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Indie Rock is a sub-genre of Alternative Rock music that originated in the 1980’s in the US and UK. The term “Indie” derives from the word “individual”, which applies in multiple ways, being the different sounds from most traditional genres as that time and the DIY attitude the bands and smaller record labels in those countries had. Being “Indie”, was more about not having a big corporate label controlling the direction of the music, but being free to explore different emotions, tones, and lyrical content. They were les concerned with reaching the mainstream music audiences. Amongst the growth of the testosterone fuelled punk, followed by grunge music, Indie Rock made a point of sounding very macho, despite sharing many political and social views.

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Popular Indie rock artists of the early period include The Smiths, The Pixies, The Replacements and REM. More contemporary artists at the forefront of the scene are The Strokes, The Kooks, The Hives, The Arctic Monkeys, Arcade Fire and Modest Mouse. Post the new millennium, there was a revamping of the genre which introduced Electronic elements such as synthesizers and electronic sample drum pads or percussion.

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The Indie Rock sound is subject to change in accordance with the mainstream music trends, but change to an opposition. The genre is more of response to the current time. Take Nirvana for example, at the time the group began playing what we know to today as grunge, they would have been considered “indie”. However they soon hit the mainstream and the radio’s starting playing it more and it became mainstream, so indie music changed and grunge bands were no longer Indie. Therefore it would be difficult to put the label “Indie Rock” on certain sound as it is very much subject to change.

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There are definitely commonalities in terms of tone in the contemporary bands consider as Indie Rock, the main factor being the “vintage” sound, particularly on the vocals. By “vintage”, I mean distorted, fuzzy, overdriven, dirty, noisy or crushed up. Bands that carry this sound would include the Arctic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand and The Strokes to name a few. This type of vocal distortion is a cool technique that is popular in many other genres also. Other words I would use to describe the sound of these bands is “jangly”, specifically the guitar tones most of these have a very bright and twangy guitar sound. Using break up from the guitar amps and more aggressive playing dynamics to get a lot a bit of abrasiveness and gain, as opposed to using normal and more modern typical distortion, which has a different tone.

Drums follow the same sort “vintage” theme, this is often quite noticeable in the cymbal sound. They’re often quite abrasive and pushed further up in the mix than normal genres, with a crushed up or distorted sound. The snare often shares a similar sound and says a lot about the tonal character of the drum kit in general.

References:

Session Notes | Sound On Sound. (2016). Soundonsound.com. Retrieved 26 October 2016, from http://www.soundonsound.com/techniques/session-notes-0

Indie Rock Music Genre Overview | AllMusic. (2016). AllMusic. Retrieved 26 October 2016, from http://www.allmusic.com/style/indie-rock-ma0000004453

The Kooks – Naive. (2016). YouTube. Retrieved 26 October 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4Vp_P9d6O4

Arctic Monkeys – R U Mine?. (2016). YouTube. Retrieved 26 October 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQH8ZTgna3Q 

Franz Ferdinand – Take Me Out. (2016). YouTube. Retrieved 26 October 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ijk4j-r7qPA

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