Miller 1 Andrew Miller Composition Vicki Sairs 10/27/10 If They Are Now Me, Then Who Am I: and what should I listen


Subcultures are always changing. The flappers, the beats, the hippies, and the punks have all come and gone, indelibly leaving their respective marks both in society and in the arts. What happens, though, to a genre of music closely associated with a subculture, when that subculture becomes commercialized to the point that its very heart has become almost irrelevant? How will the artists and fans respond to the loss of feeling of authenticity in their culture? In a group of people who chastise and disregard ³sell outs,´ what happens to its music when the whole culture is sold out? It¶s an old story; a subculture springs up in opposition to mainstream society until mainstream society catches on to how cool it is to be anti-mainstream, promptly rendering the subculture mainstream. How will this cultural shift affect the genre of music known as ³indie folk?´ Like all indie subgenres, the term ³indie folk´ is a little bit ambiguous. It becomes an especially difficult genre to define considering that both the terms ³indie´ and ³folk´ themselves are very opaque. ³Indie Folk´ is actually the crossroads of indie rock and folk music, so, to obtain its definition, the terms ³indie´ and ³folk´ must be understood. The term ³indie´ originally stemmed from the word ³independent,´ in reference to the way in which the music was produced and circulated. However, many people feel that indie music can be defined stylistically, not just by its method of production. Indie music is generally known for ³simplicity

Miller 2 and austerity. or Belle and Sebastian. simplicity and the emphasis on guitar by adding more members and using some electronic elements. and a fetishization of the guitar´ (Fonorow 39). Indie rock was born out of the hardcore. noise rock. indie pop. a nostalgic sensibility. technophobia. However. riot grrrl. This college-age individual listens to an ever changing playlist of the latest underground indie bands. straightedge. In recent years indie bands have taken small steps away from technophobia. Indie music should not be confused with alternative music. It is virtually impossible to have a discussion about the indie music scene without also talking about the indie subculture as a whole. a hypervaluation of childhood and childlike imagery. . Several ³lo-fi´ (low fidelity. post-hardcore and. Indie as a subculture is even more difficult to define than indie as a genre. Modest Mouse. as well as indie staples such as Sufjan Stevens. indie culture would bring to mind the image of a young adult wearing a flannel shirt and skinny jeans. kicking off the genre known as ³indie rock´ (Walton 7). Indie music tends to use ³harmonic pop´ sounds. Indie rock in turn spawned many offshoots. and the outward signs of being indie are stripped of their meaning. grunge and punk scenes after members of those scenes became disenchanted with them. shoegaze. indie folk (Walton 7). abrasive´ sounds borrowed from nu-metal. carrying a messenger bag and sporting any style of glasses. ³Indie has historically been a subculture that operates outside the mainstream. problems arise as this image is subverted by the mainstream culture. or raw and unpolished) albums were created in response to the prevalence of alternative rock. but technology and changing times have made the line of demarcation between the mainstream and indie almost unrecognizable´ (Oakes xiii). Judging by aesthetics alone. as long as they are not in the style of the mainstream culture. grunge and punk (Fonorow 40). beginning in 2000. such as twee. whereas alternative includes ³heavy. One author says that.

drinking on a Saturday night and begging forgiveness on a Sunday morning´ (Dye). It's a story. often viewing such serious topics as economic hardship. it must be defined by its overarching themes or philosophies. Instruments traditionally used in folk are mostly acoustic and include the guitar. politics. getting freed from prison. rebellion. the indie view on politics is almost uniformly liberal with a focus on gender rights. and related to everyday life. and sorrow´ and such topics as ³[s]urvival. Folk music (American and western European) is often understood to have come into being during the industrial revolution. homosexual rights. justice.Miller 3 The boundaries between a subculture and culture as a whole become undistinguishable when that subculture becomes commercialized. joy. and patriotism´ (Dye). as the chasm between the urban industrial worker and the agrarian worker began to widen. Currently. Folk music was the music of the common folk of the country. Folk musician Daniel Dye says that ³Folk music is human.going off to war. but also focusing on the simple pleasures of life such as nature. infidelity in relationships. redemption. indie inherits its do-it-yourself ethic as well as a rejection of the commercial system (Walton 7). Indie culture has taken many of its cues from previous subcultures. indie culture is being commercialized and sold to the masses. and murder with a dark. death. revenge. especially for those being taken advantage of by materialistic society (i. politics. banjo. fatalistic sense of humor. Like the subcultures before it. especially in the making of modern folk music. . child laborers).e. travel. specifically hippie bohemianism and punk. From punk. He also states that folk covers such themes as ³grace. dumping your ex's body into a river. but other instruments are often used. and fiddle. Since the outward manifestations of being indie are become less and less peculiar to indie culture. mandolin. love. hope. ululating out a dirge. and social justice.

