I have wanted to do this post for a very, very long time…but it took a lot of thinking, consideration, more thinking, and then all of this was followed by a debate with some of my insanely music-knowledgeable friends on the subject. After all of this, which approximately was a span of a month or so, I managed to put together a list of the five artists that I feel played a pivotal role in establishing the indie music genre. I should also mention that I am using the term “indie” to refer to mostly indie rock which also includes art rock and experimental indie music. If I were to include all of the sub-group indie movements, I’d be here all day… A brief explanation of how I formed this list is that I have heard strong resemblances of these artists in the music of modern day indie bands. I have also read countless interviews with modern day indie bands with many of them saying that they were influenced by one or more of these mentioned artists.
Mr. Bowie is one of those artists that made such an impression on not only the indie rock genre, but the music industry all together. At the time, many people didn’t know what to think of David Bowie; here was an artist that developed a sub-persona “Ziggy Stardust” that established this whole concept of “artistic rock”. From the stage presence to the overall variety of sound, many indie artists have attributed David Bowie to inspiring their music today. Though Bowie hit mainstream and became very popular and recognizable, his overall sound and his deep cuts (beyond the mainstream) are identifiable with the Bowie sound.
We can thank Morrissey for inspiring many indie rock singers to get out there and feel confident in singing about all aspects of love: the sad stuff, the happy stuff, and making the sad stuff sound like happy stuff. Morrissey can sing– bottom line. The Smiths were such an influential band that are constantly cited by artists for inspiring them both in the overall sound, but specifically in vocal style and lyrical content. There was a fantastic article in Q magazine, a British rock magazine, that was dedicated to modern day artists citing their favorite song from The Smiths and why that song made an impact on them and their music. I couldn’t find a link to it, probably because it was over a year ago– but it made an impression on me just to see how many different groups were influenced by The Smiths.
In my opinion, David Byrne is an insanely gifted musician. Talking Heads were trailblazers as far as paving the way for performance indie rock (think the “big suits” and over the top stage antics of Byrne). The great thing about Talking Heads is that while the show was visually interesting, the music could hold it’s own without it. The biggest influence that this band provided to modern day groups is the use of world instruments outside of the rock band set, not to mention the use of choirs and guest vocalists. Byrne has such a unique voice that was strong and shakey all at once that made it unusual, distinct and recognizable. Talking Heads are iconic and a favorite with fans and bands alike.
If Sonic Youth hasn’t been an enormous presence in the indie rock scene then I guess I must not be listening to the same indie rock as everyone else out there! When I think of Sonic Youth, I instantly think of the insane guitar techniques that they developed for the sole purpose of needing to achieve that sound and not having the money to do it. I particularly enjoyed this quote from their wiki, “[Sonic Youth] could only afford cheap guitars, and cheap guitars sounded like cheap guitars. But with weird tunings or something jammed under a particular fret, those humble instruments could sound rather amazing – bang a drumstick on a cheap Japanese Stratocaster copy in the right tuning, crank the amplifier to within an inch of its life, and it will sound like church bells.” Influential and incredible– that is Sonic Youth.
Aside from making ridiculously fantastic music, the Pixies proved to the indie world that you can be a fantastic musician and look pretty plain while doing it. The Pixies are incredibly influential and have had staying power throughout the years. Their sound is identifiable, but variable. There are still songs that I hear today and have to ask if it’s one the Pixies songs because it doesn’t sound like the rest– but this is pretty typical of their sound as a band. Even their side projects have been fantastic, specifically Frank Black. This is a band that let the indie rock world know that it was okay to rock hard and mellow out– and to kick ass at doing both.
I kept this list sort of small and confined because I really want other indie rock fans to share who they feel have been influential in laying the groundwork, because there are plenty of them. I know that my friends had mentioned Neil Young, R.E.M., U2 and many other bands, so I’d love for you to throw in your two cents into the pot, too!
Here’s to bowing down to those bands that went against the grain and kept it unique, all while inspiring the bands that I love today!