||This article possibly contains original research. (September 2014)|
|Cultural origins||Early 1980s, United Kingdom|
Indie pop is a subgenre of alternative rock that originated in the United Kingdom in the mid-1980s, with its roots in Scottish post-punk bands on the Postcard Records label in the early 1980s (Josef K and Orange Juice) and the dominant UK independent band of the mid-1980s, the Smiths. Indie pop was inspired by punk's DIY ethic and related ideologies, and it generated a thriving fanzine, label, and club and gig circuit. Indie pop differs from indie rock to the extent that it is more melodic, less abrasive, and relatively angst-free.
The term "indie" had been used for some time to describe artists on independent labels (and the labels themselves), but the key moment in the naming of "indie pop" as a genre was the release of NME's C86 tape in 1986. The compilation featured, among other artists, Primal Scream, the Pastels, and the Wedding Present, and "indie" quickly became shorthand for a genre whose defining conventions were identified as jangling guitars, a love of '60s pop, and melodic power pop song structures (the genre was initially dubbed "C86" after the tape itself).
In the mid to late '80s, indie pop was criticized for its associations with so-called "shambling" (a John Peel-coined description celebrating the self-conscious primitive approach of some of the music) and underachievement, but the C86 indie pop scene is now recognized as a pivotal moment for independent music in the UK, as is recognized in the subtitle of that compilation's 2006 extended reissue: CD86: 48 Tracks from the Birth of Indie Pop. Indie pop continues to have a strong following and inspire musicians, not just in the UK, but around the world, with new bands, labels and clubs devoted to the sound.
The birth of indie pop can be traced back to the post-punk explosion in limited-circulation photocopied fanzines, and small shop-based record labels such as London's Rough Trade Records and Glasgow's Postcard Records. The publication in Record Business magazine of the first weekly indie singles and album charts (for the week ending 19 January 1980) and the adoption of such charts in the UK music press stimulated activity. In order 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.
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 pop in the UK (the 2006 extended reissue CD86 is subtitled 48 Tracks from the Birth of Indie Pop). The UK music press was, in 1986, highly competitive, with four weekly papers documenting new bands and trends. 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 an example of this, but also a by-product of NME's "hip hop wars", a schism in the paper (and among readers) between enthusiasts of contemporary progressive black music (for example, by Public Enemy and Mantronix), and fans of guitar-based music, as represented on C86. C86 featured key early bands of the genre such as Primal Scream and the Pastels, but also included tracks by several more abrasive, "shambling" bands from the Ron Johnson label, who were atypical of the perceived C86 jangle pop aesthetic.
A link between C86 and unifying genre is commonly disputed by critics and the bands actually on the original compilation. Everett True, a writer for NME in the '80s under the name "The Legend!", 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, a member of the band 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, a Melody Maker journalist in the late 1980s and founding member of pop band Saint Etienne, 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.
Manic Street Preachers bassist 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."
Many of the actual C86 bands distanced themselves from the scene cultivated around them by the UK music press - in its time, C86 became a pejorative term for its associations with so-called "shambling" (a John Peel-coined description celebrating the self-conscious primitive approach of some of the music) and underachievement.
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.
In his book Time Travel, pop historian Jon Savage traced the musical origins of C86 and indie pop to the Velvet Underground's eponymous third album. Power pop was a significant influence, as was punk and post-punk. Catchy power pop melodies made the Ramones and Buzzcocks the most identifiable punk influences. Before the last and main influence on C86 and indie pop - the Smiths - the bands of Glasgow's post-punk independent Postcard label had some influence: Josef K and Orange Juice (along with contemporaries The Fire Engines). The Jesus and Mary Chain's sound combined the Velvet Underground's "melancholy noise" with Beach Boys pop melodies and Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" production, while New Order emerged from the demise of post-punk band Joy Division and experimented with synthpop, techno and, later, house music. The Jesus and Mary Chain, along with Dinosaur Jr, and the dream pop of Cocteau Twins, were the formative influences for the shoegaze movement of the late 1980s. Named for the band members' tendency to stare at their feet and guitar effects pedals onstage rather than interact with the audience, acts like My Bloody Valentine, and later Slowdive and Ride created a loud "wash of sound" that obscured vocals and melodies with long, droning riffs, distortion, and feedback. The other major movement at the end of the 1980s was the drug-fuelled Madchester scene. Based around the Haçienda, a nightclub in Manchester owned by New Order and Factory Records, Madchester bands such as Happy Mondays and the Stone Roses mixed acid house dance rhythms, Northern soul and funk with melodic guitar pop.
The jangle pop indie sensibility with which C86 became synonymous began to be applied to bands who had not appeared on the tape. Some influenced by the compilation and later associated with it had yet to emerge in 1986, such as Talulah Gosh and Razorcuts. The UK label Sarah Records, which released its first record in 1987, embraced the perceived jangly indie pop sensibility in such a way that it - and its most popular bands, the Field Mice and Heavenly - could be seen as typical proponents.
The movement continued to hold sway into the 1990s. American indie pop band Beat Happening's 1985 eponymous debut album was influential in the development of the indie pop sound, particularly in North America. Scenes developed in the United States, particularly around labels such as K Records and Slumberland Records. Bands of the US riot grrrl movement acknowledged a debt to C86, and Scottish band Belle and Sebastian recognized its influence.
In the United States, the terms "twee", "twee pop" and "cutie" (all pejorative terms in the UK) have been adopted retrospectively to describe some examples of indie pop, owing to what has been called the genre's "revolt into childhood".
A punk-influenced variant of indie pop, briefly prominent in the mid-1990s, was dubbed "cuddlecore." This label, applied to bands such as Shonen Knife, Cub, Tullycraft, Bunnygrunt, The Softies and Maow, described a style 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 contemporaneous riot grrrl scene.
In the mid-2000s, British clubs such as How Does It Feel to Be Loved?, Scared To Dance and Moogie Wonderland continue to air tracks from C86, and Sweden has increased its export of indie pop through Labrador Records.
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