Indie pop is a subgenre of indie rock, however some people experience difficulty in separating the genres, in addition to which bands fall under which category. This article will explain the origins of indie pop, the sound that defines it, and how it has developed over the years. It will additionally discuss the influence indie pop has had on the music industry and significant bands and albums.
A key influence was a genre called Post-Punk, which followed in a similar style to punk, however other instruments were included, for example synthesizers. The production was raw and darker in comparison, while bands such as Buzzcocks, Joy Division, and the Velvet Underground were significant in influencing the genre.
Additionally, another element that drew from post punk was the emergence of fanzines being sold outside gigs, and independent record labels being established: Postcard Records in Glasgow and Rough Trade Records in London. Postcard Records included bands such as Josef K and Orange Juice, who were both influential to bands such as Franz Ferdinand and The Futureheads, whilst Rough Trade, which initially started out as a record shop, distributed Inflammble Material by the punk band Stiff Little Fingers, which was the first independent release to sell 100,000 copies in the UK. Additionally, Rough Trade signed The Smiths from Manchester, who recorded four highly influential albums, The Smiths, Meat is Murder, The Queen is Dead, and Strangeways Here We Come. Featuring singer Morrissey’s lyrics about the struggles of adolescence and Johnny Marr’s jangly guitar, the band received critical acclaim in addition to a growing fanbase.
The sound traditionally consisted of primarily monotone vocals, fast jangly guitars, and a lot of emphasis on the bass guitar. The production was low budget, while the bands themselves created the artwork, giving off a strong D.I.Y feel. Additionally, indie pop was not necessarily male dominated, as some bands, including Oxford’s Talulah Gosh, consisted of both male and female members. They incorporated harmonies in their music, demonstrating a love for 1960s girl groups, showcasing a unique element of the sound and it set the bands apart from other genres.
In 1986, the NME released a compilation album which came with the magazine entitled C86, which showcased the scene thriving and an increased interest in indie pop, however it did attract criticism for sounding generic, therefore leading to some bands being classed as “C86 bands”. It did not appeal to everyone because the majority of the music was amateurish and ramshackle, however this is endearing because it showcased that anyone could be in a band.
The album artwork showcased the image of the bands was child like, in addition to the dress sense, which consisted of the women sporting pigtails and plimsoles whereas the men wore shirts, shorts, and anoraks, continuing the fondness for the 1960s.
Sarah Records, an independent label established in Bristol, took to whimsical and feminine-style bands (hence the name) who incorporated simplicity and cuteness. The Field Mice were a melodic band with a pop aesthetic, whereas Heavenly (containing members of Talulah Gosh) created catchy hooks and are regarded as one of the greatest indie pop bands.
Over in America, K Records was a label created by Calvin Johnson (of the band Beat Happening) and Candace Pederson. It created an indie festival, International Pop Underground that launched the feminist movement riot girl and brought exposure to bands such as Bratmobile. Nirvana’s singer Kurt Cobain was a fan of the label and supported the movement as he had the logo tattooed on his arm.
Beat Happening were influential in the American indie pop scene, their simplistic honest songs showcasing an innocence and everlasting youth. The band Tiger Trap were also signed to K Records and they recorded an eponymous album consisting of lo-fi punk, which incorporated melodic harmonies, while Tullycraft wrote songs which were heavily supportive of indie pop.
Back in the UK, the Swansea band Helen Love were keeping with the indie pop tradition by creating their own artwork and releasing seven inch singles. Their music was fast and upbeat, demonstrating both a fondness for bubblegum pop while their lyrics contained multiple references to the Ramones and hot summer days, while Belle and Sebastian’s relaxing softer sound demonstrated a melancholic accessible direction towards the end of the decade. Another band that reached out to a mainstream audience were The Cardigans from Sweden, who incorporated a dreamy sound mixed with big catchy choruses.
In recent years, indie pop still attracts a cult following, with bands such as Talulah Gosh and The Pastels still influencing a number of artists. An example of this is the band Veronica Falls, who incorporate elements of shoegaze and C86, while Los Campesinos! include hyperactive shouty vocals backed by an amateurish instrumentation section consisting of glockenspiels, violins, and handclaps. Additionally there are festivals that celebrate the indie pop spirit, for example Indietracks in Derbyshire, which has hosted the likes of Edwyn Collins of Orange Juice fame and Helen Love, as well as a variety of quirky bands.
A change which is evident in modern indie music is that the production has also become professional with the rising popularity of digital music software such as Pro Tools; meaning bands such as Arctic Monkeys are less likely to make mistakes in their songs. However, with various bands recording in analogue, and record shops increasingly back in fashion, perhaps indie pop is slowly on the rise again.
Key Bands and tracks
The Smiths- This Charming Man
Beat Happening- What’s Important
Talulah Gosh- Don’t Go Away
The Cardigans- Lovefool
Los Campesinos! – You! Me! Dancing!