Monday, October 10, 2011

"You wouldn't believe this conversation I had with this dude tonight. He was trying to convince me that the Kooks were more indie than the Arctic Monkeys." As soon as he said it, I couldn't help but pull an expression of bemused disgust. It was a baffling thing to consider, the prospect of an actual scale of indieness where some artists rank higher than others. The worst part of it was that I felt compelled to construct a counter-argument, citing the significance of in the early promotion of the Arctic Monkeys. It was a site with white background and black text, featuring a list of links to MP3 demos. It appealed to the idea that the music could speak for itself and the incredible interest generated was achieved independently of record company interference. The Kooks would later post their demos onto Megaupload in early 2006, yet irrespective of the charm of Lonely Cat, the distribution of their demos could hardly be described as a significant landmark in the history of indie music.

When I regained my composure, I asked him how the actual argument unfolded. What became apparent was this person had a completely different idea of what indie meant. Once, the term indie was short for independent, encompassing groups without an affiliation with a record company (or else, groups with an affiliation with an independent record company). However, for this person, the term indie simply meant better. For me, it seemed wildly inaccurate to associate such a loaded term with a single word (and a superlative at that). But then again, I had to consider that for many, the term indie is synonymous with credibility. It is suggestive of being a lone independent artist, creating in retaliation of commercial appeal. The discernible fan, too, is required to maintain a certain degree of credibility. Cultural commentators such as Pitchfork and Flavorwire establish their own credibility by dissecting the term ruthlessly and bemoaning the idea that fashion, cynicism and laziness are killing indie music in 2011.

There are times when a faithful adherence to indie culture can go terribly wrong. The infamous viral video of "I'm Amy and I'm an Indie", from BBC Switch's Are You One of Them? is cringeworthy, to say the least. She comes across as suffering a complete lack of discernment: although she would obsessively adhere to every code associated with indie culture, she would do so without any real understanding of its significance. She would still manage to make some blunders, indulging in music in direct conflict with the indie credos, namely Razorlight and ahem, Ronan Keating. Although she is a rather innocuous 17 year old girl, it is embarrassing to watch her identifying the silly customs of a highly pretentious and highly protective subculture. It is embarrassing to watch her, because her heightened awareness of every nuance of the subculture reveals how indie kids assimilate, silently and without question.

From time to time, I arrest my desire to examine the meaning and currency of this feckless term. I occasionally give up the inclination to argue about it with friends and strangers alike. I even block out the aggressive posturings of the knowledgeable cultural guardsmen. I let all notions of competition and credibility melt away: I listen, smile and dance alone, taking in every moment of breathtaking pop.

Cassettes & Chocolate Milk: Indiepop Podcast #35
Summer Camp - Better Off WIthout You
Serenades - Birds
Andy Bull - Dog (feat. Lisa Mitchell)
General Electriks - Raid the Radio
Asobi Seksu - Thursday
CSS - Hits Me Like a Rock
Body Language - Social Studies (Plastic Plates Remix)
The Mynabirds - Let the Record Go

Download (44.6 MB)


james said...

The Arctic Monkeys are stadium rockers who sound a bit like a depressed, sneering George Formby. The Kooks are an advert for a campaign that's forgotten there was ever a product in the first place.

To me The Kooks are a pop group - nothing wrong with that, pop is brilliant. Unfortunately they're a very poor pop group. The Arctic Monkeys are a rock act. They're following the dream and good luck to them, though they'll never give good interview like Oasis or write something as life affirming as Columbia.

The idea of indie was finished in the 90s when all the 'indie' labels were imprints owned by the majors. Suddenly you could be authentic, AND have enormous success. I love Britpop but it has a lot to answer for. At least most of those bands had tunes, opinions, something to SAY. Rather than just sneering at the common people (hi Alex Turner) or... ok I give up, I have no idea what Peter Doherty is for.

But it's alright. Indie and indiepop survive. They release albums and do fanzine interviews and have full time jobs and fall in love and write songs that mean a great deal to a very small number of people. Allo Darlin'll keep on keepin' on.

