Many people, including some of my own friends, keep telling me that rock music died in the 1970s and ’80s. That those were the best years of rock after which there’s just mediocre stuff being churned out by sub-standard musicians. Okay, most of those who feel that way are around my age. That is, they were teenagers or in their twenties during what they call the “golden” decades of rock.
That’s a pity because I don’t think that there has ever been as huge an explosion of new rock music as has been happening in the 2000s. Huge and, quite a bit of it, very good. Problem is much of this new music is by bands that exist under the radar.
Bands that are collectively classified as indie rock bands, a genre that has come to mean musicians whose work doesn’t get published by the mainstream record labels and who are either self-published or released by smaller, independent labels.
Of course, within the broad swathe of what is known as indie rock are sub-genres that are probably defined more on the basis of what the music sounds like rather than the business framework that the bands and musicians adopt. Yet, there are common threads that run through most indie rock bands.
For instance, while most of them don’t enjoy the marketing heft that big music labels can afford to lavish on their roster of clients, they do get to record albums on their own terms and also have far greater control over their music than their mainstream peers. Indeed, all this has its disadvantages.
Indie bands, unless they really become really big (by which time the music industry’s biggies start queuing up to sign them on), have to depend on their own touring and fans or radio-play on campus stations to spread the word about them.
That makes them difficult to spot. Without major commercial play for their songs, indie rockers aren’t in the public glare. So how does one track them down, sample their music and get hold of the albums or songs that are good? Well, one way, as I have realised over the past few years, is via the Internet. Or, to be precise, blogs. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of mp3 blogs that not only post regular information about indie bands but also links to their music, which you can download. Usually free of cost.
One such is the Stereogum blog. One of the foremost vents for indie bands, Stereogum has news, tour information, gossip, mp3 tracks and albums for hundreds of great indie bands. I discovered Stereogum a couple of years back and now subscribe to its website feed, which alerts me each time something new is posted — that can happen several times a day. The best feature of Stereogum is what is called The Gum Drop. This is a free service that literally ‘drops’ a free mp3 track-laden email in your inbox every now and then. Stereogum’s editors choose a new or upcoming band or musician and the email, besides a track that you can download, has a brief description of the musicians and an interview.
The Gum Drop has been one my best introductions to indie bands. Like Praveen & Benoit. Brooklyn’s Praveen Sharma and Michigan’s Benoit Pioulard teamed up to make an album called Songs Spun Simla, a percussion and vocal harmony-laced work that is quite infectious. Inspired by a journey through his parent’s native India, Songs Spun Simla has hints of field recordings and voices.
Pioulard, whose real name is Thomas Meluch, is a multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter, he also works with field recordings apart from playing and singing on the projects that he co-authors with Sharma. Praveen & Benoit were Gum-Dropped into my inbox as were The Twilight Sad. Based in Kilsyth (Scotland), they are a quartet that has opened for fellow Scots, Mogwai as well as better known bands such as Smashing Pumpkins and Snow Patrol. Their recent release is a take on the current meltdown and is titled ‘The Twilight Sad Killed My Parents And Hit The Road’, an album that they released to help fund their own tour.
The Gum Drop song that I discovered them on was ‘Twenty Four Hours’, a cover of Joy Division’s original song. Joy Division, of course, used to be the post-punkers from England whose tenure lasted for four short years, terminated prematurely when their lead singer, Ian Curtis committed suicide in 1980.
Courtesy The Gum Drop, I got to know of a truckload of new bands and musicians. Like Juliana Hatfield, a 41-year-old Bostonian whose songs reflect on the dynamics of today’s relationships; of Xiu Xiu (pronounced shoe-shoe), an experimental indie band from California; ‘Deerhunter’, noisy rockers from Atlanta; Matmos, featuring the music of an electronic duo; and ‘Cassettes Won’t Listen’, which is a one-man electronic pop outfit. Incidentally, Cassettes’ is Jason Drake, a New Yorker who also is the marketing director at an indie music label called Definitive Jux. Shows how DIY the indie tribe can get.
Listen to ‘virtual’ tracks: