see you, they've got the ten bucks in their
hand. They came prepared because they were going to buy a shirt or
something ... and if you're not there, they're prepared to see someone else,
and spend the money on someone else.
22
21 Interviewee P, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 20 February 2005.
22 Ibid.
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Bands recognized the importance of playing shows and selling their music and merch.
Creating their merch themselves means they are responsible, and accountable, for the
process and the product, whether it is learning a new computer program, four-track
machine or creating album art, this process of acquiring new skills and overcommg
challenges is valuable to band members as well as cultural participants. The people
purchasing the merch [consumers] can talk to the band [producers] about the process of
designing artwork, creating and recording music, screen printing tee shirts, and making
pins. In the age of mass-produced products available at your nearest box store, having the
ability to purchase a cultural product directly from the producer is valued by the
consumers.
The Difference Between Listen and Feel: Indie Labels vs. Major Labels
23
Most small independent labels began operating out of apartments or houses. The
local Hamilton record label Sonic Unyon started out of a small room in a parent's house
that has since grown to encompass an entire building with office space, a store, and
rehearsal and performance spaces. Interviewees emphasized that the business model
adopted by independent labels and musicians is smaller scale, and less profit-frenzied than
its mainstream counterparts,24 describing indie labels as "more focused on the product than
the profit. ,,25
23 Swearing at Motorists, More Songs From The Mellow Struggle, Secretly Canadian compact
disc SC029 (2000).
24 Interviewee X, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 16 March 2005.
25 Interviewee K, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 15 February 2005.
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By the end of the twentieth century, five multinational comparues,
Arco/AtlanticlWEA, RepriselWarner, or the Big Five, became the key players in the mass
music industry. 26 In recent history, major labels have controlled over ninety percent of
recorded music distributed in the United States. 27
Corporate Rock by definition is inauthentic, because they are making it for
the sole purpose of making money. I think the classic definition term would
be "pot boiler." They are making music that is not of heart, not out of
sadness, or happiness, not out of pain, not out of any real human emotion,
but simply designed in some sort of mechanical fashion to induce something
else out of someone else. It is not music by the young for the young ... 28
As distribution is the primary limitation faced by independent labels, indie labels sometimes
make distribution arrangements with major corporate labels. For example, Matador
Records (one of the more prominent indie rock record labels employing thirty staff
members and representing a roster of about forty bands), located in New York, has
distribution deals with Capitol records. Such arrangements allow artists and indie labels to
maintain control over production while achieving widespread distribution via the resources
provided by the major label. 29
It could be argued that if a band on an indie label is distributed by a major label, the
band is therefore on the major label; however, an artist on an independent label, like
26 Holly Kruse, Site and Sound: Understanding Independent Music Scenes. (New York: Peter
Lang Publishing: 2003). 29.
27 Deanna Campbell Robinson, et al. Music at the Margins: Popular Music and Global Diversity
(Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1991), 52.
28 Interviewee V, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 14 March 2005.
29 An irony exists here that despite the problems with independent distribution, major labels have
used independent distributors over their own distribution anus to better reach alternative music audiences.
For example, BMG used indie Dutch East India to distribute records for Beggars Banquet and Silvertone
while Geffen and DGC used an independent distributor - Cargo - to distribute vinyl singles. One can see
how a small local label is able to transcend locaIness and reach a transnational subcultural audience
through a network of indie distribution and mail order.
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Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
Matador, maintains their indie rock credentials by association with the smaller label even
though the company that handles the actual distribution of the records is a major
conglomerate. This is why small, in-house indies at major labels often makes signing with
a major more attractive for an indie band, according to Holly Kruse.
30
In-house indies are
smaller indie labels under the wing of majors. Some smaller labels have attempted to
achieve international financial success while maintaining the perception of integrity as an
indie label. Generally when an indie label gets money hungry, it leads to its demise. As
fans label bands a "sell out," fans also lose interest in indie labels if they move from an
institution focused on supporting quality indie music to an institution focused on profit.
During the third year of a five-year plan, the label Rough Trade failed after struggling
between large scale financial success and being a distributor with a connection to and an
understanding of the local, the symbolic site of in die music.
31
Interviewees discussed the indie aesthetic as commodified by larger labels that
make "pretty commercially successful products but capitalize on the independent
aesthetic.,,32 Scene participants asserted the goal for the big independent music industry is
to "commercialize it while keeping that countercultural aesthetic intact. ,,33 One
interviewee noted that indie music fans are
Really aware of who's contrived, who's been put together by somebody else
that is not authentic and therefore not indie rock. But to other people who
are not as schooled or knowledgeable ... I don't think The Strokes are indie
rock, but they're called indie rock. They look the part and sound the part
30 Kruse, Site and Sound, 44.
31 Kruse, "Institutional Practices in Alternative Music Scenes." In Popular Music - Style and
Identity, edited by Will Straw, et al. (Montreal: Dufferin Press, 1995),54.
32 Interviewee J, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 13 February 2005.
33 Ibid.
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but they're not what indie rock is, but to other people who don't know, then
. . k ?34
It IS, you now.
The issue of inauthenticity within the industry of indie rock, was also discussed by an indie
label owner:
There are lots of DIY people that get oodles of money from major labels and
hide under the umbrella of the indie rock label. That kind of ticks me off
actually. There's lots o f p e o ~ l e that work hard, and tough it out ... but don't
get to the same success level. 5
Interviewees expressed their respect and admiration for bands that worked hard to
succeed. Their responses highlighted the importance of in die bands' perceived authenticity
- and perceived poverty. Many of the interviewed subjects regarded the indie rock music
scene to be an "alternative" culture, rather than a subculture, counterculture, or youth
culture. For instance, one subject explained
I like "alternative culture" because it means something more obscure, which
maybe refers to subculture, but it's also a response to mainstream culture,
which ties into counterculture. These are alternative culture people. To me,
alternative culture is that you recognize pop culture, but you hand-select
certain things from pop culture as being valid and you mash them with all the
DIY discovery that you're doing.
36
This subject described the irony behind his personal collection of cultural artifacts,
I know this much, I have all these things in my home that are common to a
lot of other people in my subculture, but I often get most entertained by the
fact that I have a Paula Abdul CD in that collection, or that my favourite
movie is Star Wars and not Blade Runner. It almost gets to the point where
alternative culture evolves and gets large enough, that you get more
satisfaction from the mainstream things you embrace, than the original reason
you embraced the alternative culture stutr
37
34 Interviewee D.
35 Interviewee P.
36 Interviewee L.
37 Ibid.
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Another key indicator distinguishing between independent and major label music is
scale, whether in terms of specialization, practices or sales. Major labels are often multi- or
trans-national corporations that have the capacity to produce a diverse range of music to
service the mass music market. Many indie labels, such as Three Gut Records, are started
by bands themselves to put out their music and music of friends' bands. Other indie labels
such as K Records sign premium indie bands (K Records now stands as one of the most
respected labels in the indie circuit). Often indie labels develop a following, similar to the
way bands develop a following.
Interviewees described the significance of certain indie labels as symbols of quality.
"Touch and Go ... Merge, Drag City ... When I was in high school you'd see a CD and it
had the little label logo and you knew it was good, and you'd give it a chance. ,,38 The
symbolic value around indie labels is therefore important as people claimed to purchase an
album by an unfamiliar artist if a label they trust represents the band. Death Cab for Cutie
band member Ben Gibbard expressed his thoughts on the labels in an interview with the
independent magazine Comes with a Smile:
If someone's going to make a decision about whether they're gonoa like a
band or a record based on the label on the back of it, I don't really want
those people to be fans of our music. That's the wrong reason to like music.
If a label has a reputation for promoting a certain calibre and style you like
then that makes sense, but it's judging the book not even by its cover, but
the barcode on the back. 39
The specialization of indie labels therefore creates a sense of community connecting the
bands and their audience. In contrast, major labels focus on large quantity album sales,
38 Interviewee N.
39 Matt Dornan, "Death Cab for Cutie," Comes with a Smile, (Winter/Spring 2006): 6.
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promoted through various sources including radio and video play to promote an album.
This is a distinguishing feature between indie labels and major labels.
Major labels have large-scale promotion budgets for the artists they represent, and
use a highly specialized division of labour to market a product to their consumer base.
They select a band to promote vigorously, utilizing a variety of media ranging from
mainstream radio, television, and print to disseminate their product. For example, Hal
Niedzviecki found that large companies
Tightly control the product image and then unleash their forces: they hire
street teams: of.. . youth to randomly plaster corridors of North American
cities with stickers and posters meant to appear like the enthusiastic
handiwork of actual fans.
40
One band that was once an unsigned indie band from Hamilton that did its own booking
and promotions is now signed to Universal and works with a team including a "Manager,
lawyer, tour manager, booking agent, assistant to the booking agent, graphics guy,
publicity team, marketing guy, A&R guy. ,,41 Some bands lose their street cred when they
sign to a major. Other DIY bands and fans see it as a loss of authenticity as other people
have input in the bands "work." The band that got signed to a major sees it as a benefit,
though: "all we have to do is think about playing music, which is what's great about
having a team of people behind you. All we do is write songs and play live shows now.,,42
In contrast, a touring independent band would differ greatly from a major label band.
Major label acts often have tour managers, bus drivers and roadies whereas an indie band
40 Hal Niedzviecki, We Want Some Too: Underground Desire and the Re-invention of
Mass Culture, Toronto: Penguin (2000), 312.
41 Interviewee I, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 10 February 2005.
42 Ibid.
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has themselves. An indie band has to keep their van running, do the driving, load gear,
keep fed, find places to sleep, make sure they get paid and put on a performance that
people will want to see next time the band comes through town.
Indie labels generally rely on the indie rock web of communication including
college radio shows, message boards, 'zines and especially word of mouth to support their
artists. These forms of communication are important to note, because it's the fans of the
music that are advertising the music. In a sense, indie advertising and indie community are
one in the same.
That's When The Audience Died: "Selling Out,,43
Holly Kruse points the finger to the major labels as having "forced music scene
participants who defined themselves, their practices, and their institutions in opposition to
the dominant industry to disown some artists, locations and practices and take up others in
order to remain outsiders. ,,44 Cotton Seiler found a similar situation with the band Slint
who recorded with noted producer, Steve Albini. What they risked in "leaving Louisville,"
as Seiler puts it, "both in terms of recording with Albini and of participating more
generally in the process of producing, distributing, and marketing records on a national
scale - were the twin evils of co-optation and compromise. ,,45 Interviewees described the
same trajectory for bands like Montreal's Arcade Fire, "I remember reading on Montreal
43 Final Fantasy, Has A Good Home, Blocks Recording Club compact disc 000030, (2005).
44 Kruse, Site and Sound, 30.
45 Seiler, "Indie Rock in Louisville": 20l.
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boards - threads of people slagging the Arcade Fire as soon as they got very successful. ,,46
This is often referred to as "selling out," and it can take a number of forms. In general it
depends on the perception that an artist has changed his/her musical style or relationship to
hislher core audience in an effort to become more popular, according to Holly Kruse. 47
In indie music discourse "selling out" revolves around the relationship between
artist and audience and the aesthetic.
48
When a band steps out of the community of
independent bands and scene participants helping each other, and into the sphere of mass-
produced music on a major label, scene participants lose ownership and interest in the
band. They might stop putting the band on mix tapes, and stop going to the bands shows -
essentially dropping association between that band and the listener's identity. This is
different than selling-out and exists as an important construct within indie culture. Ben
Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie describes the risk of selling out in relation to signing with
a major
I'm sure we'll probably get a shitty review on Pitchfork and all of the indie
purists will claim [we've sold out] but y'know that happens every time. That
reaction is such as standard reaction to long-time indie band going to the
major, which is unfortunate. But I think part of going to a major, in a weird
way, you find out who your friends are and who your fans really are.
49
One interviewee described how,
You like this certain band, but as soon as too many people like that band, it's
not cool to like that band anymore, even though creatively, they're doing the
exact same thing they were doing when they first were performing ... if a
bands ideals change - they're going to be rejected. 50
46 Interviewee J.
47 Kruse, Site and Sound, 14.
48 Ibid., 22.
49 Dornan: 6.
50 Interviewee L.
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Another interviewee described the situation through the words of Morrissey - "We
hate it when our friends become successful.,,51 Morrisey says that conflicts often arise as
the band changes; their attitudes change, or they don't work the local crowd as much and
a band might stop sending out emails about upcoming shows, nor going to house parties
and saying "We're playing next week.,,52 One can recognize why music fans are skeptical
of an indie band "going to the dark side" because of their awareness of corporate
strategies. The major label band I spoke with offered a different perspective and described
the benefits of being on a major:
They put your CD out. You don't have to work at Herbies, and save up for
a year so you can put it out, they put it out for you and they tell people it's
coming out. They put it on the radio. 53
He also described the sacrifices that come with being in a contract with a major. On a
major, "You have contracts with people, if it's like 'you're touring this month,' you're
touring this month. ,,54
After recording their record, and being signed to a major, the band was surprised
to return to play shows in their hometown that were "embarrassingly barren." The band
figured, "Maybe Hamilton people lost ownership in it. ,,55
I think it made us a "fuck you" band, to the scenester, the hipster kids,
because we were all hipster kids in the band ... they'll walk away from you if
they feel they lose ownership in you, which makes sense. I used to be like
that. 56
51 Interviewee V.
52 Ibid.
53 Interviewee I.
54 Ibid.
55 Ibid.
56 Ibid.
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He claimed that the band
Used to care what hipster people thought, and when you just realize that
they're not real fans, and that's not a shot at them, it's like the hipster pricks
are the ones that are listening to music because they care what the person
beside them listening to thinks of what they're listening to. They're not
listening to them because they love the bands, and it's weird, because they're
the most passionate about music. But the guy at the hockey game that likes
the band, the music, he doesn't fuckin' care what anyone else thinks of what
he likes. They don't care. They're not going to stop listening to it because
. , 1 57
It s not coo anymore.
Simon Frith describes the circumstance as an "ideological struggle between artistic truth
and commercial compromise" for fans of a band that crosses over to mainstream
popularity. 58 The question arises - Is success possible in both indie and mainstream
markets simultaneously? Apparently, only in rare cases such as the Arcade Fire, according
to interviewees:
The Funeral album is very catchy, well written pop songs, simple enough to
be able to get stuck in someone's head, and catchy enough ... an album that
had a lot of artistic integrity but is also something that can be pretty
universally appealing ... maybe that can be appreciated without having to
invest too much of your attention in it, but if you do invest a lot of attention
in it, you probably can find more out of it too, which is why an album like
Funeral can still be appreciated by a culture that's more versed in
independent music, or that aesthetic, it's very true to that aesthetic, but has
to be something more universal with just how catchy and how whistleable
the songs are. 59
This interviewee went on to explain that the song writing is fabulous, the aesthetic
is neat, however it is probably not going to find commercial airplay because of the sound
of the recording. He called the recording quality "pretty garagey" and claimed, "It's not
57 Ibid.
58 Simon Frith, "Video Pop: Picking Up the Pieces," Facing the Music, edited by Simon Frith
(New York: Pantheon, 1988), 130.
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going to be heard on 102.1 the Edge probably, except for maybe a special Dave Bookman
show or something.,,60 Interestingly, the album did end up receiving commercial airplay on
stations including 102.1 and even popular music stations like Mix 99.9. However, these
stations play only a song or two off the band's latest record; they do not seem to explore
earlier recordings or more "obscure" tracks.
Information Travels Faster: Media
6I
According to media sources in Hamilton, there's a premium put on indie music
because "it's cool and everybody wants to be there first." There is competition between
media outlets to interview and do stories on the bands before they "sign to a major label,
before they blow up, before people get interested in them. ,,62
College radio is an important method of dispersion of independent mUSIC.
Interviewees listen primarily to the local school radio stations, CFMU at McMaster
University and C101.5 at Mohawk College, claiming to like college radio for the variety:
"I'd rather hear something that I haven't heard ... rather than stuff I hear every ten
minutes. ,,63 Other than College radio, Internet radio was a close second in terms of choice
of radio station. Internet radio from Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom
were popular.
I listen to CFMU [McMaster University] a little bit, if I know the show, or
The Edge just to see what they're playing. I listen to a lot of Internet radio
59 Interviewee J.
60 Ibid.
61 Death Cab For Cutie, The Photo Album, Barsuk Records compact disc BARK21 (200 1).
62 Interviewee F.
63 Interviewee R.
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from the UK and the States. I listen to the BBC Radio 1 a lot, just a general
mix. In the states I listen to KCRW, that's more of an alternative station, it's
more like a college station. I do it to hear new stuff, but I think I know what
I'm going to get into with the stations that I listen to.64
Others listened to commercial radio for the contrast. "I find the differences between
commercial radio and independent radio pretty fascinating. I like listening to commercial
radio to just be extra aware of that contrast, I guess. ,,65 Interviewees preferred the variety
of new independent music played on college radio stations to the repetitive play of major
label commercial music on mainstream radio stations.
The print media in Hamilton include the following publications: The View,
Hamilton's independent weekly; The Silhouette, McMaster University'S student
newspaper; The Satellite, Mohawk College's student newspaper; The Spectator,
Hamilton's daily newspaper; and Exclaim!, National Free Press. Just as independent labels
and major labels contrasted in terms of scale and specialization, media sources do as well.
The local weekly independent paper and the college and university paper placed more
emphasis on independent music while the mainstream press focused mainly on major label
performances. Interviewees agreed that the free local weekly paper is an important source
for music fans. Not only does it provide a weekly listing of upcoming shows but also
contains interviews with a number of bands that will be performing during the upcoming
week.
Although a writer for the "big" paper in Hamilton said he wants the readers to
know about "good music ... whether it is Lowest of the Low, or the solo or duo - at
64 Interviewee F.
65 Interviewee J.
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PeppeIjacks or Jack De Keyser's at the Corktown," he claimed it was his "territory" to
write about bands when they get signed to a major label.
I got interested in Jersey as soon as they signed. Didn't know them from a
hole in the ground before. As soon as they hit the big label, then it's my
territory to pick them up - mainstream radio, mainstream readers, explain
why a bunch oflabourers from Burlington got signed to Sony.
He considers himself a presenter of music news and claims "It is news when you have 500
independent bands and the big label picks one - that's news". When asked about his work
being a personal investment, he explained
If I'm saying as I did many times that Blackie and the Rodeo Kings Bark is
probably one of the best Canadian CDs of the last year, I'm sticking my neck
out, that's a personal investment, that's my reputation. It better be that
good, and if I'm saying on past performance that they put on a great show,
they better play well ...
He described his approach to indie musicians as different than commercially successful
artists: "you have to be different with amateurs, a bunch of guys who do drywall during
the day and get into the Casbah at night ... " He described his experience with local band,
Fieldguide: "Those kids are tickled that I would run a picture and a recommendation to go
see the show. It's validation to be in the newspaper.,,66
This is different than the perspective of an editor for the Silhouette, who considers
himself invested in local music.
Whenever I do a story on a local band either writing it or editing it, the one
thing that's in the back of my mind is I hope people are interested in this. I
hope this gets people interested in this, because the more that happens, the
better the city's music scene will be.
67
66 Interviewee W.
67 Interviewee F.
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Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
He described some of the challenges of working with labels and promoters as tough: "a lot
of the times they'll want you to promote certain things that you don't want to promote.,,68
The Spectator writer described a different situation. "You build relationships with these
labels; people at Maple, True North, etc ... They all ask you to do a favour once in a while,
express a copy over, and you do it.. . and it's give and take." Other perks he received were
free CDs "I probably get more CDs than anybody else in town." He added that he sees "a
lot of shows. Sometimes people buy me beer, 1 buy them beer.,,69
For writers at the university paper, keeping CDs after reviewing them is one of the
biggest perks. The writers are first and foremost fans according to the editor, who
explained, "For some people it's pretty cool to talk to bands ... that's one of the biggest
perks.,,70 Most of the bands they profile as reviews or interviews tend to be independent
or on an independent label. Although free CDs and "cool" interviews provide incentives
for writers of college/university papers, editors face challenges. One editor pointed a
finger at promoters who he thinks can take a more active role in getting independent music
to the forefront of local media. He explained, "It seems literally every time 1 get a press
release .. .it's about a touring band. 1 never get press releases about local bands and 1 don't
like that.,,71 Part of the problem revolves around ticket sales. Promoters pay large
guarantees to touring bands to play their venues. Promoters therefore want as much
exposure as possible from media, radio, and postering. "It's good to have them come to
68 Ibid.
69 Interviewee W.
70 Interviewee F.
71 Ibid.
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Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
the city, but in the same respect, shouldn't we want our local bands to be selling out
shows? I can't remember the last time I was at a local that was sold OUt."72
Since indie fans spend their time communicating on message boards and talking
about independent music, the majority of them do not watch Much Music or MTV, and if
they do, they view programs like Wedge, The New Music, and Going Coastal.
It shows a lot of what's happening with Canadian indie rock, showing videos
and music that sometimes I've never seen before, or I put the face to a name
or a song to a name, if I've heard a song before but I don't know who it is.
So I like to watch it for those two shows, but I'm not really a supporter of
what goes on from nine to nine on that station. 73
Holly Kruse discussed the fact that alternative rock and pop videos were
"ghettoized in MTV's Sunday night alternative music show, 120 minutes, which aired
between midnight and two in the morning.,,74 A similar development took place in Canada
with The Wedge, MuchMusic's fringe program broadcast Fridays at 11 p.m. This time slot
does not cater to it's audience as most fans of the program and indie music are out at live
music venues as promoters often try to book shows that draw a decent audience on
weekends. This is why theorists like Holly Kruse have maintained that the Internet is
likely to become the primary source for underground video distribution. 75 Evidence of this
is on the popular site MySpace.com where bands post tour dates, blogs, songs, videos, and
other bands can be posted as "friends" of the band.
Some interviewees watched these stations because of their music-related
occupation as writers or promoters. Others said they "don't want to feel like a dinosaur in
72 Ibid.
73 Interviewee G.
74 Kruse, Site and Sound, 92.
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Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
my own time. If you lose touch with what's going on, you lose the ability to criticize it.,,76
Interviewees spoke in-depth of how they get exposed to new music through media
sources. "I keep my ear to the ground, I read all the alternative music papers. The View,
the Andy, which is an insert in The Silhouette, I look at CBC Radio 3 a lot, which is a
website, and steelcitymusic.ca.,,77 Some people were introduced to new bands online, "a
lot of times bands that I like have links to bands they like.,,78 One older scene member
even connected the importance of being knowledgeable about independent music to an
awareness of small business in general, arguing: "that there's more than Wal-Mart and
Future Shop.,,79 A younger informant admitted that a bands "buzz" plays a big role in her
decision to see a live show. "I usually give a lot of new bands a chance if there's a little bit
of a buzz, and by buzz I mean David
so
[promoter] saying go to this show because it's
going to be good - I'll check it out and then judge based on that."sl Her response
contrasts with the perspective of older scene members, who go to fewer shows. First, in
their younger years, they too attended many shows and have seen many touring bands
before - most claimed to have seen most "good" bands a few times. Secondly, they are
more particular about the music they listen to and see live because their tastes are generally
more refined than the younger scene participants.
75 Ibid. 94.
76 Interviewee K.
77 Ibid.
78 Interviewee S.
79 Interviewee A.
80 Promoter's name changed to maintain anonymity.
81 Interviewee Q.
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Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
Word-of-mouth is one of the most important methods of communication in the
scene. One prominent promoter spoke of his use of word of mouth advertising for shows
at his club: his agenda is to get as many people to the shows as he can, but he does not tell
people about every band that he has booked because it would "lose the effect." He
claimed that if he "were to plug every [show] with a passionate sort of energy behind
it ... every show would seem special" or lose its specialness. He explained that every show
is not special and that such as tactic would adversely affect the turnout. For the most part,
he provides people with information, website addresses, places where they can buy the
music, biographical information and allows that to "do the talking."
Every so often,. though, there's a band that I truly think is great and I'm
confident nobody's ever heard of this band and that's where you'll see me
pipe up on a more verbal level, on the street, in the lounge here, "There's this
band coming that I think you would really like" and I'm sincere when I'm
saying that because I don't do that to every band that I book. There's 60
bands a week that play at my clubs and I usually only pipe up once every 120
bands. 82
This promoter believes that spoken dialogue is a valuable tool in the indie scene if it is not
overused. "If you go to the well too often with the verbal spreading of information, the
legitimacy of what you're saying is going to be lost.,,83 Again, the relationship of verbal
communication as cultural capital is solidified.
In addition to word of mouth, a buzz can also be created on the Internet.
Promoters use the Internet to communicate with touring and local bands and fans.
"Because of the Internet I'm able to get information out cheaper, I'm able to get
82 Interviewee L.
83 Ibid.
107
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
information out faster, and I'm able to touch more quantities ofpeople."s4 This proves to
be an effective way of making information available, but one cannot say for certain how
many people the information is dispersed to or how deeply people receive this information
in contrast to the direct nature word-of-mouth communication. This is different than the
methods of major labels. Indie promoters and bands use word of mouth, posters, and
online forums to communicate to potential consumers, which connects the producer and
consumer, unlike the faceless advertising campaigns by major labels. One of the most
prominent sites for indie music fans is pitchfork. com. It provides record reviews,
interviews with artists and music news.
It automatically sells records. The label guys know, you get on Pitchfork
media, you sold 500 records that day. You get a good review - you
automatically sell 500 CDs. It's the same as a label, it's the same thing as a
magazine, it's tellin& people what to listen to, it's just like a fuckin' billboard,
it's the same thing. S
It features sidebar advertising for records and indie rock related companies like American
Apparel (sweat-shop free clothing) that is a popular tee-shirt brand choice for bands to
screen-print their artwork on.
For indie fans, a premium is put on new music, going to live shows, talking with
friends, sharing mix tapes, independent college and university radio, and learning about
music via the Internet. Internet music sites for bands, labels, and most importantly music
message boards have provided a new system of communication for like-minded people.
Message boards/online forums are effectively the new form of fanzines. In 1993, Holly
Kruse wrote,
84 Ibid.
108
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
Local and regional scenes abound with low-budget fanzines, which help to
create identities for unknown acts, and with artists who put out tapes and
records on their own or with the help of independent record companies. 86
Although fanzines still exist, most are now located online to avoid printing costs and
potentially reach a larger readership. My informants claimed that such forums are "good
for posting information about shows ... but unless it's done very strategically, they're not
good for hyping your band, like 'We're this great new band that you've never heard 0[",87
A buzz can be effective however if non-band members are talking about a band as in the
case of the Arcade Fire recently, the buzz started with people seeing their live shows and
posting on message boards. The band went on to receive critical success from a multitude
of media sources including a cover story in Time magazine.
Many people do not even post on message boards, they simply read what others
post to keep informed about upcoming shows and to be aware of what people are talking
about in the scene. Evidence of this is present on the online forum Stillepost. The number
of replies to each post is listed, as well as how many views a post has received; it is not
uncommon to see a post, which has received a few dozen messages, has been viewed a
few hundred times. Most of the people who post know each other and although they have
other names or titles they post under, they usually know who each other are. They
generally know each other's real names, forum personas, and they know each other face to
face. This sometimes leads to email-like messages being posted in a public forum.
85 Interviewee I.
86 Kruse. "Subcultural Identity in Alternative Music Culture." Popular Music 12, 1 (1993): 33.
87 Interviewee J.
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Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
Differences of opinion sometimes arise on message boards; however, they seem to regulate
themselves. One interviewee explained:
You don't even need to necessarily post the big rules and regulations of
etiquette, because people, at least in those sorts of 20hz community, either
conform to that sort of etiquette, or people who are of different mindsets
don't post or don't feel interested in participating. 88
The internet practices scene participants contrast to the work of a local record company
who admitted putting college and high school interns on computers to post on message
boards to create hype their bands. They know that message board people react to
"friends" telling "friends" about new bands and have taken this approach to advertising.
We just have to have the quality of student that we trust to go on there
speaking for us. There's companies in the states that will hire companies to
do that sort of stuff, and we're not into that and want it to be at least
reasonably legitimate. We're not forcing the kids to do it - we're like "You
want to do itT' "Do you want to talk about Cursed on the Internet?" Go and
post on all these places their tour dates and just say "hey the record's out" or
"it's cool," and "this review happened in whatever." I've never had an intern
say no. That sounds shifty thing to do. They're like "oh yeah!" - and you
know they're on the computer all the time anyway and you know they're into
it so we get kids to do that. 89
These types of practices help provide information to people who are potential buyers, but
seem to go against the ideology of indie rock. Hal Niedzviecki describes Focus-grouping
of pop songs:
Get a bunch of kids together and ask 'em: Do you like the song better this
way or that way? Should this be the hit single, or that? Capitol Records
even has a focus-group sign-up sheet on the Internet. "What about Beck?
You are asked. You can choose only from parameters including "Like It a
Lot" to "Tired of that Band.,,90
88 Ibid.
89 Interviewee P.
90 Niedzviecki, 312.
110
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
Practices differ in indie rock music production. Essentially the music fans are their own
focus groups, constantly sharing music they like. Exhibited through attendance at shows,
message board activity, mix tape sharing practices, and fashion, indie scene participants
develop a sense of personal identity in relation to the scene. These practices are only part
of the personal investment made by indie scene participants. As the culture operates as
production for producers, most people are involved in the production as well as
consumption of indie culture. For example, show goers, band members, promoters,
writers, and label owners all described a monetary investment in the music. Importantly
though, this is not viewed as a sacrifice by scene participants. They view their monetary
investment as less than the value gained by attending a show, playing in a band, putting on
a good show, writing about music, or running a label.
These types of activities are generally time consuming as establish a sense of
dedication, investment and symbolic labour-of-Iove. Here we see indie participants as
operating within a culture where economic capital is not the primary account of wealth. In
indie rock culture we see Bourdieu' s concepts of social capital, cultural capital and
symbolic capital serving as the main forms of accrued wealth. For Bourdieu, an individual
is located in a social space and is defined not by social class, but by the amount of
combined forms of capital. This resistance by indie participants to dominant meaning
systems exhibits a resistance to the ideology of dominant society. Evidence of this
resistance is in the indie resistance to major labels, mass media, and the concept of "selling
out," essentially a loss of ownership of a band. The social arena in which indie fans
111
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
circulate involves a field of social positions structured in terms of cultural capital, personal
investment, and identity within the scene.
112
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
The Past and Pending: CONCLUSION 1
At the beginning of this research project I started a collection of names and contact
information for people involved in the scene. With this in mind, I approached Calvin
Johnson, the founder of K Records and internationally recognized indie rock performer,
who was playing a show in Hamilton at the Underground. After his set, I went to him and
explained that I was doing a research project on indie rock music and asked if he would be
interested in speaking with me. He grabbed a piece of paper and wrote his name, email
address and home phone number on it. There is a level of trust, understanding and
hospitality within the scene that has not been explored by researchers and I believe to be an
important aspect of how this community - both on a local and interlocal level - operates.
Independent rock's network of social practices and economic institutions works to locate
subjects within a specific local network while connecting them within the larger framework
of interlocal scenes. As members of independent rock scenes work to help bands and
other members of the subculture, the community sustains itself
Some believe that the scene is getting dangerously close to being co-opted by the
mainstream. Certainly, the music can be profitable. In terms of record sales, indie market
share grew from just over fourteen percent in 1999 to nearly nineteen percent in 2003. It
dipped slightly in 1994 because Universal Music Canada increased its indie distribution:
those sales are not counted among the independents.
2
Also not counted in these statistics
1 The Shins, Oh, Inverted World, Sub Pop Records compact disc SP# 0550 (2001).
2 Laura Blue and Hugh Porter. "Indie Heat: How an Unknown Montreal Band Became a Critical
Favourite and Helped put Canadian Music on the World Map," Time Magazine (Canadian Edition, 4
April 2005) (accessed March 31, 2006) <www.timecanada.com/story.adp?storyid=ool>.
113
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
are indie albums that are sold "off the stage" directly from the performer to an audience
member, which probably puts the percentage of indie sales even higher.
Seattle's Modest Mouse had their most recent album, Good News For People who
Love Bad News, debut at number nineteen on Billboard's album chart, selling 80,000
copies in a week. Ben Gibbard's side project, the electronic-pop duo the Postal Service,
has sold 250,000 copies of its first CD, Give Up. "Five years ago, a record that sold
50,000 copies was a huge success in our world," says Rich Egan, president of Vagrant
Records.
3
Likewise in the world of file sharing, Jonathan Poneman, founder of Nirvana's
original label, Sub Pop Records, whose roster now includes the Postal Service, the Shins,
and Iron & Wine describes, "Each month we get our statements from Apple - for our
music bought on iTunes - and we're starting to make some serious money there." He
explains, "If that model's working, and it appears to be, that changes everything. ,,4
Not everyone is getting rich of indie rock though. The people who do drywall
during the day and play shows on weekends will probably continue to do so - and enjoy it.
The cultural capital lies in the process for indie participants. Part of what indie fans like
about the music is that not everyone else does like it, because they don't have the required
cultural capital or years of experience to appreciate the music for its value. Indie scene
participants can appreciate the music, though, because they are most often producers
themselves, whether as musicians, promoters or tee-shirt screen printers.
3 Devin Gordon. "Rock's Big Bounce," Newsweek (17 May 2005), (accessed 18 March 2006).
<http://www.msnbc.msn.comlid/49333941>.
4 Ibid.
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Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
According to Newsweek,
We're in a golden age for pure songwriting, with rare talents like Gibbard,
the Shins' James Mercer and Wilco's Jeff Tweedy revitalizing the four-minute
pop song and making a case that, in fact, it hasn't all been done before. If
there's one knock against this new school of rock, it's that no one seems
willing to step up and become class president. 5
Ben Gibbard thinks, "something amazing is about to happen ... I don't want to guess what
it'll be, but you can just feel it coming. ,,6
Indie is indeed a phenomenon, and one requiring more exploration. The data
collected for this project yielded more plentiful results than anticipated and covered a
number of topics that could not be explored within the space limitations for this project.
In our drive thru society, it takes thinkers like Hal Niedzviecki to propose an antidote, "Do
something, anything, that can't be decoded and marketed back to yoU.,,7
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid.
7 Hal Niedzviecki. We Want Some Too: Underground Desire and the Re-invention of Mass
Culture. Toronto: Penguin, 2000.311.
115
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Bayton, Mavis. "How Women Become Musicians." In On Record: Rock, Pop, and the
Written Word. Edited by Simon Frith and Andrew Goodwin. New York: Pantheon,
1990.238-257.
Blue, Laura and Hugh Porter. "Indie Heat: How an Unknown Montreal Band Became a
Critical Favourite and Helped put Canadian Music on the World Map." Time
Magazine, Canadian Edition, 4 Apri1200S. (accessed March 31, 2006)
<www.timecanada.com/story.adp?storyid=OOI>.
Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Cambridge:
Harvard University Press, 1984.
Bruhm, John. "Wax Mannequin: 'Chad Kroeger Stalks Me. '" Chartattack. 17 December
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<http://www.chartattack.com/damnl2003/12/170S.cfin>.
Carson, Tom. "Stop 'N' Rock." The Village Voice (3-9 December 1980): 1,43-46,48.
Cohen, Sara. Rock Culture in Liverpool: Popular Music in the Making. Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1991.
Doman, Matt. "Death Cab for Cutie." Comes with a Smile (Winter/Spring 2006): 4-11.
Finnegan, Ruth. The Hidden Musicians: Music-Making in an English Town
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
High Fidelity. Directed by Frears, Stephen. 114 min. Walt Disney Video, 2000. DVD.
Frith, Simon. Music For Pleasure. Oxford: Polity Press, 1998.
Frith, Simon. "Video Pop: Picking Up the Pieces." In Facing the Music. Edited by
Simon Frith. New York: Pantheon, 1988. 88-130.
~ Gay, Leslie. "Rockin' the Imagined Local: New York Rock in A Reterritorialized
World." In Popular Music - Style and Identity. Edited by Will Straw, et al.
Montreal: Dufferin Press, 1995: 123-126.
Goffinan, Erving. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York: Anchor Books,
19S9.
Gordon, Devin. "Rock's Big Bounce." Newsweek (17 May 200S). Accessed 18 March
2006.
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<http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/4933394/>.
Hall, Stuart. The Hard Road to Renewal: lhatcherism and the Crisis of the Left. London:
Verso Books, 1988.
Hall, Stuart and Tony Jefferson, eds. Resistance Through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in
Post-War Britain. London: Hutchinson, 1976.
Hebdige, Dick. "Style as Homology and Signifying Practice; 1979." In On Record; Rock,
Pop, and the Written Word. Edited by Simon and Andrew Goodwin, A. New
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Johnson, Randall. "Editor's Introduction: Pierre Bourdieu on Art, Literature and
Culture." The Field of Cultural Production, by Pierre Bourdieu. Edited by Randal
Johnson. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993. 1-25.
\)7 Kruse, Holly. "Institutional Practices in Alternative Music Scenes." In Popular Music-
Style and Identity Edited by Will Straw, et al. Montreal: Dufferin Press, 1995. 191-
193.
____ . Site and Sound: Understanding Independent Music Scenes. New York: Peter
Lang Publishing, 2003.
____ . "Subcultural Identity in Alternative Music Culture." Popular Music 12, 1
(1993): 33-41.
\7 Lanham, Robert. The Hipster Handbook. New York: Anchor Books, 2003.
f;r Niedzviecki, Hal. We Want Some Too: Underground Desire and the Re-invention of
Mass Culture. Toronto: Penguin, 2000.
Reynolds, Simon. BUssed Out: The Raptures of Rock. London: Serpent's Tail, 1990.
Robinson, Deanna Campbell, et al. Music at the Margins: Popular Music and Global
Diversity. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1991.
Seiler, Cotton. "Indie Rock in Louisville." Journal of Popular Music Studies 13, 2
(2001): 189-205.
Shuker, Roy. Understanding Popular Music. New York: Routledge, 1994.
Straw, Will. "Systems of Articulation, Logics of Change: Communities and Scenes
in Popular Music." Cultural Studies 5,3 (1991): 368-88.
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Wikipedia.com. s.v. "Indie Rock." Accessed March. 19 2006. <en.wikipedia.org/witilIndie-
rock>.
Interviews
Interviewee A. Interview by author. Tape recording. Hamilton, Ontario, 1 February 2005.
Interviewee B. Interview by author. Tape recording. Hamilton, Ontario, 1 February 2005.
Interviewee C. Interview by author. Tape recording. Hamilton, Ontario, 3 February 2005.
Interviewee D. Interview by author. Tape recording. Hamilton, Ontario, 4 February 2005.
Interviewee E. Interview by author. Tape recording. Hamilton, Ontario, 8 February 2005.
Interviewee F. Interview by author. Tape recording. Hamilton, Ontario, 8 February 2005.
Interviewee G. Interview by author. Tape recording. Hamilton, Ontario, 8 February 2005.
Interviewee H. Interview by author. Tape recording. Hamilton, Ontario, 9 February 2005.
Interviewee I. Interview by author. Tape recording. Hamilton, Ontario, 10 February 2005.
Interviewee J. Interview by author. Tape recording. Hamilton, Ontario, 13 February 2005.
Interviewee K. Interview by author. Tape recording. Hamilton, Ontario, 15 February
2005.
Interviewee L. Interview by author. Tape recording. Hamilton, Ontario, 16 February 2005.
Interviewee M. Interview by author. Tape recording. Hamilton, Ontario, 18 February
2005.
Interviewee N. Interview by author. Tape recording. Hamilton, Ontario, 18 February
2005.
Interviewee O. Interview by author. Tape recording. Hamilton, Ontario, 18 February
2005.
Interviewee P. Interview by author. Tape recording. Hamilton, Ontario, 20 February 2005.
Interviewee Q. Interview by author. Tape recording. Hamilton, Ontario, 8 March 2005.
118
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
Interviewee R. Interview by author. Tape recording. Hamilton, Ontario, 8 March 2005.
Interviewee S. Interview by author. Tape recording. Hamilton, Ontario, 11 March 2005.
Interviewee T. Interview by author. Tape recording. Hamilton, Ontario, l3 March 2005.
Interviewee U. Interview by author. Tape recording. Hamilton, Ontario, 13 March 2005.
Interviewee V. Interview by author. Tape recording. Hamilton, Ontario, 14 March 2005.
Interviewee W. Interview by author. Tape recording. Hamilton, Ontario, 15 March 2005.
Interviewee X. Interview by author. Tape recording. Hamilton, Ontario, 16 March 2005.
Discography
Barlow, Lou. Emoh. Merge Records compact disc MRG254, 2005.
Belle & Sebastian. Dear Catastrophe Waitress. Rough Trade compact disc 83216,
2003.
___ . Storytelling. Matador compact disc OLE-512, 2002.
Cuff The Duke. Life Stories For Minimum Wage. Three Gut Records compact disc
TGR007, 2002.
David-Ivar Herman Dune. Yaya. Shrimper Records compact disc SHRI45CD, 2004.
Death Cab For Cutie. The Photo Album. Barsuk Records compact disc BARK21, 2001.
The Folk Implosion. Dare To Be Surprised. The Communion Label compact disc
COMM45, 1997.
Final Fantasy. Has A Good Home. Blocks Recording Club compact disc 000030,2005.
Frog Eyes. The Folded Palm. Absolutely Kosher Records compact disc AK043, 2004.
Hayden. Live at Convocation Hall. Universal Music compact disc 22292, 2002.
____ . Moving Careful. Sonic Unyon Records compact disc SUNCD032, 1996.
The Microphones. Song Islands. K Records compact disc KLP125, 2002.
119
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
Pavement. Slanted and Enchanted: Luxe & Reduxe. Matador Records compact disc OLE
557-2, 2002.
____ . Terror Twilight. Matador Records compact disc OLE 260-2, 1999.
Sebadoh. Bubble & Scrape. Sub Pop Records compact disc SP192b, 1993.
___ . Harmacy. Sub Pop Records compact disc SPCD370, 1996.
____ . Rocking the Forest. Domino compact disc WIGCD2, 1992.
The Shins. Oh, Inverted World. Sub Pop Records compact disc SP# 0550,2001.
Smog. Dongs of Sevotion. Drag City compact disc DC 169CD, 2000.
____ . Rain On Lens. Drag City compact disc DC187CD, 2001.
The Super Friendz. Mock Up, Scale Down. Murderecords compact disc MURD-017,
1995.
Swearing at Motorists. More Songs From The Mellow Struggle. Secretly Canadian
compact disc SC029, 2000.
Thrush Hermit. Smart Bomb. Murderecords compact disc MURCD004, 1994.
Tristan Psionic. TPA Flight 028. Sonic Unyon Records compact disc SUNCD028, 1996.
Wax Mannequin. The Price. Coqi Records, compact disc 2004.
120
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
APPENDIX A: POSTER
School of the Arts
. Sli
Do you like independent music?
Do you see bands perform?
Do you play in a band?
Graduate Student seeks participants
for an 'indie rock' research study.
Illtef\'ie\ys last about 1 hour and are conducted in
Togo Sahnon Hall 430. !\Ic!\Iaster University
.
(or a convenient location for you).
Inten·ie'.';s are I. with ::Otu· permission\. :\0 remuneration pro\·ided.
Email indiel"ockresearch'E: sYlllpatico.ca before Feb . .2 for more details.
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121
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
APPENDIX B: LETTER OF INFORMATION
Student Investigator: Kate Davies
McMaster University TSH 430
indierockresearch@sympatico.ca
Faculty Supervisor: Dr. Christina Baade
McMaster University TSH 408 x23736
baadec@mcmaster.ca
This research study is on indie rock in Hamilton, Ontario and is part of the completion of
degree requirements for a M.A. in Music Criticism. The study will yield insight into the
Hamilton indie rock music scene.
Interviews last about 1 hour and are conducted in Togo Salmon Ha11430, McMaster
University (or a convenient location for the subject). The interview will be tape-recorded
(with your permission). Interviews are conducted anonymously. You will not be
identified by name in the research findings. Efforts will be made to avoid including any
information that allows individuals to be identified in the research findings. You may
decline from answering any questions. You may withdraw from participation at any time
during the study. If you withdraw from the study, your data will be destroyed.
As a participant in this research study, you are involved in an important area of study
currently being theorized by the critical community. You stand to gain a new
understanding of your own scene by having access to the results. You will be contacted
when the research results are complete and provided with a summary of the findings.
The project has been reviewed and received ethics clearance through the McMaster
Research Ethics Board (MREB). Participants with concerns or questions about
involvement in the study can contact:
The McMaster Research Ethics Board Secretariat
C/O the Office of Research Ethics
Telephone: 905-525-9140 ext. 23142
Email: ethicsoffice@mcmaster.ca
122
Masters Thesis - K. Davies McMaster - Music Criticism
APPENDIX C: CONSENT FORM
Student Investigator: Kate Davies
McMaster University TSH 430
indierockresearch@sympatico.ca
Faculty Supervisor: Dr. Christina Baade
McMaster University TSH 408 x23736
baadec@mcmaster.ca
This research study is on indie rock in Hamilton, Ontario and is part of the completion of
degree requirements for a M.A. in Music Criticism. The study will yield insight into the
Hamilton indie rock music scene.
Interviews last about 1 hour and are conducted in Togo Salmon Hall 430, McMaster
University (or a convenient location for the subject). The interview will be tape-recorded
(with your permission). Interviews are conducted anonymously. You will not be
identified by name in the research findings. Efforts will be made to avoid including any
information that allows individuals to be identified in the research findings. You may
decline from answering any questions. You may withdraw from participation at any time
during the study. If you withdraw from the study, your data will be destroyed.
As a participant in this research study, you are involved in an important area of study
currently being theorized by the critical community. You stand to gain a new
understanding of your own scene by having access to the results. You will be contacted
when the research results are complete and provided with a summary of the findings.
Please select YES or NO:
2. Can the information you provide in this interview be used for future use in related
academic projects (i.e. Thesis defence, multimedia presentation, etc.)? DYES or DNO
The project has been reviewed and received ethics clearance through the McMaster
Research Ethics Board (MREB). Participants with concerns or questions about
involvement in the study can contact:
The McMaster Research Ethics Board Secretariat
C/O the Office of Research Ethics
Telephone: 905-525-9140 ext. 23142
Email: ethicsoffice@mcmaster.ca
Date: Print Name:
-----------------------------
Signed: ______________________________ _
123

