The 50 Most Influential Indie Rock Bands

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By Caitlin White

Indie rock has transmogrified into one of the hardest genres on earth to define. Bands trying to break through love to title themselves as "indie rock" as though it were a specific sound, while critics love to point back to scions of the underground scene in an attempt to pinpoint when the genre began. Questions of mainstream success and major label affiliation also enter the ring—are there really sell-out points and did bands that cavorted with the majors disqualify themselves from indie status forever?

These debates and many others, (such as my current favorite, what is the line between indie rock and folk, but that's for another piece) are fringing themselves into tinier and more complex questions, even as you are reading this. Here at P&P we may not hold the key to unlocking the mysteries of the indie universe, but we have selected what our 50 most influential bands on the indie rock scene and sound are. In the case of these selections, bands were regarded for their contribution to their present time, as well as the way their sound infiltrated future generations. Bands were not disqualified for signing with the majors (Hello—Sonic Youth even did it guys), but certain levels of mainstream success (read: The Beatles) were taken into consideration.

Is 2013 the year we go post-indie? Is 2013 the year we stop using the prefix post plus an old genre name to describe new things? Only time will tell. For now, read through our picks and get really disgruntled or really happy, then tell us your thoughts—because we know you'll have them—on Twitter.

Click to start the list

By Caitlin White

Indie rock has transmogrified into one of the hardest genres on earth to define. Bands trying to break through love to title themselves as “indie rock” as though it were a specific sound, while critics love to point back to scions of the underground scene in an attempt to pinpoint when the genre began. Questions of mainstream success and major label affiliation also enter the ring—are there really sell-out points and did bands that cavorted with the majors disqualify themselves from indie status forever?

These debates and many others, (such as my current favorite, what is the line between indie rock and folk, but that’s for another piece) are fringing themselves into tinier and more complex questions, even as you are reading this. Here at P&P we may not hold the key to unlocking the mysteries of the indie universe, but we have selected what our 50 most influential bands on the indie rock scene and sound are. In the case of these selections, bands were regarded for their contribution to their present time, as well as the way their sound infiltrated future generations. Bands were not disqualified for signing with the majors (Hello—Sonic Youth even did it guys), but certain levels of mainstream success (read: The Beatles) were taken into consideration.

Is 2013 the year we go post-indie? Is 2013 the year we stop using the prefix post plus an old genre name to describe new things? Only time will tell. For now, read through our picks and get really disgruntled or really happy, then tell us your thoughts—because we know you’ll have them—on Twitter.

  • http://twitter.com/kev_INyourpants Kevin

    WHERE THE HELL IS THE POSTAL SERVICE ON HERE?!??!?! Are you kidding complex, I subscribe to your physical magazine, read 60% of your twitter feed, & this is the first time I am outraged & disappointed in an article, here’s been close ones, bu not like this.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dahagan David Hagan

    Thought indie music was predominately British but your list is over weighted to the other side of the pond. How you could omit the saints who were indie before it was a music classification and influenced a few bands methinks

  • http://www.facebook.com/Gerd.ferrell.7 Gerald Ferrell

    This list needs: Stone Roses, Weezer, Violent Femmes, The Magnetic Fields, Husker Du, Wire, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Animal Collective, The Libertines, Smog, Of Montreal, The Strokes, Elliott Smith, Sufjan Stevens.., And if you have The Kinks, then you must have The Velvet Underground, Elvis Costello, The Clash and The Ramones.

  • Green

    can’t believe you didn’t put Animal Collective, but felt compelled to add Ariel Pink and Yo La Tengo..? This list sucks

  • Chase

    These types of list are always open to a ton of criticism. Everyone has there own opinions and no one will ever be satisfied with the order. I think that this is a pretty good list, but does omit some big names. It does serve as a good history lesson of indie rock’s many influential bands.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lee-Nutter/608753580 Lee Nutter

    THE FALL

  • http://twitter.com/the_biloquist Mike

    This list is pretty lame. The fact that bands like Dirty Projectors is even on this list speaks to its lameness. How could you leave off bands like The Fall, Wire or Jesus and Mary Chain? Pavement would not exist if The Fall didn’t exist.

