Popular Music and Society: What Is Indie Rock?

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Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


What is indie rock, and how did it come to be? In this blog post, we explore the origins of this popular music genre and its impact on society.


Indie rock is a genre of popular music that is typically defined by its DIY aesthetic, its emphasis on independence and creativity, and its rejection of the commercialism of the mainstream music industry.

While there is no one definitive sound or style that can be said to typify indie rock, the genre is often unified by a shared aesthetic sensibility and an independent streak. Indie rock bands are often signed to independent record labels and many of them self-produce their recordings.

The term “indie rock” was first used in the 1980s to describe music that was made outside of the mainstream music industry, but it has since come to encompass a wide range of styles and genres. Indie rock can be broadly divided into two categories: “indie pop” and “indie rock.” Indie pop is a catchall term for any music that is made by independent artists and that has a pop sensibility. Indie rock, on the other hand, is a more specific genre that usually incorporates elements of punk, alternative rock, and other styles.

Despite its name, indie rock is not necessarily limited to music made by independent artists. Many major label artists have been associated with the genre, including Nirvana, Pavement, Sonic Youth, Liz Phair, and Beck. In recent years, indie rock has also been used as a catchall term for any alternative or underground music that falls outside of the mainstream.

What Is Indie Rock?

Indie rock is a subgenre of rock music that originated in the United Kingdom in the 1970s. Indie rock is characterized by a DIY ethic, independent record label release, and an aversion to commercialism. Indie rock often has an underground or indie scene following.

The Beginnings of Indie Rock

The roots of indie rock can be traced back to the American punk rock and new wave movements of the late 1970s and early 1980s. These genres were characterized by a DIY (do-it-yourself) approach to music making, with bands often self-releasing their records and booking their own tours. Indie rock was also influenced by British post-punk bands such as Joy Division, The Cure, and Siouxsie and the Banshees, as well as American college radio stations like KCRW in Los Angeles and WXRT in Chicago.

The first indie rock bands began to emerge in the early 1980s, when a handful of punk rock and new wave groups decided to break away from the major label system. These bands were often signed to small, independent labels or self-released their records. Among the earliest indie rock bands were R.E.M., who released their debut album Murmur in 1983; Hüsker Dü, who released their album Zen Arcade in 1984; and The Replacements, who released their album Let It Be in 1984.

In the mid-1980s, a number of other indie rock scenes began to develop in different parts of the United States. In Boston, The Pixies and Dinosaur Jr. led the way for what would become known as the “Boston sound.” In Washington D.C., Fugazi and Minor Threat helped to pioneer a style of hardcore punk-influenced indie rock known as “DC hardcore.” On the West Coast, Black Flag and Sonic Youth inspired a generation of musicians with their aggressive, experimental sounds.

By the late 1980s, indie rock had become a nationwide phenomenon, with band like Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, Pixies, Hüsker Dü, R.E.M., Nirvana, Mudhoney all achieving mainstream success. In 1991, Nirvana’s album Nevermind changed everything, ushering in a new era of mainstream popularity for alternative music . . .

The Development of Indie Rock

The development of indie rock was strongly influenced by the punk rock and college rock scenes of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Punk Rock, characterized by its simple, three-chord songs and DIY ethic, had an enormous impact on subsequent generations of musicians, inspiring many to start their own bands. College rock was similarly influential, with its focus on independent record labels and underground radio stations.

The first wave of indie rock bands began appearing in the early 1980s. These bands were often signed to small independent labels and received very little mainstream attention. However, they built up a large following among music fans who were hungry for something different than the mainstream pop music of the time.

By the mid-1980s, some of these indie rock bands had begun to achieve commercial success. The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences even created a new category for them at the Grammy Awards: Best Alternative Music Performance. This recognition helped to legitimize indie rock in the eyes of the mainstream music industry and paved the way for even more success in the years to come.

