dirty-projectorsA narrow reading of the release schedule for 2017 would suggest indie remains a tired, homogeneous scene stacked heavily in favour of established, straight, male artists including Father John Misty, Dirty Projectors, Fleet Foxes, Everything Everything and Mac DeMarco. Guitar bands remain a mainstay on festival bills, too, with Kasabian, Liam or Noel & Kings of Leon as safe bookings alongside Arcade Fire and Bon Iver. These groups, all of whom could have played the same events at least a decade ago, hardly speak of a genre looking to revive itself through new ideas. But a number of new artists and a flurry of albums also released in the past year tell a very different story: indie rock and DIY guitar music is more diverse than you thought.

Earlier this year, Dave Longstreth of Dirty Projectors was forced to backtrack on an Instagram post in which he asked if the alternative music scene had become “bad and boujee”. The problem, Longstreth suggested – to Fleet Foxes singer Robin Pecknold of all people – was that indie rock had become too “refined and effete”, detached from “lived, earned experience”. This idea appears to crop up every year: in 2016 MTV asked: “Is indie rock over the white male voice?” and in 2015 Pitchfork looked at the “unbearable whiteness” of indie.

133480910517bcc5c45d8f7.59314032The trouble (as in every decade) is the entire term ‘indie‘ which opens up a raft of boxes stamped with the genre term. When we went from punk to ‘post-punk‘ into ‘new wave‘ in the late 70’s this opened up the door to a whole raft of ‘indipendant‘ releases which happened to spawn The Jesus & Mary Chain, Cocteau Twins, Bauhaus, The Cult, Cure, R.E.M. & a whole ‘120 Minutes‘ of brand new alternative music for a ‘Radio Free Europe‘ This spawned the beginning of an explosion of which was to peak with Blur, Oasis, Pulp, Primal Scream & Radiohead taking the ‘indie’ into million selling mainstream & creating a whole different ball game for both artists & labels which divided the media & the fans of the genre who were starting to get older… Also the lines got blurred by Nirvana, Pearl Jam who were ‘Rock‘ and straddled both NME & Kerrang! Thus was born the term ‘indie-rock’ & both worlds shuddered.

The turn of the century saw The Strokes, Franz Ferdinand, Editors, reclaim the ‘underground sound‘ yet once again the mainstream embraced, by the time Coldplay, Snow Patrol & the game changing sound of The Killers (who were/are the 21st century U2) dropped into an indie arena by taking the whole shebang into the one place where the shoe gazzers of old never trod ‘The Stadium‘ this meant that you could start your career doing the ‘toilet tours‘ in small clubs & end up in Wembley Stadium… A fine example of this is Muse who i saw in a small club at the turn of the century & in the centre of the twin towers (now an arch) in London years later..

Indie184_DareMeFor me as Jay-Z said when asked about selling out “Yeah, i sold out Madison Square Gardens” was his reply.. What is the point in dreaming of being a rock ‘n’ roll star, struggling to buy gear to play any ol’ shit hole, scrapping enough money to record that ‘demo’ then slowly moving through the ranks ‘parting waves‘ they call it on american radio to eventually get to the posistion where ‘music’ is what you do every day of your life.. To achive that takes money! a by product of selling ‘records’ is that you become more popular & have to play bigger gigs… Ask any previous act that was broke, in a van, heading to a club somewhere if they are doing it for the fame, the cash, the girls (or guys) the drugs & they will say… No we are doing it for the music man.. Ask them when they are in the stadium when they have the cash, fame, drugs etc to give it up & go back! The second word will be ‘off‘ with the first word being optional…

DSC_2790The Gospel of Sass!!! From the moment the name Queen Zee & The Sasstones was first seen on a poster it was one near impossible to ignore. Bold, brash and oozing with attitude, it’s not a title which can be forgotten easily. What came from their first ever live show lived up to their namesake totally. An anarchic tour de force which shook the newly founded Drop The Dumbulls to its very core. In a set which lasted no longer than 15 minutes, the band played a couple of original numbers and finished with a cover of The Prodigy’s Fire Starter, not leaving the stage until they’d smashed up their instruments in a wall of screaming distortion and interference. In this first short glimpse, they had proved themselves as a force to be reckoned with, kicking and screaming all the way, they set themselves apart from just about everyone, capturing a DIY spirit within noisy pop songs. “Listening to heavier music helps you understand pop music,” Zee tells us, embarking on one of her familiar long tales. “There has to be that adrenaline-pumping moment that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and fight, and dance and make you want to have sex and drink too much alcohol. So many bands fail to grab that and just meander on, whereas us – a band who love punk, hardcore and metal – we appreciate the need for that moment. You get it with Skepta, you get it with trap, you get it with ska. I think it was LCD Soundsystem that said you should be in a punk band before you’re a DJ. If you listen to Queen Zee you’ll see we fuckin’ love a drop, a breakdown and a hook, and every song has a chorus: they don’t all have verses but they all have a chorus.” Eat My Sass is out on 22nd September.