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.goldbach Robert Goldbach

    Interpol at #19? This is a joke, right? All the credit they ever earned can be directly redirected to Joy Division. Agree with Gerald about many of the missing bands.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1083925661 Ethan Singer

    beck at 44…AND new pornographers ranked better!? better than sunny day real estate!?!. im at number 38 thus far. can someone warn me if Okerville river is gonna rank better than fugazi? kinda ridiculous list, imo

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1083925661 Ethan Singer

    didnt get thru this list thus far. NO velvet underground? how does sonic youth get number 1 and no vu? unreal

  • Chez

    Stereolab!!? Ever been to Europe?

  • http://twitter.com/the_biloquist Mike

    Big Black? Einsturzende Neubauten?

  • http://www.facebook.com/jbmorrow Brad Morrow

    There is so much to discuss here – not faulting the list, obviously omissions are going to made. But a recurring theme that needs to be resolved, when the list refers to “Indie Rock” bands, obviously the emphasis is on bands since 2000 & not the 1990s. Because if you asked anyone in the 1990s what band personified Indie Rock the most, most likely the answer would be Sebadoh. To completely skip Sebadoh from the list, simply puzzles me. Not to mention, the list is also US-centric & fails to acknowledge the roots of Indie Rock, when it was originally coined Indie Pop & though the Smiths are included, the list doesn’t include any Flying Nun bands such as the Tall Dwarfs (Lo-Fi would not exist as it is without them). Then you throw T-Rex as a smug nod to alternative originators, but don’t include Velvet Underground.

    Seriously, just delete the URL & walk away. As much as I get annoyed with people whining about their band not being included but this is, besides the obvious inclusions, a pathetic attempt.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jbmorrow Brad Morrow

    Ok, I am obviously faulting the list :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=654437795 David Johnson

    How can this list not have Fugazi?

  • http://twitter.com/zackhalsey jeff

    cap’n jazz

  • http://twitter.com/the_biloquist Mike

    I like what you say but as someone who lived through the alternative music scenes of the 80’s and 90’s, I can’t think of one person I knew then who would have said that Sebadoh personified Indie Rock. Maybe that is a regional thing.

  • http://twitter.com/miromutilation Miro De

    great list, totally agreeing but i really can’t believe that there’s no Death Cab in it…

  • http://www.facebook.com/ahmet.turkoglu.374 Ahmet Türkoğlu

    instead of all these BS new bands of the last 15 years, these should have been there; the fall – the cure – jesus and mary chain – wire – velvet underground – beat happening – hüsker dü – sebadoh – stone roses – happy mondays – mission of burma – big black – violent femmes – furniture – sad lovers & giants – slowdive – ride – lush – jeffrey lewis.. and if you have the kinks, you’ll have the who too..

  • http://www.facebook.com/james.harrington.96742 James Harrington

    a pretty random list of bands…hardly reads as ‘the most influential’. may aswell be called ‘the writers 50 favourite bands’

  • http://twitter.com/ignatzz Ignatz

    Such As Us.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002973122902 Malaya Armina

    smells like hipsters arguing!

  • http://twitter.com/NickTheHouse Nick Borelli

    Great album…but just one album.

  • http://twitter.com/NickTheHouse Nick Borelli

    I agree it’s flawed but do you think Dinosaur Jr. represents (in a fashion) Mascis Projects, Sebadoh, Sentridoh, and Folk Implosion?

  • odone20

    FINALLY! I was wondering when some Rock Scientist would get around to quantifying and qualifying the influence of all the indie bands ever.

    It’s the full realization of the promise of the Internet. Our work here is done, people. Why don’t we all just take a 5 day weekend. I’ll buy the ribs.

  • birdland

    yes SY, no discussion !

  • http://www.facebook.com/fabio.mandoloni Fabio Mandoloni

    very very very very very TRENDY. Change job.

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.lindquist.37 David Lindquist

    This list is about half right… Either limit it to 1990 to present, or include all of it, either way you are missing way more influencial bands than Grizzly Bear and Bon Iver (they might be influential now, but…) Look at all these comments. Where’s PJ Harvey, They Might Be Giants, and Cowboy Junkies?

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.lindquist.37 David Lindquist

    Nobody remembers fIREHOSE?!?!

