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Indie rock is a genre of rock music that originated in the United Kingdommarker and the United Statesmarker in the 1980s. The term is often used to describe the means of production and distribution of independent underground music, as well as the style of music that was first associated with this means of production. Indie rock artists are known for placing a premium on maintaining complete control of their music and careers, releasing albums on independent record labels (sometimes self-owned and operated) and relying on touring, word-of-mouth, airplay on independent or college radio stations and, in recent years, the Internet for promotion. Musicians classified as indie rock are typically signed to independent record labels, rather than major record label, although there are many examples of indie musicians switching to major labels mid-career. This practice blurs the lines between indie and mainstream music and is often the subject of debate amongst fans. Indeed, some bands that have spent most of their careers on major labels are still occasionally referred to by the press as indie rock because of their sound or aesthetic.

A variety of musical genres and subgenres with varying degrees of overlap are associated with indie rock. Some of these include lo-fi, post-rock, sadcore, C86, math rock, shoegaze/dream pop, indie pop, noise rock, noise pop, riot grrrl, post-hardcore, twee pop, alt-country, post-punk revival, garage rock revival, dance-punk, indie folk, baroque pop, and indietronica.


Early Roots

The roots of modern indie rock are often traced back to The Velvet Underground's self-titled debut album, released in 1967, which was ranked #7 on Blender's list of the 100 greatest indie rock albums. Allmusic notes that every "left-of-center rock movement owes an audible debt" to this album. The Beach Boys' 1966 album Pet Sounds is also commonly listed as a highly influential starting point. Later, the punk movement of the 1970s had a direct impact on the DIY aesthetic that later became a cornerstone of indie rock.


In the 1980s, the term alternative rock was more or less synonymous with indie rock.

In the United Kingdommarker, indie music charts have been compiled since the early 1980s. Initially, the charts featured bands that emerged with a form of guitar-based alternative rock that dominated the indie charts, particularly indie pop artists such as Aztec Camera and Orange Juice, the C86 jangle-pop movement and the twee pop of Sarah Records artists. Some definitive British indie rock bands of the 1980s were The Smiths, The Stone Roses, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and Happy Mondays whose music directly influenced 1990s alternative rock movements such as shoegazing and Britpop.

In the United Statesmarker, the term "indie rock" was particularly associated with the abrasive, distortion-heavy sounds of Hüsker Dü, The Replacements, Pixies, Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo, Minutemen, and Meat Puppets. Ironically, many of these bands released records on major labels throughout the decade. Jangly college rock bands like R.E.M. and 10,000 Maniacs were also part of the 1980s alternative rock scene.

A number of prominent indie rock record labels were founded during the 1980s. These include Washington, DC'smarker Dischord Records in 1980, Seattle'smarker Sub Pop Records in 1986, and New York City'smarker Matador Records and Durhammarker, North Carolina's Merge Records in 1989. Chicago'smarker Touch and Go Records was founded as a fanzine in 1979 and began to release records during the 1980s.


The 1990s brought major changes to the alternative rock scene. Grunge bands such as Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam 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. The meaning of the term "alternative" changed as mainstream success attracted major-label investment and commercially-oriented or manufactured acts with a formulaic, conservative approach. With this, "alternative" lost its original counter-cultural meaning and began to refer to the new form of music that was now achieving mainstream success. The term "indie rock" became associated with the bands and genres that remained underground.

The 1990s saw the emergence of several defining movements within indie rock. The lo-fi movement was spearheaded by Elliott Smith, Pavement, Guided by Voices, Neutral Milk Hotel, and several bands associated with the Elephant 6 Recording Company. It placed a premium on simplistic recording techniques (including home recording), ironic detachment, and disinterest in "selling out" to the mainstream alternative rock scene.

The emo movement, which had grown out of the hardcore punk scene in the 1980s with bands like Rites of Spring, gained popularity as the 1990s progressed. Sunny Day Real Estate, The Promise Ring, The Get Up Kids and others brought a more melodic sound to the genre. Weezer's Pinkerton introduced the genre to a wider and more mainstream audience. Years later, the term "emo" would be applied to a wider variety of more mainstream bands by the music press.

Talk Talk's Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock and Slint's Spiderland, provided the catalyst for the development of post rock and math rock. Post rock, an experimental style influenced by jazz and electronic music, became recognized as a genre as Tortoise and their Chicagomarker peers gained a national following in the middle part of the decade. Math rock shares similar experimental aesthetics, but is generally denser and more abrasive. Don Caballero, Chavez and others contributed to its rise in popularity during the 1990s.


In recent years, the line between indie and mainstream has become increasingly blurred, with traditionally indie bands like Modest Mouse and Death Cab for Cutie signing major label contracts and enjoying commercial success. Radiohead ended their contract with EMI and self-released their seventh album, In Rainbows, in 2007. Indie rock bands without major label backing increasingly turned to the internet for promotion, as music review web sites that specialize in indie music such as Pitchfork Media saw their influence grow.

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