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Indie pop

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Indie pop (also typeset as indie-pop or indiepop) is a music genre and subculture[1] that combines guitar pop with DIY ethic[3] in opposition to the style and tone of mainstream pop music.[8] It originated from British post-punk[4] in the late 1970s and subsequently generated a thriving fanzine, label, and club and gig circuit. Compared to its counterpart, indie rock,[5] the genre is more melodic, less abrasive, and relatively angst-free.[5] In later years, the definition of indie pop has bifurcated to also mean bands from unrelated DIY scenes/movements with pop leanings.[4] Subgenres include chamber pop and twee pop.[5]

Development and characteristics[edit]

Origins and etymology[edit]

Indie pop is not just "indie" that is "pop." Not too many people realize this, or really care either way. But you can be sure indie pop's fans know it. They have their own names for themselves ... the music they listen to ... their own canon of legendary bands ... and legendary labels ... their own pop stars ... their own zines ... websites ... mailing lists ... aesthetics ... festivals ... iconography ... fashion accessories ... and in-jokes ... in short, their own culture.

—Nitsuh Abebe, Pitchfork[1]

Within indie genres, issues of authenticity are especially prominent: indie was born in a Utopian attempt to stop the inevitable cycle of bands being co-opted - and, it is assumed, corrupted - by the mainstream.

—Emily I. Dolan, Popular Music[2]

Both indie and indie pop had originally referred to the same thing during the late 1970s, originally abbreviations for independent and popular. Inspired more by punk rock's DIY ethos than its style, guitar bands were formed on the then-novel premise that one could record and release their own music instead of having to procure a record contract from a major label.[1] According to Emily Dolan, indie is predicated on the distorted music of the Velvet Underground, the "rebellious screaming" of early punk, and "some of rock's more quirky and eccentric figures", such as Jonathan Richman.[2] Pitchfork's Nitsuh Abebe identifies the majority of indie as "all about that 60s-styled guitar jangle".[1]The Monochrome Set's[9] early singles were so heavily influential to indie pop band the Smiths that Johnny Marr stated without them, the Smiths would not have existed.[10][11]

Indie pop was an unprecedented contrast from the gritty and serious tones of previous underground rock styles, as well as being a departure from the glamour of contemporary pop music.[1] Distinguished from the angst and abrasiveness of its indie rock counterpart,[5] the majority of indie pop borrows not only the stripped-down quality of punk, but also "the sweetness and catchiness of mainstream pop".[2] Music critic Simon Reynolds says that indie pop defines itself against "charting pop".[8] Abebe explains:

One of those things was the idea that rock music was supposed to be cool – "cool" meaning sexy, tough, arty, fiery, or fantastical... The charts had "cool" covered – these kids, in their basements and bedrooms, were trying to hand-craft a mirror-image of it, a pop world where they were the stars... and a little bit of a raspberry blown at the larger musical world, which (sensibly) went right on preferring something more interesting than average white kids playing simple pop songs.[1]

Despite their relatively minor commercial success (their third album was sardonically titled They Could Have Been Bigger than the Beatles), the Television Personalities are highly regarded by critics and have been widely influential, especially on the C86 generation.[12] Reynolds has said that "what we now know as indie music was invented in Scotland,"[13] with reference to the emergence of Postcard Records in 1979. However, some have posited that the concept of indie music did not crystallise until the late 1980s and early 1990s.[2] Brisbane band the Go-Betweens were an early influential indie pop band, releasing their first single "Lee Remick" in 1978.[14] American indie pop band Beat Happening's 1985 eponymous debut album was also influential in the development of the indie pop sound, particularly in North America.[15] In the early 1990s, English indie pop influenced and branched off to a variety of styles. The US, which did not have as much of a scene in the 1980s, had many indie pop enthusiasts by the mid 1990s.[1] Most of the modern notion of indie music stems from NME's 1986 compilation C86, which collects many guitar bands who were inspired by the early psychedelic sounds of 1960s garage rock.[16]

Names that indie pop fans use for themselves are popkids and popgeeks, and for the music they listen to, p!o!p, twee, anorak and C86. Abebe says that the Scottish group the Pastels typified the "hip end of 'anorak': Their lazy melodies, lackadaisical strum, and naive attitude transformed the idea of the rock band into something casual, intimate, and free from the pretense of cool".[1]

Disputed significance of C86[edit]

Everett True, a writer for NME in the 1980s, believes that C86 was not the main factor behind indie pop, arguing that Sarah Records was more responsible for sticking to a particular sound, and that: "C86 didn't actually exist as a sound, or style. ... I find it weird, bordering on surreal, that people are starting to use it as a description again".[17] Geoff Taylor, a member of the band Age of Chance, added: "We never considered ourselves part of any scene. I'm not sure that the public at large did either, to be honest. We were just an independent band around at that same time as the others."[18][better source needed]

Bob Stanley, a Melody Maker journalist in the late 1980s and founding member of pop band Saint Etienne, acknowledges that participants at the time reacted against lazy labelling, but insists they shared an approach:[improper synthesis?] "Of course the 'scene', like any scene, barely existed. Like squabbling Marxist factions, groups who had much in common built up petty rivalries. The June Brides and the Jasmine Minks were the biggest names at Alan McGee's Living Room Club and couldn't stand the sight of each other. Only when the Jesus and Mary Chain exploded and stole their two-headed crown did they realise they were basically soulmates".[19][verification needed] Manic Street Preachers bassist Nicky Wire remembers that it was the bands' very independence that gave the scene coherence: "People were doing everything themselves - making their own records, doing the artwork, gluing the sleeves together, releasing them and sending them out, writing fanzines because the music press lost interest really quickly."[20]

