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Indie pop

Music Sound

Indie pop

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Indie pop
Stylistic origins: New Wave, Punk rock, Post-punk, pop
Cultural origins: early 1980s, United Kingdom
Typical instruments: Guitar - Bass - Drums
Mainstream popularity: 1980s United Kingdom
Twee pop
Regional scenes
England - Scotland - Wales - Ireland, USA, Australia
Other topics
Timeline of alternative rock

Indie pop refers to indie music which is considered to be based on the conventions of pop music. The term is nebulous. Because indie rock is sometimes used to mean indie music as a whole, indie pop can be discussed as a sub-set of indie rock, but at other times, the terms are used to illustrate a pop-rock dichotomy within the indie music scene. The term is further blurred by disagreement over what qualifies as pop music. Pop is seen as being radio-friendly and disposable, two things that indie music generally eschews. Indie pop is thus the pop music that operates outside of the boundaries of conventional pop music. It is often lo-fi, or otherwise unusual.



Indie pop has its sonic roots in the sound of pop pioneers like Jonathan Richman, and the sweeter sounds of 1960s garage pop/rock, as well as mainstream 1960s artists like The Association, The Monkees, The Byrds, The Mamas and the Papas, and of course The Beatles and The Beach Boys. The key indie pop dichotomy between "pop" and "rock" can be seen as far back as early-1980s Scottish post-punk pop pioneers Orange Juice, whose featured sound of jangly guitars, crooning vocals, and la-la harmonies, as well as in their self-deprecating humor -- very different than the dour, deadly serious, politically charged atmosphere of most post-punk. Before then, the perfect pop statement was the string of singles issued by British punk-pop group The Buzzcocks, whose speedy jangle and high whining boy voice were keystones of the later indiepop sound.

In 1986, the British musical weekly New Musical Express released a cassette, entitled C86, that attempted to capture a moment in the pop world when groups that eschewed the shouting intensity of punk for a lighter pop sound, yet maintained a punk sensibility. Much of this sounded like a direct homage to Orange Juice, though it tends to be forgotten that half of the music on C86 wasn't pop at all, but proto-grunge, UK style. This cassette is widely regarded as a founding document of indie pop; it featured indie pop stalwarts like The Pastels, The Wedding Present, The Soup Dragons (before they went dancey), Primal Scream (ditto), The Bodines, and so on. The best of these songs combined a jangly guitar, heartfelt lovesick-boy vocals, and an endearingly earnest amateurism.

Indie pop has always been centered around the social world of small photocopied fanzines, punk-derived manifestos, and small bedroom-based record labels, often modeled on Orange Juice's original indie label Postcard Records. By the mid 1980s, there were dozens of these zines and labels springing up all over the United Kingdom, inspired by punk do-it-yourself (DIY) but with a firm commitment to sing-along melodies as well. The greatest critical exponents of this time were The Smiths (Rough Trade Records); songwriters Morrissey and Johnny Marr created a unique guitar driven sound and literate lyrics providing social statements on life in Thatcher Britain, covering varied topics from sexual ambiguity, desperation, loneliness and death to vegetarianism and vicars in tutus.

The Pink Label, 53rd & 3rd, and The Subway Organisation were just some of the labels putting out singles by important early indiepop groups like The Razorcuts, The Flatmates, The June Brides, and Talulah Gosh; the last-named can probably be considered the founding group of "Twee pop".

Many of these groups prominently featured female members, still considered a notable thing at the time. Indie pop has always had a very strong streak of gender equity; perhaps its most prominent philosophical note has been the championing of anti-macho points of view, whether from women or from men refusing to buy into traditional rock'n'roll male aggression.

Two of the most significant fanzines of the day were Are You Scared To Get Happy?, written by Matt Haynes and Kvatch, written by Clare Wadd, both then living in Bristol, England. AYSTGH?, as was common then, featured an attached flexidisc, on the bedroom label Sha-La-La. Flexidiscs embodied the in-the-moment throwaway vision of perfect two-minute pop gems, even more so than did regular vinyl singles. When Are You Scared To Get Happy? stopped publishing in 1987, Matt and Clare joined forces, and Sha-La-La evolved into a real record label called Sarah Records. Many people now consider Sarah, which ended in 1995, to be the archetypical indie pop label. It is certainly hard to overstate Sarah's influence on the bands that followed, not just with the sound of the records but the graphical style of the record sleeves and the bitingly funny sleevenotes.

In the United States, a similar revolution in underground pop had been taking place in Olympia, Washington. Beat Happening, an indie band fronted by Calvin Johnson and Heather Lewis, who additionally started a record label called K Records. Their aesthetic was quite similar to their British cohorts, with hand-drawn photocopied sleeves and stripped-down instrumentation playing pure pop gems that were well out of step with the then-current hardcore punk scene. The first Beat Happening record, on K, was released in 1985. Other labels sprang up across the country, including Bus Stop (Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, from 1987); Picturebook (Barrington, Illinois, from 1987), Harriet (Cambridge, Massachusetts, from 1989) and Slumberland (Silver Spring, Maryland, from 1989, later California), bringing together the American sound of Beat Happening, which was a little rawer and more pared-down, with the British indie pop of Sarah and others, which was sometimes softer, more harmonious, and more twee. Important groups included The Springfields and Honeybunch -- both part of the vast and complicated Velvet Crush group that's been making "indie pop" singles since long before indie pop.

One striking feature of indie pop is its unusual international reach. In addition to the United Kingdom and the United States, there has been a significant school of bands since 1985 in New Zealand, recording for Flying Nun, most notably the trio of The Bats, The Chills, and The Clean. Instantly recognizable for their insistent jangle-guitar strums and sweet, high male choirboy voices, these bands were the model for much of what followed in other countries. Not just English-speaking countries, either; Germany, Sweden, Japan, Greece, Spain, and Canada all have longstanding significant indie pop scenes. Australia has always been an important indie pop country, going back as far as The Go-Betweens, who, while considered pop and indie, were not really indie pop; up through the Sugargliders, who were; to The Lucksmiths today.

Since the early 1990s, indie pop has been growing in popularity. Elements of indie pop sound have broken through into the mainstream through bands like Belle & Sebastian and Camera Obscura. In 1985 or 1995, it was impossible to hear an indie pop record on any kind of commercial radio station, and even most college and alternative radio stations abhorred the soft sounds of "Twee pop," preferring aggressive testosterone-charged grunge and punk sounds. By 2005, however, it was quite common. Some veteran bands formerly noted for a sound typical of indie rock, such as Yo La Tengo (and the Flaming Lips, although they record for a major label) have moved increasingly to an indie pop approach in recent years.

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Styles of pop music
Bubblegum pop - Futurepop - Indie pop - Pop punk - Pop-rap - Power pop - Synthpop/Electropop - Teen pop - Traditional pop
Other topics
Boy band - Girl group - Popular music - Pop culture
Alternative rock
Alternative metal - Britpop - C86 - College rock - Dream pop - Gothic rock - Grebo - Grunge - Indie pop/Indie rock - Industrial rock - Lo-fi - Madchester - Math rock - Noise pop - Paisley Underground - Post-punk revival - Post-rock - Riot Grrrl - Sadcore - Shoegazing - Space rock - Twee pop
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History - Indie (music)

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Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

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