Saturday, 27 March 2010

The State of British Indie in 2010

I’ve got a bone to pick with the BBC Sound of 2010 list; it’s an embarrassment. The idea is that music industry insiders pick their top tips for the year ahead, who’s going to make it break through and make it big. These “insiders” are either fit to give Nostradamus a run for his money or they know something we don’t - namely which artists are going to have obscene amounts of money thrown at them by their labels. For those of you too lazy to click links, the top three on said list are Ellie Goulding, Marina and the Diamonds, and Delphic. Woo-hoo! Go UK with our unknowns sticking a finger up at the man and proving that talent triumphs over all. Well, except that Ellie Goulding has already won a Brit award, Marina and the Diamonds are already having their album advertised on prime-time television and Delphic sound like an anaemic Klaxons. The 2009 list wasn’t much better - with the Brits in the top five being Little Boots, White Lies, La Roux and Florence and the Machine (henceforth to be known as Effluence and the Latrine). All massively hyped during 2009, all successful, all unimaginative and in the case of White Lies at least, pretty much forgotten already.

Now, aside from a worrying fascination with “quirky” 80s-influenced female vocalists, there’s nothing wrong with producing a list that tells you who to look out for (like you could ignore them anyway). The problem is that by holding these people up as the leading lights of the UK music scene, there’s the potential to make UK music into a laughing stock whilst besmirching the good name of indie.

Ah, indie, how I love thee. I don’t know about you, but to me indie means The Smiths, it means Morrissey flouncing around on Top of the Pops with a gladioli betwixt his thighs, it means DIY, it means the halcyon days of the NME, it means C86 and it means an attitude. It obviously meant some of these things to people with some marketing nous, as it’s now been turned into a mainstream commodity. Tell most people you like British indie, and they’re likely to assume you mean something like Coldplay (signed to Parlophone, owned by EMI) or Snow Patrol (signed to Fiction, owned by Polydor). How can these acts be indie if they’re not on independent labels? Surely that’s the very definition of indie? This anodyne commercialisation of indie-style music has its own term which was coined by Andrew Harrison of The Word magazine – “landfill indie”. Acts like The Wombats, Scouting for Girls, The Fratellis (currently on hiatus, thankfully) and The Kooks who seem to think Oasis represent some sort of musical year zero. This reached a ridiculous climax earlier this month when Kasabian – a facsimile of Primal Scream (themselves a facsimile of various 60s bands these days) were chosen to début the new England football shirt... at a gig... in Paris. No, really, it happened.

While, indie in the 21st Century doesn’t seem to mean what it used to, the spirit of indie still lives on. Though indie artists had something of a reputation to tend towards the shambolic, their fans were fiercely loyal. With the rise to prominence of the Internet and social networking, anyone can now get their music out there, thus continuing the legacy of the DIY ethos. Arctic Monkeys (Domino in the UK) built up a large amount of support from steady gigging and the use of MySpace and the blogosphere is constantly abuzz with tracks and demos from indie bands.

if you take away the meaningless label of “indie” as a particular style of music, there are some fantastic UK bands doing their own thing on independent labels. I’m not particularly patriotic, despite being as English as Hugh Grant (well, except with more of a farmer’s accent), but from The Beatles onwards, the UK has a fantastic record of producing new and exciting music, far in advance of what can be expected from a country so small.

As a quick example, why not glance at No Ripcord’s Best of 2009 list? Sure, it’s pretty US-heavy, but there’s a lot of love for Wild Beasts (Domino), The Horrors (XL), Future of the Left, Camera Obscura (both 4AD) and The xx (Young Turks). I haven’t even mentioned Rough Trade yet, with its embarrassment of riches, including Belle and Sebastian (former holders of the unofficial title of the indiest band in indiedom), Aberfeldy, Super Furry Animals and The Fall. Indie festivals were started by Belle and Sebastian in 1999, with the Bowlie Weekender event at Camber Sands, including The Delgados, The Divine Comedy, The Pastels and Teenage Fanclub. Fast-foward to 2010 and the rudeness of indie’s health is evidenced by Belle and Sebastian returning to curate Bowlie 2.

My argument could just turn into a list of artists at this rate, but that’s just because there’s so much to get excited about. Undoubtedly, the grand high priest of UK indie was the dearly-missed John Peel, who famously attempted to listen to every recording he was ever sent, and could fill his quixotic radio broadcasts with a smorgasbord of eclecticism. If he were still here today, his show would still be full to bursting with new music as it always was, bands who have been inspired to write and perform, wishing to be part of the grand heritage of UK indie – a heritage which continues to this day.

So, forget the naysayers, ignore Delphic, Effluence and the Latrine and their ilk. Indie is alive, kicking, breathing and in excellent health. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find out for yourself - you could well be some time.

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