Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Portfolio Essay #1

Gage Katz
Eric Dinsmore
English 114 B
April 23, 2012

The Independent rock scene is an ever changing genre within the rock world. Having its roots set in the early 90’s and having influence date back as early as the 80’s, Indie rock, as it is called, has lasted through multiple generations, and continues to define many young adults.
            The first Indie bands, then just noted as Independent bands, were mainly played on college radio, as their abnormal and unique sounds played on a common youth culture need to separate themselves from the generations before them. The culture of a rebellious nature is not one that is new to our society; in fact any cultural group over the years can trace their source to a need to separate themselves from the ideals of their predecessors. Elvis Presley and early rock is an obvious revolution against the ideals of their time, and later bands like Anthrax and Black Sabbath, though they rejected a new standard, were shaking things up in popular culture, and forced society to embrace new ideals, new concepts, and new ways of life.
Bands like The Pixies and The Smiths recorded and performed songs that differentiated heavily from the music of the time. These bands went on to influence some of the most famous grunge bands of the 90’s. Kurt Cobain of Nirvana has openly praised The Pixies as the band that influenced him to write Smells Like Teen Spirit in an interview with David Fricke for Rolling Stone magazine.
            While the Indie bands of the 80’s influenced many genres of the 90’s, the genre has stayed in the focus of young people, and continues to be a mainstream success. Today bands like The Fray, The Mars Volta, and Manchester Orchestra still have claim to the Indie rock genre, and while their sound has shifted from unusual and strange into light and easing, their claim to being independently operated has stayed somewhat intact.  When considering Indie rock, it is important to note that though many of these bands have found mainstream success, their lyrical content and overall style still reflect the bands of the 80’s.
            The influence of these bands, then and now, has remained focused on youth culture, as A. Earles notes in his book “The Story of the Noise-Pop Pioneers Who Launched Modern Rock”. As noted above, these bands found success in adhering to youth’s desire to separate from older generations and be identified as hip, young, and artistic. If we look at today’s Indie market, we can still see these ideals. The modern day ‘hipster’ happens to be the target audience for many Indie bands, however to say that this market is one that the genre attached to, would be to mistake a culture born from a genre, with a genre targeted at a culture.
            The modern day hipster is the self-proclaimed antithesis of conformity. It may be interesting to note that this ideal was also held by the 00’s ‘emo’, but there is a very specific distinction between the two. Though these genres have similar roots, they differ in that the ‘emo’ was conced with lack of identity and loss of quality of life, while the ‘hipster’ and modern day indie is more concerned with the strife of the individual. Simply put, the emo lacked identity, while the hipster focuses itself on crafting one.
A Hipster of today, as portrayed in Matt Hrodey’s article “What is a Hipster?” is well read, listens to massive variety of music, and claims to be cultured in ways that surpass their non-hipster counterparts. While there is a lot of other musical influence going on in the indie rock listener’s life, the genre in question is often an underlying similarity among all of these pseudo nonconformists. Where the hipster defines themselves is in doing what is offbeat. The hipster will read books that won’t be made into movies, wears clothing you wouldn’t find at Abercrombie and Fitch, and most importantly, won’t listen to music found on the radio. The idea of music that pleases the masses just doesn’t sit well with the hipster, and it is here where indie rock finds its audience. The whole concept of indie is to be offbeat and different, just like the hipster.
The question then is how the music affects the hipster. As stated above, the themes of these lyrically conscious bands tend to be focused on issues of identity. More specifically, they focus on concepts of relationships, ways of life, and struggles that the average 99% percenter would have. These concepts in songs are not different from most other genres, but it’s the way the indie bands go about it, the way their lyrics are filled with strange unexplained metaphors and their compositions that separate themselves from the crowd. Manchester Orchestra’s opening line to Simple Math reads “Hunter eyes, I’m lost and hardly noticed, slight goodbye.” These lyrics are not straightforward, but a little cryptic and ambiguous, the rest of the song is needed to get a full understanding of the piece, and even then there are some questions left by the listener. This gives the hipster something to analyze and understand something to question and answer, something to fiddle with in the recesses of their mind.
The hipster defines themselves as a seeker of knowledge and understanding, however not in the empirical sense. Rather the hipster looks to understand and know art, often through the lens of a camera, or with a spray paint can rather than accepting academia’s definitions of composition and art. The hipster looks at composition and style and finds ways to separate themselves from histories main stream success.
In their lives you may find things that go unused by most of society, record players, tape decks, and all sorts of analogue trinkets that have long since been replaced by more modern technologies. Even with the newer pieces of techs that they use, a mac laptop, an iPhone, even modern cars, are being hipped with older tech, or at least the appearance of older tech. We can walk into many hipsters’ bedrooms and find covers for iPhones that look like cassettes, big studio headphones that plug into mp3 devices, laptop cases that sling over the shoulder and Billy Holly glasses.
The hipster of today is a throwback to things less known, less produced, and less culturally popular, like the indie. They look towards the simplistic and stylish, finding interest in bands that feature banjos, like Mumford and Sons. The music and the life style go hand in hand, a genre for the eclectic and interesting that is both eclectic and interesting, a genre that focuses on separating their identity from the masses, for a group that separates themselves from the masses. And of course there is a contradiction in that they are a mass that separates them from the mass, but contradictions are a part of the American tradition. This is not a point I care to back up here further then pointing out that our most prominent contradiction is in the idea that any of the 99 percenters may be able to make it into the 1 percent, though we all know that it is physically impossible, given the number of 99 percenters and the exclusivity of the 1 percent.
In short, the modern day hipster is defined by the indie scene, and vice versa. They are two groups founded on the same principles, and adhere to similar lifestyles. To say one created the other is false, rather each feeds into the other.

Works Cited

"Manchester Orchestra." Simple Math Lyrics. AZ Lyrics, 10 May 2010. Web. 22 Apr. 2012. <>

Hrodey, Matt. "What is a hipster? - Isthmus | The Daily Page." Madison, Wisconsin's source for events, news, movies, music, restaurants and more: Isthmus|The Daily Page. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2012.

What exactly is ‘emo,’ anyway? - Entertainment - Music -" Matt Lauer, Ann Curry, Al Roker, Natalie Morales - TODAY show video, news, recipes, health, pets. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2012.

"Explore: Indie Rock | AllMusic." AllMusic. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2012.

Frikkle, David. "Kurt Cobain." Kurt Cobain carries a torch for The Pixies. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2012.

Hrodey, Matt. "What is a hipster? - Isthmus | The Daily Page." Madison, Wisconsin's source for events, news, movies, music, restaurants and more: Isthmus|The Daily Page. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 May 2012. <>

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