Before there was indie music, there was underground music, which was essentially the same thing as what we now call indie, except, as the name implies, no one knew about it. In the '70s and '80s, there were reasons for why music was relegated to pop-up venues and warehouses and basements. Music of the underground could be abrasive or it could be druggy, but regardless of the particulars, it didn’t mix with the mainstream because it deliberately did not appeal to the traditional societal standards.
Then, in the early and mid-'80s, bands like Husker Du, R.E.M., The Replacements brought melody and pop sensibility to the the underground scene, with college radio becoming an outlet for the underground to start appealing to more people. By the mid-'90s bands like Pavement and The Jesus Lizard were on giant stages at Lollapalooza, while groups like Nirvana and Sonic Youth transitioned to major labels while managing to keep their underground, or indie, sensibilities in tact.
By the 2000s, independent films and music had built such a vast reach that even when something crossed into the mainstream, simple things like haircuts or even name could indicate a certain affiliation. Now, when someone or something is called indie, it says as much about the distinctions we draw as it does about those we draw them on. Now, when you realize that Mumford & Sons and Macklemore are in fact independent musicians and people like Jenny Lewis and Santigold are not, it calls into question the term “indie” and what we really mean when we say it.
Jenny and Santi are just two examples. Here are thirty more.Click to start the list