INDIE ROCK SUBCULTURE: HAMILTON AS MICROCOSM

INDIE ROCK SUBCULTURE: HAMILTON AS MICROCOSM

By KATHLEEN DAVIES, B.A.

A Thesis Submitted to the School of Graduate Studies In Partial Fulfilment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Arts

McMaster University © Copyright by Kathleen Davies, April 2006

B.MASTER OF ARTS (2006) (Music Criticism) McMaster University Hamilton. (McMaster University) NUMBER OF PAGES: v.A. Ontario TITLE: AUTHOR: Indie Rock Subculture: Hamilton as Microcosm Kathleen Davies. 123 11 .

institutions. interest in the indie rock subculture has exploded. This is an ethnographic study of the indie rock scene in Hamilton. generation. ethnicity.ABSTRACT In recent years. which exposes constructions and configurations of class. The geographical. fashion. cultural practices. style. Aspects of the local and interlocal are explored through narratives of indie aesthetics. Cultural practices. Hamilton represents a microcosm of what is happening in other local indie scenes. Ontario. 111 . both in the popular press and among popular music scholars and culture theorists. authenticity and investment. This study focuses on how independent rock's network of social practices and economic institutions works to locate subjects within Hamilton's local network while connecting them to the larger framework of interlocal scenes. and gender. historical and cultural locality of Hamilton creates a sense of shared identity among individuals connected by the common interest in indie rock. including the production and consumption of indie rock are examined through the lens of Bourdieu' s concept of cultural capital.

musicians. Dr. As my supervisor of research. Michael McCullough for his editing assistance. Paul Quigley for his love. Brad and Mel Davies for their support. venue staff. and music fans who shared stories about their lives and the music they love. IV . for being an inspiration. Christina Baade. her guidance and encouragement helped ensure this project came to fruition. Danuse Vrba. Brock. Sherrie.ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Thank you to: Dr. Susan Fast for her encouragement to pursue my Masters degree. The promoters. Dr. Catherine Graham for being a helpful and enthusiastic reader. support and encouragement.

history Homemade: Indie Music Aesthetics Wrapped up in Books: Overview of Theoretical Writings Steps into Miles: Methodology Page 1 Page 6 Page 9 Page 16 Page 22 CHAPTER 2 Home: Hamilton as Local Scene The Fence Feels its Post: Institutions Donut Rock City: The Hamilton Sound Storytelling: Narrative Histories Page 27 Page 30 Page 40 Page 44 CHAPTER 3 All Dressed Up: Practices and Identity I Smell a Rat: Authenticity Round-n-round: Sharing Practices I Don't Think We Should Ever Meet: Labels Live as if Someone is Always Watching You: Practices and Fashion Devotion: Investment Page 50 Page 50 Page 53 Page 58 Page 66 Page 77 CHAPTER 4 Rescue Us From Boredom: Labels and Media Speak.TABLE OF CONTENTS Dare To Be Surprised: INTRODUCTION CHAPTER 1 Gimmie Indie Rock: Indie music aesthetics.Bands The Difference Between Listen and Feel: Indie Labels vs. style. See. Remember: Production for Producers Life Stories For Minimum Wage: Monetary Investment . Major Labels That's When The Audience Died: "Selling Out" Information Travels Faster: Media Page 82 Page 82 Page 85 Page 91 Page 97 Page 101 CHAPTER 5 The Past and Pending: CONCLUSION BIBLIOGRAPHY APPENDIX A: POSTER APPENDIX B: LETTER OF INFORMATION APPENDIX C: LETTER OF CONSENT Page 113 Page 116 Page 121 Page 122 Page 123 v .

glory and excitement. into a glowing ball of pure. I do these things the best I possibly can. The ones that make me shiver and sweat with fear. I get more certain. I was the only candidate and won by default.K. Rock And Roll Armageddon is approaching.2 Wax Mannequin • "Are you going to the show tonight?" * "Who's playing?" • "Wax Mannequin. I have met difficulties and will meet more.comldamnl2003/12/1705. tunes and thoughts into glorious gems of absurd truth. As President. I will become more entertaining and more profoundly relevant to our age with every breath that I take and sound that I utter.Music Criticism Dare To Be Surprised: INTRODUCTION l No one ran against me. The Communion Label compact disc COMM45. Every day. I am obligated to polish these words. '" Chartattack (17 December 2003) (accessed 18 March 2006) <http://www. I am navigating uncharted territory here. Dare To Be Surprised.The self elected President of indie rock right?" 1 The Folk Implosion. I learn and change. I must execute performances where indescribable things happen. As President of Indie Rock I intend to incite and spearhead a focused cultural revolution that will transform this country.cfm>. Every day. "Wax Mannequin: 'Chad Kroeger Stalks Me. This was done to inject an indie rock aesthetic within the thesis. I wear my uniform. My duties consist of extracting the strange melodic and lyric bits of myself that wake me up at night. People dance and celebrate when I rock. he played a great set . blissful. witty and engaging one-man rock-spectacle imaginable. He's got a drum machine . sweat and make everyone lose their minds. I will continue to work. They celebrate change. that one-man-band guy. I collect bits of guidance only from the brutal road. Davies McMaster .. he opened up for the Riderless in London at the Courtyard.chartattack. 2 John Bruhm. Remember?" * "Yeah. 1 . brimming with dangerous significance and thrust them outward.. I won't stop. I will grow and change forever. suffering. 1997. forever. I meet new friends and work harder. and ultimately the entire world. to refine my vision and my craft. creative strawberry juice. I have taken these troubled bits of self and fashioned them into the most entertaining. and Chapter titles and section headings consist of song and album titles by indie rock bands that relate to their topic.Masters Thesis . for the betterment of everything.

The girl at the door took eight dollars from each person and stamped their hands.m. saying "hi" to familiar faces and finding a comfortable place to stand for the show. The next day. After Wax finished. "Enjoy the show. and members of Hibakushajoined the audience during Wax's set." * "Who's opening up tonight?" • "Hibakusha and B. the bands are already at the venue preparing for the show. I've never seen them before. Eight bucks. Wax checked first. and then watched Hibakusha's set. The bands arrived to the club at 7 p." Audience members walked in the club. Johnston. but B.m.K.. Davies McMaster . The bartenders were busy loading fridges full of beer while the bands hung out and talked until the doors opened at 9 p.A. followed by the second band." * "We should check that out. people talked about the show on local message boards. toured with Mayor McCa.A. and finally the opening band. Regardless of whether the audience is fewer than ten people or numbering in the hundreds. B. The audience chatted and went outside to smoke during the break while the bands tore down and set up their gear. people bought CD's and mingled.m." As bands "meet new friends and work harder" 2 .Masters Thesis . played to an attentive audience for forty-five minutes or so. B. most indie rock bands would agree that they have "met difficulties and will meet more. Wax consistently performs his best." While these people are deciding whether to attend the show. took the stage at about 10 p. for sound check.A. Why don't you come by my place at nine? We can have a few drinks and be at the club in time to see both bands. Like Wax. I have been fortunate to see Wax Mannequin perform numerous times.Music Criticism • "Yeah.A.

playa show. and working in two of Hamilton's primary indie rock clubs as a door person. My past involvement in the scene includes attending countless shows.) It is difficult to determine if ironic humour is a product of the music or the music is a product of ironic humour. reverse nurror effiect. Hamilton. (Wax has since moved away from the persona. My academic study of music and cultural studies. whom bands often face. combined with these personal experiences. tape recording. my role in the scene has shifted over the years." The indie rock president persona was based on ironic humour . only to wake up and do it allover again. load gear. load gear again. Ontario. It was people like Wax. interview by author. 3 As much of independent rock is wrapped in ironic humour. and sleep on someone's floor or in a bed with a band member in a cheap motel. for years. 13 February 2005. although lately he has been playing shows with a bassist and drummer. indie audiences generally appreciated his finger pointing at indie cultural practices. 3 . He generally performs solo with an electronic drum machine and electric guitar.Music Criticism they aim to refine their vision and craft . depicting its position as a local scene within a constellation of 3 Interviewee J.K. playing locally and touring in a handful of bands. That's without the vehicle problems and the "we'llonly-be-able-to-pay-you-in-beer" promoters. avoiding the threat of it becoming passe. Hamilton-based Wax has toured Canada.Masters Thesis . Indie bands spend hours in a vehicle. aligning with his mission to "become more entertaining and more profoundly relevant to our age.a . Davies McMaster . coast to coast. Like Wax's persona. led me to become interested in studying indie rock as a music subculture. I am currently active as an audience member but also play in a band.much like Wax. whose involvement in the scene proved how important it was to document the Hamilton indie rock music scene.

K. These groups of individuals participate in a culture rooted in accountability as the DIY cultural participants privilege control of their creative and business pursuits. what they do.Music Criticism interlocal scenes. including performance venues. and theoretical history as well as providing an outline of the methodology used to conduct this study. The personal narratives of scene members combine with characteristics of Hamilton music to create and identity for Hamilton indie rockers linked to the cities geographical location. how its people function locally and in interlocal scenes. but more importantly. Throughout the proceeding four chapters. This examination of the indie aesthetic through the words of indie participants. combined with months of observations and interviews. and why it is relevant. Davies McMaster . This approach of making subcultural observations and gathering responses from subcultural members led to a deeper understanding of the subculture: who is involved. where they do it. My thesis presents findings attained through the accumulation of years of personal experience in the scene. but also I asked them about it. The 4 . These institutions provide physical spaces for members of the scene to interact and thus hold an important position in the local network of scene participants. I explore different aspects of the local and interlocal scene. presents indie rock music culture as a diverse collection of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) cultural producers. style.Masters Thesis . Chapter 2 highlights the primary indie rock institutions in Hamilton. record stores and labels. This approach contributes to a new understanding of indie music by placing the focus on the people involved in the subculture. musical characteristics. Not only did I observe things about the people involved in the subculture. how they do it. why they do it. Chapter 1 presents background information pertaining to indie music aesthetics.

Davies McMaster . stay involved. and economic reasons why indie rock bands operate within a DIY structure are explored and lead to a discussion of why people get involved. major labels). and the function of media within the indie community. Chapter 3 discusses the sharing practices common to the scene. indie vs. 5 . Chapter 4 examines the commitment and investments of participants involved in the scene and their perspectives on the corporate industry (i. and often become deeply invested in this subculture. This chapter emphasizes the narrative of process over product and examines such cultural practices as wearing band tee-shirts as a signifier of one's membership to the subculture. cultural. authenticity. through the lens of Bourdieu's concept of cultural capital. The social. The approach of this study involved observing common practices but also asking participants about them. which position the wearer in resistance to mass cultural production. along with cultural practices and fashion. political. identifying the similarities and differences between scenes and the relevance of this in terms of local and interlocal networks. e. taste.Music Criticism Hamilton scene is also positioned in relation and contrast to other localities. and participation in subcultural social practices.Masters Thesis .K. it yielded particularly fruitful results with respect to cultural practices.

