The alternative music that succeeded on major labels in the 90s: Jane’s Addiction, Nirvana, Flaming Lips etc… was independent music that sprang up in real music communities. Yes, major labels saw the financial opportunity in these bands and capitalized - making the organic culture go global. The same can be said of Motley Crue and the sunset strip bands of the 80s….
All of these movements are far more legit than what is happening now in “indie rock.” What is happening now, is that publicists and labels who are well connected to Pitchfork are putting out garbage that is made with the intention of receiving acceptance from Pitchfork, and likely acceptance from advertising agencies. Thus… 1 - 200 thousand in sales is guaranteed, and the publicists, labels, and Pitchfork all make money. Much of the boring, sterile music ends up in movies and car commercials - more money.
The victims of all this are you and I - fans of real independent music. Not to mention the 2 or 300 excellent bands that made gut wrenching, and truly independent music over the last 15 years (music you can’t make into muzak for car commercials or soundtracks for “Garden State.”), but were totally ignored by the publicist-controlled festivals and Pitchfork. Our current day Butthole Surfers & Sex Pistols have all been totally marginalized by this structure - and intentionally marginalized at times.
Independent rock didn’t organically change from being rocking, edgy, and crazy in 1995. In fact, the best selling independent rock albums at that time were from Sunny Day Real Estate & Drive Like Jehu. The culture of indie music was continuing to progress from the trajectory started by punk and leading to Nirvana from 1978 - 1994.
Independent Rock was murdered by “indie labels” - most of which were bought out by corporate interests in ‘95 - ‘01 - and Pitchfork - a shit blog which purported to “rate” the value of indie records and to basically be the ultimate authority on existence. Simply by “existing” as the first online “indie rock” blog, Pitchfork became huge. It was basically like a mix of “Friendster” and “American Idol.”
But unlike Friendster, the labels, publicists, and Pitchfork soon found that this was a captive audience from which money could be made easily. You didn’t have to have bands develop organically through touring and through real communities, you could just have Pitchfork give a record a 10 star and sell a bunch of units, creating a fad among college fraternities and make a good amount of money.
The whole system was built to make money for the labels, publicists, and Pitchfork. Nothing else. It has made “indie rock” into a monochromatic boredom fest (and that’s a euphemism) that became quarantined - trapped among college elites and the most “insider” of teenagers. On almost no occasion did an indie rock band or song leave “Pitchfork Land” to cross over into the mainstream the way Nirvana did. And that is no accident. The music couldn’t do that since it is sterile.
People point of the success of Modest Mouse’s “Float On.” Well, Modest Mouse is actually one of the last bands to rise from a real organic music community on the value of their sound. I was there. I saw it happen… And it was fucking great. We would have had hundreds more Modest Mouses over the last 15 years were it not for Pitchfork, its’ associated festivals, and the publicists feeding off of selling shit music to advertising agencies and fraternities.
This is not to say that there aren’t good bands in Pitchfork sometimes… Or that it was “wrong” to be promoted by Pitchfork. People have to eat. And in a time of totalitarian domination, bands had to make the decision to bend over for Pitchfork and the Priesthood of Publicists or starve. And you can’t fault them for that. Specifically, Interpol stands out to me as an excellent band that is loved by Pitchfork among a few others.
But its’ gone on too long now. It’s becoming a problem for our entire country. Kids deserve something better. “Independent music” shouldn’t be a brand that establishes an identity for the listener. It shouldn’t be trapped in fraternities. It should really be music that is actually INDEPENDENT - meaning it wasn’t made for publicists, labels, Pitchfork, and advertising agencies. It should speak to the soul of teenagers, speak out against corporations and power structures, and enliven the nation. It should do what Nirvana did for kids my age! It should do what the Sex Pistols did in 1978!