  • http://www.facebook.com/devin.middleton Devin Middleton

    where.are.the.strokes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/petri.loukusa Petri Loukusa

    The Fall, Wire or Jesus and Mary Chain, or most of these listed bands would not exist without the Velvet Underground, which is also missing from this list.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mounaeir.kiers Mounaeir Kiers

    This list is simply shitface

  • http://twitter.com/apoklnow Andy Hudson

    Missing a ton, adding some questionable acts..but when I think indie, nothing comes to mind but Fugazi, they had their own set of indie rules that no other band could have gotten away with. Really they just trump everyone else.

  • Meeleybob Johnson

    Ever heard of the flying nun label? Obviously not even though half these bands name check the label as big influences you haven’t got a single band from the stable, not sure the compiler of this list really has a clue unfortunately . . . . . .

  • http://www.facebook.com/jbmorrow Brad Morrow

    I think I see your point, I am being early-mid 90s US indie rock biased. Nonetheless, in the early 90s US, it was difficult to not include Sebadoh along with Guided by Voices & Pavement when mentioning indie rock.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jbmorrow Brad Morrow

    Not really, Dinosaur Jr. & Sebadoh represented very different things. Especially considering Dinosaur Jr. was as much of an “indie rock” band in the 90s as Smashing Pumpkins – Mascis took a very different route with the band after Barlow left.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jbmorrow Brad Morrow

    I am certainly thinking the writers bias is based on what bands influenced indie rock bands since 2000, because if I was to write what bands influenced indie rock bands from the 1990s I would nearly clear the entire slate. When you think of early 1990s US bands that were just a foot out of the US Underground scene, nearly all of them in earlier incarnations covered Black Flag or were into Kraftwerk (which back in the day was consistently listed as one of the more influential bands).

  • http://www.facebook.com/jbmorrow Brad Morrow

    But when a large proportion of the bands listed are on the recipient end of influence I have a big problem, in other words despite his critical acclaim how many artists has Bon Iver influenced? Besides when I hear Bon Iver I think of Elliot Smith, Lou Barlow, Cat Power or Smog or even a current musician like Iron & Wine.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jbmorrow Brad Morrow

    No doubt I agree about Ariel Pink’s inclusion but I don’t understand how you could question Yo La Tengo being included. That band might be the longest consistently running indie rock band around.

  • http://www.facebook.com/hadleydavis Hadley Davis

    Beck’s years active: 1998 – Present? Did 93-97 not count?

  • freewheelin

    Worst list ever. The Kinks are in, but no Velvet Underground? The f—- kind of sense does that make? Can’t believe I wasted my time with this.

  • David B

    Go fuck yourself with your 50 clicks. I’m not going to go through that many slides, I don’t care who’s on that list!

  • Chase

    I do not disagree and I didn’t think it was the best list I have ever read either. I have many artist that I feel should be on here as well. I just like the idea of a list like this and I admire someone who took the time to write it and begin dialogue. Everyone will have there own opinion and this should have been left as an open discussion, rather than a set in stone list.

  • Eddie Walker

    No Hüsker Dü???? Unbelievable.

  • Eddie Walker

    Fugazi, Hüsker Dü, Elliott Smith.

  • Salvador C

    Where is Morphine? ???

  • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.lennox.792 Stephen Lennox

    Where’s the fucking Jesus and Mary Chain…. and Husker Du!

  • John Duncan

    I’m pretty sure that Neutral Milk Hotel’s singer and lyricist is named Jeff Mangum, not Jeff Magnum.

  • PJ

    Let’s forget about how ridiculous this list is and instead talk about how ridiculous the songs she chose as examples are. “CREEP” FOR RADIOHEAD?! “MAPS” FOR YEAH YEAH YEAHS?! “GOSPEL” FOR THE NATIONAL?! “GOING AGAINST YOUR MIND” FOR BUILT TO SPILL?! I could actually do this for a long time, because almost every. single. choice. is way way off. Ew.

