John DavisHere it is, the final day of “Intro to Indie Music.”  So here they are again, for the last time, that wonderful list you’ve all grown to know and love…

Characteristics of Indie Music
1. It must be on an independent label (see here)
2. It’s about the music (see here)
3. Lo-fi good, over-production bad (see here)
4. A do-it-yourself attitude (see here)
5. Pushing musical boundaries (see here)
6. An anti-materialistic attitude (see here)
7. Social awareness and activism (see here)
8. The un-rockstar (see here)
9. A sense of community (see here)

And the final characteristic of indie music…

Pretty dirty, huh?  Before I give you my final characteristic, I make you click on the link and go to a new page.  I feel sorta’ bad for all those people with dial-up… but not that bad.

Anyway, the final characteristic of indie music is…
10. Appreciation of the Past

This point is one I’m the least committal about.  I feel like this quality is in a lot of indie music, but I’d be willing to back down if you wanted to argue it, which is rare for me.

Anyway, within big label music, the push seems to be to either do what’s already popular or to find the new thing that will become popular.  Within indie music, there is very little push to do what’s already popular, so the only choices left are to either be on a constant search for the new thing or to draw on the past.  I see both going on simultaneously, but the idea of drawing on the past is more unique to indie music, to the point of being something that, in my mind, defines it.

So, what do I mean by having an “appreciation of the past?”  Some indie bands demonstrate this better than others, but I think it shows up in most groups out there.  There are groups who draw on tribal African beats, groups with a real Beatles sound, groups who do only lo-fi stuff…  Even among bands that really push for a new sound, they usually have something that shows an appreciation for the music of the past.

This appreciation of the past is not just limited to the artists but carries over to the fans.  Listeners of indie music often pride themselves on their high level of music geekness, which necessitates an appreciation and knowledge of the musical past.  They listen to obscure records from the 70s.  They plunge into the heart of early 20th century Delta Blues.  They snatch up little-known folk albums from the 60s.  Not all indie fans are like this, but I know of many who are.

With such an appreciation for the past, there is less of a new-record rush.  This is a totally subjective generalization, I know, but I think it’s there.  You just don’t have the “Oh, my gosh, Skankin’ Squash Lovers are releasing their new album tomorrow!  I’ve gotta have it or I’ll die!” feel of big label music.  With so much fun stuff to delve into from the past, fans will get the new record when they’ve got an opportunity.  They will buy up the new album, but maybe just not quite as quickly.

Here is an MP3 by former Superdrag front man John Davis that demonstrates my point well:
Nothing Gets Me Down

John Davis was raised in a Christian home but walked away from God for many years to play rock and roll, drink lots of alcohol, and sleep around, until recently he decided he didn’t like that lifestyle and started serving God again.  Now he’s totally changed and it’s cool to see him living for God.  You can read a good interview about it here.

As you can tell from this MP3 sample, John Davis definitely has an appreciation for the past.  Overall, many of his songs seem to be modelled after rock-n-roll’s great names like John Lennon, The Byrds, Badfinger, Brian Wilson, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Replacements, Bob Dylan, Grateful Dead, and The Beach Boys.  His sound is pretty lo-fi and his music draws on past musical icons.  You can’t appreciate the past much more than that.

Good bye for the weekend, everybody, and I hope you enjoyed this discussion of what makes indie music “indie.”  Post any questions or comments you have.  What would you have added to the list?  What would you take away?

John Davis Official Links
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The Blah Blah – serving up the best in Christian music MP3s… and appreciating the future.

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