Davies McMaster . tape recording. indie is now an umbrella term composed of disparate music genres. and buy music directly from the performers. Interviewee V. Domino compact disc WIGCD2 (1992). interview by author. and airplay on independent or college radio stations for promotio~J. According to the participants interviewed for this project. 2 The man who said this uses chocolate for a metaphor for independent music.Music Criticisr CHAPTERl Gimme Iodie Rock: Iodie music aesthetics. Rocking the Forest. indie rock bands are connected through a Social involvement in a scene often leads common aesthetic and set of practices. 1 2 Sebadoh. go to stadium shows. 6 . He is a fan of music who operates within an entirely different world: the world of independent rock music. Independent music fans write and publish their own magazines. there are those people who like chocolate and want to eat chocolate bars all the time. there are those that are visiting. \Jndie acts generally produce their own albums (production and distribution) and rely on touring. style. put on their own shows. Ontario.K. ~or the people involved. the independent music community becomes more than just a pastime or entertainment. word-of-mouth. 14 March 2005. both within their local community as well as the interlocal network of indie rock music scenes~j The term independent or indie is often used to refer to unsigned bands or bands that are on small independent record labels. He doesn't read Rolling Stone. and then there are those that just like music. historyl There are those who want nothing of it. Despite being musically diverse.Masters Thesis . or buy CD's at HMV. it often becomes their lifestyle and ultimately a part of their identity. Hamilton.

and contribute to the larger interlocal social network of independent rock music scenes. 7 . Cultural practices. 4 For the owner of an independent singles label based in Champaign. are linked to constructions and configurations of class. The geographical.Music Criti. The research discussed herein consists of an ethnographic case study of the local indie music scene in Hamilton as a microcosm of what is happening in general and explores the notion of locality and interlocality. et al. Thus. including the production and consumption of indie rock. generation. Illinois. and gender. edited by Will Straw. historical and cultural locality of Hamilton creates a sense of shared identity among individuals connected by the common interest in indie rock. Qhe ethnomusicologist Leslie Gay states that music "provides context for their [people's] lives. participation in this culture leads to a sense of identity for people within their local scene. participants to become involved in the production and consumption of indie culture and often leads to lifestyle changes and considerable investments. but also as part of a network of interlocal scenes sharing similarities and celebrating difference. as a case study. business 3 Leslie Gay "Rockin' the Imagined Local: New York Rock in A Reterritorialized World. I overlay the notion of local and interlocal community onto the positioning of music in the lives of participants in the independent (indie) rock music scene. 1995). Social networks are one of the defining features of local mUSIC scenes. (Montreal: Dufferin Press. within an interlocal network. Davies McMaster . Ontario. 123.K. Gay explores how the local lives of these musicians functioned within a globally interconnected world.Style and Identity. Using Hamilton. ethnicity." in Popular Music ."~ In her study ofrock musicians in New York City. an interest so strong that its activities become central to their existence.Masters Thesis .

... however." 126. on a continental and international level. 4 Holly Kruse.. is supported by Leslie Gay's finding that "interactions and connections made through mediated forms often suggest that individual musicians are indeed closer 'neighbours' to those miles away than to those who live on the same street. 5 Will Straw's claim that points of musical reference are likely to remain stable from one community to another.6 This is because interlocal networks bring institutions and people in disparate local scenes together in broader systems of cultural production and dissemination.. "Systems of Articulation..Masters Thesis .. (New York: Peter Lang Publishing: 2003). and I would know who they are and I would know what kind of music they listen to .7 I argue. Site and Sound: Understanding Independent Music Scenes. 136.. "Oh. that independent rock music's social and economic structures are overlapping networks that locate subjects within a specific local social network as well as connected them within a larger interlocal network.Music Criticism connections are largely responsible for his awareness of being part of a broader network of people with shared knowledge and interests: If I were to go to San Francisco. Logics of Change: Communities and Scenes in Popular Music." Cultural Studies 5. but we couldn't just randomly pick people.. Davies McMaster . But you have to find the right people . they are part of a "musical cosmopolitanism" that allows the localism that marks their characteristic "smallscale infrastructures of production and dissemination" to be "reproduced. Straw argues that interlocality makes alternative music scenes somewhat paradoxical. I've got a bunch of people I could call that would go. 5 Ibid. We could go anywhere and find somebody who knew who we were. 8 . there are people allover the place who know who we are .3 (1991): 378. 6 Ibid. 7 Will Straw. 137 and Leslie Gay "Rockin' the Imagined Local...K. in relatively uniform ways. you're Geoff from Parasol. 134..

Sub Pop Records compact disc SPI92b (1993). Bubble & Scrape. I'm a pretty big fan of this group because they make rock sounds with unrock instrumentation.. interview by author. 8 February 2005. 8 9 9 . Hamilton. arguably. .. Specifically what that might mean is things like. in Site and Sound: Understanding Independent Music Scenes. drum. one would assume that promoters would book bands carefully to include music of the same genre on a bill together.Masters Thesis . Interviewee 0.9!Jthers articulated a more specific aesthetic: They're taking. 10 Holly Kruse.. Ontario. Opening bands that play similar music may not be available~ thus. it doesn't tend to be immediately something that catches your ear as a listener. Bills that include a variety of genres display that indie audiences are generally open-minded.. guitar combination. 11 Kruse. than just typical bass. lo-fi recording quality. and Interviewee F. states. Ontario. Davies McMaster . promoters often showcase unexpected combinations of bands on the same bill. 8. [It is] music that musicians really tend to appreciate. and explained that it is "something you kind of have to work at. as an example of that is a regional band from Guelph called Barmitzvah Brothers. 18 February 2005. A particular band that comes to mind.Music Criticism Homemade: Indie Music Aesthetics 8 The majority of interview subjects described indie rock as "music that is not meant for the mainstream". Site and Sound. Ontario. 'indie' described a sound and a point of origin more than it describes a specific economic relationship. less melodic song structure. Interestingly.K. Hamilton. Hamilton. a promoter has to find an alternative. That's indie rock. interview by author. tape recording.."ll Since live music occupies the central role in the community of indie rock. 16 February 2005. "For many fans and music scene participants . tape recording. Sebadoh. a popular style of music and they're twisting it in their own way so that it's not as catchy and as accessible to mainstream culture. interview by author. 10 Interviewee L. though. a commercial style. tape recording. more experimental ideas of what kind of instruments to use to make the sounds.

Iron and Wine) Freak-folk .. Tower Recordings.. Noise rock.K. Established in 2001. PsychobiIly. (See: Sigur Ros. Lo-fi. Ulrich Schnauss. Animal Collective. this free encyclopedia. Manitoba. (See: No-Neck Blues Band. Dntel. 19 2006) Sadcore. The lonics) Nu-gaze . the term indie rock has become so broad that literally hundreds of other genres can fall under its umbrella.Masters Thesis . The Notwist. Post-rock. (See: The Postal Service. The disparate genres that share the indie circuit position themselves in connection with each other and in contrast to mass music. Wikipedia demonstrates the diversity of the field of indie rock with its description: New folk . The Fiery Furnaces. (See: The White Stripes. Joanna Newsom. The Rapture. Out Hud.. Recently. Lali 2 Punai The resource also lists the sub-genres of Jangle pop. "Indie Rock" (accessed March. Six Organs of Admittance) New Weird America . M83. (See: Devendra Banhart.Music Criticism The diversity of musical styles that function within the circuit of indie rock music production represents the open-mindedness of the community of music makers. I consulted the online resource.. Because of the weaknesses of traditional sources on pop music in this area. (See: LCD Soundsystem. !!!. Written collaboratively by people from all around the world. Scarling.. hellogoodbye. has rapidly grown into the largest reference website on the Internet. The Strokes.v. Paisley Underground. Post-punk revival. Indie music resists generalization and easy categorization: this is a function of its resistance to corporate ways of marketing music by linking audiences and music preferences.. Math rock.. Serena Maneesh) Indietronic . 12 10 . (See: Sufjan Stevens.. Noise pop... Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice) Dance-punk . Wikipedia.. Radio 4) Garage rock revival .com~ s... The Von Bondies.. Wikipedia. Davies McMaster .

again highlighting the challenge in making generalizations about the genre of indie rock. orglwitilIndie-rock>. including a trombonist. and a violinist. By exploring instrumentation. wikipedia. we can place more emphasis on what some indie musicians do. Crudely made cover art heightens the distinction between substance and production .Masters Thesis . (2002). These three examples of indie rock employ a diverse range of instrumentation. in effect. 14 <en. 13 Ibid. gray paintings of figures and faces. One important factor of indie music is the quality of the packaging and the lyrics. Space rock. and The Microphones. while the Microphone's Song Islands includes a reproduction of a hand written song list and cover artwork consisting of rough.again the idea of process enters here. For example. a sousaphone player. Singer-songwriter Julie Doiron plays electric guitar. and Twee pOp. Matador Records compact disc OLE 5572.K. The contrast in band construction and. The dance-rockers Shy Child employ electric guitar and drums.13 One cannot begin to draw unitary musical traits in such a plethora of music. Slanted and Enchanted: Luxe & Reduxe. Davies McMaster . K Records compact disc KLP125.Music Criticism Shoegazing. (2002). 14 Pavement. 11 . Indie bands often create their own handmade or hand designed artwork. while the alt-country band The Silver Hearts involves up to a dozen musicians. instrumentation creates difficulty in drawing conclusions as to common musical traits. Song Islands. Pavement's Slanted and Enchanted album features a red cover with the band name and album title scrawled in capital letters in what looks to have been a bottle of white-out.

12 .Masters Thesis . generalizations cannot be drawn as to common themes. For example." Lou Barlow sings: I know I wanted more than you could give to me I know there'll come a day I'll understand Until then I'll be trying to solve a mystery Wonder why I couldn't make you stay Smiling through denial my specialty I thought that was a good thing for a while You gave me all your secrets were you testing me? 18 How could I do anything but smile Although lyrics are valued among many indie listeners. Hamilton. 16 The indie interest in lyrics. contrasts with the catchy hook construction of most commercial pop music. Coqi Records." Wax Mannequin smgs: Somebody's raised the price since you last paid the price The price is not the same and I blame All of the price that's left to go All of the price that's left to pay Someone has raised the price since you last paid the price The price was raised today and I say You take the price with all your violent might You crash price into the Earth 17 In "Legendary. Ibid. as the participants said they enjoyed "thoughtful" lyrics.Music Criticism Although instrumental bands exist. 15 This emphasis on lyrics connects with a narrative of education among participants in the indie rock scene. Merge Records compact disc MRG254 (2005). 18 Lou Barlow. interview by author. compact disc (2004). many indie fans place value on lyrics. tape recording. constructions. for again the diversity is too great. Ontario. 15 16 Interviewee A. Davies McMaster . highlighting the intellectual appreciation of indie music over bodily appreciation such as dancing.K. or language usage. Emoh. 1 February 2005. The Price. in his song "The Price. such as Rachel's. 17 Wax Mannequin.

" he sings self-referentially about being an indie musician: "At the end of the night I got well rewarded with a ticket for a free drink. and sparse percussion accompany David's singing.Masters Thesis . the choice is Red Stripe or Pabst.Music Criticism Song length also positions indie rock in contrast to mainstream popular music. It was my time of glory in New York City. I almost lied but I knew I sucked at it and confessed that I was broke and couldn't afford a coffee.. Depending on the sub-genre. 13 . A highenergy shout-rock band like Sailboats are White can pound out some songs in just one to two minutes whereas a post-rock band like Godspeed You Black Emperor! can take up to twenty minutes to gradually build up instrumentation and rhythmic drive involved in their compositions. songs can run much shorter or much longer than three minutes. One conclusion that can be drawn from this discussion is that indie music situates itself closer to art-music than mass music production. sometimes an understanding of indie rock culture is presented as an ironic construction. This contrast in song length again points out the impossibility of drawing generalities between the many genres of indie rock. Yaya. Davies McMaster .19 He continues I almost lied when my mother asked me ifI was making any money. and was getting skinny. Again. Indie rock songs generally do not conform to the standard for radio edits. Shrimper Records compact disc SHR145CD (2004). well I guess I smell now. Many scene participants expressed 19 20 David-Ivar Herman Dune. Ibid. a presentation often adopted by indie artists. it is substance over production. In his song "Time of GloryINYC. Guitar. As shown by Wax Mannequin. DavidIvar Herman Diine is an indie musician from Paris.z° The lyrical content is complemented by the simple instrumentation..K. Holes in my three-day shirt.

. underground "punk" music was re-Iabelled "college" music. The message of punk was that anyone could make their own music. Tom Carson. and more about defining what indie is not (music for the masses). and others explored whatever "leads" they were given. others worked in record stores. (a DIY subculture).. 21 14 . explains For most of the audiences and a good many of the bands. grunge and indie see themselves as an alternative to the aesthetic models of mass musics such as pop music?2 For them.K. instead. it was also a revolt of the outsiders-oddball smart kids . music of the past.Masters Thesis . it is less about defining what indie is. they exalted the ordinary?l The participants/fans of punk. Where mass culture inevitably seeks to homogenize. Davies McMaster . as it was played by student deejays and generally listened to by students at college radio Tom Carson "Stop 'N' Rock. critic for the Village Voice and Rolling Stone in the late 1970s. One can follow leads about indie bands influences all the way back to bands like the Velvet Underground and Talking Heads. Some grew up listening to their parents' vinyl collections.. which carried through in the grunge movement and is now present in indie rock cultural practices. Indie rock can be traced back though DIY punk and early grunge bands.Music Criticism an interest in. but their songs rarely stressed that. and a respect for.. For example." The Village Voice (3-9 December 1980): 46. Participants had their own explanation for such musical experience. they were diverse . the indie fan would explore the referred bands' sites. punk was the first thing they'd created on their own. In the late 1980s. if a band they liked had a link on their website to other bands. Indie scene participants were generally appreciative of and knowledgeable about a variety of musical genres from classic rock to punk and blues.

" .Masters Thesis . This trajectory has led to the current state of indie rock as a collection of people involved in local scenes connected by a web of interlocality. Pavement. the web of communication provided by the Internet.Music Criticism stations. the possibility exists for independent artists to earn a living (modest as it may be) by playing music without the support of a major record label. REM. evidenced most recently by the rise of the Montreal indie bands Stars. Mudhoney." explosion. its own chart in Rolling Stone. College music became associated with particular geographic sites. The Stills. College Music Journal (CMJ). the first recognized scene being Athens. "college" music was dubbed. aesthetics and history related to the scene. In response. and Calvin Johnson. or "scenes". With its own trade paper. and the Arcade Fire. annual seminars. and most importantly. and musicians such as Sebadoh.: 43. As college bands from this area such as the B-52's. and Love Tractor. Ibid. An interest in studying indie rock has also developed among academic theorists. subcultural audiences took a tighter grip on the music that they deemed "authentic" and turned their focus to marginal forms of independent rock including bands. The Dears. "alternative. Davies McMaster . With the development of indie rock music and its associated communities. from the late 1970s through the mid1980s. 22 15 . "alternative" was established as its own commercially viable radio format and paradoxically became "mainstream. and Soundgarden.K. Georgia.music that was played on top-40 FM radio. have come a set of shared values. started to receive attention from commercial radio. The early 1990s release of Nirvana's Nevermind heralded the grunge Alongside fellow Seattle-area bands like Pearl Jam.

it's just so diverse and colourful. This is related to the work of Hal Niedzviecki. We elevate the meaningless because we have grown up believing. bands. theorists at the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies agree with the commonly asserted thesis that youth cultures appropriate and innovate musical forms and styles as a basis for their identity. of the music industry. tape recording. Understanding Popular MUSiC. It strives to define a new vision of community. Toronto: Penguin. that through mass culture we can find meaning. one indie participant described the scene: In terms of content and politics." and thus represent cultural oppositional politics at the symbolic level. that uses the term "lifestyle culture pioneers" to describe people employing a DIY attitude: Lifestyle Culture is simple: we make the stuff that isn't supposed to matter movies. Ontario.229. (New York: Routledge. interview by author.Music Criticism Wrapped up in Books: Overview of Theoretical Writings23 The subculture of indie rock as a youth subculture aligns with Roy Shuker's findings that members of youth subcultures rely on leisure and style as a "means of winning their own cultural space. 24 Similarly. 16 March 2005. Davies McMaster . Hamilton. 25 Hal Niedzviecki. assert countercultural politics. fashion. 22. We give that stuff prominence in our lives. 2000). TV shows. This type of social practice is linked to the music.. and in so doing. We Want Some Too: Underground Desire and the Re-invention ofMass Culture.It's more open in mind and spirit. People do welcome "strangers" into their homes and show local hospitality to touring bands. being taught. Rough Trade compact disc 83216 (2003). the scene and the overall Belle & Sebastian. more accepting of the alien and avant-garde. We Want Some Too: Underground Desire and the Reinvention of Mass Culture. toys. . Roy Shuker. 1994). 25 In contrast.Masters Thesis .K. and an endless world of possible products . Dear Catastrophe Waitress. 23 24 16 .matter. 26 There is a sense of realness in the community within the Hamilton scene and scenes abroad. 26 Interviewee X.

the pleasure of finding a rare recording. These forms of pleasure and knowledge as cultural capital are central to the understanding of indie rock consumption as a factor in identity construction. This study places indie rock in relation to subcultures and cultural capital while its methodology links it to other studies that have focused on local scenes in particular geographical locations. show-going people. and it classifies the classifier. band tee-shirt wearing. Most importantly. headphone wearing. outlining social status positions. tapes or CD's. 17 . Social subjects. in which their position in the objective classifications is expressed or betrayed.Music Criticism DIY ethic of independent rock music production and consumption. The indie rock community is based on music . 27 27 Pierre Bourdieu. between the beautiful and the ugly. the distinguished and the vulgar. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Bourdieu defines taste as follows: Taste classifies. There is a certain anticipatory pleasure of attending a concert. classified by their classifications. 1984).K.primarily live music performance. these social practices come down to issues of identity and community. In indie rock circles. Pierre Bourdieu's work on cultural capital will be discussed throughout this thesis in relation to indie rock. Davies McMaster ." which scene members use to differentiate and distance themselves from others. especially if the band is obscure or travelled a great distance. music serves as "taste. the physical pleasure of handling vinyl records. The types of people who are inclined to take pleasure in such things are the people described in this paper: educated.Masters Thesis . and the intellectual and emotional pleasures associated with "knowing" about particular artists and genres valued by one's peers.435. distinguish themselves by the distinctions they make. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste.

18 . and social practices in a Canadian city. 1995. "Subcultural Identity in Alternative Music Culture" (1993) and "Institutional Practices in Alternative Music Scenes" (1995). experience. and Holly Kruse.Music Criticism Internally. aesthetics. through her research in Champaign. cultural and economic formations allow members to define themselves as separate from mainstream culture. which the fall 1991 issue of Rolling Stone called a "fledgling music Mecca. "Subcultural Identity in Alternative Music Culture. Davies McMaster . cultural capital. 1 (1993): 33. As the set of shared values.). "Institutional Practices in Alternative Music Scenes. and outside of Canada. Specifically. examining how the social. and history developed. Most of the theoretical work that has been done on indie rock has focused on local scenes in particular places." In Popular Music . an interest in studying indie rock also emerged." Popular Music 12.Masters Thesis . edited by Will Straw.29 Site and Sound examines indie 28 Kruse." works as a social arena in which people manoeuvre in pursuit of desirable resources or social positions. Illinois. cultural capital. et al. Site and Sound: Understanding Independent Music Scenes.K. Kruse's articles. (Montreal: Dufferin Press. the music scene. or "field. .. and symbolic capital are recognized within the social space of indie rock scenes as markers of identity. This study brings in ideas of subculture. and participation in the production and consumption of the culture are valued as capital and acquire meaning and significance within local scenes and interlocal scenes. 29 Kruse. Social capital. Consumers of indie rock occupy a critical social space where knowledge. (New York: Peter Lang Publishing: 2003). Holly Kruse is one of the most important theorists writing about indie rock subculture today. Kruse looks at indie cultural practices as situated within specific spaces and places. have ultimately led to her book Site and Sound: Understanding Independent Music Scenes (2000)?8 Kruse focuses on the subculture of college music scenes.Style and Identity.

" a "geographically and historically singular product of the subcultural impulse.. 30 19 .. Kentucky. "Stop 'N' Rock": 43.in Louisville.. and issues of social networks and identity. The bulk of Cohen's data is derived from her observation of and interviews with two Liverpool bands. [and] a site-specific example of the indie aesthetic expressed musically. and sites of indie music distribution: radio.30 In 2001.K.Music Criticism music history. . Davies McMaster . but also suggests .31 Additional study of indie rock are Sara Cohen and Ruth Finnegan's ethnographies of British music communities. .in however small a way . Tom Carson began investigating indie rock in 1980 . cultural and economic contexts by describing the production and performance of the music. retail and live venues. Kentucky.. Cohen explores "the interrelationships between art and society .the beginnings of a radical realignment in the ways popular art is created and disseminated in this country. He spent a few weeks with local bands at rehearsals. She looks at these Liverpool bands within their particular social. independent record labels. Cotton Seiler picked up Carson's line of inquiry in Louisville and attempted to sketch out how the Louisville scene developed as a nodal point in the subculture of indie rock in the late 1980s and 1990s. Seiler described the city's distinctive scene and "Louisville Sound.Masters Thesis . in the mid to late 1980s. the tension between creativity and Carson. going to house partieS/shows and described his findings in his article "Stop on' Rock.." He observed that "it's arrival [regional music] now not only defines a central change in rock and roll. Cotton Seiler and Tom Carson's preliminary writings based In Louisville. are also important documents of indie rock music. video..

Masters Thesis . 35 Sara Cohen.32 The focus for this study. The Hidden Musicians: Music-Making in an English Town (Cambridge: Cambrid~e University Press.. "Subcultural Identity in Alternative Music Culture": 38.. 35 By focusing exclusively on local practices. 1991). 3 Ibid... she describes the lack of ethnographic data detailing both the process of music-making and the means by which bands struggle to become successful at a local level. Davies McMaster . Rock Culture in Liverpool. 36 For example. at informal grass-roots activities rather than formal structure. 34 Cohen supports this approach in the introduction to her 1991 book. locality and interlocality." Journal o/Popular Music Studies 13.K. like the work of Cohen and Finnegan.. 2 (2001): 190. 6 Kruse.69. 1989). 37 Placing emphasis on these functions of identity and cultural capital privileges the personal and social uses of music in people's lives.Music Criticism commerce. 297. 33 In her study of Milton Keynes. 247. both Finnegan and Cohen's studies overlook an important way in which musicians and others involved in local scenes understand their own involvement: as something that both identifies them with and differentiates them from individuals and groups in other communities. is situated in local music practices as a matter of active collective practice rather than passive masscontrolled consumption. Rock Culture in Liverpool: Popular Music in the Making. Cotton Seiler.8. (Oxford: Oxford Universi~ Press. Finnegan argues the importance of looking at processes rather than products. involvement represents cultural capital for members of the music scene and serves as a marker of identity in relation to the scene. 31 32 20 . 37 Shuker. 8. and supports the narratives of identity. "Indie Rock in Louisville. Ruth Finnegan. The Hidden Musicians. 34 Ibid.

This thesis attempts to explore the relationship between music consumers and producers and how this relationship in tum defines participants in scenes. I agree with Kruse that the relationship between the local and the trans-local in the construction of oppositional musical identities is an issue that should be addressed in detail in ethnographic research.. through a discussion of bands. Stuart Hall argues that identities are produced within an ideological field where signs "can be discursively re-articulated to construct new meanings. London: Verso Straw.The Hard Road to Renewal: Thatcherism and the Crisis of the Left. labels and media. 38 Stuart Hall. . has begun to address the issue of interlocality..39 The emergence of bands in Champaign in the mid to late 1980s. connect with different social practices.Music Criticism Cohen's studies focus on local practices without much consideration of the relationship to practices in other localities. confirm to the contrary to be true. Narratives of cultural capital are present throughout this discussion of indie rock participants. 39 21 . 1988).9. Logics of Change": 378.Masters Thesis . Books.. and the recent interest in the Montreal scene with bands like the Arcade Fire. which sought to duplicate the "Minneapolis sound. and Cohen.38 This study outlines issues of identity rooted in participants' involvement in the scene.K. the prominence of the Seattle scene in the early 1990s. in her more recent work. "Systems of Articulation. In terms of scenes. Finnegan acknowledges this fact. Davies McMaster ." such as the Replacements. and position social subjects differently. Kruse and I disagree with Straw's claim that "the relationship of different local or regional scenes to each other is no longer one in which specific communities emerge to create a forward movement to which others are drawn.

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Steps into Miles: Methodology40 This case study was designed to collect information leading to an understanding of practices in the Hamilton indie rock community, why and how these practices emerged and continue, who among the community members take part, the social forces that bind together members of this community, and what contributes to the development of interlocality. My research was tailored to Hamilton, as a particular geographical

community, and the indie subculture that exists within it, but it was also framed in relation to other indie scenes. I believe my "insider" position helped rather than hindered the research process. As a subculture, this community could have been critical of a researcher wanting to conduct interviews. However, the subjects trusted my objectives as a researcher and were willing to give of their time to be interviewed without remuneration. My personal

experience in the scene as a musician, a fan of indie rock and a resident of the city helped me build a rapport with my interview subjects. Interviewing subjects from a distinct

subcultural community upholding certain ideals, I made a conscious effort to wear clothes without brand or band names to avoid influence on subject's responses. Participant observation occurred in public settings where bands performed with other members of the indie scene in attendance. I did not disclose my role as a researcher at these shows; rather, I attended as a music "fan" and observed behaviours that provided background knowledge for the interview process. Over the course of the eighteen months during which this study was conducted, I went to approximately one indie rock show,
Hayden, Moving Careful, Sonic Unyon Records compact disc SUNCD032 (1996).

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three to four bands per show, per week at local venues that book indie rock music, primarily the Underground and the Casbah. I used participant observation as a tool to gain an understanding of the key players in the scene, i.e. venue bookers, prominent bands, and "die-hard" music fans. Band members, audience members and bar staff were observed in terms of cultural practices, their interactions with others, styles of dress, and vocabularies used. I also participated in three east coast tours with my band, and the recording of two albums during the duration of this project, which gave me first hand experience with other localities, scene members and processes. Conducting ethnographic research as part of this study has allowed me to explore subcultural issues that were not explored fully in previous studies, such as fashion practices like wearing band tee shirts and pins. In addition to participant observation, I sought out primary subjects with significant positions in the scene, including venue promoters, label owners, writers, and record store workers, bar staff and/or band members. Secondary

subjects responded via email to an "Indie Rock Research Study" poster displayed inside and outside local venues, on information boards at local record stores and on information boards on the McMaster University campus. These posting areas were selected, because they are places frequented by members of the community under study. Subjects who

responded to the poster self-identified themselves as appropriate research subjects for the study by answering "yes" to any or all three example questions on the poster: 1) Do you like independent music? 2) Do you see bands perform? 3) Do you play in a band? These questions were used to interest a scene participant into become involved in the study as well as differentiate people involved in the scene from people who were not. The subjects

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ranged in involvement in the scene from band members to people who had only seen a few live shows. (The poster is included as Appendix A.) Although it was not the intent of the research, "snowball sampling" ended up being an additional method of gaining subjects. After completing an interview, many subjects recommended someone they knew whom they thought would give a "good interview" and thus benefit the study. It was often the case that these recommended subjects were already part of the study, which revealed that the scene is small enough that people know each other, and that the interviewees agreed on who were the dominant figures in the scene. I conducted twenty-four face-to-face, semi-structured, interviews. The interviews lasted one hour, on average, but they ranged from as little as forty minutes to as long as three hours, depending upon the subject's involvement in the scene and interest in the study. I conducted the interviews either on the McMaster campus or at a location

convenient for the subject, usually a coffee shop in downtown Hamilton. Efforts were made to optimize the level of participation, and quality of information provided by subjects by not conducting interviews at live music venues, which would have provided a loud and distracting interview setting. The primary and secondary subjects were both male (sixteen) and female (eight) between the ages of eighteen and forty-nine. Ten subjects were between the ages of

eighteen and twenty-one, six subjects were between the ages of twenty-two and twentysix, three subjects were between the ages of twenty-seven and thirty years and five subjects were above thirty years of age. I also spoke to a supplementary group of informants while doing participant observation at live music venues. These informants ranged from people

24

to people working at the venue as door people. thus.Music Criticism in bands.) Many subjects inquired as to why written consent was required to "talk about music. This fits into the DIY ethic of the scene. I agree with Holly Kruse when she states that the "relationship between music consumers and producers and how this relationship defines participants in scenes needs to be problematised. as interviewees unanimously reported that the scene operates within the narrative of people doing what they do because they enjoy it and that it is based on social alliances and not formalities. busboys/busgirls.K. because many of the interviewees were familiar musicians and scene members." but all obliged after a brief explanation of research ethics. and promoters. This advantage produced exciting results with regard to what 25 . (See Appendix B for the Letter of Information and Appendix C for the Consent Form. My approach helps address the gaps in research on this subculture as it draws upon my experiential understanding of the subculture.41 The meaning of indie rock practice for producers is analyzed in this study of the Hamilton indie rock scene. bartenders.Masters Thesis . either performing on that bill or in attendance. Davies McMaster . which supplies a new look at relationships and practices within local and interlocal scenes. Each interview participant received a Letter of Information outlining the objectives of the research study and written consent was obtained from each interview participant.. My personal experience in the scene provided me with background knowledge that led to a casual style of conversation during the interview process rather than a formal question and answer process. they found it peculiar that I would propose such a formal arrangement..