  • pancakefacecake

    yes, and where is polvo

  • http://www.facebook.com/sam.french.98 Sam French

    Just a horrible, horrible list.The bands omitted are too numerous and unforgivable

  • Sofia

    PREACH IT. At the end i was at least expecting some kind of recognition to Galaxie 500 or some ACTUAL post-punk band, not effing Interpol

  • Sofia

    Being indulgent, we might think that the writer of this post was rather confused with his concepts of “influential” and “indie”, since the omission of some obvious influential indie bands for the sake of naming bands like Modest Mouse or Grizzly Bear, seems more like an election for a list of the currently most widespread sounds. But then, the fact that Interpol is listed as an influence in “post-punk” can only be a grim terrible joke, or product of an evident lack of musical knowledge. I raise my voice with my ppl down there: where the heck is The Velvet Underground?! Absolutely no 70’s punk-directed bands, nor madchester scene, i don’t believe it!

  • Ty

    At first I was like: WHAT?! NOT SONIC YOUTH?!!!!

    Then I looked again and went: Oh! Duh :D

  • Ty

    *NO SONIC YOUTH?!!!! (oops)

  • http://www.barefacedliar.com/ Barefaced Liar

    Guys Check Out Live Performance of ‘To The Alamo’ by Barefaced Liar, a Top Indie Rock Band at http://youtu.be/l3KYfGxRaus

  • http://www.barefacedliar.com/ Barefaced Liar

    Guys Check Out Live Performance of ‘To The Alamo’ by Barefaced Liar, a Top Indie Rock Band at http://youtu.be/l3KYfGxRaus

  • http://www.barefacedliar.com/ Barefaced Liar

    You should Check Out Live Performance of ‘To The Alamo’ by Barefaced Liar, a Top Indie Rock Band at http://youtu.be/l3KYfGxRaus

  • http://www.facebook.com/garrett.wilson.16 Garrett Wilson

    I would put Sebadoh or the Minutemen on here.

  • Jorge Lourenço

    THE FUCKING STROKES DUMBASS BLOG!

    SO MANY ALTERNATIVE BANDS HERE THAT WERE INFLUENCED AND NOT THE INFLUENCE!

  • Eugênio

    Cadê The Strokes?
    Eugênio from Brazil

  • iguy704

    beach house!?!?!?!!?!?!?!?!???!?!?!!?!

  • DAVE

    Imagine dragons should be up here. Its an abomination that its not.

  • levilevilevi

    arctic monkeys are the best by far!

  • Jonatan

    Really.. Really??

  • Christopher Santine

    You frickin’ never heard of The Fall??? A band that influenced your number one??FFS? This list = FAIL.

  • Corey

    THe list lacks a lof of things, but c’mon, the Stone Roses is waaay down on the list.

  • Alex

    No Arctic Monkeys?! Well, that’s a surprise…

  • Alex

    No Arctic Monkeys?! Well, that’s a surprise…

  • Topogigo

    Hey!! I am in Florida and no one excepts my brother and I knows about Fugazi…

  • Eric of Sebadoh

    You’re right Brad, how in the name of God did i not make the Top 50? As if starting Sebadoh in my garage wasn’t enough, then had the first record on Domino, helping launch that label & telling them who to sign (Pavement/Royal Trux etc) Fuck this p.o.s. list

  • Taylor

    just happy this list had bright eyes :)

  • Taylor

    just happy this list had bright eyes :)

  • mr

    seriously, Velvet Underground should be #1, Nirvana above Radiohead?? Where’s the Stooges, The Fall, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cure, Bauhaus, Can, Television, Mogwai to name a few??? Nick Cave also

  • Taylor

    No one even thought about Coldplay? I’m ashamed of you all.

  • Ismael Ancona

    this list is missing a great indie band Death Cab For Cutie

  • George Acheson

    No Oasis, Blur, Suede, Ash? All four of them are more influential than Joy Division

  • thinktank691

    this list is silly… Wilco 39? No Death Cab? … a band I could give or take but cannot deny their influence on young bands… this list is off…

  • jojo

    Uhhhhh… husker du????

  • Marcel

    no they’re not

  • Marcel

    no they’re not

  • Tim

    Are you nuts? Joy Division are gods. I do not discredit the talent of Oasis or Blur. They are the definition of Brit pop not godfathers of indie.

