Monday, January 28, 2008

Indie, Alternative, Progressive, Underground....

The terminology for non-mainstream rock/pop/experimental music played on college radio has been in a constant state of change ever since I first got involved in radio in the 1980s. At my first station we talked about playing "progressive" music when we were playing bands like Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians, Half Japanese, The Smiths, and the Replacements. At the time we meant that we were playing new stuff that maybe a lot of people hadn't heard before. Yet, today, in 2008 when I hear the term "progressive" I think about a specific genre of music from the 1970s that is often grand and dramatic with extended jams.

Similarly, in the early '90s college radio stations often said that they played "alternative" music, meaning sounds or bands that were an alternative to what was on mainstream radio. However, alternative caught on and became a full-fledged genre and ultimately a commercial radio format often typified by guitar bands, grunge music, and musicians on the Lollapalooza lineup (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane's Addiction as granddaddies of that scene).

So, what about "indie"? Indie, meaning independent, can refer to bands on smaller, independent record labels and it can also refer to an an anti-commercial aesthetic that came into popularity in the 1990s. When we think of indie rock in 2008, what do we mean? Does it still hearken back to a 1990s style of music? Does it refer to current bands outside of the major label scene? Or, is there a new term for non-mainstream music today?

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