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information scene participants shared, how candidly they shared it, and how these findings address issues of identity, community, and cultural production and consumption.

41

Kruse. "Subcultural Identity in Alternative Music Culture." Popular Music 12, 1 (1993): 39.

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CHAPTER 2

Home: Hamilton as Local Scene! One thing that everyone can agree on about Hamilton is that it is a pretty dirty town, it has a pretty raw sound ... at least 1 don't see a lot of poppy artists coming out of Hamilton. There's a lot of screaming people, but 1 don't know if that's frustration or if that's what they enjoy, or if it's just what 1 see coming out ofHamilton ... really honest Rock and Roll.2 The city of Hamilton is situated between Toronto and Niagara Falls along the shore of Lake Ontario. Residents and non-residents alike often refer to Hamilton as the

Hammer" or "Steel town." Steel remains the primary industry of the city and employs a substantial percentage of the population of Hamilton. The gritty nature of the steel

industry is imbedded in the city's landscape, environment, history, culture and people. According to interview respondents, this gritty aesthetic can also be found in the music: 1 would associate Hamilton with some sort of an aggressiveness, maybe a quirky or downtrodden aggressiveness ... 1 just think of the culture of Hamilton and the environment of Hamilton, 1 think of that as represented by music, a downtrodden, suffering kind of thing. 3 Despite Hamilton's gritty and working class character, most participants in its indie scene are relatively privileged in terms of education and other markers of social identity. It's not steel workers making this music: it's college kids choosing to be a part of the culture. When asked to describe Hamilton's indie audience, people often began their description with a level of formal education. Nearly all of the interviewees were pursuing or already held post-secondary diplomas and/or degrees, and a few were taking part-time post-secondary courses at the time of interview. "I'd say that they're primarily educated,

1 2

Lou Barlow, Emoh, Merge Records compact disc MRG254 (2005). Interviewee T, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 13 March 2005.

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young people under the age of thirty-five, I would say primarily white, primarily heterosexual, primarily male, and I guess artistic probably toO.,,4 This description is representative of what most interviewees cite as true and was reflected by my interview sample. All of the sixteen males interviewed for this study fit that description. Similarly, all of the females interviewed were white, heterosexual and artistic. One promoter who has booked indie rock bands for nearly a decade explained: The kind of people that we're talking about here are people that need to be stimulated intellectually, they're too smart to be brainwashed by somebody. They're able to get away from all that brainwashing entity that's involved in commercial music. 5 With this level of homogeneity, age - not gender, class or education - became the most significant factor in determining differing attitudes. Most questions received two contrasting responses. Subjects aged eighteen to twenty-one often responded differently from subjects over twenty-two. Age affects how interviewees experienced the scene

differently as it affects their attendance at venues and the significance of other institutions differs for members of different age categories. For example, the older scene members often worked at record stores and clubs, whereas younger members were patrons of such institutions. Venues, record stores and labels are the primary institutions in indie rock social interaction. This chapter will outline the importance of each institution and how they relate to the local scene and scene participants in Hamilton. This is an important part of this study as it displays the multi-function of scene participants and how their interactions represent a communal interest in the development of the culture. An example

3 4

Interviewee J, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 13 February 2005. Interviewee L, interview by author, tape recording, Hamilton, Ontario, 16 February 2005.

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because the majority of people here don't care and it's a very Ibid. vintage clothing shops. along with the majority of independent record stores. and also worked as a bus boy at a local venue. This is important because such institutions exist in other localities and highlight issues of interlocality. because the majority of people in this subculture do not have vehicles and prefer walking or public transit to owning a vehicle. I think Hamilton allows for so much experimentation that every band ends up sounding quite distinct. such as creativity.K. I wouldn't say there's a characteristic Rock and Roll sound here. It is important to note that these venues and shops are within a small geographic area.Masters Thesis .Music Criticism of this is one scene participant who played in a band. by the people involved in this culture. where the independent rock venues are located.shops patronized. according to scene members. Both age categories place an emphasis on the eclectic nature of the music being produced in Hamilton. Of the remaining participants. 5 29 . instrument stores. time and money that attribute to scene members gaining a sense of identity from their involvements. Davies McMaster . The majority of the people interviewed for this project lived in the downtown neighbourhood. making this look at a local indie music scene a microcosm of what is happening on a much larger scale. interviewed subjects were involved in Hamilton's scene. and tattoo shops . attended shows as an audience member. These types of involvements represent different personal investments. Fifteen out of the twenty-four people interviewed for this project called Hamilton their hometown. five interviewees lived in surrounding All of the cities and four were pursuing post-secondary education in Hamilton.

interview by author. or are friends of the band on-stage. 9 Sara Cohen.Masters Thesis . 15 February 2005. audience members and performers often know each other. (Oxford: Oxford University Press. right at that moment. Ontario. 102. 10 Subjects relayed the excitement they felt in sharing new bands and music with their friends. Absolutely Kosher Records compact disc AK043 (2004). Hamilton. Site and Sound.. and almost never found . 8 February 2005. the gig "was a celebration for both the band and the audience.. Frog Eyes. Site and Sound: Understanding Independent Music Scenes. interview by author. Hamilton. 8 Holly Kruse. Davies McMaster . furthermore." He claimed he "found what so many people had always looked for in rock and roll. It's a very underground thing. 121. since it locates performer and audience within the same physical space.8 Cohen suggests that a physical space is also a social space. tape recording. 10 Holly Kruse. 6 The Fence Feels its Post: Institutions7 In Site and Sound. 6 7 30 .9 Through attending live performances. Once you see it yourself. New York: Peter Lang Publishing: 2003). Audience members at concerts are often musicians themselves. participants are aware of a shared musical knowledge and taste. Rock Culture in Liverpool: Popular Music in the Making. tape recording.Music Criticism small unit of people that comes to support this music and those people are very open-minded. II Interviewee F. one in which audience members and musicians are united in common activity. you just start coming back. was the center of the universe. "I try to bring people to shows because I think: they'll have a good time. the single most Interviewee K. 102. "Live musical performance is arguably the most immediate means available for disseminating college music. Holly Kruse states."ll As Tom Carson found in Louisville. Ontario.the sense that where I was.K. 1991). The Folded Palm. and consequently support a sense of equality and unity between audience and performers.

it's about enjoying music and learning. interviewees important experience. Hamilton. Most interviewees claimed that they "only go to bars that feature live Tom Carson "Stop 'N' Rock. Sara Cohen notes that the majority of local acts drew only between fifteen to twenty patrons.. tape recording.. indie rock audiences tend to be exposed to a lot of new music at live musIc venues. Most shows in Hamilton do not sell out. 12 \3 31 . Interviewees spoke at length about shows they attended and sometimes about how a certain show was sadly unattended. "It's about a good time.Music Criticism important place in the world to be.12 This view of the live show. 15 The function of the music venue as social space is emphasized by how often people attend shows. Ontario. Interviewee G.13 Interviewees emphasized the importance of the live venue as a social space to learn about music. 8 Febrmuy 2005. One interviewee claimed. 14 A similar trend could be observed in alternative music clubs in most United States' college towns in the 1980s and 1990s and continues in independent rock shows in Hamilton. yet always included something about learning.. Davies McMaster .Masters Thesis . in 2005. Here we see informal education also being celebrated. With most bills including three to four bands in a night.." The Village Voice (3-9 December 1980): 48. Rock Culture in Liverpool. focused on attending shows as entertainment.K. The appeal of something that shouldn 'f be happening such as a well-known indie band playing a small venue in a city like Hamilton is a dichotomy music fans valued. 14 Sara Cohen. Ontario. 104. the ones that do are often bills with headlining touring bands. and with regulars cycling through a few clubs in a night. as a special and In general. interview by author. In her case study of the Liverpool rock scene. was confirmed in my research findings.

Hamilton. 19 The participants' financial situation also affected the frequency they were able to attend shows. 19 Interviewee S. Site and Sound. 'Oh this band's supposed to be really good. while I was in university. this week twice. The older participants were living on their own and often working to payoff student loans. They no longer go out "just based on hearsay. 11 March 2005. "I go to probably. 18 February 2005. 15 16 32 . Hamilton.K. interview by author. ". Younger fans attended more shows and older fans attended fewer..Masters Thesis . as well as a difference in experience and taste refinement affected their attendance. Ontario. tape recording. 18 February 2005.in a month. interview by author. Ontario. primarily because my job carries a lot of overtime. when I'd be at shows at least three nights a week. 13 March 2005. I think I probably peaked from 1990-1995.Music Criticism music. tape recording. ..17 In contrast..18 Others explained how their work affected the amount of shows they attend. sometimes seven nights a week. Hamilton. interview by author. Most of the younger audience members (aged eighteen to twenty-one) were still attending post-secondary education and living either with their parents or on their own with the assistance of a student loan. Ontario. and Interviewee M. Interviewee R interview by author. Hamilton. Ontario. This. 18 Interviewee N.." with most interviewees seeing live music "two to three times a week. tape recording. Younger interviewees tended to go out often: "It's sporadic. 8 March 2005. I'd say five or SiX.16 The difference between the younger age category and the older age category was highlighted by a contrast in responses regarding how frequently they attended live shows. Not as often as I once did. more shows than I should go to. interview by author.. Hamilton. many of them out of town. Davies McMaster . many of the older scene members said they didn't experiment as much as they had in the past. tape recording." and. 104. check them out. Ontario. not as often as I'd like. Patrons claimed that "touring bills are usually ten to twelve bucks. . tape recording. I may check out three a month now. Kruse. 17 Interviewee U.

It is not uncommon for a fan of a band to try to convince other people to attend their show. especially smaller cities. and are important institutions within indie scenes. word of mouth is the most important way of obtaining information about a band or a show. Not only does a small venue place the audience and performers closer spatially. creating an intimate environment. Live music venues are the primary location for socialization amongst indie rock fans. Ibid.. . maybe one hundred other people. One might read about a band in a local weekly paper and/or hear their music on local college radio. 21 Interview subjects agreed unanimously that small venues are ideal for watching bands perform. twenty other people. but word of mouth is the chief method of promotion. transportation. for seven dollars I just experienced something when they could be playing to 40. The valuing of personal opinion has value and relates to the social ties that developed between participants in the independent music scene. What I know I like about it is I can go to a local bar and watch it with ten other people.Music Criticism and a local bill is usually five to seven bucks. Fans therefore respect bands for the sacrifices made to tour through cities. 22 Interviewee T. Davies McMaster . According to respondents. 20 21 33 .Masters Thesis . but it's such a small intimate environment. that I feel like 'Wow. 22 Interviewee U.K.20 All interviewees agreed that these charges are fair.000 people' and I wouldn't bother to go. but the capacity of smaller venues limits the experience to no more than a few hundred people (although most shows have a smaller tum-out than that). and time off work to play gIgS. many of the audience members are musicians themselves and know how much it costs a band financially to acquire instruments. because I don't like a big crowd. for someone who enjoyed a live show might recommend the band to a friend the next time they play in town.

this is the audience. because nobody's like.Music Criticism I like to sit. 25 Interviewee M. Ontario. Like most Canadian cities. 24 It's kind of like an anti-star type thing. Interviewee X. It works better for young. but when you're one of the few in the room it can be special. When it's shared with that many people you can't really take it personally. This reduces the distance between performers and audiences.. which hold a few hundred people each. I think it has to do with the unavoidable intimacy of that situation. interview by author.is given privilege over consuming mass culture. tape recording. since other performers compose a Interviewee R. tape recording. tape recording. I February 2005. Ontario. 26 Over half of the people interviewed for this project played in bands at the time of interview. I can't stand and be shoulder to shoulder with people in huge arenas just to see a half hour's worth of a crap set when I'd rather be in an intimate environment.performing music . it's much more personal than an audience of 10. that the band and audience have a more visceral give and take happening. 25 When you go see an independent band .Masters Thesis . Ontario. The fact that fifty percent of the scene members interviewed are musicians themselves demonstrates that active cultural production . and interview by author. when I go to a bar or to see a band. and those not in a band at the time of interview.K. That can be the only way you actually get to see it performed. interview by author. Davies McMaster . 26 Interviewee A. 16 March 2005. 23 Hamilton has two main clubs. even those who were not musicians.. Hamilton. Hamilton." You have the opportunity to talk to whom you're seeing if you want to talk to them. "This is the star.. unproven acts and divergent or aberrant material. claimed to have wanted to play in a band. 23 24 34 .000. 16 March 2005. a band that you have some of their music at home and you really enjoy it and you go see them play to thirty people and you talk to them at the show. the Underground and the Casbah. Hamilton. it also has local pubs that act as music venues with smaller capacities and an almost makeshift feeling.

Further. rather. it is a case of musicians playing to other musicians: a concert becomes a production for producers. often take their "visitors" to their local record shops. Rock Culture in Liverpool. but the financial constraints of indie bands. the music. reflecting a communal interest in such forms of shared culture. a concert does not consist of skilled musicians on stage while unskilled audience members watch them perform. music shops and vintage stores. The courtesy is often re-paid when the local band in turn tours in the hometown of the visiting band. The hosts. 27 The DIY perspective is evident in the lack of distance between performer and audience.Music Criticism portion of the audience. Davies McMaster . studios. which serve as markers of knowledge of. intimacy within the live performance environment is often heightened by shared practices. every dollar counts: if a band can save the seventy-five dollars a hotel would cost. Other people in the subculture also participate in the housing of touring bands. Most major label touring bands stay in hotels. they often opt to sleep on someone's couch or floor. as Sara Cohen observes. Touring bands play an important role in the production of this culture. with some bands asking during their set whether anyone has space for them to sleep for the night. the construction of community within the indie rock subculture extends from bands to other bands. and interest in community often lead touring bands to be housed by a local band on the bill. adherence to indie ideals. Although Cohen. and interest in. like music collecting. 28 Therefore.Masters Thesis . 27 35 . whether band or scene members. 40. thus. before and after sets and shows. the gap between performers and audiences can be narrowed by interpersonal contact that takes place at venues during the off stage time.K. In the world of indie rock tours.

Davies McMaster .. She said that live clubs were intimidating to her as a gender minority. 30 Interviewee U. they are often of an underground nature.. play in bands and are present in the scene. Before June 1.K. Ontario. Hamilton.30 One female interviewee offered a different perspective. and again. who are both minorities in this tight and homogenous subculture. which to them often appear intimidating: "I think Hamilton is a lot more open and the scene is so diverse that you don't have that edgy. general feel and you're not going to have anyone looking down at you.Music Criticism many are commercial venues. minors were not allowed into the city's live music venues because patrons were permitted to smoke on the premises. although it appears things are changing . it's the intimidation factor.some interviewees contrasted the Hamilton scene to scenes in other cities. Since the smoking by-law changed.31 Here. however. the sense of an underground community is strengthened.for the under-agers. a female scene member identifies with under-agers. more minors attend shows. Interviewee 0. 2004. tape recording. kind of pricky. interview by author. One local club hosts early shows Kruse. 121. 28 29 36 . 18 February 2005. it's the same with girls..Masters Thesis .. . "For younger people. that it is a place where people would like to go without being ridiculed or hassled or stared down or beat Up. Site and Sound. like this is where all the older indie rocker people are hanging out and I'm intimidated. The people who work at such shops are often familiar faces or friends of the bands.. The respect among indie participants for touring bands creates a co-operative atmosphere at venues: "I'd like to think that it is welcoming.29 Participants see venues in Hamilton as welcoming social spaces . when a by-law passed which banned smoking in public spaces.

tape recording. and therefore helps the music scene thrive. followed by late shows geared toward a nineteenplus audience. Older interviewees were concerned at the beginning of the bylaw change that they would essentially "lose their social turf' to an "all ages crowd" at the clubs they frequented. 4 February 2005. Although minors are admitted to either show. For promoters. . Ontario. Older participants and promoters have welcomed the new younger bands into the scene as opening bands and sometimes as headliners. how important getting involved in the music scene at a young age had been for them and were consequently willing to share their social space so that younger people can see shows and connect with people of similar interests and practices. Bar sales are lower at all-ages shows. by involving upcoming generations.32 The energy and creativity of younger bands led to their acceptance within the scene.Music Criticism directed toward the under-age crowd. having minors. This I would argue has reduced the intimidation factor that younger fans experienced when they were not permitted in venues as they now have the opportunity to attend shows and gain cultural knowledge and experience. Hamilton. Older participants realized. This cross-generational atmosphere helps the younger generation of scene participants develop a body of experience surrounding indie cultural practice. interview by author. as patrons can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. established bands: "The energy and enthusiasm of younger audiences is real. the promoter books bands geared toward each group.. but the shows can be seen as Promoters book younger bands to open for more investments in a future audience.K. and it's great to be able to allow younger bands the chance to play alongside more established bands or just enjoy them from the audience. however. 31 37 . Interviewee D. Davies McMaster .Masters Thesis .

Music Criticism Most older scene participants said they enjoy the financial benefits of having minors at shows.Masters Thesis .. but they can also obtain it from independent music shops. 96. to be the most visible sites of interaction within independent pop/rock music scenes. Holly Kruse finds independent record stores. . Alternative music fans can purchase recorded music off the stage at live shows. "I started to go to shows young and I think if the city wants to support the independent music community they need to get people into it young.34 If live venues are the heart of Hamilton's indie music scene. along with clubs. independent record stores are its daytime community centers. She states. fifteen. because right now I look at my life and the only access I have and the only time and energy I have to research new music is minimal compared to when I was fourteen. Interviewee R 34 Interviewee A. but also stands to help promote the future scene. and have part-time jobs. while the label Sonic Unyon has supported the coalescence of Hamilton's distinct musical aesthetic.35 The handful of independent record stores in downtown Hamilton reflects the number of indie music fans supporting such enterprises: Cheapies. Site and Sound. Interviewee X. 32 33 38 . Davies McMaster .K. "Within any given locality the stores that tend to have the greatest commitment to local alternative rock/pop.. most of whom are high-school students. live at home. 35 Kruse. sixteen. I think it's fantastic for bands. because for me it sort of became a lifestyle. I had so much time to hang out and toss the word around so I think its fantastic that there is more underage people because they have more time to talk and form their own bands and form their own tastes and stuff 33 Minors pay the cover and purchase merchandise which helps performing bands financially.. and to alternative rock/pop in general. are not the chain stores but are locally owned businesses.

or seek to exchange knowledge with.Music Criticism Screamin' Mimi's. Record stores Interviewee I. One band member explained that working in a record store helped him evolve into a "broad music listener. tape recording.. this presence of active scene participants working behind the counter in Hamilton's local record stores creates a daytime community space for scene participants. 95. Ontario. to 9 p. As Barry Shank found in his study of popular music practice in Austin. Kruse. Texas. this reflects their taste.m. Five out of the twentyfour interviewees." in the case of the sign at Reigning Sound. and Reigning Sound.Masters Thesis . 36 37 39 . or until "Whenever.. influences patrons. records. and. Davies McMaster . 94. 37 For indie music scene participants. and through this process learn not just about various artists. and genres. Hamilton. they signify an informed position or authority on music. provide handbills for local shows. interview by author. independent record stores connect the local music to the local audience. often working in tandem with clubs: they often carry local bands' albums and EPs on consignment. .m. sell tickets for shows as well as hold in-store performances by local and national acts. Employees in such stores often decide what music to stock and to play on the store's sound system. in some cases. four of whom played in local indie bands. Site and Sound..36 Most of the independent record stores in Hamilton have hours of operation from 11 a. Dr. but also about the local music culture. 10 February 2005. helps shape the store's specialty in certain sub-genres. store employees.38 As the people working at local music stores are often musicians as well as scene members. Unlike larger retail chain stores. Sonic Unyon. . Kruse asserts that "customers often seek advice from. Disc. 38 Ibid.K. worked in record stores. record stores are not merely retail outlets: they are spaces of social interaction and socialization.

Although all of the subjects describe the current Hamilton scene as eclectic. particularly the presence of Sonic Unyon Records. on their counters.K. Sonic Unyon Records compact disc SUNCD028 (1996). Interviewee J.. which helped constitute what they considered a Hamilton Sound. Sianspheric. I think stepping back through the past decade or two there are currents or threads that come up in a lot of the Sonic Unyon bands. Like performance venues. 41 Both of these comments were made by members of the older age category and reflect commonalities between bands involved with Sonic Unyoll. I think it did at one time with the emergence of Sonic Unyon [record company] and the bands that were on it. and bands looking for new members. TPA Flight 028. some sort of ties between the bands. record stores display upcoming show posters created and posted by band members and/or clubs and make available handbills. and Golden Lake Diner. I don't know that I feel that Hamilton has a scene per say.Music Criticism also provide poster boards for local bands and musicians to communicate: the po stings generally include instruments for sale. I would think that some of those threads might constitute a Hamilton Sound. Davies McMaster . Donut Rock City: The Hamilton Sound 39 Kruse defines regional sound as a particular geographical site of localized musical production involving particular common characteristics to the music.. 40 Another interviewee supported this perspective. or pocket size posters. Tristan Psionic. 40 . It felt like that was a scene because there was some common identifiers.Masters Thesis . The bands mentioned above all shared similar 39 40 Tristan Psionic. Bands like Gorp I think were really influential . they also agree upon unifying forces within the scene.

"a glorified closet. "all the bands helped." An older scene member expressed a similar perspective: There were an umbrella of bands that were on the label that really were the nucleus of the indie rock scene in the '90s: bands like Sian. (what I feel was really important) was the high school music scene in the nineties. Davies McMaster . interview by author. they visited these record stores again to deliver more new releases and pick up any money received from purchases. There was also. dropping them off at record stores on consignment on their tours across Canada and the United States. Everybody helped put together cassettes and dubbing cassettes. 43 Ibid. record stores. launched the Hamilton scene. There was a lot of coffee house performances that were 41 Interviewee A. It started in a spare room in 1992. 42 The three young twenty-something men who started the company were university educated and playing in Tristan Psionic. Shallow. 20 February 2005. 41 . When they returned month's later on subsequent tours.K. which later became Shallow North Dakota. tape recording. everybody pitched in. 43 One label partner explained." according to one of its partners. venues and indie rock fans in different geographical locations. Today. Many respondents viewed Sonic Unyon as a label that. Sonic Unyon has a large distribution roster and does not have the same connection to local bands.Music Criticism production practices and established a national reputation for being hard working bands from a hard working city.Masters Thesis . The Sonic Unyon Record Company has been an important factor in the development of the Hamilton indie scene. These kinds of personal connections between bands and record stores were the first threads that connected the now close web of musicians. by releasing music through a DIY approach and helping touring bands play shows in Hamilton. They "signed" friends' bands and put out tapes. 42 Interviewee P. a respected indie band from Hamilton. which later became Sianspheric. as well as Gorp and Golden Lake Diner (both defunct bands now). Hamilton. Ontario.

44 When asked to describe the current Hamilton mUSIC scene. so musicians rely on each other a little bit. bands eventually got ballsy enough to propose to bars to have all-ages shows in the clubs and that was something that kind of happened at the same time that Sonic Unyon was developing. The way Tom Wilson and Dave Rave (both in their mid forties) look up to Jackie Washington. So. Their word choice does not reflect a diversity of race.Masters Thesis . Davies McMaster .. or Harrison Kennedy who is in his 60s. so there was a relationship that was developed between it all. reflecting the personal value the scene provides them as well as their understanding of the music community.K. or gender. Describing the trajectory of Hamilton music and musicians. as the overwhelming majority of scene participants are white. and Jackie's in his 80s. and . It's not like Vancouver or Toronto where the competition's huge. 42 . Most respondents used the word "diverse" to describe the diversity of music being produced under the generic umbrella of indie rock. sexuality. and it doesn't always happen in other cities. heterosexual males. There's an intergenerational give and take here that you don't see in a lot of communities. respondents unanimously described an eclectic scene involving a variety of bands. There's a great respect in this city. so you had this label and then you had these non-label bands that were kind of the opening bands for the bands on this label.. and often situated the bands historically within the development of the Hamilton music scene. the high school music scene that sort of established a realization that you could do this yourself and you didn't need to have some big venue company or big promotions company running something or for something to happen. they could do it themselves. one interviewee pointed to the guitarist Ronnie Hawkins I think it's that legacy that started with Ronnie and it just keeps getting passed on and on and on right down the line. You get Brad 44 Interviewee L. there was late night concerts in the gymnasiums.Music Criticism organized at high schools. ethnicity.. Each interviewee spoke with respect about local artists and the scene. for what has come before and it's because there is a community here. there was house shows. Then you got the Ride Theory kids and their folks who started out the folk scene thirty years ago. I think it was ..

They do it themselves. 15 March 2005. to me. 43 . interview by author.. Carson. as temporary or permanent as they want it to be. This is similar to what Tom Carson found in Louisville back in the 1980s. "genuine because you can tell they're not jumping on trends. is a matter of choice. that rubs off That allows Brad to become a really good performer. I don't think that there's one particular sound that people call a Hamilton Sound . Many respondents positioned the Hamilton indie scene in contrast to the Toronto scene. and watching the way Tom Wilson does his stage thing even though Tom's twenty years older. Interviewee K. Hamilton. Then you got the guys behind [bass and drums] doing really good guitar rock. 45 This person describes the importance of local history and how the musical community functions in a different way from complementary scenes.. This could be because Hamilton is large enough to have a decent music community. noting their choices to stay in Hamilton rather than moving to a bigger city. Hamilton artists don't seem to get influenced too much by what the guy next door is doing. one interviewee explains: I think Hamilton is pretty eclectic in its sound. That the smart kids are now deciding to stay in their home town . that for the bands and a good deal of the audience. and regional peculiarities they would normally be expected to flee . tape recording.47 Reflecting on current bands in town..K. they're just doing what they want to do.is.assuming that they can say whatever they have to say right here. the only common characteristic is that the music is. social hierarchy. doing what they do. Ontario.. Davies McMaster .Masters Thesis .Music Criticism [singer/guitarist] of the Marble Index watching bands like Junkhouse at Festival of Friends. and drawing sustenance from the very culture. And I don't know if that would have come out of a Queen West scene. among the most important things I found in Louisville. Staying in Louisville. but small enough to maintain the sense of interconnectedness and history. the way they want to do it and if someone happens to like it 45 46 47 Interviewee W. 46 Most believe that because of the diversity of the music currently being produced in Hamilton. "Stop 'N' Rock": 44.