a3337164431_10In the past year, we have also heard Everybody Works by Jay Som, an intimate and eclectic album of lo-fi fuzz that has drawn comparisons to Blood Orange & Nick Cave, and queer act Muna, who champion the use of safe spaces and gender-neutral toilets at their live shows, and refuse to adopt the gender pronouns he or she in their songs. Elsewhere, this summer brought Nadine Shah’s Holiday Destination, in which she addresses the rise of nationalism in the UK and how, as a Muslim and a second-generation immigrant, the political climate has led her to a “proper identity crisis” Mitski was a regular spot on last year’s best-of lists with her album Puberty 2, on which she tackled the whiteness of all-American culture with the magnificent single Your Best American Girl.

ShorelinePromoLOSeazoo is a five part indie pop explosion from North Wales, a highly energetic troupe whose live shows are a mandle of limbs, instruments, & off kilter melodies. The band’s debut album is completed, with the band set to unleash their wares in November. For now, though, Clash Magazine is able to premiere new single ‘Shoreline‘, and it’s a fast-paced, ludicrously infectious return. Produced by Ben Trow & mixed by Mike Collins, the crisp studio techniques allow the sheer zest and outright fun inherent in Seazoo’s music to come lurching forth. Set to be released on September 4th, you can check out ‘Shoreline‘ up front on the Clash website.

Screen-Shot-2017-03-20-at-4.56.00-PM-1490043385Then there is Vagabon’s Cleaning House, on which Laetitia Tamko sings: “What about them scares you so much? My standing there threatens your standing, too.” Tamko was attending protests inspired by Black Lives Matter when she wrote the song, which talks about her journey as a teenage immigrant arriving in the US from Cameroon, alongside the need for justice for the deaths of black men Alton Sterling and Michael Brown. When you include bands such as Crying, Aye Nako and the bluesy solo music of the enigmatic Massachusetts artist Mal Devisa, the future of indie looks encouraging.

Speaking from the back of a van between tour stops in Detroit and Toronto, Tamko says the change within the scene is undeniable. “The people who inspire me are the people of colour who are unapologetic about their place in the world,” she says. “Different people from places outside the US have different takes on art and bring a whole new perspective.” Tamko says she felt isolated by the clique-ish indie community she encountered early on, but she refused to compromise in order to fit in. “I wanted to prove to myself that I could be a part of this, but not in a way in which I blended in,” she says. “I wanted to exist there on my terms, and to be seen and to demand respect. A shortcut wasn’t for me.”

db bwThen there’s Rhode Island-based Latin punks Downtown Boys, who released their album on Sub Pop in August. Victoria Ruiz of Downtown Boys is similarly uncompromising. Her band has established itself with its intersectional politics and a brand of sax-laced punk that lends itself perfectly to Bruce Springsteen covers. Ruiz, who is Mexican-American, says work by Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar, as well as increasing political consciousness, have boosted the visibility for artists of colour. “Black Lives Matter forced us all to ask why certain people are not on the bill or in the audience. Perhaps it’s that the invitation just wasn’t sent. People tend to ignore the issues they don’t consider their problem, but when these things are being forced, you can’t shy away from it.”

Shopping - Village Underground - London 1 Sep 2015Indie is becoming less white in the UK too, but at a slower pace. Rachel Aggs, a gay, mixed-race, London-based musician, splits her time between DIY punk bands Shopping and Sacred Paws, with whom she released the album Strike a Match in January. She says she regularly plays to all-white crowds at home and that the messages about her heritage in the music can be lost.

“That was subtly demoralising,” she says of feeling ignored. “We thought we were making a statement and nobody wanted to talk about it. We didn’t care, but it was isolating.” She points to London’s Decolonise festival and the work of promoters DIY Diaspora Punx as evidence of a shift. Change, she says, is simple: “More brown people should start bands and more white people should talk about why there’s no brown people at their shows. We can’t be scared of this conversation.”

MusicLA_JBREAK-1The Korean-American musician Michelle Zauner, who records as Japanese Breakfast and releases the follow-up to her acclaimed debut this month, admits she is wary that the progress of her peers could be taken as little more than a trend. Speaking from Philadelphia, she says: “I just don’t want to think that women of colour making music is the new chillwave, and next it’s on to cats playing keyboard,” she says. “I read food articles about how Korean food is over and it’s all about Vietnamese and I think, ‘Fuck you. It’s not going anywhere.’ My identity is not your fad. You don’t have to spit it out at some point.”