Indie rock is a genre of rock music that originated in the United States and United Kingdom in the 1970s. Originally used to describe independent record labels, the term became associated with the music they produced and was initially used interchangeably with alternative rock. As grunge and punk revival bands in the US and Britpop bands in the UK broke into the mainstream in the 1990s, it came to be used to identify those acts that retained an outsider and underground perspective. In the 2000s, as a result of changes in the music industry and the growing importance of the Internet, some indie rock acts began to enjoy commercial success, leading to questions about its meaningfulness as a term.
Sometimes used interchangeably with "guitar pop rock", in the mid-1980s, the term "indie" (or "indie pop") began to be used to describe the music produced on punk and post-punk labels. Some prominent indie rock record labels were founded during the 1980s. During the 1990s, grunge bands broke into the mainstream, and the term "alternative" lost its original counter-cultural meaning. The term "indie rock" became associated with the bands and genres that remained dedicated to their independent status. By the end of the 1990s, indie rock developed several subgenres and related styles, including lo-fi, noise pop, emo, slowcore, post-rock, and math rock. In the 2000s, changes in the music industry and in music technology enabled a new wave of indie rock bands to achieve mainstream success.
In the early 2000s, a new group of bands that played a stripped-down, back-to-basics version of guitar rock emerged into the mainstream. The commercial breakthrough from these scenes was led by four bands: The Strokes, The White Stripes, The Hives and The Vines. Emo also broke into mainstream culture in the early 2000s. By the end of the decade, the proliferation of indie bands was being referred to as "indie landfill".
The term indie rock, which comes from "independent," describes the small and relatively low-budget labels on which it is released and the do-it-yourself attitude of the bands and artists involved. Although distribution deals are often struck with major corporate companies, these labels and the bands they host have attempted to retain their autonomy, leaving them free to explore sounds, emotions and subjects of limited appeal to large, mainstream audiences. The influences and styles of the artists have been extremely diverse, including punk, psychedelia, post-punk and country. The terms "alternative rock" and "indie rock" were used interchangeably in the 1980s, but after many alternative bands followed Nirvana into the mainstream in the early 1990s, "indie rock" began to be used to describe those bands, working in a variety of styles, that did not pursue or achieve commercial success. Aesthetically speaking, indie rock is characterized as having a careful balance of pop accessibility with noise, experimentation with pop music formulae, sensitive lyrics masked by ironic posturing, a concern with "authenticity," and the depiction of a simple guy or girl.
Allmusic identifies indie rock as including a number of "varying musical approaches [not] compatible with mainstream tastes". Linked by an ethos more than a musical approach, the indie rock movement encompassed a wide range of styles, from hard-edged, grunge-influenced bands, through do-it-yourself experimental bands like Pavement, to punk-folk singers such as Ani DiFranco. In fact, there is an everlasting list of genres and subgenres of indie rock. Many countries have developed an extensive local indie scene, flourishing with bands with enough popularity to survive inside the respective country, but virtually unknown elsewhere. However, there are still indie bands that start off locally, but eventually attract an international audience.
Indie rock is noted for having a relatively high proportion of female artists compared with preceding rock genres, a tendency exemplified by the development of the feminist-informed Riot Grrrl music of acts like Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, 7 Year Bitch, Team Dresch and Huggy Bear. However, Cortney Harding pointed out that this sense of equality is not reflected in the number of women running indie labels.
The BBC documentary Music for Misfits: The Story of Indie pinpoints the birth of indie as the 1977 self-publication of the Spiral Scratch EP by Manchester band Buzzcocks. Although Buzzcocks are often classified as a punk band, it has been argued by the BBC and others  that the publication of Spiral Scratch independently of a major label led to the coining of the name "indie" ("indie" being the shortened form of "independent").
The 1990s brought major changes to the alternative rock scene. Grunge bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains broke into the mainstream, achieving commercial chart success and widespread exposure.Punk revival bands like Green Day and The Offspring also became popular and were grouped under the "alternative" umbrella. Similarly, in the United Kingdom Britpop saw bands like Blur and Oasis emerge into the mainstream, abandoning the regional, small-scale and political elements of the 1980s indie scene. Bands like Hüsker Dü and Violent Femmes were just as prominent during this time period, yet they have remained iconoclastic, and are not the bands that are frequently cited as inspirations to the current generation of indie rockers.