that we¶d have something to talk about. these signifiers become little more than the latest fad created by the commercial industry to take advantage of people¶s desire to keep up with styles. Objects that once carried a neutral meaning now take on new meaning to the members of the subculture. the members of indie culture themselves become disillusioned. The philosophy behind the indie culture is not being transferred. or. because externally. creating independent music that is simple in nature. This may seem like a bold statement. This subculture develops certain signs to identify itself as separate from the mainstream culture. they no longer have a way of distinguishing themselves from the mainstream culture they were reacting to. . As mainstream culture adopts the trappings of indie culture. Mumford and Sons. The Decembrists. or make art. Some of these signs can have to do with brand associations. only the external evidences once spawned by it (Oakes xii). ³These trappings had previously been a signal from one member of the indie subculture to another that we were alike. and Iron and Wine. author of the book Slanted and Enchanted: the evolution of indie culture. but history has proven that subcultures follow a very predictable life cycle. a subculture forms in opposition to an aspect. most important. and often tells stories. in other words. certain brands are associated with certain subcultures (Cummings 2).Miller 4 Indie folk music is made when artists bring indie philosophies and ideals to the traditions of folk music. or aspects. The indie culture is under attack. Once these kinds of signifiers cross over into the mainstream. that we might be able to help one another out with a place to play a gig. According to Kaya Oakes. of mainstream culture. A few of the indie folk bands that have recently ascended to popularity include The Avett Brothers. This cycle is as follows. crash. that context is lost´ (xii). and. places a greater emphasis on being real than being polished. Devoid of the meanings originally attached to them.

So how will indie music.Miller 5 These disillusioned members of the subculture under fire can respond in several ways. At the same time. Indie folk. At what point does a band cross over the line from popular within the appropriate circles. will continue to thrive as a genre of music. or ³sold out?´ The increased revenue generated by increased exposure will certainly make touring life a little easier on some bands. Another response is to tweak their culture slightly. and move on to another subculture. Many successors of the punk and hardcore scenes moved into the new folk scene after becoming disenchanted with the newly commercialized grunge scene (Encarnacao 6). While this may be viewed by some as ³selling out. The DIY ethic will allow indie folk artists to retain control of the music they are creating. so that a style is outdated or a band is irrelevant by the time it reaches the popular market. Indie culture will eventually become an irrelevant subculture of the past while retaining some adherents. to too popular. It will lose some of its alternative appeal when people from all facets of culture begin to follow it. partly due to its resilient nature. A third solution is to abandon the subculture completely. increased commercialization is a result of. it is this one. The anti-establishment sentiments inherited from punk and folk will allow artists to retain their message that crusades for a better world. It will probably borrow musical elements from other genres creating synthesis . they do not answer to mainstream labels in areas of creativity or distribution.´ the truth of the matter is that artists want their music to be heard. Since they have the ability to produce music autonomously. however. and will be the cause of. increased exposure. specifically indie folk respond to this crisis within indie culture? How will indie music be affected for better or for worse by this phenomenon of commercialization? If any musical genre is prepared to deal with such a change. One response is to simply assert originality by claiming to have listened to a band or have worn a style before it was discovered on the popular level (Walton 12).

As an expression of the creator¶s feelings. This. . Whatever direction indie folk music takes it will continue to thrive as an artistic extension of the people making it. it will naturally change with those feelings. nor is it concrete. It is not static.Miller 6 genres. however. is the beauty of music.

Kate. Dye. Connecticut: Wesleyan. Print. "Punk aesthetics in independent "new folk". Slanted and Enchanted: The Evolution of Indie Culture. Daniel C.Miller 7 Works Cited Cummings. Hipsters. New York: Holt Paperbacks. Joanne. Web. 5 Jan. Neo-Tribes and Brand Communities. 1 November 2010.. Music Festivals. 'I Like Your Old Stuff Better Than Your New Stuff: Neo-Bohemians. Message to Andrew D. Oakes. and the Issue of Authenticity in Subcultural Identity'. 3 Nov. 1 ed. Middleton. Encarnacao. 2006. Empire of Dirt: The Aesthetics and Rituals of British Indie Music (Music Culture). 2009. 2010. 2010. Unpublished paper. Selling the Indie Scene. E-mail. Web. Tasa. 1990-2008. John. Rep. Miller. University of Western Sydney. 2007.a UTS:Library initiative | UTSeScholarship. University of Technology Sydney. 2010. Print. Fonarow. 2009. Walton. 28 Oct." Welcome to UTSeScholarship .org. . Kaya.

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