The State Of New York's Indiepop Scene: A Roundtable Discussion

Robert Adam Mayer
The Drums play the 4Knots Music Festival tomorrow.
"I don't think any indie pop bands or fans really cried out for attention," Clyde Erwin Barretto told the Voice in this week's feature about the recent rise of New York's indie pop scene. Well, they're getting some.

The NYC Popfest, co-organized by Barretto, recently marked its sixth year of celebrating all that is jangly, haze-shrouded and jubilantly forlorn with a weekend that included local new jacks like Heavens Gate and UK imports like Allo Darlin', while the similarly themed local dance party Mondo has been quietly going strong for eight years. And while the Lower East Side indie incubator Cake Shop has been hit with a number of unexpected legal difficulties recently, several of its most high-profile graduates have reached out to offer their support.

Events and clubs like these have helped create a fertile landscape for indie pop in New York, as seen by the recent success of outdoor-festival staples like The Drums and The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart. It wasn't always thus. When the Voice talked with Michael Grace Jr. of the beloved sweaterclad post-punks My Favorite recently, he talked about watching his group getting overshadowed by buzzier acts. And while indie pop will likely never be a Hot New Sound like dance-punk or chillwave, it's undeniably having a bit of a moment in New York. SOTC gathered some of the New York's primary experts in the field—Barretto, Grace Jr., Mondo DJs Maz and Miss Modular, the Drums' Jacob Graham, Cake Shop co-owner Andy Bodor, and Pains frontman and indie pop Padawan Kip Berman—to discuss the genre's recent rise, what makes it so special, and what the heck the term "indie pop" means, anyway.

If you were asked to describe what indie pop is, exactly, what would you say? It can seem a bit nebulous at times, so let's get something solid down here.

Clyde Barretto (Popfest): Well, it has been a nebulous concept for quite some time because I don't think any indie pop bands or fans really cried out for "attention." For me indie pop is, well, bands, music, fans, that were most likely influenced by the whole C86, Sarah and Factory Records era. And there's just a particular sound and or feeling to it, a whole aesthetic surrounding the whole scene. There's a vibe that you just "get." I tend to see a lot of trends and styles that seem to have taken after it too without even knowing. And as they say "it is what it is."

Maz (Mondo): Yeah, it's hard to describe. It's a relatively young genre—starting out in the mid-'80s in the UK. It was inspired by the punk rock/DIY ethos, and also by melodic '60s pop. I think the spectrum of indie pop bands is more varied now than ever before, but they all share a similar philosophy. (Note: Both Maz and Miss Modular asked the Voice not to print their real names.)

What were the gateway drugs?

Maz: I started listening to music in the early-mid 90's. Back then I was mostly listening to Britpop and indie rock. I was sort of obsessed with all things British. Bands like Belle & Sebastian, Orange Juice and The Field Mice led me into discovering the Sarah Records catalogue, and the lesser-known indie pop bands from across the UK and Sweden.

What is it about the style and community that you find so appealing?

Jacob Graham (The Drums): I feel like the sort of music we like has really only just really become popular again or even acceptable again within the past few years. But when we were younger, we were definitely more experimental with what we were doing and, y'know, just really kind of bizarre things: wearing capes and playing synthesizers and things like that. Maybe parts of me mellowed out in our old age, but we also got all the experimentation out of our system and are just pretty adamant about what we like and we can kind of stick to that.

CB: For me, there was a similar vibe to punk rock. The whole DIY mindset and just playing music because you love it and not just because it's the flavor of the month is what drawn me to it. A lot of the fans truly do love the music and are loyal. I've met a lot of great friends and people throughout the years after having starting to listen to indie pop and that makes the community really appealing to me. It's sincere.

Since you've started the Mondo Dance Night Parties, have you noticed an increased presence and popularity for indie pop artists in New York?

Miss Modular: Yes definitely. I am always shocked when I go into a store and happen to hear The Radio Dept. I don't think at that time (2004, when the parties began) people were really ready to accept a band like The Pains of Being Pure at Heart for example. Cool was in, awkward was out. That said, there are still a plethora of incredible bands that remain undiscovered by the indie masses simply because they don't fit a certain mold. So we're not where we'd like to be exactly--but this is what makes the indie pop scene so special.

Is there something about New York that makes it particularly well-suited to have so many indie pop centric events and clubs?

Miss Modular: I am not sure I agree that there are "so many" events and clubs promoting indie pop. I often have to explain to people what indie pop even means just to get a perplexed look staring back at me.

Maz: In some ways, it becomes easier to put together NYC Popfest each year because more people are aware of what the genre is... and what it is not.

Location Info


South Street Seaport

19 Fulton St., New York, NY

Category: Music

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