Wednesday, July 25, 2007

there's only one girl in the world for you / and she probably lives in Tahiti

This article, in the Observer, is a pleasure to read:

But something is happening that might just revitalise the original indie spirit: 21 years after C86 acted out its quiet revolution, the do-it-yourself ethic is back.


They think the term 'indie' has died but that something else is in its place - a new spirit of enthusiasm inspired by people who are fed-up of dull contemporary sounds, and who are buoyed up by the internet's capacity to store and disseminate music using next-to-no resources

It makes yer feel all warm and cozy inside.

Of course the story misses two rather obvious points. Firstly the C86, a cassette distributed by the NME, did not act out it’s quiet revolution as she says, but rather acted as a banner for an ongoing, not so quiet revolution that had begun with quite some brash bravado decade earlier in London, and to a lessor degree, NYC, and had, by the time C86 appeared, gone around the world, without losing the original spirit, several times by then. The spirit of Stiff, Factory, Small Wonder, Fast, ROIR, Rough Trade, ZE and hundreds of others had been the driving force behind thousands of labels around the world, including my own label, Propeller, and others that came after us, including the already, long before C86, thriving Flying Nun. It’s an odd perspective to say that C86 heralded the beginning of anything. If anything C86 marked the beginning of the end of rock ’n’ roll’s first flirtation with indism (good new word, huh?). It was to return to the fold with some fervor a few years later, which bring me to second point, that being the way the spirit of the original indies was gathered up and pushed forward by that decade’s next major revolution, the electronic and rhythmic one that had it’s roots in gay clubs in Chicago and a trio of suburban obsessives in Detroit.

Over the next decade, dance, house, techno, dub, acid jazz and all the various rhythmic mutations were, despite the myth of C86, what drove the indies. The second major revolution of that decade was about six months away when C86 came out, and an incredible explosion in independent music accompanied it. By mid 87 the sounds on that C86 cassette were dated and staid.

The spirit of those early independents can thereafter be found in Wall of Sound, Strictly Rhythm, Warp and 1000 other labels globally. Even Factory and Rough Trade, the granddaddies of the UK indie scene (before they went under..indies often do that), and Creation, the flag bearer, made their pre-Britpop marks by mashing dance with the indie ethos.

What all these labels, across the genres, had in common, was that, unlike the earlier pre-punk indies, they had no desire to be majors. Motown, A&M, Virgin and Island all wanted to be EMI. Rough Trade and Warp could think of nothing they wanted less.

So thirty years after the revolution (not 20 as per the Observer story…I posted the above simply as a way of backgrounding the path), in 2007 we have reached indie domination. In 2007 only the indies really matter. In 2007 only the indies seem to understand the road forward. Sure, still, the four major labels have the lion’s share of the charts, of the sales percentages. But that’s really beside the point. Simply put, in mid 2007, as I type, it’s not an unreasonable overstatement to say that nothing of any importance that looks forward has been released by any major record label in any of the territories that I traditionally tend to look at (ie UK, US & NZ) unless it I via a distribution deal with an indie. In other words, the major record labels, in their panic (and rightly so) of the past five years have walked away from what made them record companies, A&R. It’s the lifeblood of what they are, where they have come from and what has always given them a future, and now the accountants in their stock panic, have slit the jugular. Seriously, have a swiz through the UK, US or NZ charts, and show more than two new acts, signed directly to a major, that matter beyond a short term sales burst designed to pay the rather large salaries of people who have less and less to do. In the US charts I can count Amy Winehouse, and, uhhhh, that’s about it. It must be scary to be in the employ of a major record label in a time when, more or less, their bosses have said, beyond our catalogue and our legacy signings, we don’t want to play anymore..nol contendere….

But, it’s fascinating and exciting to watch the rise and rise and rise of the thirty year young contenders, or at least their heirs. The number one album this week in the UK is by The Enemy, who, while they may have stolen the name from one of NZ’s finest, most appropriately appear on the rather legendary Stiff label, an imprint that inspired us all. There is a new empowerment and sense of control in the indie world, be it the rise of Justice, The Battles, or LCD Soundsystem, The Editors, Arctic Monkeys, or the squeeze that the understanding of the new media that the majors simply lack gives them, but at last, to partially quote JFK, the torch has passed…

Wait five years, and beyond catalogue, and a few acts who can't exist outside the system, the big four, who have contracted and merged relentlessly to survive, but have forgotten what actually gave them lifeblood, will be almost irrelevant, if they're not already.

You have to wonder, when UMIs CEO Doug Morris walks down the road, whether the neon that spells out dinosaur on his back comes on letter by letter or flashes as one word. It’s almost game over, it truly is.

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