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

Hospitality, "Friends Of Friends"

Does indie pop ever seem too willfully self-limiting? Are there drawbacks to ignoring the outside world and focusing on a more classical approach?

JG: There are always going to be people who appreciate it, but if you're not mixing the drums quite loud enough, there's always going to be somebody that says 'well, you can't quite rise above that because of that.' That's how it goes, I guess. But it's kind of a choice to make. A band like My Favorite is kind of legendary for having this amazing sound, and I feel like 20 years from now, My Favorite will be more beloved than those sort of, like, newer new-wave bands from a few years ago.

In a way, it's a business decision to choose to have longevity rather than be slightly more famous than you currently are or something. It's amazing to look at bands like the Durutti Column, who have been consistently putting out albums for almost 30 years now and everything they've done is consistently good. They've never really been, like, a household name, but there are so many people who love what (songwriter Vini Reilly) does. That's definitely... that's the potential I want to be in.

What do you think sets indie pop apart from other genres?

Kip Berman (The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart): Indie pop is a self-sustaining community that's never really been fully exploited or co-opted by the record industry (and probably never will be). Yes, Orange Juice had some chart hits, Belle and Sebastian played late-night TV and Teenage Fanclub were Kurt Cobain's favorite two words for a while. But indie pop is inherently unpopular, despite sounding incredibly palatable, because it cultivates a healthy distrust towards the trappings of what mainstream "rock"—or even mainstream "indie"—represents. It's inclusive in the way that punk was meant to be and has created a shadow world that can exist, however modestly, without sponsorship or mainstream critical recognition: its own festivals, online networks and media outlets.

Another aspect of indie pop that I believe allows it to have a consistent vitality is that it has the highest representation of female band members, club promoters, DJ's and festival bookers of any non-gender specific genre (riot grrl, queercore, etc.). Think about a generic list of "10 Greatest Rock Bands of the 1990s" in a mainstream magazine. It would be a list of all men, with maybe The Smashing Pumpkins' D'arcy, Tori Amos or Courtney Love as the lone eXXceptions. That's a list of 40 to 45 musicians, with maybe 3 being sexed female.

The hypothetical indie pop list of that era would probably have a third to one half of the bands comprised of women, and many in non-"pink collar" positions like lead singers, drummers and guitarists. indie pop still has a long ways to go towards true gender equity, but compared to what is out there in "indie rock," punk, hip hop, metal and hardcore, it has made the most progress in being gender-inclusive of any genre I can think of. The interesting part is, only mainstream pop and possibly folk comes to mind as places where female artists are represented equally to their male counterparts.

But because indie pop rejects macho posturing and has many women in leadership/heroic positions (Andrea from My Favorite, Amelia from Talulah Gosh/Heavenly/Tender Trap, Pam Berry from Black Tambourine, Elizabeth from 'Allo Darlin, etc.), it is often perceived and denounced by mainstream or indie rock media sources in coded homophobic language. Words like "limp," "soft," "fey," "crying," and "sensitive" [are] the very opposite of what we're taught "real rock" should be—namely a hard cock, aggressive guitar riffs, and screaming superficial bacchanalian odes to hetero-sex, drugs and the myth of the rock star. Don't get me wrong, I'm into that stuff too. And there is no shortage of sex, drugs and transgression in the indie pop world. But I think indie pop's perpetual distrust for the trappings of "success" has been self-fulfilling. Every time we do something that feels "successful" I feel like our indie pop friends likely grumble beneath their breath about how we're not "indie pop" anymore. Maybe they're right, And I totally get that—but I also get a thrill out of playing my limp, soft songs about sex and drugs on TV.

The Drums and Hospitality play 4Knots Music Festival on Saturday, July 14, at South Street Seaport.

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South Street Seaport

19 Fulton St., New York, NY

Category: Music

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