The End of Indie

I awoke in the middle of the night last night and checked email and Twitter around 4am (they say when you can’t sleep, it’s best to get up, and tire yourself out, before returning to bed). A Twitter follow announcement came in from Kaya Oakes, with whom I had been trying to scheduling an interview off and on in 2007 and 2008–I felt a pang of guilt as I checked out her tweets and saw that the book, for which the interview was to be conducted, was done. Finished, published. Slanted and Enchanted: The Evolution of Indie Culture is more or less what the subtitle say it is. I’ll spare you the appalling copy from the publisher, which manages to be both glib and patronizing, and give you a little of Publishers Weekly‘s description:

bq. “[A] lively and highly literate explication of various American indie scenes and art forms . . . [Oakes’] focus on independent publishing and writing””provides a worthy parallel narrative to Michael Azzerad’s essential indie music history, [Our] Band Could Be Your Life . . . Oakes begins the book with a much appreciated primer on some of the intellectual forebears of her book’s central characters, including the poets Frank O’Hara and Allen Ginsberg and the revolutionary street theater group the Diggers. As an explanation and excavation of the already fading recent past, it is essential reading.”–Publishers Weekly

I was momentarily rather bummed that I’d missed out on a chance to discuss the topic with Kaya when it dawned on me that I’d have had nothing very useful to say eighteen months ago. All is changed, changed utterly. Indie doesn’t mean anything anymore. It’s dead. Which is OK, because it won. Open source, Twitter. Indie won. Etsy. The irresistible decline of major labels and network TV and corporate publishing. Indie won. We won, but at the cost to many folks personally of suddenly becoming unnecessary. This was most visible in the last few years in the magazines like Punk Planet, Kitchen Sink, Clamor. But it’ll come for us all.

You see, to the extent that indie meant anything, it was as its root word, independent. It was about seizing the means of production. Independently produced. Aesthetics can be imitated, ethics faked, attitudes mimicked, but large bureaucracies could not possibly replicate the indie production process–how could they seize the means of production? They already had it! And now the means of production has devolved yet farther down, past the indie publishers and indie record labels and pirate radio stations of yore.

This is not to say we’ve entered Nirvana. Just because we’d seized the means of production in the 1990’s didn’t mean that poverty had been eradicated, racism ended, and the intellectual property land grab thwarted. We all have to use the tools we’ve been given, find value in, rather than discard, the tools of the past, hold feet to the fire, undermine monopoly, and so on. All things we tried to do with the means of production we seized in the 90’s, we have to continue do with the means of production that technology has handed to us in the 21st century. Moore’s Law is value-neutral, apolitical, amoral, just like Gutenberg’s press. Its how we use it.

So now the phase of indie is over, now that the monopoly on the production and distribution of knowledge, culture and opinion has been broken, what next, a new phase, a drive to, perhaps, create, maintain, defend a New Authenticity arises?–Ah, am I opening myself up for derision with that…? Never mind, I toss it up there, a wounded duck. Power will try to hide behind the people, let’s use a new authenticity to stop them.

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