What is Indie Rock?

What is Indie Rock?

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Guitarist Charlie Davis plays both guitar and keyboard (Inkwell Photo/Elizabeth Rhaney)

Elizabeth Rhaney, Photography Editor

What is indie rock? Who is indie rock? Indie is often used as a synonym for alternative, underground, edgy and not mainstream.

In Spotify’s Women of Indie playlist, they chart the evolution of women in indie music- from legends like Patti Smith and Niko, to riot grrls like Le Tigre and Sleater Kinney, to current mainstays like St. Vincent and M.I.A. The link that connects them all is an unapologetic sense of rebellion, independence and creativity. They are who they want to be. They are who they need to be.

Last year, writer Sarah Sahim wrote an article for Pitchfork titled The Unbearable Whiteness of Indie. The piece is about how, in Sahim’s words, “in indie rock, white is the norm…there is no divorcing a predominantly white scene from systemic ideals ingrained in white Western culture.” She mentions the struggle that artists of color, like M.I.A. and Natasha Khan of Bat for Lashes, face while in the indie music scene.

While reading her article, I tried to think of all the artists of color in indie rock that I knew. Sahim wrote that she “could count on one hand the prominent performers in the independent scene that look like me.” Ultimately, I could count less- M.I.A., Santigold, Ibeyi and FKA Twigs.

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Kingsley Brock plays onstage (Inkwell Photo/Elizabeth Rhaney)

There is a mainstream even within the alternative. It is difficult to find people of color on indie playlists or concert lineups. Rock in general has a connection to whiteness, despite its relationship to blues and reggae. When trying to think of musicians of color in the genre, I could only think of Jimi Hendrix, Lenny Kravitz and Living Colour.

What would happen if the indie scene became more diverse? Why are there not more people of color being promoted in indie rock? Are some genres simply more racialized than others, like rock and rap, or are they made to seem that way. Are there really less artists of color in rock music, or are there many in the genre that just aren’t well promoted?

The definition of indie is not fixed. It can change as the genre grows. If these questions are asked, what we think of as indie now might be radically different from what we see it as in the future.