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Indie pop is a genre of alternative rock music that originated in the United Kingdommarker in the mid 1980s, with its roots in the Scottish post-punk bands on the Postcard Records label in the early '80s such as Orange Juice and Josef K and the dominant UK independent band of the mid eighties, The Smiths. While the term 'indie' had been used for some time to describe artists on independent labels (and the labels themselves), the key moment in the naming of the genre was the release of NME's C86 tape in 1986. Although featuring a wide range of bands including Primal Scream, Bogshed, Half Man Half Biscuit, and The Wedding Present, it over time became shorthand for a genre known by a variety of terms. Initially it was dubbed 'C86' (after the tape itself), the more ambiguous indie pop, Cutie or a term coined by John Peel: shambling bands. Retrospectively, especially in the United States, the terms twee and twee pop were used, initially ironically, due to what commentators called the "revolt into childhood" of its followers.Musically its key characteristics were jangling guitars, a love of sixties pop and often fey, innocent lyrics. The UK label Sarah Records and its most popular band The Field Mice, although more diverse than the label indicates, were probably its most typical proponents. It was also inspired by the DIY scene of punk and there was a thriving fanzine, label and club and gig circuit. Scenes later developed in the United States particularly around labels such as K Records. Genres such as Riot Grrrl and bands as diverse as Nirvana, Manic Street Preachers, and Belle and Sebastian have all acknowledged its influence.

In the mid to late 80s, indie pop was criticized for its tweeness and underachievement but many now argue that C86 and the birth of the genre was a pivotal moment for independent music in the UK. It continues to have a strong following and inspire musicians, not just in the UK but around the world with new labels, clubs and bands devoted to the sound.

Roots

The birth of indie pop can be traced back to the post-punk explosion in small photocopied fanzines, and small shop-based record labels, for example Glasgowmarker's Postcard Records and Londonmarker's Rough Trade Records. The publication in Record Business of the first weekly indie singles and album charts during the week ending January 19, 1980 and the adoption of such charts in the UK music press stimulated activity. To reflect this, the British musical weekly New Musical Express released an era-defining compilation cassette called C81. This cassette featured a wide range of groups, reflecting the different approaches of the immediate post-punk era.

History

Five years later NME followed up C81 with C86. Similarly designed to reflect the new music scene of the time in the UK, it is now seen as the birth of "indie" in the UK. The UK music press, in this period, was extremely competitive with 4 weekly papers documenting new bands and trends and the grouping of bands, often artificially, with an overarching label to heighten interest or sell copies was commonplace. NME journalists of the period now agree that C86 was a typical example but also a by product of NME's "hip hop wars"; a schism on the paper (and amongst readers) between enthusiasts of the contemporary progressive black music such as Public Enemy and Mantronix and the fans of traditional white rock.

Featuring key early bands of the genre such as The Pastels, The Shop Assistants and Primal Scream, the tape, despite its subsequent notoriety, also featured bands with a much harder punkier shambling sound featuring tracks from as many as 5 bands from the Ron Johnson label; Their loud quirkiness was completely at odds with the Byrdsy guitars and fey melodies of what came to be known as 'C86' bands.

Over time the cassette became a shorthand for a movement within the British indie scene, often derided for its twee or "cuteness", jangly guitars, the bowl haircuts of its singers and asexual looks of its followers. This was applied to bands whether they had been on the tape or not such as The June Brides and Biff Bang Pow!. Some later became associated with the sound but had yet to emerge such as Talulah Gosh, Razorcuts or the BMX Bandits who in 1990 released an album called C86. The entire Sarah Records roster was dogged with associations with C86 and later as "Sarah bands" although the label's first release wasn't until 1987.

A link between a genre and the C86 tape is often disputed by journalists and the bands on the tape. Everett True has argued that "C86 didn't actually exist as a sound, or style. I find it weird, bordering on surreal, that people are starting to use it as a description again". Geoff Taylor from Age of Chance agreed. "We never considered ourselves part of any scene. I’m not sure that the public at large did either, to be honest We were just an independent band around at that same time as the others." Bob Stanley acknowledges that participants at the time reacted against lazy labelling but insists they shared an approach;
Of course the "scene", like any scene, barely existed.
Like squabbling Marxist factions, groups who had much in common built up petty rivalries.
The June Brides and the Jasmine Minks were the biggest names at Alan McGee's Living Room Club and couldn't stand the sight of each other.
Only when the Jesus and Mary Chain exploded and stole their two headed crown did they realise they were basically soulmates.


Nicky Wire remembers that it was the bands' very independence that gave the scene coherence; "People were doing everything themselves: making their own records, doing the artwork, gluing the sleeves together, releasing them and sending them out, writing fanzines because the music press lost interest really quickly."

Influences

Simon Reynolds talking about the political/cultural aspect of the scene referred to a "revolt into childhood". Style magazine i-D in an article from 1986 similarly concluded that the followers of the genre had an ingenuous devotion.

Childlike innocence and assumed naivety permeate the Cutie scene – their clothes are asexual, their haircuts are fringes, their colours are pastel.
Cuties like Penguin modern classics, sweets, ginger beer, vegetables, and anoraks.
Heroes include Christopher RobinBuzzcocks and The Undertones.