As a result of alternative rock bands moving into the mainstream, the term "alternative" lost its original counter-cultural meaning and began to refer to the new, commercially lighter form of music that was now achieving mainstream success. It has been argued that even the term "sellout" lost its meaning as grunge made it possible for a niche movement, no matter how radical, to be co-opted by the mainstream, cementing the formation of an individualist, fragmented culture. This theory hypothesizes staying independent became a career choice for bands privy to industry functions rather than an ideal, as the principle of resistance to the market evaporated in favor of a more synergistic culture.
The term "indie rock" became associated with the bands and genres that remained dedicated to their independent status. Even grunge bands, following their break with success, began to create more independent sounding music, further blurring the lines. Ryan Moore has argued that in the wake of the appropriation of alternative rock by the corporate music industry that what became known as indie rock increasingly turned to the past to produce forms of "retro" rock that drew on garage rock, surf rock, rockabilly, blues, country and swing.
"Indietronica" redirects here. For a more comprehensive overview of electronic/rock fusion styles, see Electronic rock.
In the 2000s, the changing music industry, the decline in record sales, the growth of new digital technology and increased use of the Internet as a tool for music promotion, allowed a new wave of indie rock bands to achieve mainstream success. Existing indie bands that were now able to enter the mainstream included more musically and emotionally complex bands including Modest Mouse (whose 2004 album Good News for People Who Love Bad News reached the US top 40 and was nominated for a Grammy Award), Bright Eyes (who in 2004 had two singles at the top of the Billboard magazine Hot 100 Single Sales) and Death Cab for Cutie (whose 2005 album Plans debuted at number four in the US, remaining on the Billboard charts for nearly one year and achieving platinum status and a Grammy nomination). This new commercial breakthrough and the widespread use of the term indie to other forms of popular culture, led a number of commentators to suggest that indie rock had ceased to be a meaningful term.
In the early 2000s, a new group of bands that played a stripped-down and back-to-basics version of guitar rock emerged into the mainstream, which some termed a post-punk revival, but because the bands came from across the globe, cited diverse influences (from traditional blues, through new wave to grunge), and adopted differing styles of dress, their unity as a genre has been disputed.
By the end of the 2000s the proliferation of indie bands was being referred to as "indie landfill", a description coined by Andrew Harrison of The Word magazine, and the dominance of pop and other forms of music over guitar-based indie was leading to predictions of the end of indie rock. However, there continued to be commercial successes like Kasabian's West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum (2009), which reached number one in the UK. In 2010, Canadian band Arcade Fire's album The Suburbs reached number one on the Billboard charts in the United States and the official chart in the United Kingdom, winning a Grammy for Album of The Year.
^ abcS. T. Erlewine, "American Alternative Rock / Post Punk", in V. Bogdanov, C. Woodstra and S. T. Erlewine, All Music Guide to Rock: the Definitive Guide to Rock, Pop, and Soul (Milwaukee, WI: Backbeat Books, 3rd edn., 2002), ISBN0-87930-653-X, pp. 1344–6.
^SISARIO, B. (January 3, 2010). When indie-rock genres outnumber the bands. New York Times (1923-Current File)
^PARELES, J. (October 16, 2004). Feeling hyper, indie rock casts off its slacker image. New York Times (1923-Current File)
^J. Connell and C. Gibson, Sound Tracks: Popular Music, Identity, and Place (Abingdon: Routledge, 2003), ISBN0-415-17028-1, pp. 101–3.
^M. Leonard, Gender in the Music Industry: Rock, Discourse and Girl Power (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), ISBN0-7546-3862-6, p. 2.
^Harding, Cortney (October 13, 2007). "UpFront: The Indies - Where the Girls Aren't: Why Aren't More Women Running Indie Labels". Billboard - The International Newsweekly of Music, Video and Home Entertainment.
^S. T. Erlewine, "British Alternative Rock", in V. Bogdanov, C. Woodstra and S. T. Erlewine, All Music Guide to Rock: the Definitive Guide to Rock, Pop, and Soul (Milwaukee, WI: Backbeat Books, 3rd edn., 2002), ISBN0-87930-653-X, pp. 1346–7.