There are interesting parallels between indie rock and the folk movement of the early Sixties. Both hinged on purism and authenticity, as well as idealism about the power of music within culture and society; both were a reaction to shallow, complacent times and their correspondingly shallow, complacent entertainment; both had populist roots but were eventually commandeered by white middle-class college kids.
Corporate rock was about living large; indie was about living realistically and being proud of it. Indie bands didn’t need million-dollar promotional budgets and multiple costume changes. All they needed was to believe in themselves and for a few other people to believe in them, too…
…You could take this particular approach to music and apply it to just about anything else you wanted to. You could be beholden only to yourself and the values and people you respected. You could take charge of your existence.
- Michael Azerrad, Our Band Could be Your Life
Azerrad was writing about indie rock as a rebellion against the materialistic, conservative Reagan-Bush era. Indie/punk/underground music was important because it was setting up an alternate system - your values are not our values, your lives are not our lives.
Twenty, thirty years later, the DIY underground ethic is thriving, but the climate is different. The music business is in crisis, the economy is in crisis, politics are a hot mess. If the anti-corporate underground started out as a bomb shelter, it’s become a sprawling metropolis - one that’s more than viable to submerge yourself in.
Azerrad’s underground was propelled by the violent sounds of punk and hardcore. Jamming econo, maximizing minimalism, encouraging musicians who didn’t have conventional “talent,” supporting communities over corporations - these were all set up as oppositional, and the music followed suit. But if hardcore was a revolution, folk is an embrace. Values born of defiance have become necessities and folk’s not looking to prove anything. Your values are our values, it’s saying. Come in, we’re all in this together.