1 can name all kinds of bands that locally.. 50 Kruse.K. This positioning of one's personal narrative history within a Interviewee L. in congruence with Kruse. Matador compact disc OLE-512 (2002). there's no denying they're good. .Masters Thesis .Music Criticism that's great. 48 49 44 . 50 Subjects used their personal narrative histories to locate themselves within the social space of the scene: "I used to go to all the Sonic Unyon shows ages and ages ago. social relationships. and a lot of the times it lacks commercial success because of it . because they're not influenced by larger markets. Storytelling: Narrative Histories 49 The above discussion relates to the two important means by which subjects located themselves within the social space of independent pop/rock music scenes.. and the only reason they're not succeeding in Toronto is because their sound is not considered a hip thing in Toronto at the time. Davies McMaster . but if they don't that's fine too . I used to be an X Club [now defunct all-ages club] guy. Belle & Sebastian. 51 Interviewee I. according to Kruse: genre identification and personal narrative histories of involvement with the genre.. 32.. who sawall the Hayden shows and sat on the floor. in Hamilton are highly successful. and then that bleeds into Hamilton and the way the music is made here .51 Implicit in these personal narratives was the idea that they constituted a connection with a history and a set of practices. This study. You don't see a certain sound develop like Toronto or Montreal or Buffalo even. Site and Sound. found subjects locating themselves within the physical spaces. Storytelling. one of the regulars.. and history of Hamilton's music scene. and situated these identities both locally and interlocally. 48 The Hamilton scene as a local community is rooted in its eclectic history and is contributes to the development of people's narratives of their identities within it.

it's an under-thirty-five-year-old-culture.Music Criticism local history of practices helped individuals define themselves as more authentic. At the local band level. The type of music featured at these venues does not appear on mainstream radio.Masters Thesis . they attend all-ages shows at the Underground. the types of stations that members of the scene were exposed to in their younger years and have continued to patronize. between roughly fourteen and fifteen years of age. but rather on local independent stations at colleges and universities.K. more marginal. The success of local bands depends upon communication among students in high school. such as the X-Club or Transit Union Hall. and university. and more importantly. college. it's definitely because of the school being a communication system to keep their fans informed. 52 Subjects repeatedly stressed the weight of "word of mouth" advertising through people involved in the culture. I think at the non-local level. mostly because it's young people that embrace this music. As I said. My younger interviewees did not have the opportunity to attend these venues. to see local bands as well as touring bands perform. One of the common traits between the people interviewed for this project was that the majority of them became involved in the local music scene young. and in essence more connected to related marginal scenes happening interlocally. it still holds true. Like the scene member who reflected on his personal narrative history as an "X-Club guy" who "sawall the Hayden shows. 45 . 52 Interviewee L. Davies McMaster ." the majority of scene members started going to all-ages venues.

bass. 56 Interviewee D.. .56 Subjects were asked about what artists. it was just hanging out with the right groups of people and everybody I knew was playing guitar.Music Criticism I was lucky. Subjects described the value of following a band's development and anticipating releases: "When you get into a band that you really like. most subjects described the "excitement of the unknown. you can't wait for the next thing to come out..54 One subject aligned his first experience with indie music with his discovery of non-commercial radio in Hamilton.Masters Thesis .' so there's always something to look forward to. 55 Interviewee L. 55 This underground knowledge made this scene member feel like a "specialist. most of the people wouldn't know what I was talking about. are important. 53 When asked what holds their interest in indie music. Dirty. My assumptions were that the question would prompt people to describe artists. indie and otherwise. I knew that if I were to talk to people about what I've been listening to lately. like fourteen or fifteen. 53 54 46 . Sebadoh's Bake Sale. Tristan Psionic.K. all those guys. they considered important to the general history of the music. Davies McMaster . However. most subjects listed bands and albums that were important in their own personal narrative histories: "For me personally. Sonic Youth. Dinosaur Ir." possessing knowledge and experience in a non-mainstream cultural practice. or have a little twist in it.. because it's like 'Oh it's going to be like this but even better.'s Interviewee R. indie or otherwise. Interviewee X. listening to all kinds of stuff I hadn't heard on the radio like old Eric's Trip. I felt like I was learning about something that not too many people were learning about and I knew a secret that a lot of people didn't know about so I felt like I was truly getting into something. drums.

Music Criticism Without a Sound. and put more of an emphasis on the quantity and the constant newness of the music to which they listen: "The list could go on forever. most commonly cited as the mythic founder of this genre is Alex Chilton. It's happened that way again and again." Popular Music 12.57 Although each subject had a list of bands they considered important within their personal histories. The understanding of certain key bands in the canon of indie rock is central in locating oneself within the musical tradition of independent rock music. Eric's Trip's Love Tara were albums important in my youth.. and while you might trace your "guitar pop" tastes back to the Beatles or the Beach Boys. Beach Boys).e.. and specifically his early 1970's Memphis band Big Star. 59 Interviewee X. and that travels out in forked patterns. "As I get Interviewee A..60 One member explained. Davies McMaster . 57 58 47 . Beatles. there were certain musicians and bands that were common among the majority of subjects. "Subcultural Identity in Alternative Music Culture. Kruse.. subjects involved in this study listed bands of a more obscure nature. It aligns with Kruse's findings: Indie pop stresses melody and song structure.. and whatever I came up with I would only change it later.K. 58 Kruse found that subjects cited influences from obscure to mainstream (i.Masters Thesis . . and is largely defined historically by a knowledge and appreciation of certain (mainly non-local) bands and musicians. 60 Ibid. however. 1 (1993): 36.59 Interviewees described how their listening tastes evolved: "It's a little like browsing in a record store. Something ignites an interest.

. and you would maybe forgive poor song writing or recording quality because of that and . Because I have been going to shows for so long. I listen to a lot more stuff that I wouldn't have listened to before. that a band was independent and that made a band sort of cooler or acceptable . tape recording. 64 One subject goes one step further to say the importance of getting into indie rock at a young age as. music that's not as good sounds better. so I don't think there's anything wrong with that intrinsically.'~}Through the experience of attending shows and seeing numerous bands perform and existing in an indie rock scene. 63 Ibid.. 62 Just as most subjects agreed that there are advantages to getting into the scene at a young age.. 64 Interviewee A.K.' "Sometimes when you're younger. they also described how their listening taste changed or developed.. 9 February 2005.t. 65 Interviewee H. Davies McMaster .Music Criticism older. one develops a sense of what quality music and bands are about. but I don't need to impress anyone by liking to independent music anymore. I know that it doesn't hold a lot of weight anymore. So you kind of support those bands that aren't that great in the beginning. because there was a time when I first started going to shows where it seemed cool to like independent bands and that held value sort of in and of itself. 61 62 48 . interview by author. Interviewee K. Ontario. and I think you kind of grow away from it. Interviewee U. subject summed it up. it's just. Hamilton.Tastes get One refined. I tend to find out about independent bands. you start to find things you don't like in it anymore..61 With this exploration of music often comes a critical perspective: When I was a kid I was the guy watching MuchMusic.Masters Thesis .. when you become more critical."6~Another described a position similar to that of the majority of subjects interviewed: I'd like to think that now I just listen to good music.

Interviewee F. I guess I have a lot more of an appreciation for artists now than I did.Masters Thesis . The existence of a local sound is related to the city's institutions and history of indie rock. indie rock city because of Sonic Unyon and the string of indie rock bands to come out of Hamilton.. but was fiustrated that outsiders tend to think of Hamilton as a onedimensional.6 This interviewee stated: The thing about Hamilton's music scene is . 66 67 Interviewee D.K. people tend to think of it as being very one-dimensional.. It was more about 'what can I listen to when I want to party?' and now its more about "what am I really going to get something out of? What am I really going to enjoy? What' s goin~ to make me feel all kinds of different emotions" and not just "Woo hoo. It was more about just having fun.. the louder and the more you could dance around and push people around the better. authenticity..Music Criticism I used to like music with a lot more energy in it. because we could mosh or whatever we did (we were stupid then).. People tend to have the opinion (and sometimes it's justified) that Hamilton can't do anything other than indie rock. record stores and venues create a sense of place within the local Hamilton scene. Institutions such as Sonic Unyon. 49 .. Davies McMaster . Participant's personal narrative histories are a product of involvement in the scene and are related to issues of social practice. Now I appreciate softer stuff more and really good lyrics . 67 This person explained how there is electronic music and hip hop music coming out of Hamilton. investment and identity as discussed in chapter 3.

it's genuine. honest. hislher performance tends to incorporate and exemplify the ascribed values of the society. Ontario. it's an authentic art form even if it's not high art. . manner and setting. Musicians... promoters. style. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. marketing campaigns and music are not entirely /" Thrush Hermit. assists in creating a sense of the authentic in indie rock practice. .Masters Thesis .. Sebadoh. genuine. \Jbis sense of the authentic could be interpreted in contrast to mainstream popular music. true. Hamilton. 3 Interviewee K. interview by author. Smart Bomb. Murderecords compact disc MURCD004 (1994).K. 15 February 2005. and production. Many of the interviewees described authenticity. Davies McMaster . performance. Erving Goffman outlines how when an individual presents himlherself before others. 4 Erving Goffman. the notion of "honest Rock and Roll" as a positive quality in music: ~think the heart of it is.. (New York: Anchor Books. Indie music can be interpreted as authentic because of the apparent coherence between sound.. Sub Pop RecoTds compact disc SPCD370 (1996). \ Theorists have remarked for years that these people celebrate indie rock as authentic music .3 .. . 50 . real. writers and fans alike. In The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Harmacy. it's just genuine.Music Critici: CHAPTER 3 All Dressed Up: Practices and Identityl I Smell a Rat: Authenticity2 One of the most important findings of this project was around the sense of the authentic within this music scene. 4 The expected consistency between appearance..my question was why these participants view the music and the culture as genuine and how this culture celebrates it.. described indie music as authentic. where the often slick production. 1 2 35. tape recording. 1959)..

~ music is authentic relates to why they invest so much time.. outside of the mainstream music industry. they believe in the people making the music. DIY cultural practice therefore positions itself as rooted in issues of control and accountability.K. 5 I agree." Journal ofPopular Music Studies 13. ':. It just makes it more intimate. at least one person. American Idol stars. Many participants explained the reason 5 Cotton Seiler.. this type of grass roots culture and musical production and consumption are of increasing importance.Masters Thesis . from the creative to the business.6 --} This ideal of participants getting involved in the indie scene and making lifestyle changes was reflected in interviewees' responses. distributed and produced. Cotton Seiler describes the indie subculture's cynicism about the commercial mainstream as incompletely concealing romanticism about its own home-grown product. they believe in the process by which this music is created. more honest music. In an age of pre-packaged. the band's work encompasses all aspects of the work. 51 . Davies McMaster . which operates. and money into .bey believe in the music itself. and energy. the artists don't yet have dollar signs in their eyes. \]. and they believe in the system within which these people operate] These people function within a network of indie cultural production. by and large. "Indie Rock in Louisville. In indie rock. as participants celebrated this romanticism and described how DIY active music production and authenticity creates a sense of unity amongst indie rock scene participants. which involves a division of labour. One musician explained. where the marketers do the marketing and the distributors do the distributing.1 think the [indie] music is played for more honourable reasons./ this music culture . 2 (2001): 191. hoping that someone likes it. \The fact that all of the subjects agreed that indie .they believe in it. They're playing for fun.Music Critici~ the creations of the artist him/herself.

Interviewee K. "Music is their [scene members] primary reason for entertainment and often so much so that all the non-entertainment things in their life are influenced or Interviewee N. 7 6 52 . 1 (1993): 38.K."ll Interviewees unanimously responded that their lifestyle is influenced by the music they listen to.practices of consumption. interview by author. "I think with the bands that I enjoy seeing. Ontario. Ontario. leading to the recognition that being outsiders is as "valid a definition of community as anything else. "Subcultural Identity in Alternative Music Culture. Scene participants identified with the "outsider" status linked to indie culture. of interaction .9 These responses align with the findings of Holly Kruse that this type of music offers participants a certain set of social practices .. 10 Respondents described how they placed value on this community of shared taste. come the kind of people that I enjoy because we have that in common. 18 February 2005. g Interviewee T. 9 Interviewee M." Popular Music 12.. I meet a lot of people that I have also seen at shows or people that might have seen me.Music Critic for continuing to attend shows was for both the music and the social connections with other people in attendance: "The people that you meet and associate with in going to those venues become your friends and you have that in common . interview by author.. It's just getting to know people. One interviewee claimed. "Working at the record store.. 13 March 2005. 10 Kruse. getting to make friends.indie music. Hamilton. tape recording."g Participants spoke of the sense of community that evolves from friends made from shared interests. Hamilton.7 This sense of shared musical interest is reflected in social interactions.Masters Thesis . Most described music as their primary source of entertainment. participated in social practices that foster a sense of "outsider" identity. of production.that build a sense of community. Davies McMaster . tape recording.

12 He calls himself. record store or just attending more shows. a sense of community developed and was made visible by common practices connecting all of the interviewees. 13 Barlow.14 "I think for a lot of people it's inherent to the act of appreciation.Masters Thesis . Hamilton. music "passioneers.Music Criticism affected by that interest in that music." The Vii/age Voice (3-9 December 1980): 44. and then got increasingly involved. tape recording.. Interviewee L. sending them a link to a website. Ontario. interview by author. This finding is ultimately solidified by the common social codes and practices involved in the scene which assist members in forming a sense of identity in relation to the scene. tape recording.K. making a mix tape or mix CD of a variety of artists for a friend. and lending them CD's from their personal collection. wanting to share that 12 Tom Carson "Stop 'N' Rock. Emoh. fashion. 18 February 2005. Hamilton. 16 February 2005.. Social practices. Ontario. 2005. and enjoyed the feeling they got when sharing music they think is good. Each respondent became interested once exposed to the music or the scene. Davies McMaster . "I like when people share music with me so of course I'm going to share it with other people. working at a club. The modes of sharing included bringing a friend to see a live show. and people who fall under this description. whether in a band. Merge Records compact disc MRG254. Lou. recommending a college radio station. 11 53 . 14 Interviewee M. Round-n-round: Sharing Practices 13 All of the people that 1 interviewed said that they share the music they like with others... With increased involvement. interview by author." Each respondent had his or her own personal version of this story. and lifestyle are all factors that contribute to the personal investment associated with participation in indie rock culture.

"It's an entire way of doing things.. Hamilton. tape recording. 8 February 2005.Masters Thesis . 19 Interviewee D.. 13 March 2005. tape recording. Many of the people interviewed discussed their thoughts on indie bands that had signed to major labels. Ontario." 19 These sharing practices are important to DIY culture as they serve as a DIY form of promotion for bands. Interviewee S. One touring musician stated that he "could go to Vancouver and find people with really similar taste to someone in Halifax and their house has. Davies McMaster . and someone cute comes up to you and is like. It helps. 11 March 2005. Hamilton. interview by author. that indefinable buzz you get from a powerful piece of music. tape recording. part of the satisfaction of appreciating indie music is through helping the bands.. Most respondents agreed that "shows are a good way to meet friends and you join groups of friends with similar interests.K.16 Emphasis was put on the shared experience between people at shows and the sense of camaraderie between people with similar taste. an entire way of dressing. glossy posters and free stickers. 'you like that band?' . Interviewee U. This differs from music promoted in mainstream promotional campaigns with commercials. 15 16 54 . not the same things. interview by author.Music Criticism discovery.. Ontario.. 17 Interviewee F. These kinds of commercial music activity repel indie fans as they do not align with the DIY cultural practices. an entire way of socializing. It appears that for these people. Hamilton. interview by author. Ontario. Hamilton. but sort of similar. tape recording. interview by author. Hamilton. within a locality as well as between localities as well. "If you're wearing an obscure band tee [shirt]. 13 February 2005.15 Interviewees spoke of these modes of sharing music as being part of a particular set of social practices.. 18 Interviewee J. usually leaving the indie fan with a sense of abandonment.17 Here we see how social connections can develop because of shared subcultural knowledge. tape recording.. Ontario.. Ontario." 18 A participant explained. interview by author. 4 February 2005.

21 Interviewee F.. . just to have stuff that I can listen to at school. the fans help is no longer needed and the band is branded as a sell-out. you'll include songs from artists 20 Interviewee X. and another friend might be into something a little slower so I pick stuff like that. "You have to pick stuff that they'd like.>23 This careful consideration of musical elements to suit the recipient reflects a sense of musical understanding and underlying motivation to satisfy the listener but also to promote bands. interview by author. . and the process itself One respondent called himself a "die-hard mixedtape philanthropist. and interview by author. the process of selecting bands and songs highlights what they are listening to at the time.. Davies McMaster . One respondent suggested: You might want to include bands that you've gone to see together. My one friend is into a lot of hip hop stuff so I try to pick stuff with a lot of bass.Music Criticism When a band gets signed. Respondents agreed that it is important to customize the selection of bands and songs according to the taste of the person receiving it.21 The motivation for sharing is generally to expose someone to new things but also to promote bands.Masters Thesis . 22 Ibid. 16 March 2005. One respondent stated that people generally include "obscure stuff that you like that you think is underrated" on their CD's. The practice of making mix CDs and giving them to friends is an important part of the scene.. almost daily.K. 55 . tape recording.20 Another described how he makes mixes for himself "all the time. Ontario. tape recording.22 Generally.. when I'm driving. Hamilton. Ontario. and to remind you of fun times with your friends. in my office. 16 March 2005. 23 Interviewee S. how often they made CD's for friends. Interviewees spoke about the motivation for doing so. Hamilton.

. much like the mix tape efforts of Rob Gordon in the indie cult film High Fidelity. Others have had people request a mix: "Some people have asked me to make them tapes.28 Interviewee D. Hamilton. High Fidelity~ Walt Disney DVD. 27 Interviewee R. I argue that the person who creates and gives a mix to someone else gains cultural capital as they are generally introducing at least some new music to the listener and providing a custom compilation tailored to the recipient's listening history.27 Most respondents claimed to not expect a mix in return for all of this effort. I February 2005. if they like that then the next time you can stray a little further. 28 Interviewee F. tape recording. Stephen Frears. and then from there. Interviewee A. and they just want to get into new stuff .K. demonstrating mastery and knowledge. the anchor of what they like. Davies McMaster . people who aren't really as into music as I might be.'. (2000). I put the songs on my computer as wave files and then (lately I've been normalizing the volumes first so that all the songs are sort of at the same volume) I try to put them in some sort of sequence and then maybe edit it a little bit. interview by author. Ontario.I'm like 'I like this song and this song and this song and hopefully you like it too' .It's all sharing. . Ontario. 8 March 2005. It's usually from music that I own. Hamilton.. "You see High Fidelity and the process he gets into . so there's a lot on introducing bands that are kind of similar to what you already listen to. 24 Others described a more detailed process Usually I start compiling songs in my head of songs I'd want to put on and then I use my computer (very rarely will I download things).Music Criticism you want to them to be introduced to.Masters Thesis . tape recording.. 25 The respondent puts substantial effort into creating a mix CD for a friend. interview by author.26 Another interviewee even used the movie in his description of his mix tape efforts. 26 Dir. 24 25 56 . .

But at the same time. their fondness for music. or not at all. You can just walk through the halls . Hamilton. Hamilton. tape recording. I'd rather not have to talk to anybody. the advantage of blocking out "outside" sound. interview by author. "I just like listening to music. tape recording.30 One student illustrated the social implications of such practice.. Interviewee C. "I like being surrounded by music . 31 Here we see the effects of being at a show the night before. . Interviewee G.. Davies McMaster . Most of the participants interviewed often wore headphones. listening to music in public.29 Another respondent explained. 29 30 31 Ibid. A few older scene participants claimed to listen to headphones less than they used to... presumably.Masters Thesis . You just put your headphones on and walk through the school and you don't have to get bugged. . Ontario. Wearing headphones was more unique to indie culture before the iPod. sometimes people say hi to me and I don't know what they are saying and I just sort of smile and nod. and second. you can kind of shut out everything. this is because he considers his social group to consist of show-going scene participants and not members of the broader society. The reason for this is two-fold: first. which brought portable music to mainstream music listeners in numbers that make it increasingly difficult to identify someone as an indie music fan by their listening to music on headphones in public. 8 February 2005. 57 . interview by author. It's kind of the personal space of it.K... staying up late and getting up early to attend classes. after class I like to take the bus home so I can listen to my music and sit there. you don't want to talk to anybody. you're so tired. This interviewee illustrates how wearing headphones represents the choice of music over social interactions. 3 February 2005. Ontario.Music Criticism Another common practice of indie music scene participants is wearing headphones in public. In school.

a major corporate product .. Participants often have a few drinks at home or at the home of a friend before going to shows. Although interviewees claimed that indie rock is about the music. Ontario. interview by author. Interviewees described a relationship between one's involvement in the scene and involvement in certain social practices as reflecting "authentic" practice versus "inauthentic" fan labels.32 Ironically though. People often spend time with their closer friends at someone's home before going to a club where they socialize with more scene members and see bands play. tape recording. the most popular beer at his shows is Labatt 50. Hamilton.K. He used it to describe the symbolic fit between the values and life-styles of a group. its subjective experience and the musical forms it uses to express or reinforce its focal concerns.he assumes this is due to availability. 16 February 2005. one local promoter claimed.Masters Thesis .Music Criticism Interviewees agreed that there are no social codes or practices that are essential to participating in the scene.. although certain practices tend to be common. Davies McMaster . Theorist Paul Willis first applied the term homology to subculture in his work Profane Culture. This is more economical than purchasing all of an evening's drinks at a venue. 58 . He explores the orderliness of subcultures and how each part is 32 Interviewee L. but it also serves a social function. not the beer you drink. "Indie rock people will lean towards regional brewery beer. I Don't Think We Should Ever Meet: Labels33 The scene involves a group of people who attend indie rock shows regularly and other people who attend infrequently. One of the most common practices is pre-drinking.

1979. One experienced scene member spoke of some common traits of scene participants as including malnutrition. Dick Hebdige. Rock. 65. smoking.K.35 The majority of interviewees described regular members of the scene. whether Hayden. They're in school or they just really don't want to work very much or they just want to playa lot of music as well and then just don't get a full time job." in On Record. edited by Simon Frith and Andrew Goodwin. I guess fashion wise. that they could be sitting in their own office. Drinking. not because of anything else besides lifestyle choices. running a corporation or something.. Universal Music compact disc 22292 (2002). Davies McMaster . 1990)." as being musicians themselves and gave examples of how they "all tend to be very heavily involved and invested. 34 In indie music culture. InteIIigent people. I think it's those kind of people that make sacrifices to go out to these shows. people that... "They don't eat well because they're taking the money they should be buying groceries with and using it to buy records or cover charges. Value Village shoppers (if that could be a classification). common social practices. 36 Interviewee F. Pop. a homology exists between an alternative value system and the social practice of wearing band tee-shirts. . (New York: Pantheon Books. and through the connection between them the subcultural member makes sense of the world. DIY culture participant's makingllistening to lo-fi music cohere as a way of life for indie fans. and the Written Word. 33 34 59 . or "rounders. 35 Interviewee L.Music Criticism organically related to other parts. and education: Poor people. Live at Convocation Hall. because they are really intelligent.Masters Thesis . "Style as Homology and Signifying Practice. All of the interviewees commented on how their musical preferences have influenced their lifestyle choices.36 Other interviewees gave detailed descriptions of the "types" of people that go to these shows including common fashion trends. if they had taken some other direction in life and never been to an indie rock show and never knew what music was.

We are talking primarily about college/university students.. 39 The sense of fans' ownership of indie music was heavily present during interviews. so you may only have them as customers for three or four years and then they're gone and new people replace them so it's tough to keep an idea of a number of people we're talking about. 37 One interviewee defined a rounder to be "somebody who is a regular at a lot of different bars . two of the older scene participants expressed concern with the sense of hypocrisy within indie subculture and cynicism about the commercial mainstream. Interviewee R. Ibid. but no more than one hundred. the rounders for the music scene that are the common denominator and that's generally what they're like.. I think that's why it still exists in Hamilton.38 One promoter described these rounders/regulars as a shifting audience with outof-town students living in Hamilton for the length of their post-secondary programs at Mohawk College or McMaster University. and work it all out so that they see every band they want to see at every show. I know that from a show promoters point of view there are regulars at my shows but they move in and out because of the age that we're talking about..40 Interestingly.K.. They're not too concerned with anything else besides music. One pointed out that people 37 38 39 40 Interviewee T.Masters Thesis . "there's a camaraderie about having something not be signed and not selling out but yet that's everyone's goal right?. Davies McMaster .. to support. and I think that's why it's sad when there's one really big show and there's like 3-400 people there and you wonder "Where were you every other night this week when there was also a good show?" So I think it's the common people. 60 .Music Criticism they can afford it or not. A musician pointed out the irony that. there are maybe about one hundred people in Hamilton that you could bank on seeing in one of my two clubs more than once a week. that even in one night will go to the Casbah and the Underground and the Corktown. Interviewee L. I think at any given time.

tape recording. and Dinosaur Jf. you can come in. Ontario.41 Independent means not being corporate. its that legacy you leave when you're dead and gone.Music Criticism embracing independent culture do not automatically reflect independent thought.. before that was that you could just record it yourself and find the means to finance it yourself. you're pretty enough. The same idea that happens in corporate culture happens at the alternative level. He continued. it also means not being something to please somebody else or not being artificial in order to get something else. this cosmos. and Black Flag before him. interview by author. It's the same "I do it because it's cool" and its not asserting individuality it's not being independent of outside sources. But Lou Barlow and everyone else in the indie rock revolution.. describes indie rock as Rather than having it held up by some corporate structure. get brainwashed." that's what corporations did." 43 Ibid.Masters Thesis . but subscribing to rules about wearing toques in a club when its 150 degrees because 'That's cool' and 'That's indie' is as bad as nazi fascism and killing Jews. about expressing yourself and communicating with other people and somehow belonging to this. 14 March 2005. and . He claimed that "people still follow trends.. 41 42 61 . let people hear the message that you're sending and communicating. Hamilton. 43 One subject Interviewee L. it destroys the essence of what you are trying to say is independent rock which is doing something that's totally about individuality. its about your place in the universe. ifyou say there are aspects of independent rock in the beer you drink or the clothes you wear . simply let people hear it. this universe on a grander scale.. get it on the radio. not about money.K. Independent means communicating art. The fact that terms such as these exist and were utilized by many subjects highlights the issue of authenticity within the subculture. put it out. Interviewee V.... music and beauty on an authentic and real scale. Davies McMaster . like a bouncer at a dance club. yourself feeling a belonging to this world. and held back people from a Marxist standpoint.. 42 Interviewees used terms such as "scenester" and "poseur" to describe "inauthentic" persons involved in the scene. its about communicating and sharing. they're just being brainwashed and train followed by less-corporate people. because . "You. "That's why I don't like that 'independent' tenn. thoughts. It's about love.

" for Rasta's there are the "Rasta bandwagon. 9 February 2005. Rasta. He found that within different forms of alternative culture .. heavy-duty people . True. Hippie culture . and I was like why are you here? You paid ten dollars to see the show. Davies McMaster .Masters Thesis .Punk.loathe what I'm saying right now. Poseur.K. just go away. a miniature machine inside the bigger machine. Scenesters. indie people . they're very irritating and they take away from the show.. The notion of the inauthentic is frequently verbalized within alternative cultures. Interviewee L.Music Criticism The terms authentic. 44 One promoter explained that these terms have relevance to him in his job. according to the theorist Dick Hebdige. These are all things that make the machine roll . He explained that being aware of the trends that develop within indie culture help him make money.46 The general illustration of a Poseur by indie scene participants was someone acting like they have an appreciation for something but are not genuinely into it: When those people who aren't really into the music are there." for hippies there are the "weekend hippies" and for indie people there are the Poseurs. Ontario.artistic. I remember I went to see a band and these girls were just talking about the singer. fashion trends within this culture we're talking about certain rituals that need to be acknowledged. 44 45 62 . 46 Hebdige. But there is money to be made from indie rock and one of the primary reasons there is money to be made is because there are such things as Hipsters. "Style as Homology and Signifying Practice: 1979.there is a dismissal of inauthentic people. For punks there are the "plastic punks." 62. interview by author. 47 Interviewee J. or Hipster are to be part of the alternative/indie rock alternative lexicon. 47 Interviewee H. 45 This promoter's statements support Kruse's theory that the indie music industry is not separate from the mass music industry. Hamilton. Scenester. tape recording.

. 51 Interviewee F. ..Music Criticism Another interviewee claimed that the term relates to bands as well. Davies McMaster . not for the scene. 48 63 . Another interviewee went as far as to describe Scenesters as being part of a game: "Some people tend to go by scene points .51 Interviewees described a Scenester's "dress code. 53 Interviewee D. tape recording. You don't have to listen. 50 Interviewee T... is signed to a major label didn't really work themselves from the bottom Up. I think they're supporting their ego a bit more [than the bands]. 52 One interviewee compared indie Scenesters to the Mods. but the term basically carried negative connotations. but really isn't.. interview by author. that indie attitude. The people that will go shows and they hardly even watch the bands. Interviewee E. 53 She portrayed Scenesters as fashion-conscious socialites. 8 February 2005.48 From this participant's perspective. 52 Interviewee M. 49 Interviewee F.. They can be band members or fans. Interviewees mentioned the importance of maintaining one's "integrity. the term represents a "type" of person involved in the scene who attends many shows.50 "They go to all the high profile shows." and basically depicted the term as a stereotype.. "A band that sort of has that indie mentality. Basically.. Ontario.Masters Thesis . . it was okay to be signed to a major label ~ if you worked hard to get there.49 Discussion of the term Scenester got more of a response than I had anticipated from interviewees. The respondents defined a Scenester as someone who attends many shows "to be seen. Hamilton. you get a point if you show up at a show. you lose a point if you don't go.K.

interview by author. put the label in a lower ranked position. because you're with your friends and you get lots of alcohol and you get to dance but also being a Scenester makes you feel like a rock star. a Hipster would instead say "deck. a handbook no less. tape recording. (I sound so silly. hence the name. This book describes and pokes fun at the social codes of the HipsterlScenester/indie music fan.. (Note: it is no longer recommended that one use the term "cool". and opinions deemed cool by the cool. Interviewee U. The Hipster Handbook. The fact that their style. 57 This book identifies commonalities within Hipster culture that possibly hit too close to home for some indie folk. Hamilton.as long as you're seen.K. Davies McMaster . A Hipster ideally possesses no more than two percent body fat. although the term Hipster did not seem to carry the same baggage. Ontario. 10 February 2005. 56 Interviewee I. Most interviewees used the term Hipster and Scenester interchangeably.. According to The Hipster Handbook.56 My assumption is that the term has taken on "Poseurish" connotations after the 2003 publication of the book. language and cultural practices could be exposed and commodified in the form of a book. 54 55 64 . 55 These findings obviously conflict with the sense of the authentic that is privileged in this scene. This conflict is related to the issue of Hipsters within indie culture. but I wanted to be honest). social attitudes.Music Criticism as long as you're there . One musician described Hipsters as "Blindly independent fans.Masters Thesis ..54 explained why she thinks people get involved in the music scene: One interviewee It makes you feel cool like a rock star and that's why its so much fun.. a Hipster is One who possesses tastes. Interviewee D. ") The Hipster walks among the masses in daily life but is not a part of them and shuns or reduces to kitsch anything held dear by the mainstream.

