When Indie Becomes Mainstream (Frankie – 2009)
Who could forget the feeling of first discovering your favourite band or show. Like a seasoned explorer, you sail the air waves, telescope poised, waiting for a particular hook, lyric or joke to glimmer on the horizon like a cheeky lighthouse. Eyes grinning through sea spray you throttle your badge encrusted wheel, drop the striped sail on the Good Ship Indie and lay a course for life-changing island. Reaching shore you dash out, plunge your headphone jack into the coconut tree and immerse your mind in its luxurious bounty. That which lay undiscovered now feels like home, and your map of the world becomes a little more complete.
In 1999 my friends and I discovered George. They were fronted by the mesmerising voice of Katie Noonan, best showcased by first single ‘Holiday.’ We’d go to their gigs at the Gypsy Bar and sit cross legged in the middle of the modest crowd, happy to be sharing our island with fellow explorers. But people like to boast, and our secret location fell into the wrong hands. A few months later I awoke to find George’s album had gone to number one, accompanied by a truly sinister television commercial. Their next gig I stood up the back of the Royal Theatre while a Kon Tiki load of riff-raff scuffed up the sand, burped over the choruses and shouted out for singles. The next day I promptly took my 7-inches and magazine clippings and burnt them, chanting a simple cleansing prayer into the flames. George were dead to me now.
It’s a testament to the human ego, the way we make our role as fan completely about us. It’s as if the art is the spiritual putty we need to patch up our sense of self. It’s such a one-sided, long distance relationship, that the true motives often become confused. We’ve all had that hip friend asking if we’ve heard of The Obscures, their eyes burning with rage and glee when we decline. They are at once delighted that their secret remains safe, and exasperated that such genius remains undiscovered. How to solve the paradox of wanting a band to be big, but not too big.
Dan Le Sac’s song ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’ goes there. ‘Thou shalt not put musicians and recording artists on ridiculous pedestals. No matter how great they are, or were. The Beatles were just a band. Oasis, just a band. Radiohead, just a band.’ It’s true. Do you think your favourite indie artists are at home running commercial decisions past cynical Myspace fans? ‘Hey guys, even though we’ve struggled for ten years and are on the brink of a major record deal, after extensive messaging with SadGirl79 I think the best way to keep it real is to release an EP in eight years then all somehow die.’ With the decay of the music industry and the DIY Internet age removing the fourth wall, surely there’s a little more empathy and understanding towards artists. Whereas the use of Feist’s song ‘1234’ in a Mac commercial would have attracted cries of ‘sell out’ in the 90’s, it was quietly chalked up as a valid industry manoeuvre.
I recently discovered Six Feet Under, only to find that for most of my friends that good ship had sailed about three years ago. Rather than be deterred I simply persevered and had a sense of rediscovering something beautiful, and have now joined the ranks of ambassadors for the show. Similarly I’ve gone back and found incredible peninsulas within The Kinks, JJ Cale and Boards Of Canada back catalogues. Sure, The Boosh, Kings Of Leon and MGMT are all over-inhabited, and there are those who’ll sit up the back of their Tavern screaming ‘I discovered them first’ to anyone who’ll listen. But the truth is, you’re the captain of your ship and if you feel like it’s yours then no-one can take that away from you. Alternatively – No band is an island.