Fader Magazine sat Vampire Weekend‘s Ezra Koenig and Carles, he of the Hipster Runoff-era of blogging (literally and figuratively), down to discuss the merits of “indie” culture; even going as far as to ask if it ever existed. Of course, this discussion—at a time when everything, and everyone, is “branded”—is filled with irony beyond even the notion of a musician who has made most of his money via commercial tie-ins and corporate supported festivals and a blogger who hailed during an era when the music industry was a (gleeful) shell of its former self. Still, the entire conversation can be boiled down to Koenig’s first sentence in his third response:
Carles, you keep using this word ‘indie,’ and I have no idea what you’re talking about, but I will do my best to play along.
For his part, Koenig is actually a very astute observationist, using Carles weak (and exhaustingly long) leads to weigh in on topics of morality and skewed capitalism.
“I don’t know how ‘indie’ fits into this new era. I guess you’re right—similar to the modern artisan, ‘indie’ feels like a ‘false construct.’ It neither leans into the dominant narrative of late-capitalist-Information-Age-celebrity nor challenges it. It’s like the musical form of the hated ‘moderate liberal.’”
But as expected, the conversation devolves into focus study on what the music scene was in peak-internet / pre-streaming-revenue days vs. today; when “indie” wasn’t a sound or way of life, but merely a necessity—the big labels and brick & mortar stores had no idea how to manage, which left most artists, small labels, and yes, even music bloggers, to their own devices. Surprise! Left to their own devices, they thrived without the weight of major retail and distro, Soundscans, or private streams (back then called CDs).
Hipster Runoff, and many others, made their mark in an era when mediafire mixtapes and pre-Google YouTube streams ruled. Popularity was marked (very simply) by how your music resonated with people, not how many commercials you were in or festivals you played. Now? Well, let’s just say the only way this discussion could get any more ironic is if it was held in the Sour Patch House.
It’s essentially the “is Brooklyn over?” conversation in a different context.
The very simple answer is there will always be an independent culture, whether it’s frontline, or brewing beneath the surface as a counter to the mainstream culture that dominates our social media feeds. One only needs to see the response to the fire at Silent Barn to realize the importance and vitality of independent culture, and even (especially) in this post-post-internet age where “the biggest celebrities now show the openness/vulnerability/‘realness’ that was once associated with ‘confessional’ ‘bedroom’ indie,” (Koenig’s words) what we really crave is the personal. We want faces, not brands.
The two end their discussion talking about Koenig’s Beats 1 radio show for Apple Music (this stuff writes itself), with the Vampire Weekend frontman putting his curatorial power in brand speak most of us can understand.
“I’m like a lonely hazelnut frappuccino in a Starbucks in a Target. The real power is being Target.”
What Carles should’ve asked is, if Koenig would rather be Target or the mom-and-pop store on your corner that thrives for generations with regular customers who know you by name?