." We used to place Hipster people on the top of our "want to please list" . We Want Some Too: Underground Desire and the Re-invention of Mass Culture.60 One musician signed to a major label explained how at first his band had catered to Hipsters but he now views a fan as a fan: Elitism among indie fans .K. which further fragments creative communities] They argued that these sorts of attitudes are counterproductive to moving forward as a community. sent from a user name is counted and." ~terviewees explained that there was a tendency for musicians to do their specific thing to define themselves against each other. you're cool. The issue of Scenesters is linked to the narrative of status or indie. it just made us go "fuck these guys..Masters Thesis . Each post. (accessed March. or promotions tend to get respect. that's what happened when everyone walked away when we signed. The writer Hal Niedzviecki put it best with his summation. 255.. you're a loser. 57 58 59 60 Interviewee F." achieves "band member" status and finally becomes an "icon. Interviewee J. One interviewee used the term "revered" to illustrate the level of respect shown to some local musicians and key scene participants. or message.hipsterhandbook. "You serve coffee in a uniform. Toronto: Penguin (2000). with increased posts. .coml>. the media.it's insane.Music 0. comes a higher-ranking title: one starts off as "roadie. musicians themselves are respected amongst scene participants. 59 As music ranks high in scene participants lives. Hal Niedzviecki. _ (credentials) within the scene. 65 . 192006) <www. Among the most visibly quantified measures of status or indie cred is represented on the local message board.58 Most interviewees agreed that status is important in the scene and suggested that people who have either been in bands. Davies McMaster . that's why we have no interest in them. now if it's a 40 year old housewife that The Hipster Handbook. you ring up records in a ripped Tee-shirt...

that's just as valuable to me as some fuckin' Arcade Fire-shirt-wearing-Broken Social Scene-listening kid. 1990). pants and shoes. a wardrobe of 'pre-permissive clothes. . vintage style jeans or corduroy pants. BUssed Out: The Raptures ofRock (London: Serpent's Tail. Much of my discussion with interview subjects concerned the social practices and fashion of Scenesters. and to recognize other members in the indie scene. 65 Seiler. "Indie Rock in Louisville": 191. vibrant coloured vintage tee-shirts. 64 Simon Reynolds. Indie rock performers and audience members share a common fashion style. "Indie is the residuum of the co-opted and declawed subcultural style of punk rock. Drag City compact disc DC187CD (2001). or army jacket. 'nerd chic' look. Indie style is based on the values invested in the subculture. She likes it just like they would like it. 63 Smog. "The pre-packaged glamour and sexuality of rock stars are traded for a retro.. The stereotypical indie style includes distinctions in hairstyle. 64 Cotton Seiler similarly argues. as reflected in a thrift-store. The most common "look" for indie rock hair is shaggy and generally unkempt.250.Masters Thesis . It's the same thing. These shirts might be layered upon with a hooded sweatshirt or "hoodie. 62 Live as if Someone is Always Watching You: Practices and Fashion 63 Respondents involved in this study used key subcultural indicators to identify themselves as part of.Music Criticism likes [radio singletl because she hears it on the radio at work. The choice of pants often includes wornin." a vintage suit jacket. Interviewee I.65 I asked interviewees to describe indie rock style. shirts. Davies McMaster . Shoes of choice are most often Chuck Taylor Title of radio single edited to maintain anonymity of interviewee. Popular styles of shirts include close fitting band tee-shirts. '" according to Simon Reynolds. Rain On Lens. 61 62 66 . vintage look.K. and button-up collared shirts.

K. it's maybe not the traditional Cover Girl kind of idea ofmake-up. 67 .Masters Thesis . As a result. the style is • common between both indie rock performers and audiences. If you don't have the time to hit the right stores and hit them at the right times (or frequently enough. The emphasis on simplicity.. closing the gap between performer and audience. which is kind of the point. the performers' style makes them indistinguishable from audience members. the way make-up is worn is a way to identify them to. But therein lies the catch. The reason was that the appropriated objects 66 Interviewee L. rips in their jeans can be common sometimes.. But the time issue isn't insubstantial. you have to go out of your way. even if it's just little blemishes of colour.. whether it's a very dark outfit and then there's bright socks . Davies McMaster . Resistance Through Rituals. between being disdainful of obsessing over how you look and cultivating this air of debonair disorder.. there's always some sort of flair of colour that's maybe not necessarily a traditional thing to do. or producer and consumer. You have this balance between not wanting to look like the mainstream. and the appearance of being "low ./ maintenance" expresses the values of the music through fashion~ ~dition.. or know someone on the inside) you risk looking like a Goodwill poster child.66 Interviewees explained how this kind of anti-commercial style of dress is more involved than it appears. Used clothing in general. vintage clothing. or a bright scarf or some colour streak in their hair. to make real finds. Asymmetrical hairstyles where the shapes of these hairstyles are not traditional. Jeans are common. J I'd say that's what's common in amongst all these people is that they like colour. Sometimes it's a contrast with minimal distinctions. and running shoes that are not corporate company kind of running shoes. The vintage market is pretty work-intensive .. but still looking like everybody else. low cost. 67 Theorists Stuart Hall and Tony Jefferson crossed the concepts of homology and bricolage to explain why a certain people were attracted to a certain subcultural style in their work. retro clothing from the '70's and '80's is common.Music Cn sneakers.

Interviewee U. They sell brand new clothes that are constructed to look pre-used.K. Davies McMaster . so you're going to have a lot of clothes that look like they didn't cost very much but they really do. American Eagle sells new tee-shirts that are constructed to look like vintage tee-shirts." They were "objects in which (the subcultural members) could see their central values held and reflected. 69 70 71 68 . 1976).68 Observation and interviews contributed to the finding that band tee-shirts and one-inch band pins were two of the most noteworthy and easily identified minority signifiers for subcultural members. with worn logos. scarves. 56. one male participant responded. eds. Resistance Through Rituals. Interviewee S. aspects of group life.. (London: Hutchinson...70 One female participant illustrated female style as They basically want to look like Karen 0 from the Yeah Yeah Yeah's. like ripped tee-shirts. This store has taken the "authentic" style of indie rock and marketed it to the general public. 69 When asked to describe indie style.Masters Thesis . "Too bad you don't have a video camera [laughing]. because they went to Toronto and bou ht them on Queen Street and they're a hundred dollars. For example. Participants generally claimed that clothes tend to be tighter and vintage-inspired. shoulder bags and shaggy hair. 1 9 Related to the utilitarian sense of style of indie rock is its co-option by such chain retail stores as American Eagle. Indie rockers frown upon this co- 67 68 Interviewee X. express and resonate . and jeans that consumers purchase off the rack that already have holes in them.Music Criticism were "made to reflect... frayed collars.. Interviewee D. Stuart Hall and Tony Jefferson. Other common stylistic trends included trucker hats.

I guess If I like wearing band tee-shirts.Masters Thesis . it's a constructed look. 72 Interviewee R. I don't know if my sweater is an indication of that [laughing]. as they cannot be distinguished from the mainstream. doing sound check and performing.Music Criticism option. Only four respondents said "yes. that is an attractive quality. While most younger and older scene participants claimed they did not construct their look in relation to the music they like. but it's not really so much a constructed look but it's a cheaper look than going to a mall. the younger scene participants often wore band tee-shirts. n Age played a role in how participants constructed their looks. When scene members were asked if they construct their "look" to identify them in relation to the music they like. and trying to get the bands out there. I think by shopping at used clothing stores. and efforts to establish uniqueness and resistance to the mainstream are silenced. whereas the older scene participants usually wore plain tee-shirts or ones that didn't have a logo on it. because their style.K." Each of those "yes" respondents were female. However. so I guess I do. most responded "no" but thought that other people might. and to the people involved in this scene. For band members the presentation of self during daily life often coincides with the presentation of self during performance. They generally do not wear stage clothes or costumes. Although they claimed to have worn many tee-shirts in their younger days. 69 . The majority of indie rock bands will wear the same clothes throughout their band activities from travelling in a van. the older participants explained that they did use their look to accord with the music they liked. Davies McMaster . It is more about presenting themselves as they are.

Ontario.a reminder ofa specific band. 76 Interviewee F.Music Criticism older participants wore fewer now because they work in more professional environments and purchased fewer shirts . Hamilton. interview by author..Masters Thesis . "I like this band. When you're wearing a band shirt.. 73 74 70 . or just to stand out. Interviewee F. Davies McMaster .73 All of the respondents who wore tee-shirts claimed that the primary reason for is to support the bands.. so it's not really advertising anything. In a way it's sort of like a conversation piece. When 1 asked to whom they were advertising. a specific evening at a specific venue on a specific night. they responded. no one else does. According to subject responses. conveying shared knowledge to insiders and exclusive knowledge to outsiders..because if I' m wearing a band shirt and no one has heard of the band before. but if it's someone else who maybe listens to the same thing maybe they'll comment or start a conversation...76 Interviewee X. you're really trying to make a statement. a band tee-shirt serves as advertising for a band and/or a conversation starter.possibly because they often attend less live shows. "I guess potential new fans. The narrative of wearing tee-shirts in an effort to support bands permeated the subject responses. 75 Interviewee B. 1 February 2005. 75 Thus. a band tee-shirt signifies something different to indie fans than non-indie fans. Most of the respondents either wore band tee-shirts on a regular basis or had once done so. tape recording. For example...so people could recognize it and make a connection with you. Tee-shirts were considered a "commemorative talisman . they might not know that it's a band at all. You're identifying yourself with something . and some described the additional effects of advertising their taste and their use as a social tool..74 1 guess it depends .K.

promotion. 'Oh.K.. I want them to know that I listen to that type of music.Music Criticism As well as identity enhancement. or a future discussion with somebody who's like 'Oh. I don't really think about if they'll go home and start downloading songs from that band..to anybody that sees your tee-shirt. I might as well just buy the tee-shirt and kind of represent them all at the same time. 80 Interviewee M. just let them know that I'm into that band. Whereas if I'm wearing a Nike shirt. they'd be like 'Oh you're wearing a Nike shirt .Masters Thesis . . by wearing their name I'm maybe exposing someone else to that band. 79 Interviewee C. they know you listen to that kind of music and I guess subconsciously they deem you in some sort of category like 'Rocker' or just someone they would or wouldn't like. I guess they'll know more about you than if it's a brand name. It is advertising . "If somebody is wearing a shirt that looks kind of interesting that has a band name on it. Davies McMaster . what are they all about?' And you can talk to that person about that. Then it gets into the whole sweatshop factor with major clothing lines. Interviewee G."n Indie subcultural style is based around a No Logo ethic.' and maybe they'd go buy the album. 77 78 71 . For example..80 Interviewee C. I'm helping to support music when I buy a band tee-shirt. what's the deal with them?' [Sarcastically]. it it's a band name. For example: I think the cause of support is better than wearing a brand name. and maybe they'd be like. and representation are recurring themes throughout the interviewees' responses regarding band and even record label tee-shirts. 78 It's more stylish than wearing a brand name. I'll do a search for that band and see what I could find. 79 Others claimed the opposite. you're wearing a Despistato tee-shirt. The work of Naomi Klein has influenced the work of many theorists and interviewees discussed issues of branding in relation to indie band tee-shirts. "Some labels have a lot of good stuff that I like. the concept of support.

"s2 A local musician described wearing band tee-shirts as similar to advertising." If you're a guy and you're wearing the Arcade Fire shirt. come talk to me and we can go on a date. He compared it to corporate executives wearing tee-shirts for other multi-national companies that they support and like. "Usually when I put on a tee-shirt . Davies McMaster . do you want to go to their show?" And that's how it gets 81 82 83 84 Interviewee Q."s4 The social implications of wearing a band shirt can be powerful. Interviewee 1. the design on the shirt was of high importance. Interviewee L. the Arcade Fire. Essentially.. Hamilton.' and in some cases there's obviously going to be people who don't get it. "promote" and "support" to "advertising.. and that girl who knows who the Arcade Fire is. you like them? So do I." And that one girl who does will be like. there's definitely an element of me wanting to say that. "Hey. 'I like this. Ontario. Interviewee F. and you know there might be people who do and are interested. I won't necessarily buy it if I just like the band. the comment was that "cool shirt" connotes "cool band. Others wore band tee-shirts to make a statement about their identity. "The shirt may not fit me that good or the colour may not look good with my complexion." He'll be like."s3 Participants preferred the terms. "I'll only buy the shirt if I like the design on it.K. "Yeah. tape recording.Music Criticism For some of the more fashion conscious scene members. interview by author." but agreed that elements of promotion were generally involved in their decision to wear a certain band's shirt. . but on a smaller and more personal scale. but I'll still wear it because I want people to know the name of this band. 8 March 2005. 72 .81 Others claimed that they sometimes sacrifice personal style to help bands.Masters Thesis . it's like a billboard saying "If you like the Arcade Fire..

it still appears that only when women can identify themselves as musicians do they feel they can legitimately 85 86 Interviewee D. displaying a tasteful delay. 73 .K. cap-sleeved tee-shirts geared towards the female audience not only proves that a female audience exists. a band's pin is acceptable to wear at their show. Interviewee G. At many major label band's concerts fans purchase tee-shirts and immediately put them on.Masters Thesis .Music Criticism started." which are closer fitting."s5 Hipsters understood and identified fashion faux pas such as wearing a band's teeshirt at their live show: "I won't actually go to a Burdocks show wearing a Burdocks shirt. You're looking for people who know who it is so you can be like "Oh. This availability of "baby-tee's. but they can wear more feminized versions of tee-shirt to avoid look like a tomboy. According to interview subjects. but wearing a band's tee-shirt would be more of a "fan" activity. For women. indie fans generally wait (at least) until the next day to wear a band shirt purchased at a show. One aspect of indie rock subculture worth considering is the production of more "feminine" style tee-shirts for sale at indie rock shows. although their presence on the scene is numerous enough to justify specialty tee-shirts."S6 According to the respondents in this study. It could be that they don't want to misplace their purchase during the concert but it seems that donning an indie bands shirt at their show would not serve the purpose of "helping" the band and therefore take away from its purpose. Davies McMaster . but that it is numerous enough to have specialty merchandise catering to it. we can be friends. This gender differentiation in fashion identifies that females in the scene have similar style characteristics to the indie rock male.

Masters Thesis . Respondents compared the social significance of pins to band tee-shirts. 91 Interviewee F. One scene member even purchased her own button maker so she could make buttons of bands she likes. people would be like "I want you to have my button" because it's like an honour. People started giving them to me so I'd put it on . 90 Interviewee N. 90 A few interviewees compared pins to scout badges." in On Record: Rock. and promote bands. 89 Pins are generally purchased at shows. signifY one's taste.K. edited by Simon Frith and Andrew Goodwin.. Another popular minority signifier for indie participants are one-inch band pins. and the Written Word.. 88 They are also referred to as buttons/pin backs. and army jackets. women feeling as if they are swimming upstream through the male-dominated scene. "How Women Become Musicians." playing what are gender coded as "male" instruments and construct their physical style against standard notions of femininity and beauty with their "boyish style" of short haircuts. 74 ." Women who perform in indie rock bands often position themselves as "one of the guys. it just gets out of control. They are sometimes free but usually cost about one dollar and provide For scene members they provide a simple and effective way to revenue for bands. band tee-shirts. but claimed pins prove to be more economical. 91 87 Mavis Bayton. Pop. so a bag or jacket covered in pins represents a lot of shows attended and therefore one's commitment to the scene. jeans. 1990). (New York: Pantheon.243.. 88 Pins are probably the most economical way for a band to advertise and promote themselves.Music Criticism talk to musicians at shows without being seen as "groupies. I've become pretty known for buttons . Davies McMaster . fighting against some promoters' attempts at "all-girl band bills.. you've got so many. 89 Interviewee C. . accessorize..87 Even as musicians.

I just don't like the huge amalgamation of commerce in one spot. 75 . but now I think that there's been a shift and that's become a no-no. Again. Seiler.94 One interviewee explained how he was.go through them.Masters Thesis . Davies McMaster .93 All of the interviewees admitted to having far more pins than they actually wear. That's become a taboo and instead of putting it everywhere. "I'm anti-commercial in a way so it kind of rules out malls. "Indie Rock in Louisville": 191. "truly a jock that listened to mainstream rock that wore sporty sort of clothing" and then was introduced to the band 92 93 94 Intetviewee D. we see more connoisseur-type activity within the older scene participant age category. whereas the older scene participants wore few to none. Interviewee K.Music Criticism It was really trendy to put all the bands that you've seen everywhere all over your one strap on your side bag. Companies that I don't really care for.K.. It's changed from wanting to wear all your pins to just wearing a select few and alternating them. indie style is 'cool. you'll wear one at a time . As a result. ". I think it just became too obvious. Most of the younger scene participants claimed to wear many pins at once. It became a thing that Poseurs do. If the older participants do wear a few. they are carefully selected bands and often obscure. I was interested in the commitment of these people to the scene and the level of involvement and lifestyle practices and inquired about relationships between the music and a rejection of commercial culture. All of the interviewees claimed they plan to be involved in the music scene in the future. 92 Cotton Seiler describes this sort of "stealth aesthetic" as grounded in the "relative blandness and willed obsolescence of the indie style and predicated on the exhaustion of self-consciously radical musical subcultures as effective agents of cultural and political critique..

These forms of discrimination ranged from verbal to physical assault. going to cafes. Over half of the respondents in this study claimed to have experienced forms of discrimination because of the music they listen to. Then there is the other people.Masters Thesis . it's when I started buying vintage clothes: I abandoned my whole lifestyle. so you start dressing like some of the bands you see. It was so good to me that it made me abandon everything I was doing before. They would throw pennies at us in the hall and things. and getting yelled at from cars and having guys want to beat us up.I just liked the sound. buying vintage clothing.Music Criticism Guided By Voices.. that just assume. Interviewee V. Davies McMaster . 95 This is a strong statement about how indie music influenced and guided his lifestyle choices. so everyone wears the same kind of jeans or whatever is popular. the way they assert their individuality is by being different and if you are different in a world of homogeny. we would get teased at school. and house parties. that's when you get picked on. 95 96 97 Interviewee L. 'You're only listening to indie rock because it's different. 97 Another interviewee said he experienced discrimination because he got into indie music at a young age: When you're a teen you want to find an identity.. I just truly liked what I heard when I listened to Guided By Voices . [his emphasis] before they listen to it. You start buying second hand clothes . You get people that don't know about it. "Sometimes people assume that it is [his emphasis] like the pretentious bull-shit type thing. That's when I stopped being an athlete."% Everybody wants to somehow assert themselves and for most people it's belonging. 76 . Interviewee M. that's when I stopped dating stupid girls.' I get that all the time. He then started going to independent record stores.K.

99 100 101 Interviewee L. 103 77 . He presumed "that what they were listening to wasn't very good. A local promoter explained the opposition he had experienced. scene members simultaneously attended shows as entertainment while also participating actively in its production.K. there's going to be conflict. whether through working in an independent record store during the day. 98 I asked this interviewee if he thought those people listened to the same music he did. 98 Interviewee A. Interviewee D. people don't like to talk about it. He said no. For the most part.. Smog.. Ibid..Masters Thesis . "People in the indie music scene.. I02lbid.." He considered himself a businessperson who uses art as the vehicle for his financial success and explained that musicians do not always agree with his perspective. "Yeah that's definitely it. thought about it.Music Criticism just because of the clothes we're wearing and not because they know us personally. 1Oo One musician stated that the primary conflict exists among scene members themselves.102 I've Devotion: Investment 103 Social practices outline the overlapping role of scene members as fans and producers and highlight the complex narrative of investment..99 Promoters have even experienced opposition within the scene.lOl When asked if that was because people compete for indie cred she responded. Drag City compact disc DC169CD (2000). that's where the problem is. "Whenever you mix art with business. Davies McMaster . Dongs ofSevotion. get along well with people from any other group but within each other.

or working in the venues as bartenders or door people. Bar staff and members of local bands are often friends as both groups frequently share the same social space... Participating in a band is another important way of functioning in an independent music scene. a privilege she considered to be "indirect money. their work.Masters Thesis .K. 104 78 . performing. creating and producing album art. Davies McMaster . rehearsing. This research found that bands are most commonly built on friendship and even a bands local following is often based on the support of friends. pins and tee-shirts. "I've lost money.Music Criticism putting up flyers for upcoming shows. the music they enjoy and their social circle are tied to the venue. Interviewee H.104 As a result. some bands she helped put her on guest lists for shows.105 Not having to pay cover to attend shows is one of the perks often enjoyed by people who are involved in the scene. Being a member of a band ties a group of people together in many ways. and staff members of the venue. recording. including press writers covering shows.. You can often find the bar staff at the clubs on their nights off.. but am starting to sell ad [Advertising] space. Maintaining the website is a financial struggle. online articles and updates. because it stops me from taking cash out of my pocket at shows. The amount of time and money participants invest in attending live shows and purchasing merchandise is considerable. helping out with local music websites. The collaborative nature of bands extends from the creative aspects of song writing. One participant runs a local music website providing show listings. poster kids (who are often co-op students or volunteers who put up show posters on behalf of venues). creating web sites. booking shows.

. We had nobody [fans]. We had the Raven packed. and then our friends kind of liked us and their friends came...Music Criticism creating and distributing show posters. lo A similar phenomenon is evident with regard to message boards: I see friends posting about friends. We brought our friends. [You have success in a mainstream market]. 108 He described the transition from a local audience of local scene members. to touring. and they kind of liked us . . which can make members better friends. we brought everyone we'd ever known and that's what you do. Interviewees described how friendship is often the primary binding factor amongst band members and how important friendships with other people involved in the scene are. I 07 79 . It's cool that the friends are supportive. essentially friends. we hadn't even played a show . but you don't really get strangers.Masters Thesis . you bring everybody you know so you can trick the promoter of the venue to think that you have fans (that's what we did).people. or had graduated from. like a guy in a Budweiser hat listening to your music until. I see friends of. friends. l06 Interviewed bands responded that musical talent was not as important to being a band member as other aspects of musical production such as personality. Involvement in a band is time consuming and requires dedication. Only two of the musicians interviewed were in. The vast majority of musicians interviewed were not formally trained but rather gained their musical skills from listening and exploration. 105 106 programs. and it's friends . I know who knows whom. Bands generally carry out these functions in a DIY manner. to a broader audience of "strangers" with respect to radio: Ibid. it wasn't really fans. friends. or cause members to quit and/or bands to break up. I go to shows in Hamilton .K.friends. post-secondary music Interviewee I. Davies McMaster . .but friends of friends. creativity and listening tastes.. especially at the beginning: The first two shows that you do.

language.K. emphasized by the fact that most people involved in this subculture have been involved in this music since their early teens. One musician described his observations of the opposition between audiences for different shows For the bigger ones [shows].Music Criticism When we signed. like when a touring band comes or an established local band. the scenesters are considered regulars and the radio listeners that attend certain shows are considered part of a mainstream audience. Bands members play a special role in connecting the network of indie rock scenes.Masters Thesis . To bar staff. pins. There was a two-month lull where we couldn't get people to shows in Hamilton. and social practices establishes a sense of community within members. the very small following that we had with the scenester people. and then our song started to get played on the [mainstream] radio and then [mainstream] radio listeners came and it's been different since. really into it who would be there no matter what. 109 This binary between local hipsters and radio listeners accentuates the different audiences attending shows at local clubs. These types of practices contribute to an indie rock lexicon of terms and language used within the subculture. and construct their physical appearance in accordance with certain expectations that align with the "music first" nature of the scene. the people who are like really.. 110 The social practices involved in the indie rock music scene are what contribute to the sense of identity for the people involved in their local scene. it's a really interesting cross-section. walked away . 108 109 80 . Davies McMaster . There's all kinds of people there. Ibid. I see people there that I'd never expect to see at a show.. With the smaller shows it tends to be more of the die-hards. Having common fashion. Participants generally physically identify themselves by wearing band tee-shirts. Ibid.

Davies McMaster . the issue of indie vs. and the media. All of these things would not exist without personal investment from the people involved in indie rock scenes. and scene members alike. promoters. 110 Interviewee F. thus establishing interlocality between particular localities.K. Scene participants invest many aspects of themselves in the music for what people outside the scene might consider insufficient payment. This practice works to provide other local scenes with a common experience or cultural capital.Masters Thesis . the monetary investment of being involved in a band. major labels. I will explore the narrative of indie rock as production for producers. 81 . cementing social connections between bands. In the next chapter. selling out.Music Criticism by playing shows in cities other than their own.

and seeking out the "smallest band that has the most potential. The Super Friendz. Pavement.. Remember: Production for Producers2 "I find it satisfying getting into smaller bands that people don't know about and then when I open a Spin magazine and see The Arcade Fire being praised.. See. 3 Interviewee Q.K.. tape recording. We see people gaining satisfaction from possessing knowledge and /'" experience of a subcultural product. interview by author.. Hamilton. sharing mix tapes/CD's. Matador Records compact disc OLE 260-2 (1999). Murderecords compact disc MURD"()17 (1995). thus asserting counter-cultural politics. and serve as signifiers of identity among members of the scene. Scale Down.Music CI CHAPTER 4 Rescue Us From Boredom: Labels and Medial Speak. 8 March 2005. It's fun . the modes of production and consumption are a set of meaning systems that express the indie lifestyle as resistant to dominant meaning systems. ~veryone's trying to find the smallest band that has the most potential. information provides the person with cultural capital. Mock Up. 1 knew about them first' and I have a satisfaction. I'm like 'oh. A number of studies throughout the 1970s and 1980s by theorists such as Stuart Hall and Dick Hebdige offered what has become a familiar thesis: youth subcultures appropriate and innovate musical forms and styles as a basis for their identity. 1 2 82 .3 This is connected to Bourdieu's idea of cultural capital. Terror Twilight. leading to a sense of identity enhancement] This argument is compounded by the cultural practices of wearing obscure band tee-shirts and pins.Masters Thesis .it's like a game. Ontario. With respect to indie rock." Many theorists have asserted that the sociology of youth directly involves the relationship between music and identity in youth subcultures. Davies McMaster .4 Thus.