Many of the actual C86 bands distanced themselves from the scene cultivated around them by the UK music press - in its time, C86 became a pejorative term for its associations with so-called "shambling" (a John Peel-coined description celebrating the self-conscious primitive approach of some of the music) and underachievement.[21][verification needed]

Related genres[edit]

Twee pop[edit]

Twee pop is a subgenre of indie pop[5] that originates from C86. Characterised by its simplicity and perceived innocence, some of its defining features are boy-girl harmonies, catchy melodies, and lyrics about love. For many years, most bands were distributed by Sarah Records (in the UK) and K Records (in the US).[22]


Shibuya-kei is a Japanese style from the 1990s that was embraced by indie pop enthusiasts, partly because many of its bands were distributed in the United States through major indie labels like Matador and Grand Royal. Out of all the Japanese groups from the scene, Pizzicato Five was the closest to achieving mainstream success in the US.[23]

Chamber pop[edit]

Chamber pop is a subgenre of indie pop that features lush orchestrations. Heavily influenced by Brian Wilson and Burt Bacharach,[5] the majority of Louis Phillipe's productions for él Records embodied the sophisticated use of orchestras and voices that typified the style,[24] whilst the Divine Comedy were the most popular chamber pop act of the Britpop era.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Abebe, Nitsuh (24 October 2005), "Twee as Fuck: The Story of Indie Pop", Pitchfork Media, archived from the original on 3 February 2011
  2. ^ a b c d e Dolan, Emily (2010). "…This little ukulele tells the truth': indie pop and kitsch authenticity". Popular Music. 29 (3). Cambridge University Press: 457–469. doi:10.1017/s0261143010000437. JSTOR 40926945. S2CID 194113672.
  3. ^ a b Tea, Mark (14 April 2014). "10 Canadian jangle and indie pop bands that will improve your day". Aux. Archived from the original on 15 June 2018. Instead, we're focusing on a more classic definition of the genre, one that marries guitar pop with D.I.Y. ethics.
  4. ^ a b c d Heaton, Dave (5 December 2013). "The Best Indie-Pop of 2013". PopMatters.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Indie Pop". AllMusic.
  6. ^ The Week Staff (22 July 2011). "Washed Out: Within and Without". The Week.
  7. ^ Reynolds 2011, p. 168.
  8. ^ a b Frith & Horne 2016, p. 139.
  9. ^ "The Monochrome Set". Tapete Musik (in German). Retrieved 30 April 2023.
  10. ^ "The Monochrome Set". CCCB. Retrieved 30 April 2023.
  11. ^ Robb, John (9 January 2009). "The Monochrome Set: Remembering the band that history forgot". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 30 April 2023.
  12. ^ Buckley, Peter. The Rough Guide to Rock. Rough Guides, 2003.
  13. ^ "Big Gold Dream: Norman Blake, Russell Burn, Tam Dean Bum, Grant McPhee: Amazon Digital Services LLC". Amazon.com. Retrieved 7 May 2018.
  14. ^ "Record Bin: The jangling pop brilliance of The Go-Betweens' "16 Lovers Lane"". NOOGAtoday. 11 July 2015. Archived from the original on 2 September 2019. Retrieved 2 September 2019.
  15. ^ Abebe, Nitsuh. "Beat Happening - Beat Happening". AllMusic. Retrieved 25 March 2015. Beat Happening can't be given credit for creating the indie pop genre, but they certainly gave it life in America.
  16. ^ Martin, Ian (10 July 2013). "C86 sound jangles on in the Japanese indie scene". The Japan Times. Archived from the original on 14 October 2023. The modern notion of indie music was formed to a large extent by the sounds of melodic guitar bands from declining industrial cities in Margaret Thatcher's Britain, many of which were collected by music weekly the NME on its iconic "C86" compilation album. Disaffected by the implosion of punk and inspired by the proto-psychedelic sounds of '60s garage rock, bands such as The Wedding Present, The Pastels, Close Lobsters and others retained punk's wariness of the commercial music industry but developed a more tuneful, occasionally whimsical musical style.
  17. ^ True, Everett (22 July 2005), Friday 22 July, Plan B Magazine Blog, archived from the original on 1 May 2007, retrieved 12 January 2016
  18. ^ Taylor, Geoff, ireallylovemusic vs age of chance, ireallylovemusic[self-published source]
  19. ^ Bob Stanley, sleevenotes to CD86[full citation needed]
  20. ^ Wire, Nicky (25 October 2006), "The Birth of Uncool", The Guardian
  21. ^ Reynolds, Simon (23 October 2006). "The C86 indie scene is back!". Time Out!. Archived from the original on 2 October 2012. Retrieved 2 January 2012.
  22. ^ "Twee Pop". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 10 November 2023. In the U.K., the hub of the twee-pop scene was for many years the now-legendary Sarah label, home of groups including the Field Mice, Heavenly, and the Orchids; upon Sarah's demise, its founders created a new label, Shinkansen. In the U.S., the twee-pop scene took root most notably in the Olympia, WA area, the home of K Records, a label owned and operated by Beat Happening's Calvin Johnson.
  23. ^ Ohanesian, Liz (13 April 2011). "Japanese Indie Pop: The Beginner's Guide to Shibuya-Kei". LA Weekly. Archived from the original on 9 July 2023. If you're going to start digging around in the Shibuya-kei crates, Pizzicato 5 is the best place to start. Our reasoning for this is simple, out of all the bands that came out of this scene, they came closest to breaking through on a wide scale in the U.S.
  24. ^ Marmoro, Gianfranco (12 January 2010). "The Ocean Tango". Ondarock (in Italian). Archived from the original on 17 November 2023.
  25. ^ Kok, Dan (13 September 2016). "The Divine Comedy: Foreverland". PopMatters. Retrieved 7 January 2021.

Works cited[edit]

Further reading[edit]

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