In the 1990s and 2000s, indie rock became one of the most popular genres in music. Although the term “indie rock” is sometimes used to describe any band that is not signed to a major label, it has come to be associated with a particular sound and aesthetic: guitar-based music with introspective lyrics delivered in an understated style. Indie rock bands such as Nirvana, Radiohead, and Arcade Fire have achieved global fame and critical acclaim, while others like Modest Mouse and The Strokes have also found commercial success.

The Influence of Indie Rock

Independent or “indie” rock is a genre of popular music that is characterized by an independent or underground approach to record-making, distribution, and promotion. Indie rock emerged in the 1970s and 1980s as a reaction against the perceived excesses and commercialism of mainstream rock music.

The Impact of Indie Rock on Mainstream Music

In the 1980s, indie rock was primarily the province of underground, do-it-yourself record labels and cheaply made recordings that were traded or sold in limited edition runs. CDs and the increased popularity of college radio in the 1990s increased the reach of indie rock, and by the early 2000s, bands like The Strokes and The White Stripes had achieved commercial success while still maintaining an indie rock aesthetic. In the 2010s, indie rock has become more experimental and eclectic, incorporating elements of pop, noise, folk, and hip-hop into the traditional guitar-bass-drums lineup.

While indie rock has always been a somewhat amorphous genre, it has had a clear impact on mainstream music. Bands like Nirvana and Pixies achieved commercial success in the early 1990s by popularizing a sound that was influenced by both punk and indie rock. In the 2000s, bands like The Killers and Franz Ferdinand brought an updated version of this sound to the mainstream, while more synth-heavy bands like MGMT found success with a more electronic sound.

Today, it is not uncommon to hear elements of indie rock in mainstream pop music. For example, Lorde’s 2013 hit “Royals” incorporated an ethereal synth line that was reminiscent of ’80s dream pop, while Halsey’s “Bad at Love” featured a guitar riff that would not have sounded out of place on an early Vampire Weekend album. As indie rock continues to evolve and experiment with new sounds and styles, it is likely that its influence on mainstream music will only continue to grow.

The Impact of Indie Rock on Society

Indie rock is a genre of music that is often associated with independent record labels, DIY ethic, and underground music scenes. It first became popular in the 1980s with the release of seminal albums by artists such as R.E.M., The Smiths, and The Pixies. Since then, it has continued to evolve and has had a significant impact on popular culture.

Indie rock is often credited for revitalizing rock music in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In particular, it helped to spur a renewed interest in guitar-based music after the rise of electronic dance music and hip hop in the 1990s. Indie rock also played a major role in the rise of alternative rock radio formats in the United States, which gave exposure to many unsigned and independent bands that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.

The influence of indie rock can be seen in many other genres of music, including indie pop, indie folk, and even mainstream pop and rock. Many artists who have achieved mainstream success began their careers in the indie scene, including luminaries such as Vampire Weekend, Arcade Fire, and The Strokes.

Indie rock has also had a significant impact on fashion and lifestyle trends. The “hipster” look that has become synonymous with indie culture was popularized by indie bands and fans in the 2000s, and many brands and companies have since courted the indie market.

overall, it’s safe to say that indie rock has left a lasting mark on society and popular culture. It remains an important force in musical landscapes all over the world, helping to shape trends and tastes for generations to come.


Indie rock is a genre of popular music that is characterized by a do-it-yourself attitude, independent Record labels, and a lack of mainstream success. Indie rock has its roots in the underground music scene of the 1980s and 1990s, when small independent record labels released music by bands that did not fit into the mainstream. These bands were often influenced by punk rock and alternative rock, and they tended to be more experimental than the mainstream pop of the time.

In the early 2000s, indie rock became more popular, thanks to bands like The Strokes and The White Stripes. These bands were able to find success without signing to major record labels, and they helped to popularize the genre. In recent years, indie rock has become even more successful, with bands like Arcade Fire and Vampire Weekend finding commercial success.

Indie rock is a genre that is constantly evolving, as new bands emerge and old ones disband. It is a genre that embraces diversity, and there are many different subgenres of indie rock. Ultimately, indie rock is a genre that is defined by its DIY attitude and independent spirit.

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