Rather more caustically, David Stubbs, in a derogatory Melody Maker review of the C86 tape, claimed that these were bands "for whom Camberwick Green is a sort of Palestine"

Musically in his book Time Travel, pop historian Jon Savage traced the origins of C86 and indie pop to the Velvet Underground's eponymous third album but perhaps a more obvious musical influence however was the pop side of post-punk bands such as The Television Personalities, the Swell Maps and Dolly Mixture. The most significant punk rock influences are the The Undertones, Buzzcocks and The Ramones, who had catchy pop melodies in their songs. C86 was also rooted in the Scottish post-punk bands of the early 1980s on the independent Postcard label: Orange Juice, Aztec Camera, The Fire Engines and Josef K (although those bands Soul/funk/disco influences were usually forgotten). Other influences were the DIY punk ethic represented by fanzines from the period such as The Legend!, Are You Scared To Get Happy?, Baby Honey, Rox, Simply Thrilled, Pure Popcorn and Hungry Beat! who often featured flexis of bands who then became associated with C86. The movement continued to hold sway into the 1990s with many of the riot grrl bands citing C86 as an influence and finally reached a commercial peak with the success of Belle and Sebastian.

Twee pop and indie pop in the US

In the United States, a similar revolution in underground pop had been taking place in Olympiamarker, Washingtonmarker. Beat Happening, an indie band fronted by Calvin Johnson and Heather Lewis, who additionally started a record label called K Records, led this movement. Their aesthetic was quite similar to their British cohorts, with hand-drawn photocopied sleeves and stripped-down instrumentation playing pop that was well out of step with the then-current hardcore punk scene. The first Beat Happening record, on K, was released in 1985. Other labels sprang up across the country, including Bus Stop (Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, from 1987); Picturebook (Barrington, Illinois, from 1987), Harriet (Cambridge, Massachusetts, from 1989) and Slumberland (Silver Spring, Maryland, from 1989, later California), bringing together the American sound of Beat Happening, which was a little rawer and more pared-down, with the British indie pop of Sarah and others, which was sometimes softer, more harmonious, and more twee. Important groups included Tiger Trap, and Honeybunch.

A punk-influenced variant of indie pop, prominent in the mid-1990s, was dubbed "cuddlecore". Led by bands such as cub, Bunnygrunt and Maow, cuddlecore was marked by harmony vocals and pop melodies atop a punk-style musical backing. Cuddlecore bands were usually, although not always, all-female and essentially represented a more pop-oriented variation on the then-current riot grrrl scene.

In the United States indie pop is also commonly known as twee or twee pop. The term has been rejected and then adopted by many of the bands whose sound has been described this way. This has spawned inside jokes like the T-shirts that read "Twee as Fuck" or "Twee Fucker".

International

In addition to the United Kingdom and the United States, there has been a significant school of bands since 1985 in New Zealand, recording for Flying Nun Records, most notably the trio of The Bats, The Chills, and The Clean. Instantly recognizable for their insistent jangle-guitar strums and sweet, high male choirboy voices, these bands were the model for much of what followed in other countries. France, Germany, Sweden, Japan, Philippines, Indonesia, Greece, Spain, Canada, Peru and Mexico all have significant indie pop scenes. Elefant Records (Spain) and Summershine Records (Australia) are notable labels in the international development of indie pop.

Today

In 2004 the UK focused Rough Trade Shops compilation Indiepop Vol 1 effectively documented the history of the sound acknowledging that it pre- and post-dated 1986. London clubs such as How Does it Feel to be Loved?marker, continue to air tracks from the tape. It is Sweden, however, where the sound has most taken hold with a raft of labels like Labrador Records. Other recent indie pop acts include Welsh septet Los Campesinos!, Scottish group Camera Obscura, and American groups such as The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Au Revoir Simone.

See also



Notes

  1. Rogers, Jude Smells like Indie Spirit, The Observer, July 8, 2007, http://music.guardian.co.uk/pop/story/0,,2121219,00.html
  2. Twee; Paul Morley's Guide to Musical Genres, BBC Radio 2, June 10, 2008, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00bz94n
  3. Twee as Fuck: The Story of Indie Pop, Nitsuh Abebe, Pitchfork Media, Oct 24, 2005, http://pitchfork.com/features/articles/6176-twee-as-fuck/
  4. Stanley, Bob Sleevenotes to CD86
  5. NME: Still Rocking at 50, BBC News, 24 February 2002 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/music/1836411.stm
  6. Everett True, Plan B Magazine Blog, July 2005 http://planbmag.com/blogs/staff/2005/07/22/friday-22-july/
  7. Taylor, Geoff, interview, ireallylovemusic vs Age of Chance, http://www.ireallylovemusic.co.uk/interviews/irlm_vs_aoc.html
  8. Wire, Nicky The Birth of Uncool, The Guardian, October 25, 2006, http://arts.guardian.co.uk/features/story/0,,1930836,00.html
  9. as quoted in Steve Redhead, End-of-the-Century Party, Youth and Pop Towards 2000, p82, Manchester University Press, 1990 (Manchester)
  10. Hann, Michael Fey City Rollers http://arts.guardian.co.uk/features/story/0,11710,1325674,00.html
  11. Rogers, Jude Stockholm Syndrome http://arts.guardian.co.uk/filmandmusic/story/0,,1872154,00.html


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