A few months ago, I ranted blindly that I was fed up with indie
as it stood and asked if pop was the new avant garde
. It was tongue-in-cheek but I think I made a good point - that something so disposable that most people sneer at could have enough power to overthrow the current mainstream.
As 2008 moves on, it turns out I wasn't too far from the truth, although I picked the wrong genre. I should have picked folk music traditions from around the world
Indie died sometime in the last 2-3 years and I didn't even notice. What was the last great indie album? Any ideas? Don't say Arctic Monkeys
. I mean great
haven't been properly indie since The Bends
, so I don't want to hear them mentioned. They've been ambient
without anyone knowing it. It was probably Coldplay
(2005), wasn't it? Maybe The WhiteStripes
, although, to be honest, that's straightforward rock
. Maybe the Arctic Monkey's offshoot project, The Last Shadow Puppets
, although that's very orchestral, so maybe not.
If you think it was The Arcade Fire
's Neon Bible
, you're wrong. That's folk
.The Arcade Fire
Folk is the new direction and the new mainstream we're looking at. It's been building for a while but now it's been made legitimate with Coldplay's Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends
. Their foray into African music totally makes sense if you understand your musical family tree.
Let me explain: indie comes from rock, which came about in the 60s as pop's big, bad brother. Rock's roots are in the blues, which came from folk. If we oversimplify folk, we could say it's 'music of the people', as opposed to grand master composers. Keeping the simplistic definition, we could say traditional music from around the world are all forms of folk. Your country music, your African tribal, your Indian bhangra. If the music comes from villages, farmers, 'of the people and of the land', in my book, it's a form of folk. If we bring this up-to-date, we could include the urban experience too, along with the socio-political.
Blues defined by allmusic:Blues is about tradition and personal expression. At its core, the blues has remained the same since its inception. Most blues feature simple, usually three-chord, progressions and have simple structures that are open to endless improvisations, both lyrical and musical. The blues grew out of African spirituals and worksongs. In the late 1800s, southern African-Americans passed the songs down orally, and they collided with American folk and country from the Appalachians. New hybrids appeared by each region, but all of the recorded blues from the early 1900s are distinguished by simple, rural acoustic guitars and pianos. After World War II, the blues began to fragment, with some musicians holding on to acoustic traditions and others taking it to jazzier territory. However, most bluesmen followed Muddy Waters' lead and played the blues on electric instruments. From that point on, the blues continued to develop in new directions -- particularly on electric instruments -- or it has been preserved as an acoustic tradition.Muddy Waters
(I'll stand corrected if someone knows more. Please do share below in Comments.)
We have all been slowly getting used to folk being incorporated with mainstream styles and reinvented in recent years. We've had the likes of Sufjan Stevens
for a start, who caused quite a stir. We've had alt-country
from artists such as Calexico
and Iron & Wine
. (alt country is basically true country, the alt bit comes from wanting to create distance from pop country such as Garth Brooks
). There are an awful lot of 'one man and his geetar' acts around, notably Scott Matthews
and a new one Yoav
. We have the female equivalent in Emmy the Great
, who wouldn't have her cult following without Lily Allen
, who espoused the urban experience. freak-folk
, new weird america
, new weird europe
and more are all established now.Sufjan Stevens (I had to add this, lol!)
This year, we have bands who are inventing new genres using indie as their base, such as The Coal Porters
, who have chosen the most unlikely folk form of all - bluegrass
- and made it alt. Superband Hayman, Watkins, Trout And Lee
are doing exactly the same. (see here
Bluegrass as defined by allmusic: Bluegrass music grew out of traditional string band music that formed the roots of country music. In the '40s, country music began to splinter into different directions, as honky tonk and country-pop became genres of their own. A certain segment of country musicians continued playing traditional string music. Led by Bill Monroe, these musicians adhered to the songs, structures, and conventions of string bands, but they made the music faster, harder, and more technically demanding. The result was bluegrass; the genre was named after Bill Monroe's backing band, The Blue Grass Boys. After its inception in the mid-'40s, and its popularization in the '50s, the sound had become part of country music, and there were legions of bands that followed in their footsteps. In the late '60s, a number of bluegrass groups began expanding the possibilities of the genre, much to the chagrin of many of the music's most popular artists and dedicated fans. Consequently, the new breed of bluegrass groups were dubbed progressive bluegrass, while those that adhered to the music's heritage were tagged traditional bluegrass. Over the next three decades, progressive bluegrass changed frequently, while the sound of traditional bluegrass rarely varied.Bill Monroe
Along with bluegrass, we have an underground cult following for klezmer
right now, particularly in Germany, who have conflicting feelings of love and guilt towards it.
Klezmer defined in allmusic:Klezmer is a Yiddish term for musician and refers primarily to a tradition of Jewish folk music with deep German and Eastern European roots. Two of the most important instruments in this tradition are the violin and the clarinet. Today klezmer music is not just practiced in Eastern Europe but is also practiced in the United States, where it has influenced American popular song. Klezmer music in the United States has influenced the early development of American popular song through Yiddish folk musicians who participated in vaudeville. More recently, Yiddish folk music has influenced Broadway musicals like Fiddler on the Roof.
We're already used to our artists borrowing from overseas musical styles, to the point where straightforward simplistic styles sound dull and lifeless. (or they do to me). A number of bands have the right idea but are doing it badly, among them The Foals
and Vampire Weekend
For this playing around with unpopular, cult musical forms to reach the likes of Coldplay
is significant. Coldplay are the last great indie band. (Remember, Radiohead have been ambient
without you knowing it). Coldplay have any number of copycats who want a slice of their pie. Now they've raised the bar and embraced the world, they have effectively greenlighted traditional folk music as the new avant garde. Expect everyone else to follow suit.
related: my quick album review of Coldplay - Viva La Vida
Babs My Gang EDIT: The journal was designed to be a little provocative to engender discussion and debate. It is an opinion piece - all observation and speculation. The comments make an excellent read - the discussion got quite philosophical. I learnt from everyone, including those I initially disagreed with. Thank you.
After being criticised for not providing an adequate definition of indie, I made an attempt on page 2, 10 Jun 2008, 18:41.
People aren't reading it through now and I'm getting spam, so I'm closing the journal for the time being. If you have a comment which you feel furthers the discussion, give me a shout and I'll open it up for you.
Thanks again to all who participated.
7 Sept 08 - Yess! I am vindicated!! The Sunday Times just published an article covering some of my points - Why are British bands embracing alt country?. Unique Visitors Page Views