7. "Editor's Introduction: Pierre Bourdieu on Art. Randall Johnson. 7 Ibid." The Field of Cultural Production by Pierre Bourdieu edited by Randall Johnson. a set of dispositions that generates practices and perceptions. In contrast. These differences can be observed as a Habitus. competences or dispositions. and is the result of a long process of inculcation that becomes a "second nature" according to Randal Johnson. appreciation for or competence in deciphering cultural relations and cultural artefacts. 4 5 83 . 1993). there is a conscious decision to emphasize the differences between indie and mainstream. A crucial aspect to this issue is the oppositional stance that indie rock takes. 5 This type of "second nature" is connected to Bourdieu' s concept of cultural capital. an internalized code or a cognitive acquisition which equips the social agent with empathy towards. or "forms of cultural knowledge. Literature and Culture. 6 Ibid.5.production for producers.. This exists in contrast to major label production. Davies McMaster .. 7 Ibid. The indie scene places value in indie DIY production versus mass music production with "expert" consultants and technicians.Music Criticism Indie production and consumption systems position active production in connection to the reduced distance between performer and audience . (New York: Columbia University Press.Masters Thesis .6 Randal Johnson explains cultural capital as A form of knowledge. Indie fans often acquire their music at shows from live performers and therefore participate in the culture they consume.K. The concept of a "specialty" indie audience versus a general "mass" audience enters here with regard to production and consumption patterns. which involves a highly skilled division of labour and forms of consumption in that releases can often be purchased from any record store without interaction with the producers. rather than the similarities.

they simultaneously attended shows as entertainment while also actively participating in its production' whether it be working in an independent record store during the day. putting 84 . from playing in a band to hosting a college radio show to working in a record store. The appeal of indie. placing process over product. Indie rock speaks out against the industrialization of music.Masters Thesis . In can be argued that indie rock participants operate in a social structure similar to the avant-garde intellectuals of high culture as a group requiring cultural capital that distinguishes them from mass culture consumef) "Mass" enters as a term indie rock participants define themselves against. sometimes referred to as ArtRock. experience or cultural capital to appreciate indie rocUndie rock thus holds a unique position m'tbe.high art versus mass music debate)To a consumer of high art. Indie music listeners often find it easier to describe who they're not (mass music listeners) over who they are. described by Simon Frith as "a shift from active musical production to passive pop consumption. and a general loss of musical skilL. fans of mass music do not have the required knowledge. 0he cultural artefacts are created in a DIY manner.K. indie rock would appear to be relegated to the field of inferior culture as the musicians are often lacking formal training..8 Indie scene participants generally involved themselves in more than one facet of the subculture. The involvement in the scene of those interviewed is complex. rock is based in obscurity and othernw and the social practices and value of cultural capital position it as an elite faction within a larger field. the decline of folk or community or subcultural traditions.Music Ci Therefore. For the most part. Davies McMaster . and the overall aesthetic is generally unpolished.

"We didn't pay ourselves for a year and a half.."ll Local indie label owners reflected on the beginning stages of their company. Music For Pleasure (Oxford: Polity Press.Masters Thesis .. postage costs to mail CDs and press kits to record companies and radio stations. CD production and distribution costs. Life Stories For Minimum Wage: Monetary Investment . We all had other jobs. members of the audience often participate in the production of indie culture. 85 . or working in the venues as bartenders or door people. helping out with local music web sites.Music Criticism up flyers for upcoming shows.9 Although the indie rock audiences generally are not performers. Johnson. 10 Cuff The Duke. recording costs and/or recording gear costs. Thus. part time jobs to just 9 Simon Frith. poster costs. I've always been in and out of bands since I was fourteen or fifteen. "Rock was a last romantic attempt to preserve ways of music-making .performer as artist.K. which was pretty crazy. purchasing a van to transport the band to gigs in and out of town. indie rock aficionados both consume and shape their culture. gas money. 1998). Frith writes. I'm using my student loan to pay for the recording of our CD. Life Stories For Minimum Wage.that had been made obsolete by technology and capital. Davies McMaster . 1. performance as 'community' .Bands lO Musicians said the monetary investment of being in an indie band included instrument costs and upkeep. It's always been my life. 11. 11 Interviewee R. Three Gut Records compact disc TGROO7 8 (2002). Participants justify such financial investments: "Monetarily.

They did not see their involvement in the scene as a sacrifice. Hamilton. interview by author. 13 The sacrifices made by indie participants therefore often include health. tape recording. interview by author.12 Each participant interviewed had a different version of the same story to tell.Masters Thesis . With most musicians spending money to be in a band. 20 February 2005. One participant described how his lifestyle revolved around music and the local music scene: from working at a record store part-time. 86 . paying cover to attend shows. Davies McMaster . depending on where you're at. and managing to attend university classes. I think people often mistake it for fashion representation... Ontario. it arguably means your day is not as organized . depending what you want to do. you wear the same clothes repetitively just in different combinations so it looks like you're wearing a lot of different clothes . Many interviewees claimed to be sleep deprived and most were smokers. The caricature of the skinny indie rock fan/participant is not far from the truth. 16 February 2005. attending band rehearsals. a musician. and purchasing merchandise. You don't eat well or don't buy a lot of clothes. and at least when you sacrifice those things you're not spending any money. It can get in the way 12 13 Interviewee P. They're forced to. it takes a lot of time and a lot of it is. playing live gigs. The common thing to do is you wake up late. which some claimed suppressed their appetites. because of the sacrifices that you're making financially. Hamilton. It can get in the way of sleep. tape recording. they do it for fashionable reasons and it's not that usually at all.. so you sacrifice getting clean or you sacrifice eating or you sacrifice going to school.. Ontario. that's what happens to you because of your need for the music.. I think it can get in the way of school. their pay cheques have to stretch to pay rent and groceries. Smokers often rolled their own cigarettes or purchased cigarettes produced by discount manufacturers. I think being a part.K. Interviewee L.. but as a means to gain satisfaction. you don't have enough time to do the things you've got to do.Music Criticism basically cover our rent.

Davies McMaster .indie musicians do it themselves with what they have. Indie musicians aren't paying other people. 14 Band members. "production line" product. and musical equipment that indie rockers value are precisely those which were rendered obsolete by the advent of' superior' solid-state and digital technology. This DIY indie aesthetic is often present in the recorded product as well as the CD packaging. Studio product is often influenced by Interviewee U. just learning. 14 15 87 . Many musicians record at home or at friends' homes studios with software used in professional. recording. Hamilton. multitrack studios. Bands I had played in at the time needed posters and CD artwork and stuff . albeit in a DIY way.K. 18 February 2005. interview by author. Ontario. many indie musicians have embraced the availability of digital technology. "I learned how to do it out of personal needs. which. record store workers. Most bands create their own poster designs and CD artwork. Interviewee N. in terms of sonic fidelity and production values.Masters Thesis . tape recording. But you know what? At this age I just want to be doing this right now more than I'd rather be doing something else. multitrack studios. in this case trained technicians. trial and error.Music Criticism of a lot of things. to record their material ." 15 Privilege is given to cultural products made by the bands themselves such as hand made packaging with hand drawn images over slick. The increased availability and declining price of four-track analog and digital recorders has enabled greater numbers of musicians to produce their own 'lo-fi' recordings. Cotton Seiler describes the equipment most often valued by indie musicians The home stereo. Hamilton. 16 Since Seiler's writing in 2001. And I guess over the years. Ontario. fall far short of the product generated in professional. The difference between the indie recording and the studio recording lies in the process. interview by author. tape recording. 13 March 2005.I took it upon myself to do it. promoters and staff members are often heavily involved in the scene and participate in the DIY nature of indie culture.

Indie musicians who operate on a DIY principle save money doing almost everything themselves. button. Ontario. the reality is all of the musicians interviewed held part or full-time jobs or took shifts when they were not on tour. the money made from live gigs goes into a band fund for poster printing. like years before you might even see any recognition. sold-out show at the Underground you come out of it with maybe 200-250 dollars and after you spend all of it on booze and have none of it for the band fund and even then you're not going to split it up and take it four ways. gas.Can one live off indie rock? Interviewees were quick to respond. interview by author. Even if an indie band gets a FACTOR17 grant from the government to do a studio recording. the money only gives the band so much studio time. performing. and recording supplies. an indie band can record according to their schedules and not that of a studio engineer. huge risk and gamble. 19 Interviewee R 20 Interviewee D. packaging. 18 Interviewee W. Hamilton. I'm hoping I can [live off indie rock]. "Nobody's getting rich off of live music in this town. and distributing recordings. tape recording." 18 Although a few musicians were hopeful. 19 The process is enough for some. Band members explained the challenges of performing in bars. interview by author. from booking shows. and tee shirt. The question is . Davies McMaster . so it's a huge. "Indie Rock in Louisville. I know you have to invest a lot of money and a lot of time.Music Criticism cost. 4 February 2005. It doesn't pay you back. Ontario. 15 March 2005. Hamilton. When my band used to play a packed. 2 (2001): 19l. but not enough for others. recording.K. promotions. van repairs. tape recording. 20 For many bands. huge. Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent on Records. Linked to the Cotton Seiler." Journal oJPopular Music Studies 13. 16 17 88 . but I'm doing it also for the process.Masters Thesis . From home.

Bands often need to spend money making an album before they sell copies to make money. Another practice is when bands plays a few shows together on a tour. otherwise. that they will get paid a certain amount of money regardless of attendance. Other times. Major label popular music artists often have what is called a "guarantee" arranged with the venue. Sometimes the musicians will have a rehearsal in the afternoon before a show. Other times.Music Criticism challenge of playing live shows is the conundrum of touring. but accomplished flexible players. Evidence of this is the practice of having "guest" players on songs. Indie rock musicians are generally not formally trained. and range from three to five bands a night. Indie shows are often booked around at least one touring band and at least one supporting local band. Sometimes when a band is on tour they will have a local musician friend come on stage and perform a song with the band. they might not get paid or invited to play at the venue again. or an encore song to play/sing with them.Masters Thesis .K. or likewise. The idea is that either the headlining touring band will draw an audience and gain exposure for the up-andcoming local band. 89 . on the last night of tour the headlining band will often invite the opening band on stage for the last song. Indie bands often do not have this luxury. This sort of communal music making highlights the community aspect of the scene. the touring musician assumes the band members know the songs from recorded CDs. an obscure touring band gets billed with a popular local band as the headliner. Davies McMaster . consequently. it is crucial that a decent-sized audience is present. a solo musician will tour and play with different back-up bands from the cities the touring musician stops to play in.

. and spend the money on someone else. Hamilton. the kids are there to see you. and you have to want to do the shows. they've got the ten bucks in their hand. They came prepared because they were going to buy a shirt or something . Ontario.Masters Thesis . Davies McMaster . however if the band performs once every two or three months.. 22 21 22 Interviewee P. Merch sales are often an important source of income for a band. you have to do shows.K. Indie bands make money from playing shows. 20 February 2005. they're prepared to see someone else. 90 . to make a living at being in a band. and if you're not there..... and so for most bands the first tour is a challenge. word spreads and more people show up when the band returns on subsequent tours.Music Criticism The first time a band plays an out-of-town city. the chances of having an audience are slim. Ibid. because touring is basically the life blood of being in a band . If people liked the band the first time they were in town. You're there. interview by author. tape recording. If a band plays a local show within a week or two. "Those people that are successful are the people that have stuck by their word and toured. their audience has an opportunity to build up anticipation for the show.21 Indie bands can only play so often in their own city or adjoining cities. It is especially difficult for a band playing a city for the first time as venue regulars tend to be music aficionados so the audience a band has to win over is probably the most discerning. which often means touring. Therefore a band generally has to play other cities to make money. This truth is emphasized by the importance of merchandise [merch] sales. One label owner described the importance of playing gigs and having merch available. One record label owner stated. their audience is often split.

Ontario. 24 Interviewee X. The Difference Between Listen and Feel: Indie Labels vs. Hamilton. for the process and the product. Secretly Canadian compact disc SC029 (2000). and accountable.Masters Thesis . In the age of mass-produced products available at your nearest box store. four-track machine or creating album art. and less profit-frenzied than its mainstream counterparts. The local Hamilton record label Sonic Unyon started out of a small room in a parent's house that has since grown to encompass an entire building with office space. a store. 25 Interviewee K. creating and recording music. More Songs From The Mellow Struggle. 15 February 2005. 91 . Davies McMaster .. this process of acquiring new skills and overcommg challenges is valuable to band members as well as cultural participants.Music Criticism Bands recognized the importance of playing shows and selling their music and merch. 16 March 2005. screen printing tee shirts. The people purchasing the merch [consumers] can talk to the band [producers] about the process of designing artwork. Creating their merch themselves means they are responsible. tape recording. and making pins.24 describing indie labels as "more focused on the product than the profit. Major Labels23 Most small independent labels began operating out of apartments or houses. whether it is learning a new computer program. tape recording.K. . having the ability to purchase a cultural product directly from the producer is valued by the consumers. Hamilton.25 23 Swearing at Motorists. Interviewees emphasized that the business model adopted by independent labels and musicians is smaller scale. and rehearsal and performance spaces. interview by author. Ontario. interview by author.

BMG used indie Dutch East India to distribute records for Beggars Banquet and Silvertone while Geffen and DGC used an independent distributor . has distribution deals with Capitol records. not out of pain. or happiness. an artist on an independent label. 28 As distribution is the primary limitation faced by independent labels. 52. or the Big Five. however. five multinational comparues. Arco/AtlanticlWEA. 28 Interviewee V.. I think the classic definition term would be "pot boiler. the band is therefore on the major label. located in New York. Hamilton. tape recording.Cargo . major labels have controlled over ninety percent of recorded music distributed in the United States. RepriselWarner. 1991). 26 In recent history. 27 Deanna Campbell Robinson. Music at the Margins: Popular Music and Global Diversity (Newbury Park. CA: Sage. not out of any real human emotion. like 26 Holly Kruse. became the key players in the mass music industry. 29 An irony exists here that despite the problems with independent distribution.K. but simply designed in some sort of mechanical fashion to induce something else out of someone else. Ontario. interview by author. Site and Sound: Understanding Independent Music Scenes. Such arrangements allow artists and indie labels to maintain control over production while achieving widespread distribution via the resources provided by the major label. because they are making it for the sole purpose of making money. 29 It could be argued that if a band on an indie label is distributed by a major label. 14 March 2005. For example." They are making music that is not of heart. et al. not out of sadness.Music Criticism By the end of the twentieth century. 29.Masters Thesis . indie labels sometimes make distribution arrangements with major corporate labels. For example.to distribute vinyl singles. (New York: Peter Lang Publishing: 2003). 92 . 27 Corporate Rock by definition is inauthentic. Matador Records (one of the more prominent indie rock record labels employing thirty staff members and representing a roster of about forty bands). major labels have used independent distributors over their own distribution anus to better reach alternative music audiences.. One can see how a small local label is able to transcend locaIness and reach a transnational subcultural audience through a network of indie distribution and mail order. Davies McMaster . It is not music by the young for the young .

As fans label bands a "sell out. 30 In-house indies are smaller indie labels under the wing of majors. But to other people who are not as schooled or knowledgeable .54. edited by Will Straw. in-house indies at major labels often makes signing with a major more attractive for an indie band.33 interviewee noted that indie music fans are Really aware of who's contrived. but they're called indie rock. Davies McMaster .. who's been put together by somebody else that is not authentic and therefore not indie rock.. During the third year of a five-year plan. 31 Interviewees discussed the indie aesthetic as commodified by larger labels that make "pretty commercially successful products but capitalize on the independent aesthetic. interview by author." fans also lose interest in indie labels if they move from an institution focused on supporting quality indie music to an institution focused on profit.. (Montreal: Dufferin Press.. Hamilton. Generally when an indie label gets money hungry.32 Scene participants asserted the goal for the big independent music industry is to "commercialize it while keeping that countercultural aesthetic intact. Kruse. 13 February 2005.Style and Identity. I don't think The Strokes are indie rock. 93 . Some smaller labels have attempted to achieve international financial success while maintaining the perception of integrity as an indie label. .. the symbolic site of indie music." In Popular Music . maintains their indie rock credentials by association with the smaller label even though the company that handles the actual distribution of the records is a major conglomerate. 44. et al.K.Masters Thesis . "Institutional Practices in Alternative Music Scenes. This is why small. it leads to its demise. 33 Ibid. according to Holly Kruse. 32 Interviewee J. 1995). Site and Sound. tape recording. They look the part and sound the part 30 31 One Kruse. Ontario.Music Criticism Matador. the label Rough Trade failed after struggling between large scale financial success and being a distributor with a connection to and an understanding of the local.

Davies McMaster . To me. I know this much. The issue of inauthenticity within the industry of indie rock. or youth culture. but to other people who don't know. which ties into counterculture. 37 Ibid. Many of the interviewed subjects regarded the indie rock music scene to be an "alternative" culture. That kind of ticks me off actually.and perceived poverty. and tough it out . was also discussed by an indie label owner: There are lots of DIY people that get oodles of money from major labels and hide under the umbrella of the indie rock label. but you hand-select certain things from pop culture as being valid and you mash them with all the DIY discovery that you're doing.Masters Thesis . counterculture.. one subject explained I like "alternative culture" because it means something more obscure. ?34 It IS. or that my favourite movie is Star Wars and not Blade Runner.Music Criticism but they're not what indie rock is. alternative culture is that you recognize pop culture.. but I often get most entertained by the fact that I have a Paula Abdul CD in that collection. but it's also a response to mainstream culture. 36 This subject described the irony behind his personal collection of cultural artifacts. which maybe refers to subculture. 34 94 . . There's lots ofpeo~le that work hard. I have all these things in my home that are common to a lot of other people in my subculture. 36 Interviewee L. than the original reason you embraced the alternative culture stutr 37 35 Interviewee D. then . you k now. but don't get to the same success level. Interviewee P. that you get more satisfaction from the mainstream things you embrace. These are alternative culture people. rather than a subculture. For instance.K. 5 Interviewees expressed their respect and admiration for bands that worked hard to succeed. Their responses highlighted the importance of indie bands' perceived authenticity . It almost gets to the point where alternative culture evolves and gets large enough.

and you'd give it a chance." Comes with a Smile. Many indie labels.. practices or sales. Other indie labels such as K Records sign premium indie bands (K Records now stands as one of the most respected labels in the indie circuit). 95 . Death Cab for Cutie band member Ben Gibbard expressed his thoughts on the labels in an interview with the independent magazine Comes with a Smile: If someone's going to make a decision about whether they're gonoa like a band or a record based on the label on the back of it. I don't really want those people to be fans of our music. Merge. (Winter/Spring 2006): 6. Matt Dornan. "Touch and Go . Interviewees described the significance of certain indie labels as symbols of quality.. 39 The specialization of indie labels therefore creates a sense of community connecting the bands and their audience. whether in terms of specialization. Drag City . such as Three Gut Records.. Major labels are often multi.Music Criticism Another key indicator distinguishing between independent and major label music is scale.. In contrast.. are started by bands themselves to put out their music and music of friends' bands. . If a label has a reputation for promoting a certain calibre and style you like then that makes sense. Davies McMaster .38 The symbolic value around indie labels is therefore important as people claimed to purchase an album by an unfamiliar artist if a label they trust represents the band. "Death Cab for Cutie.or trans-national corporations that have the capacity to produce a diverse range of music to service the mass music market. That's the wrong reason to like music. When I was in high school you'd see a CD and it had the little label logo and you knew it was good. similar to the way bands develop a following. 38 39 Interviewee N. Often indie labels develop a following. but the barcode on the back.Masters Thesis . major labels focus on large quantity album sales.K. but it's judging the book not even by its cover.

booking agent.Masters Thesis . We Want Some Too: Underground Desire and the Re-invention of Mass Culture.. Hal Niedzviecki found that large companies Tightly control the product image and then unleash their forces: they hire street teams: of. tour manager.41 Some bands lose their street cred when they sign to a major. Ontario. utilizing a variety of media ranging from mainstream radio. A&R guy..youth to randomly plaster corridors of North American cities with stickers and posters meant to appear like the enthusiastic handiwork of actual fans. 96 . bus drivers and roadies whereas an indie band 40 Hal Niedzviecki. and print to disseminate their product. marketing guy.42 In contrast. Toronto: Penguin (2000). assistant to the booking agent. a touring independent band would differ greatly from a major label band. . graphics guy. This is a distinguishing feature between indie labels and major labels.." The band that got signed to a major sees it as a benefit. Other DIY bands and fans see it as a loss of authenticity as other people have input in the bands "work. 10 February 2005.K. which is what's great about having a team of people behind you. For example. and use a highly specialized division of labour to market a product to their consumer base. publicity team. 312.. All we do is write songs and play live shows now. lawyer. Davies McMaster . 40 One band that was once an unsigned indie band from Hamilton that did its own booking and promotions is now signed to Universal and works with a team including a "Manager. tape recording. interview by author. Major label acts often have tour managers. They select a band to promote vigorously. . 42 Ibid. Hamilton.Music Criticism promoted through various sources including radio and video play to promote an album. television. 41 Interviewee I. Major labels have large-scale promotion budgets for the artists they represent. though: "all we have to do is think about playing music.

'zines and especially word of mouth to support their artists. Has A Good Home. Site and Sound. "Indie Rock in Louisville": 20l. locations and practices and take up others in order to remain outsiders.. do the driving. find places to sleep.Masters Thesis . That's When The Audience Died: "Selling Out. because it's the fans of the music that are advertising the music. Blocks Recording Club compact disc 000030. (2005). .Music Criticism has themselves. message boards. Kruse.45 Interviewees described the same trajectory for bands like Montreal's Arcade Fire. their practices.. distributing. 97 . What they risked in "leaving Louisville. Indie labels generally rely on the indie rock web of communication including college radio shows. "I remember reading on Montreal 43 44 45 Final Fantasy. load gear.43 Holly Kruse points the finger to the major labels as having "forced music scene participants who defined themselves. 30. . In a sense.44 Cotton Seiler found a similar situation with the band Slint who recorded with noted producer. "both in terms of recording with Albini and of participating more generally in the process of producing. These forms of communication are important to note. Steve Albini.were the twin evils of co-optation and compromise. Seiler." as Seiler puts it. indie advertising and indie community are one in the same.K. and marketing records on a national scale . and their institutions in opposition to the dominant industry to disown some artists. keep fed.. make sure they get paid and put on a performance that people will want to see next time the band comes through town. Davies McMaster . An indie band has to keep their van running.

they're doing the exact same thing they were doing when they first were performing . 48 When a band steps out of the community of independent bands and scene participants helping each other. 49 Dornan: 6... 50 Interviewee L. but as soon as too many people like that band. if a bands ideals change . in a weird way. Site and Sound. But I think part of going to a major. which is unfortunate.they're going to be rejected. scene participants lose ownership and interest in the band. and into the sphere of massproduced music on a major label. it's not cool to like that band anymore. and stop going to the bands shows essentially dropping association between that band and the listener's identity. 48 Ibid.threads of people slagging the Arcade Fire as soon as they got very successful.Music Criticism boards . 50 46 47 Interviewee J. This is different than selling-out and exists as an important construct within indie culture. you find out who your friends are and who your fans really are. 22.. They might stop putting the band on mix tapes. In general it depends on the perception that an artist has changed his/her musical style or relationship to hislher core audience in an effort to become more popular. Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie describes the risk of selling out in relation to signing with a major I'm sure we'll probably get a shitty review on Pitchfork and all of the indie purists will claim [we've sold out] but y'know that happens every time. according to Holly Kruse. 47 In indie music discourse "selling out" revolves around the relationship between artist and audience and the aesthetic.Masters Thesis . even though creatively. 98 .46 This is often referred to as "selling out." and it can take a number of forms. That reaction is such as standard reaction to long-time indie band going to the major..K. 49 One interviewee described how. Kruse. 14. Davies McMaster . . You like this certain band.

51 Morrisey says that conflicts often arise as the band changes. Davies McMaster . You don't have to work at Herbies. 56 Ibid. 99 . and being signed to a major. 51 52 53 54 Interviewee I. they'll walk away from you if they feel they lose ownership in you."We hate it when our friends become successful.. the hipster kids..' you're touring this month. Ibid. to the scenester. or they don't work the local crowd as much and a band might stop sending out emails about upcoming shows." The band figured.Masters Thesis . their attitudes change.. because we were all hipster kids in the band . 53 He also described the sacrifices that come with being in a contract with a major. nor going to house parties and saying "We're playing next week.. they put it out for you and they tell people it's coming out.K. if it's like 'you're touring this month. .52 One can recognize why music fans are skeptical of an indie band "going to the dark side" because of their awareness of corporate strategies. "You have contracts with people. . On a major.54 After recording their record. 56 Interviewee V. "Maybe Hamilton people lost ownership in it.Music Criticism Another interviewee described the situation through the words of Morrissey ... I used to be like that. They put it on the radio. 55 Ibid.55 I think it made us a "fuck you" band. the band was surprised to return to play shows in their hometown that were "embarrassingly barren. The major label band I spoke with offered a different perspective and described the benefits of being on a major: They put your CD out.. which makes sense.. Ibid. and save up for a year so you can put it out.

the aesthetic is neat. maybe that can be appreciated without having to invest too much of your attention in it. because they're the most passionate about music. 1988)." Facing the Music. and it's weird. only in rare cases such as the Arcade Fire. They don't care. But the guy at the hockey game that likes the band..Music Criticism He claimed that the band Used to care what hipster people thought. 58 Simon Frith. It . 59 This interviewee went on to explain that the song writing is fabulous. 58 The question arises .K. simple enough to be able to get stuck in someone's head. They're not going to stop listening to it because . he doesn't fuckin' care what anyone else thinks of what he likes. according to interviewees: The Funeral album is very catchy. which is why an album like Funeral can still be appreciated by a culture that's more versed in independent music. He called the recording quality "pretty garagey" and claimed. it's like the hipster pricks are the ones that are listening to music because they care what the person beside them listening to thinks of what they're listening to. but has to be something more universal with just how catchy and how whistleable the songs are.Masters Thesis . and when you just realize that they're not real fans. and that's not a shot at them. Davies McMaster . or that aesthetic. 57 Simon Frith describes the circumstance as an "ideological struggle between artistic truth and commercial compromise" for fans of a band that crosses over to mainstream popularity. 130. 57 100 . you probably can find more out of it too.. an album that had a lot of artistic integrity but is also something that can be pretty universally appealing .. "Video Pop: Picking Up the Pieces. however it is probably not going to find commercial airplay because of the sound of the recording. the music. edited by Simon Frith (New York: Pantheon. but if you do invest a lot of attention in it.Is success possible in both indie and mainstream markets simultaneously? Apparently. well written pop songs. They're not listening to them because they love the bands. "It's not Ibid. it's very true to that aesthetic.. and catchy enough . s not coo1anymore.

K.63 Other than College radio. . the album did end up receiving commercial airplay on stations including 102. Davies McMaster . before people get interested in them.. Interviewees listen primarily to the local school radio stations. the United States and the United Kingdom were popular.1 and even popular music stations like Mix 99.60 Interestingly. before they blow up. The Photo Album. Interviewee F. they do not seem to explore earlier recordings or more "obscure" tracks. if I know the show. Information Travels Faster: Media6I According to media sources in Hamilton. Barsuk Records compact disc BARK21 (200 1).Music Criticism going to be heard on 102.9.. . there's a premium put on indie music because "it's cool and everybody wants to be there first." There is competition between media outlets to interview and do stories on the bands before they "sign to a major label. 63 Interviewee R. CFMU at McMaster University and C101.. Internet radio was a close second in terms of choice of radio station.Masters Thesis . Internet radio from Canada. However. I listen to CFMU [McMaster University] a little bit.5 at Mohawk College. Death Cab For Cutie.62 College radio is an important method of dispersion of independent mUSIC. claiming to like college radio for the variety: "I'd rather hear something that I haven't heard . rather than stuff I hear every ten minutes.. or The Edge just to see what they're playing. except for maybe a special Dave Bookman show or something...1 the Edge probably. these stations play only a song or two off the band's latest record. 62 101 . Ibid. I listen to a lot of Internet radio 59 60 61 Interviewee J.

whether it is Lowest of the Low. "I find the differences between commercial radio and independent radio pretty fascinating. just a general mix. Not only does it provide a weekly listing of upcoming shows but also contains interviews with a number of bands that will be performing during the upcoming week.at 64 65 Interviewee F.65 Interviewees preferred the variety of new independent music played on college radio stations to the repetitive play of major label commercial music on mainstream radio stations.K. or the solo or duo . The Satellite. Just as independent labels and major labels contrasted in terms of scale and specialization.Masters Thesis . Interviewees agreed that the free local weekly paper is an important source for music fans. I listen to the BBC Radio 1 a lot. Mohawk College's student newspaper.. and Exclaim!. . I do it to hear new stuff. Hamilton's independent weekly. Davies McMaster . McMaster University'S student newspaper. Although a writer for the "big" paper in Hamilton said he wants the readers to know about "good music . Hamilton's daily newspaper.. Interviewee J. The Spectator. The print media in Hamilton include the following publications: The View. National Free Press. The Silhouette.64 Others listened to commercial radio for the contrast. I like listening to commercial radio to just be extra aware of that contrast. 102 . media sources do as well. it's more like a college station. In the states I listen to KCRW. but I think I know what I'm going to get into with the stations that I listen to..Music Criticism from the UK and the States. that's more of an alternative station. I guess. The local weekly independent paper and the college and university paper placed more emphasis on independent music while the mainstream press focused mainly on major label performances.

mainstream radio. Didn't know them from a hole in the ground before. the one thing that's in the back of my mind is I hope people are interested in this. that's my reputation. Interviewee F. a bunch of guys who do drywall during the day and get into the Casbah at night .Music Criticism PeppeIjacks or Jack De Keyser's at the Corktown. He considers himself a presenter of music news and claims "It is news when you have 500 independent bands and the big label picks one . mainstream readers. I'm sticking my neck out. explain why a bunch oflabourers from Burlington got signed to Sony.Masters Thesis . then it's my territory to pick them up .. I got interested in Jersey as soon as they signed. that's a personal investment. " He described his experience with local band.. 67 66 67 Interviewee W. and if I'm saying on past performance that they put on a great show. who considers himself invested in local music. the better the city's music scene will be.." he claimed it was his "territory" to write about bands when they get signed to a major label.that's news". It better be that good. he explained If I'm saying as I did many times that Blackie and the Rodeo Kings Bark is probably one of the best Canadian CDs of the last year. because the more that happens. Whenever I do a story on a local band either writing it or editing it.K.66 This is different than the perspective of an editor for the Silhouette. He described his approach to indie musicians as different than commercially successful artists: "you have to be different with amateurs.. Fieldguide: "Those kids are tickled that I would run a picture and a recommendation to go see the show... 103 . It's validation to be in the newspaper. they better play well . I hope this gets people interested in this. When asked about his work being a personal investment. Davies McMaster . As soon as they hit the big label.