None of this is a criticism of the girl in the video by the way. She comes across fantastically well. Her playlist on the website already has Moldy Peaches and Ladytron. She'll find her way. And Ronan Keating said it best when he said nothing at all. Still better than Razorlight, admittedly. I didn't find it embarrassing to watch, either. I was exactly the same at her age, just not as female or northern.

james said...

Man, I have so much more to say on this topic. Sorry my initial comment sounds so arsey, I didn't mean it to.

Eleanor said...

Jamboshoeshine! Thank you kindly for your thoughtful response!

All this reminds me greatly of the arguments surrounding punk credibility, whether it exists within an action, attitude or aesthetic. Although the Arctic Monkeys and the Kooks may not possess the requisite indie characteristics for some, for others, they were at the epicentre of the post-punk revival of 2005. For those who missed Britpop, it was the closest we could ever possibly hope to get to a bona fide musical insurgence.

I refuse to believe that it no longer exists, if anything the cult of indie seems to be ubiquitous now. If I take my mind back, I would blame American teen program the OC for popularising indiepop. For me, at least, it seems as if the walls have burst and it is no longer a community of precious elitists.

But even then, I don't have any particular ill-will towards the genre. I don't think of indiepop and think of Californian teenagers gaping over Bright Eyes. I don't even think of Ameh's ambitions to marry Johnny Borrell (I maintain this segment still embarrasses me to the core). Instead I like to think of it as sort of an umbrella term, inspecific enough to encompass modern-day pop that is both lovely and obscure.

Kevin Moon said...

Hi there, Eleanor! Greetings from Korea! I just wanted to let you know that I have recently discovered your blog and have been intensely enjoying the podcasts. I discovered Cassettes and Chocolate Milk quite by accident. I was searching for some old Yé Yé blogs that I used to frequent a few years back, but (as I sadly discovered) have been long-since defunct. Your Yé Yé podcast (#33) came up in the search results, and the rest is history. I eagerly listened to it, then went back to the very first podcast and started listening to all of them in order, and am currently up to #29. When I achieve parity with the current one, I will feel a bit sad and empty, yet anxious to hear the next one, which, according to your established release schedule, should be coming up pretty quickly, I would imagine.

Your taste is very refined and spot-on, and I always eagerly anticipate what will play next. I even enjoyed the Verses & Choruses mix you posted a couple years back between #12 and #13. The link was dead, and I almost posted a message asking if you would re-upload it, but I was able to quickly find those songs easily enough via Grooveshark. Great mix! I won't lie to you, though: it just might be possible that I make the best mix CDs ever committed to plastic. One listen to "Tom Brokaw's Swanky Hits v.1.3" or the 3-CD "Trifekta of Kööl" set will surely be enough to convince you.

I am crazy about Yé Yé and would very much love it if you would do some more of those. Any chance it could become a part of your rotation? I immediately fell in love with Danielle Denin's "Je Lis Dans Tes Yeux", her cover of the Beatles' "I'm Looking Through You" (which is from my favorite album ever, Rubber Soul, so of course I'm a bit biased). I'm also a huge fan of the power pop genre and thoroughly enjoyed podcast #20. I was giddy when you name-checked Rhino's excellent "DIY" series ("Omigosh! Someone else loves that series too!"). I'd sure enjoy another podcast of that as well. I'm also a fan of shoegaze, and you've played at least a couple of artists (Lush, Asobi Seksu) that would fall under that category. (Lush is my all-time fave, dethroning the mighty ABBA.) Finally, I would love to hear a Shibuya-Kei podcast. I am completely enamored of Pizzicato Five, who could do no wrong, as well as Capsule. That is a genre I want to thoroughly explore.

Looking forward to #36! Take care.

Eleanor said...

Hey there, Kevin! Thank you kindly for your comment, it means a lot to read that someone has engaged with my work as you have! It makes it all worthwhile, truly.

I have another YeYe podcast archived, so I'll certainly intend to get it out soon! I know what you mean, I love that Danielle Denin cover too! There's still a special place in my heart for Eric Sant-Laurent though.

I'd love to hear your mixes, I only have a little knowledge about Shibuya-Kei! You can feel free to send your songs to elle.gray (at)! I can't wait to hear them!

Thanks again! :D