  • Tim

    How is Coldplay indie? Fail

  • Tim

    I may not agree with every selection, but you are bang on in your belief.

  • Mary

    No Strokes? C’mon.

  • poppy

    good

  • poppy

    epic

  • poppy

    Corey your a bastard

  • Sav

    I think The White Stripes deserve a higher spot to be honest. #17 is pretty decent, but considering how influential they for their generation and the music industry when they were around, I believe they deserve a better spot. In my mind, they really reminded everyone that garage-rock is still alive in a big way. They deserve a lot of credit for that and a better spot on this lame list.

    Also where the hell are The Strokes and The Velvet Underground?? I am pleased that Spoon is on this list though. But overall this list really sucks.

  • fiona

    I agree with you. jack white is considered a rock god these days for a reason, not just because he dresses like willy wonka, plays the guitar like an unearthly being and people find it amusing. Its because the music he makes is amazing, unique and has influenced tons musicians, which nobody can deny. the white stripes definitely deserve a higher spot. also I’d say beck deserves a better spot too.

  • liam

    yea seriously. arcade fire above the white stripes? arcade fire is amazing and every album they come out with is golden, but you cant put those guys above a mind like jack white. theyre obviously very different bands that both make great music, but jack white carried a band on his own, brought a genre of music back to the mainstream almost entirely by himself, and is one of the most skilled guitarists to come out of our generation. arcade fire needs like 7 people to function and none of them have jack white’s talent unless you put them all together and even then i don’t think theyre up to par with him. this list is upsetting.

  • Quentin Driver

    First of all, what is this list: A list of the bands who were most significant WITHIN the indie community, or just the most significant indie bands in general? Of course I can understand why Pavement are #4, their name is synonymous with indie, but are they actually better and more INFLUENTIAL than Radiohead???

  • maybe, maybe not

    Just glad The Smiths got in at a high place *phew*

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  • freakstakemehome

    No of Montreal?? No Strokes??…flawed

  • Pinback_Sherman

    Wow. Some of these – although great bands – aren’t indie bands. And really? Is the dissolve of Sonic Youth the dissolve of indie music? That’s the silliest thing I’ve read all day.

  • Pinback_Sherman

    Since when are Strokes indie? Also, they’re good but not even remotely great.

  • Tim Killeen

    Where are the Stone Roses!?

  • http://classicindiealternativecom.com/ Will A

    Man oh man,what a short history,and memory about real indie..

    This is from a blog,future radio station that has been watching the music for about

    48 years,and I laugh in disgust at this list,sort of like I did when they tried to tell me that New Wave would outlast punk…,disco would be big now…ish

    http://classicindiealternativecom.com/

  • http://classicindiealternativecom.com/ Will A

    And

    This list needs: Stone Roses, Weezer, Violent Femmes, The Magnetic Fields, Husker Du, Wire, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Animal Collective, The Libertines, Smog, Of Montreal, The Strokes, Elliott Smith, Sufjan Stevens.., And if you have The Kinks, then you must have The Velvet Underground, Elvis Costello, The Clash and The Ramones…

    The Stooges,MC5,…

    As well as the bands listed on the blog
    These bands you have listed may have some talent,but your puddle is not the ocean that Indie is.

    Indy is basically that true talent that outlives all the “styles”,like with all of the old stuff like “Alternative” well after they turned that into a brand name with talentless copycats that filled the studios “aping” Jane’s Addiction REM and Pearl jam till all the talent goes away…and it turned into a fecking cartoon..

    So I will be posting more about the talent behind it on our blog and radio station.

    http://classicindiealternativecom.com/

  • Brennan Haggstrom

    Where’s Dispatch??

  • Kiana

    you forgot the strokes, vampire weekend, the arctic monkeys, the black keys, the growlers, the velvet underground, kasabian, franz ferdinand, foals

  • k

    I ‘m very shocked that you did not put The Strokes here, seriously they had massive influence on ‘now top ‘ indie bands like arctic monkeys.They were a huge influence on many bands starting in early 2000’s

  • Lily Weather

    I’m really new to indie rock. anyone got anything good that wasn’t on here?

  • LOLFACE MC STUPIDHEAD

    The kinks were here.

  • Gabriel

    Clap your hands and say yeah? The strokes?