." He added that he sees "a lot of shows.. keeping CDs after reviewing them is one of the biggest perks. editors face challenges. 104 . who explained. Davies McMaster .70 Most of the bands they profile as reviews or interviews tend to be independent or on an independent label.. Interviewee F." Other perks he received were free CDs "I probably get more CDs than anybody else in town. Interviewee W.. Although free CDs and "cool" interviews provide incentives for writers of college/university papers. 1 buy them beer.. express a copy over. He explained. Promoters pay large guarantees to touring bands to play their venues. "For some people it's pretty cool to talk to bands .. "It's good to have them come to 68 69 70 71 Ibid. "It seems literally every time 1 get a press release ..Masters Thesis . Ibid. The writers are first and foremost fans according to the editor. True North...71 Part of the problem revolves around ticket sales. They all ask you to do a favour once in a while. and it's give and take.69 For writers at the university paper. people at Maple. radio. . and postering.. etc . Promoters therefore want as much exposure as possible from media. ..K. "You build relationships with these labels. that's one of the biggest perks. One editor pointed a finger at promoters who he thinks can take a more active role in getting independent music to the forefront of local media...it's about a touring band..Music Criticism He described some of the challenges of working with labels and promoters as tough: "a lot of the times they'll want you to promote certain things that you don't want to promote. Sometimes people buy me beer. 1 never get press releases about local bands and 1 don't like that.68 The Spectator writer described a different situation. and you do it.

songs.. Davies McMaster . which aired between midnight and two in the morning. This is why theorists like Holly Kruse have maintained that the Internet is likely to become the primary source for underground video distribution. videos. This time slot does not cater to it's audience as most fans of the program and indie music are out at live music venues as promoters often try to book shows that draw a decent audience on weekends. and Going Coastal."72 Since indie fans spend their time communicating on message boards and talking about independent music.m. they view programs like Wedge. 72 73 105 . MuchMusic's fringe program broadcast Fridays at 11 p.. 74 Kruse. 92. Site and Sound. Some interviewees watched these stations because of their music-related occupation as writers or promoters. but I'm not really a supporter of what goes on from nine to nine on that station.74 A similar development took place in Canada with The Wedge. 75 Evidence of this is on the popular site MySpace. 73 Holly Kruse discussed the fact that alternative rock and pop videos were "ghettoized in MTV's Sunday night alternative music show. but in the same respect. Interviewee G. if I've heard a song before but I don't know who it is. or I put the face to a name or a song to a name. and if they do. blogs.Music Criticism the city. shouldn't we want our local bands to be selling out shows? I can't remember the last time I was at a local that was sold OUt.K. Others said they "don't want to feel like a dinosaur in Ibid. the majority of them do not watch Much Music or MTV. The New Music. 120 minutes. and other bands can be posted as "friends" of the band.com where bands post tour dates. So I like to watch it for those two shows. It shows a lot of what's happening with Canadian indie rock. showing videos and music that sometimes I've never seen before.Masters Thesis .

"a lot of times bands that I like have links to bands they like.I'll check it out and then judge based on that.. 106 . they are more particular about the music they listen to and see live because their tastes are generally more refined than the younger scene participants.77 Some people were introduced to new bands online. 79 80 81 Interviewee S. Davies McMaster . Interviewee A. which is a website. the Andy.76 Interviewees spoke in-depth of how they get exposed to new music through media sources."sl Her response contrasts with the perspective of older scene members... Promoter's name changed to maintain anonymity.79 A younger informant admitted that a bands "buzz" plays a big role in her decision to see a live show.. If you lose touch with what's going on.ca. I read all the alternative music papers... and steelcitymusic. I look at CBC Radio 3 a lot. they too attended many shows and have seen many touring bands before .. "I keep my ear to the ground. The View. Ibid.Masters Thesis .most claimed to have seen most "good" bands a few times. "I usually give a lot of new bands a chance if there's a little bit of a buzz. 75 Ibid. 94.78 One older scene member even connected the importance of being knowledgeable about independent music to an awareness of small business in general. who go to fewer shows. Secondly. Interviewee Q.. you lose the ability to criticize it. which is an insert in The Silhouette. First. and by buzz I mean Davidso [promoter] saying go to this show because it's going to be good .Music Criticism my own time. 76 77 78 Interviewee K.K. arguing: "that there's more than Wal-Mart and Future Shop. in their younger years.

107 . in the lounge here. though. He explained that every show is not special and that such as tactic would adversely affect the turnout. 82 This promoter believes that spoken dialogue is a valuable tool in the indie scene if it is not overused. biographical information and allows that to "do the talking. "Because of the Internet I'm able to get information out cheaper. there's a band that I truly think is great and I'm confident nobody's ever heard of this band and that's where you'll see me pipe up on a more verbal level.Music Criticism Word-of-mouth is one of the most important methods of communication in the scene. Promoters use the Internet to communicate with touring and local bands and fans. One prominent promoter spoke of his use of word of mouth advertising for shows at his club: his agenda is to get as many people to the shows as he can. a buzz can also be created on the Internet.K.. website addresses. he provides people with information. the legitimacy of what you're saying is going to be lost.. every show would seem special" or lose its specialness. but he does not tell people about every band that he has booked because it would "lose the effect.. For the most part. "If you go to the well too often with the verbal spreading of information.83 Again. Ibid.Masters Thesis . I'm able to get 82 83 Interviewee L." Every so often. on the street." He claimed that if he "were to plug every [show] with a passionate sort of energy behind it .. the relationship of verbal communication as cultural capital is solidified. There's 60 bands a week that play at my clubs and I usually only pipe up once every 120 bands. Davies McMaster . "There's this band coming that I think you would really like" and I'm sincere when I'm saying that because I don't do that to every band that I book.. places where they can buy the music. In addition to word of mouth.

Music Criticism information out faster. In 1993. Holly Kruse wrote. it's just like a fuckin' billboard. sharing mix tapes. S It features sidebar advertising for records and indie rock related companies like American Apparel (sweat-shop free clothing) that is a popular tee-shirt brand choice for bands to screen-print their artwork on. com. unlike the faceless advertising campaigns by major labels. 84 108 . It automatically sells records. Message boards/online forums are effectively the new form of fanzines. Indie promoters and bands use word of mouth. Internet music sites for bands. media. The label guys know. a premium is put on new music. and I'm able to touch more quantities ofpeople. One of the most prominent sites for indie music fans is pitchfork. talking with friends. you get on Pitchfork It provides record reviews. going to live shows.Masters Thesis . independent college and university radio. interviews with artists and music news. and online forums to communicate to potential consumers.you automatically sell 500 CDs."s4 This proves to be an effective way of making information available. and most importantly music message boards have provided a new system of communication for like-minded people. but one cannot say for certain how many people the information is dispersed to or how deeply people receive this information in contrast to the direct nature word-of-mouth communication. This is different than the methods of major labels. You get a good review . For indie fans. which connects the producer and consumer. Davies McMaster . and learning about music via the Internet. Ibid. posters. it's the same thing.K. you sold 500 records that day. It's the same as a label. it's the same thing as a magazine. labels. it's tellin& people what to listen to.

1 (1993): 33. most are now located online to avoid printing costs and potentially reach a larger readership.Music Criticism Local and regional scenes abound with low-budget fanzines. but unless it's done very strategically. Kruse. The band went on to receive critical success from a multitude of media sources including a cover story in Time magazine. like 'We're this great new band that you've never heard 0[". which help to create identities for unknown acts. it is not uncommon to see a post. which has received a few dozen messages. they usually know who each other are. and with artists who put out tapes and records on their own or with the help of independent record companies. 109 . Evidence of this is present on the online forum Stillepost. has been viewed a few hundred times. "Subcultural Identity in Alternative Music Culture. This sometimes leads to email-like messages being posted in a public forum. 86 Although fanzines still exist. Davies McMaster .. 85 86 87 Interviewee I. they simply read what others post to keep informed about upcoming shows and to be aware of what people are talking about in the scene. forum personas. Most of the people who post know each other and although they have other names or titles they post under. as well as how many views a post has received. The number of replies to each post is listed. they're not good for hyping your band.Masters Thesis . Many people do not even post on message boards.K.. They generally know each other's real names. Interviewee J." Popular Music 12. and they know each other face to face. the buzz started with people seeing their live shows and posting on message boards.87 A buzz can be effective however if non-band members are talking about a band as in the case of the Arcade Fire recently. My informants claimed that such forums are "good for posting information about shows .

at least in those sorts of 20hz community. Niedzviecki. 312. Hal Niedzviecki describes Focus-grouping of pop songs: Get a bunch of kids together and ask 'em: Do you like the song better this way or that way? Should this be the hit single.. One interviewee explained: You don't even need to necessarily post the big rules and regulations of etiquette.K. either conform to that sort of etiquette. 89 These types of practices help provide information to people who are potential buyers." and "this review happened in whatever.Music Criticism Differences of opinion sometimes arise on message boards. however. but seem to go against the ideology of indie rock. and we're not into that and want it to be at least reasonably legitimate.90 88 89 90 Ibid. 110 . Interviewee P.Masters Thesis . There's companies in the states that will hire companies to do that sort of stuff. they seem to regulate themselves. or people who are of different mindsets don't post or don't feel interested in participating." I've never had an intern say no. They're like "oh yeah!" .. "What about Beck? You are asked. We're not forcing the kids to do it . You can choose only from parameters including "Like It a Lot" to "Tired of that Band. or that? Capitol Records even has a focus-group sign-up sheet on the Internet. 88 The internet practices scene participants contrast to the work of a local record company who admitted putting college and high school interns on computers to post on message boards to create hype their bands.we're like "You want to do itT' "Do you want to talk about Cursed on the Internet?" Go and post on all these places their tour dates and just say "hey the record's out" or "it's cool. because people.and you know they're on the computer all the time anyway and you know they're into it so we get kids to do that. We just have to have the quality of student that we trust to go on there speaking for us. That sounds shifty thing to do. Davies McMaster . They know that message board people react to "friends" telling "friends" about new bands and have taken this approach to advertising.

Masters Thesis . They view their monetary investment as less than the value gained by attending a show. show goers. These types of activities are generally time consuming as establish a sense of dedication. investment and symbolic labour-of-Iove. and the concept of "selling out. and label owners all described a monetary investment in the music. mix tape sharing practices. resistance is in the indie resistance to major labels. an individual is located in a social space and is defined not by social class. mass media. In indie rock culture we see Bourdieu' s concepts of social capital. indie scene participants develop a sense of personal identity in relation to the scene. playing in a band. but by the amount of combined forms of capital." essentially a loss of ownership of a band. Exhibited through attendance at shows. As the culture operates as production for producers.Music Criticism Practices differ in indie rock music production. writing about music. constantly sharing music they like. For Bourdieu. These practices are only part of the personal investment made by indie scene participants. message board activity.K. writers. and fashion. or running a label. band members. putting on a good show. Davies McMaster . most people are involved in the production as well as consumption of indie culture. Importantly though. This resistance by indie participants to dominant meaning Evidence of this systems exhibits a resistance to the ideology of dominant society. The social arena in which indie fans 111 . this is not viewed as a sacrifice by scene participants. Here we see indie participants as operating within a culture where economic capital is not the primary account of wealth. cultural capital and symbolic capital serving as the main forms of accrued wealth. promoters. For example. Essentially the music fans are their own focus groups.

K. and identity within the scene. Davies McMaster . 112 . personal investment.Music Criticism circulate involves a field of social positions structured in terms of cultural capital.Masters Thesis .

who was playing a show in Hamilton at the Underground. There is a level of trust. the founder of K Records and internationally recognized indie rock performer. understanding and hospitality within the scene that has not been explored by researchers and I believe to be an important aspect of how this community .Music Criticism The Past and Pending: CONCLUSION 1 At the beginning of this research project I started a collection of names and contact information for people involved in the scene. email address and home phone number on it. After his set. 1 2 113 . With this in mind. Inverted World.Masters Thesis .operates. Independent rock's network of social practices and economic institutions works to locate subjects within a specific local network while connecting them within the larger framework of interlocal scenes. 4 April 2005) (accessed March 31. As members of independent rock scenes work to help bands and other members of the subculture. Certainly. Oh.adp?storyid=ool>. indie market share grew from just over fourteen percent in 1999 to nearly nineteen percent in 2003. "Indie Heat: How an Unknown Montreal Band Became a Critical Favourite and Helped put Canadian Music on the World Map. I went to him and explained that I was doing a research project on indie rock music and asked if he would be interested in speaking with me.timecanada.K.both on a local and interlocal level . the music can be profitable. Sub Pop Records compact disc SP# 0550 (2001). I approached Calvin Johnson." Time Magazine (Canadian Edition. In terms of record sales.com/story. Davies McMaster . 2006) <www. the community sustains itself Some believe that the scene is getting dangerously close to being co-opted by the mainstream. It dipped slightly in 1994 because Universal Music Canada increased its indie distribution: those sales are not counted among the independents. 2 Also not counted in these statistics The Shins. Laura Blue and Hugh Porter. He grabbed a piece of paper and wrote his name.

Masters Thesis - K. Davies

McMaster - Music Criticism

are indie albums that are sold "off the stage" directly from the performer to an audience member, which probably puts the percentage of indie sales even higher. Seattle's Modest Mouse had their most recent album, Good News For People who

Love Bad News, debut at number nineteen on Billboard's album chart, selling 80,000
copies in a week. Ben Gibbard's side project, the electronic-pop duo the Postal Service, has sold 250,000 copies of its first CD, Give Up. "Five years ago, a record that sold

50,000 copies was a huge success in our world," says Rich Egan, president of Vagrant Records. 3 Likewise in the world of file sharing, Jonathan Poneman, founder of Nirvana's original label, Sub Pop Records, whose roster now includes the Postal Service, the Shins, and Iron & Wine describes, "Each month we get our statements from Apple - for our music bought on iTunes - and we're starting to make some serious money there." He explains, "If that model's working, and it appears to be, that changes everything. ,,4 Not everyone is getting rich of indie rock though. The people who do drywall during the day and play shows on weekends will probably continue to do so - and enjoy it. The cultural capital lies in the process for indie participants. Part of what indie fans like about the music is that not everyone else does like it, because they don't have the required cultural capital or years of experience to appreciate the music for its value. Indie scene participants can appreciate the music, though, because they are most often producers themselves, whether as musicians, promoters or tee-shirt screen printers.

3 Devin Gordon. "Rock's Big Bounce," Newsweek (17 May 2005), (accessed 18 March 2006). <http://www.msnbc.msn.comlid/49333941>. 4 Ibid.

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According to Newsweek, We're in a golden age for pure songwriting, with rare talents like Gibbard, the Shins' James Mercer and Wilco's Jeff Tweedy revitalizing the four-minute pop song and making a case that, in fact, it hasn't all been done before. If there's one knock against this new school of rock, it's that no one seems willing to step up and become class president. 5 Ben Gibbard thinks, "something amazing is about to happen ... I don't want to guess what it'll be, but you can just feel it coming. ,,6 Indie is indeed a phenomenon, and one requiring more exploration. The data

collected for this project yielded more plentiful results than anticipated and covered a number of topics that could not be explored within the space limitations for this project. In our drive thru society, it takes thinkers like Hal Niedzviecki to propose an antidote, "Do something, anything, that can't be decoded and marketed back to yoU.,,7

Ibid. Ibid. 7 Hal Niedzviecki. We Want Some Too: Underground Desire and the Re-invention ofMass Culture. Toronto: Penguin, 2000.311.
5 6

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bayton, Mavis. "How Women Become Musicians." In On Record: Rock, Pop, and the Written Word. Edited by Simon Frith and Andrew Goodwin. New York: Pantheon, 1990.238-257. Blue, Laura and Hugh Porter. "Indie Heat: How an Unknown Montreal Band Became a Critical Favourite and Helped put Canadian Music on the World Map." Time Magazine, Canadian Edition, 4 Apri1200S. (accessed March 31, 2006) <www.timecanada.com/story.adp?storyid=OOI>. Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984. Bruhm, John. "Wax Mannequin: 'Chad Kroeger Stalks Me. '" Chartattack. 17 December 2003. Accessed 18 March 2006. <http://www.chartattack.com/damnl2003/12/170S.cfin>. Carson, Tom. "Stop 'N' Rock." The Village Voice (3-9 December 1980): 1,43-46,48. Cohen, Sara. Rock Culture in Liverpool: Popular Music in the Making. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991. Doman, Matt. "Death Cab for Cutie." Comes with a Smile (Winter/Spring 2006): 4-11. Finnegan, Ruth. The Hidden Musicians: Music-Making in an English Town Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989. High Fidelity. Directed by Frears, Stephen. 114 min. Walt Disney Video, 2000. DVD. Frith, Simon. Music For Pleasure. Oxford: Polity Press, 1998. Frith, Simon. "Video Pop: Picking Up the Pieces." In Facing the Music. Edited by Simon Frith. New York: Pantheon, 1988. 88-130.

~ Gay, Leslie. "Rockin' the Imagined Local: New York Rock in A Reterritorialized World." In Popular Music - Style and Identity. Edited by Will Straw, et al. Montreal: Dufferin Press, 1995: 123-126.
Goffinan, Erving. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York: Anchor Books, 19S9. Gordon, Devin. "Rock's Big Bounce." Newsweek (17 May 200S). Accessed 18 March 2006.
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Tape recording. Tape recording. 8 March 2005.v. Tape recording. Ontario. Tape recording. 13 February 2005. "Indie Rock. Tape recording. Hamilton.Music Criticism Wikipedia. Tape recording. Hamilton. Interviewee B. Hamilton. Tape recording. Ontario. 16 February 2005. Hamilton. Interview by author. 1 February 2005. Hamilton." Accessed March. Hamilton. Hamilton.Masters Thesis . Ontario. 19 2006.K. 8 February 2005. 1 February 2005. Interview by author. Interviewee D. Interview by author. Davies McMaster . Ontario. Interviewee G. Hamilton. Tape recording. Tape recording. Interviewee C. Ontario. Hamilton. Interview by author. Interviewee K. Ontario. Tape recording. Hamilton. Interviewee H. Interviewee I. 20 February 2005.org/witilIndierock>. Interview by author. Hamilton. Ontario. Interview by author. Tape recording. Ontario. Interview by author. Ontario. 8 February 2005. Interview by author. Interviewee N. 18 February 2005. Tape recording. Interviews Interviewee A. Interview by author. s. Ontario. Interviewee L. Interviewee E. 8 February 2005. Ontario. Tape recording. Interview by author. 4 February 2005. Hamilton. Interview by author. Interviewee Q. Interview by author. Ontario. Tape recording. Interviewee P. Hamilton. Ontario. Interview by author. Hamilton. Ontario. 15 February 2005. Tape recording. Tape recording. 18 February 2005.wikipedia. Ontario. Interviewee F. <en. Hamilton. Hamilton. 10 February 2005. 3 February 2005. Ontario. Interviewee J. Hamilton. Interview by author. Interviewee O. 118 . Interview by author. 18 February 2005. Ontario. Interview by author. Tape recording. 9 February 2005. Interviewee M. Interview by author.com.

Tape recording. The Photo Album. Interview by author. 8 March 2005. Merge Records compact disc MRG254. Hamilton. 2004. 15 March 2005. Moving Careful. 2002. Tape recording. Hayden. 2005. Interviewee X. 16 March 2005. Ontario. 2004. 2002. Barsuk Records compact disc BARK21.Music Criticism Interviewee R. Song Islands.Masters Thesis . l3 March 2005. Tape recording. Life Stories For Minimum Wage. 119 . Emoh. Hamilton. Rough Trade compact disc 83216. Has A Good Home. Tape recording. Interview by author. 11 March 2005.2005. Death Cab For Cutie. 13 March 2005. 2003. Live at Convocation Hall. Ontario. 1996. Storytelling. Ontario. Interview by author.K. Interviewee V. Interview by author. Interviewee W. Interview by author. Universal Music compact disc 22292. 1997. Davies McMaster . Absolutely Kosher Records compact disc AK043. Hamilton. Ontario. 2001. The Folded Palm. Ontario. 14 March 2005. Cuff The Duke. Tape recording. Three Gut Records compact disc TGR007. The Folk Implosion. Interviewee S. Blocks Recording Club compact disc 000030. Dare To Be Surprised. Interviewee T. Ontario. ____ . Interviewee U. Matador compact disc OLE-512. 2002. Dear Catastrophe Waitress. Interview by author. Shrimper Records compact disc SHRI45CD. _ _ _ . K Records compact disc KLP125. The Communion Label compact disc COMM45. Yaya. Frog Eyes. 2002. Final Fantasy. Sonic Unyon Records compact disc SUNCD032. The Microphones. Interview by author. Lou. Hamilton. Tape recording. Discography Barlow. Hamilton. Hamilton. Tape recording. Hamilton. David-Ivar Herman Dune. Belle & Sebastian. Ontario.

Harmacy.2001. Davies McMaster . The Price. Drag City compact disc DC 169CD. Bubble & Scrape. 120 . Dongs of Sevotion. Smart Bomb. Sonic Unyon Records compact disc SUNCD028. 2000. Inverted World. Murderecords compact disc MURD-017. Wax Mannequin. 1996. Oh. Thrush Hermit. The Super Friendz. Sub Pop Records compact disc SP# 0550. 2000. Murderecords compact disc MURCD004. Sebadoh.Masters Thesis . Drag City compact disc DC187CD.Music Criticism Pavement. 1994. Mock Up. Secretly Canadian compact disc SC029. TPA Flight 028. Tristan Psionic. Matador Records compact disc OLE 260-2. Slanted and Enchanted: Luxe & Reduxe. Scale Down. Domino compact disc WIGCD2. Swearing at Motorists. Rain On Lens. Terror Twilight. ____.K. 1999. 2001. ____. compact disc 2004. Coqi Records. Rocking the Forest. Smog. 1995. 1996. 1992. 2002. 1993. Sub Pop Records compact disc SPCD370. ____. Matador Records compact disc OLE 557-2. _ _ _. Sub Pop Records compact disc SP192b. More Songs From The Mellow Struggle. The Shins.

. '-' <-' t:"l ::: c.. 0 . () c. '-:: c. Q 0 ::: '. " ~ 0 :3 ':=.-:....=: . . (=)' c.::. "'=' "'0 :3 ~. c.. =G . c.-.rc . c.:j o· (-.. {~ . ("":.:..-. "'=' .IIII~tfi Sli ':'~Y Do you like independent music? Do you see bands perform? Do you play in a band? Graduate Student seeks participants for an 'indie rock' research study. c. "'0 n ~ if. c.:"') <:: c. OJ: (r. 0 0 o· c.. ..~ (':1 ~"':: 3 . ~ 'f... f~ ....-.. 'f. (or a convenient location for you)...~ <-' 'f. !\Ic!\Iaster University .rc 'f. 'f.. c..-. .~ §' 0 . .'...-.-:-.~. U': -:":} U': "'" (-:' 'f.-' c..::.. fJ) ':=.:.. '" '§ ..-.>:" c.. '. 0 . c. . C ... 0:.~ . fJ) .:: . . (S> ::: f:.-.. 'J.. '-' "'" '. .... .. := c. .rc () ':-. c.":. . c. .-:' c. . :::if.J: '"5 "'0 =c c.c... ?)" 0 ..~ (f.~ . r:':: c.: '-' '" c. . 0 =co n. . c..2 :5:1~ for more details. =.K.Masters Thesis . ~. 121 . 0 '" '3 "'=' " o· ~ " ':5 ~ ~ 'f. ~ ~ "-=: "'0 n 'f. ("') G 0 .. "'" c.ca before Feb .::. ~ . 0 t:"l .- . r..-:-.rc U': .Music Criticism APPENDIX A: POSTER School of the Arts .. "'" Q c. . ~.. n n c. S Q . © --. Email indiel"ockresearch'E: sYlllpatico. >3 "'=' ~ ~ 'f. Davies McMaster . c.J: "'n=' . Illtef\'ie\ys last about 1 hour and are conducted in Togo Sahnon Hall 430... 0 (") C .~ .f.-. . <=i> 0 . e: (") ~ <:: 0 t:"l .. .:-.. :!:: . fJ) '-=: ~. :2 c . ~ Inten·ie'.rc Q ..:5 0 ~ ~ if. with ::Otu· permission\.. 0:. . c. :\0 remuneration pro\·ided.~ . 0 c. ~ . OJ: t:: c c. (') c.. c. ..:. 0 ":=.:> t-:.-.s are ta~)e-recorded I.~.

K. Efforts will be made to avoid including any information that allows individuals to be identified in the research findings. your data will be destroyed. You may withdraw from participation at any time during the study. Christina Baade McMaster University TSH 408 x23736 baadec@mcmaster. As a participant in this research study. Interviews are conducted anonymously. Participants with concerns or questions about involvement in the study can contact: The McMaster Research Ethics Board Secretariat C/O the Office of Research Ethics Telephone: 905-525-9140 ext. you are involved in an important area of study currently being theorized by the critical community. You will be contacted when the research results are complete and provided with a summary of the findings.ca 122 . The study will yield insight into the Hamilton indie rock music scene. in Music Criticism.Masters Thesis . Davies McMaster . Interviews last about 1 hour and are conducted in Togo Salmon Ha11430. You stand to gain a new understanding of your own scene by having access to the results. McMaster University (or a convenient location for the subject).ca Faculty Supervisor: Dr.ca This research study is on indie rock in Hamilton.Music Criticism APPENDIX B: LETTER OF INFORMATION Student Investigator: Kate Davies McMaster University TSH 430 indierockresearch@sympatico. The interview will be tape-recorded (with your permission). You may decline from answering any questions. If you withdraw from the study. 23142 Email: ethicsoffice@mcmaster. You will not be identified by name in the research findings.A. Ontario and is part of the completion of degree requirements for a M. The project has been reviewed and received ethics clearance through the McMaster Research Ethics Board (MREB).

23142 Email: ethicsoffice@mcmaster. McMaster University (or a convenient location for the subject). Can the information you provide in this interview be used for future use in related academic projects (i.A.ca Faculty Supervisor: Dr. You stand to gain a new understanding of your own scene by having access to the results. in Music Criticism.Music Criticism APPENDIX C: CONSENT FORM Student Investigator: Kate Davies McMaster University TSH 430 indierockresearch@sympatico. Ontario and is part of the completion of degree requirements for a M. Interviews last about 1 hour and are conducted in Togo Salmon Hall 430.K.)? DYES or DNO The project has been reviewed and received ethics clearance through the McMaster Research Ethics Board (MREB). Efforts will be made to avoid including any information that allows individuals to be identified in the research findings. Davies McMaster . The study will yield insight into the Hamilton indie rock music scene. Christina Baade McMaster University TSH 408 x23736 baadec@mcmaster.ca This research study is on indie rock in Hamilton. You will not be identified by name in the research findings. Interviews are conducted anonymously. Participants with concerns or questions about involvement in the study can contact: The McMaster Research Ethics Board Secretariat C/O the Office of Research Ethics Telephone: 905-525-9140 ext. If you withdraw from the study. Thesis defence. your data will be destroyed.Masters Thesis . As a participant in this research study. multimedia presentation.ca Date: Print Name: ----------------------------Signed: _______________________________ 123 . You may withdraw from participation at any time during the study. You will be contacted when the research results are complete and provided with a summary of the findings.e. you are involved in an important area of study currently being theorized by the critical community. You may decline from answering any questions. The interview will be tape-recorded (with your permission). etc. Please select YES or NO: 2.