  • Gabriel

    Neither are on the list, unfortunately.

  • Adam Young

    Which is probably why They Might Be Giants isn’t on the list! Anyone else agree?

  • Mya

    im in florida and i know about fugazi

  • Mya

    how could they not add The Strokes?

  • Ad Tome

    Hi! Good to hear that at least someone …. Have you seen them performing?

  • Sky

    This is a no good, invalid list. Take this list down immediately.
    This includes a number of influential bands and a lot of the shittiest bands that ever existed. And it omitted many of the most influential bands in indie rock.

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  • Max Brilhart

    Really? Nirvana at #5!?!

  • Max Brilhart

    This is influential bands, not new indie bands you like. The Strokes and VU are the only band of influence that you listed. All of those bands are heavily influenced by their predecessors.

  • Cathy

    I can’t take any list of this type seriously that leaves out Game Theory/Loud Family, the dB’s AND Big Star. WTF?

  • The Commentr

    You missed a lot of good ones
    Nine inch nails
    Gorillaz
    Green Day
    Blink 182
    Foo Fighters
    Soundgarden
    Pearl Jam
    MUSE
    The Black Keys
    The Cure
    Red Hot Chili Peppers
    Artic Monkeys
    Alice in Chains
    Stone Temple Pilots
    Weezer
    Bush
    Kings of Leon
    Queens of the Stone Age
    Etc.
    Etc.

  • Annie

    I think that the Ramones should be on this list… also, maybe Vampire Weekend, even if they are a newer band. But I discovered some cool bands from this list!

  • Garland Yee

    Where the hell is Weezer, way more popular and influential than most on this list

  • Max

    THE BLACK KEYS ARENT EVEN ON HERE, OR ARCADE FIRE

  • kevin

    ..props on most of the bands..very important bands to be sure..to hard to list only 50, list needs to be at least 100…but some important leave-outs….Mission of burma, the jam, archers of loaf, the fall

  • kevin

    ..someone mentioned the Strokes, are you sitting me?..wtf..does that shut head have to with anything relevant. .

  • Sara.

    WHERE ARE THE ARCTIC MONKEYS? This is all wrong.

  • Jack

    Yeah, i can’t believe the strokes aren’t on here!

  • Benjipopkid

    Surely you have heard of The Jesus and Mary Chain? And surely they should be number one

  • Benjipopkid

    This list was brought to you by Caitlin ‘I haven’t got a fucking clue about music’ White

  • Anarchtheist

    When I got to Grizzly Bear I realized that this list would contain Interpol, and as such be garbage. It is clear that whoever wrote this is a hipster with Tv on the Radio beating bands like Bon Iver and Bright Eyes. Also, if we are going to include “indie” bands like Radiohead and REM we should also add U2, Metallica and Katy Perry.

    Also, I think Mineral deserves a place on this list.

  • trust moi!

    Your list is so stupid…even moron!
    Efffing blink 182? You are cheap!

  • Guyton25

    Ween, Nirvana, Radiohead, The Smiths, The White Stripes… all among my all-time favorite bands, but they aren’t Indie. All these lists are ridiculous because no one ever knows what Indie is….. The Shins are one of the best.. Band of Horses, Modest Mouse, Death Cab, Arcade Fire, Grizzly Bear, etc…

  • carlos86

    Why are The Clash, Manic street preachers, smashing pumpkins,oasis and if nirvana are in the list why not Pearl jam and stone temple pilots?

  • Kiana

    okay mr. pretentious

  • Andreas Palmqvist

    ha ha ha ha, this list is a joke? Isn’t it? Its very funny anyway and can’t be taken serius. thanks for the laugh.

  • Juwy

    WHERE ARE ARCTIC MONKEYS

  • headphone purifier

    Agreed!
    I wouldn’t necessarily put all of those but a ‘most influential bands’ list without The Velvet Underground is nonsense

  • right98%wrong the other 3%

    FACE to FACE!!!!!! FU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Archer Nimble

    It’s tough to identify the origins of a sound. The Beatles might even be the first Indie band.

  • Marc

    This list is pretty misinformed. Who cares?

  • Lina

    Where the f*** are arctic monkeys?