Many fans of indie/alternative music pride themselves on finding small but talented bands that have not yet popped up on the radars of the mega record labels. For these fans, it is important to be able to consider oneself a member of the band’s original following. There are a variety of reasons for this. For some, it makes them feel a part of a community. To others, it is simply interesting to watch a band develop.
But for many, there is this kind of addicting need to be there first, so that you can lay claim to being a “true” fan, one who was there before everyone else caught on.
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But what inevitably happens is a band you’ve listened to for two years already finally catches a break, and all of a sudden their humble single on YouTube has a million views and everyone is saying how great a band they are and telling all their friends “you have to listen to this band, they’re amazing!”. And at this moment you are, for whatever reason, possessed by a need to tell all these people “yes, but I’ve listened to them for two years, I knew they were good way before they got on [insert late night TV show here]!”
But alas, there are simply too many people to inform. You give up. Gradually, you begin to lose interest in the band you once loved so much. You hear some buzz of another, some cool new experimental post-punk band out of Brooklyn. But you’re too late, they’ve already released two albums, which went relatively unnoticed but still attracted a small, loyal following like the one you belonged to with that first band. Then that new promising band strikes gold too, and they’re featured on iTunes and playing at Coachella.
So you say “to hell with them, they’re not even that good” and continue your search, as do many others. This has been, within the indie community, the cycle of many indie bands that made it big: obscurity, a sudden success, then widespread acclaim, followed by a rebellion of those who either became alienated by the new-found popularity or missed the boat and are too proud to jump on the bandwagon. The message boards begin to fill with anonymous haters and listeners move on.
To be clear, I don’t mean to suggest these bands disappear – on the contrary, many reach a wider fanbase and have a better shot at being commercially successful. The cruel picture of indie music I’ve painted, with its fans who avoid popularity like the plague, is tiny compared to the more mainstream audiences. But for some bands, who were a part of the indie scene during their emerging years, the approval of those listeners is still very important.
On the “How Indie Are You?” scale, PTB probably falls in the middle. We don’t peruse the local venues searching for hidden gems, but we do work at a radio station whose mission it is to play exclusively non-mainstream music. I read a lot of music reviews as I put together music for the show, and visit plenty of message boards looking for new bands, and I’ve often been struck by just how true the cycle is for the lucky few indie bands that do make it big.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m just as guilty as the next person of this sort of thing. So, this week on Now That’s What I Call Boogie! we celebrate bands that did make it big, only to find themselves considered “overrated” or passé by the community from which they came. After all, most made it big for one simple reason: they are good bands.
Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) – Arcade Fire – Funeral (Merge)
An obvious recent case study of this phenomenon is Arcade Fire. Back in the early 2000s, the band was playing smaller festivals and clubs around their hometown of Montreal. Then in 2004, they released Funeral on the then-small independent label Merge Records. Recorded for around $10,000, Funeral scored a gushing review from the influential indie music site Pitchfork, and gradually became not just critically successful but commercially successful. Neon Bible was released to similar acclaim in 2007.
Then, in 2011, Arcade Fire released The Suburbs, which won the Grammy for Album of the Year and hit #12 on the Billboard charts. Legions of hipsters banded together to defend Arcade Fire’s selection for Album of the Year from the thousands of mainstream listeners left wondering how Eminem or Lady Gaga didn’t take home the prize. Ultimately however, after all the fanfare died down, criticism of the band began to grow in the online indie music community and Arcade Fire was perceived as being “too mainstream” by some. I say good for them.
See also: Arcade Fire then and now.
Electric Feel – MGMT – Oracular Spectacular (Columbia)
MGMT was formed in 2005 and by 2007 had appeared on many “Bands to Watch” lists from Rolling Stone to SPIN. The album Oracular Spectacular, with its catchy synthpop tunes, was a major hit with listeners and managed to jump the divide between indie radio and mainstream radio. The album was generally favorably reviewed, but some in the indie community felt it was nothing special and undeserving of all the hype. When the band released their second full-length album, Congratulations, in 2010, many jumped ship altogether. No doubt part of the reason was the fact that MGMT ditched their earlier radio-friendly synthpop sound for something closer to psychedelic rock, but the hype built up by Oracular Spectacular was also a major contributing factor.
Bloodbuzz Ohio – The National – High Violet (4AD)
It’s no secret that I love The National. I have for a long time and always will. The haters say all kinds of things – Matt Berninger’s voice is boring, their songs all sound the same, they don’t have any stage presence – and that’s fine. It’s the people that hate The National because Boxer became a massive word-of-mouth success and High Violet landed them a spread in the New York Times Magazine that I can’t stand.
Lisztomania – Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Phoenix is an interesting case. Their breakout album, the widely-acclaimed and largely radio-friendly Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, debuted at No. 27 on the Billboard Top 200 chart. But I think what makes their rise particularly notable is that they originated in France yet managed to make a huge splash in the U.S., a feat that is arguably quite rare. But despite their remarkable achievements, indie listeners who enjoyed their earlier albums like United and It’s Never Been Like That, began to voice their distaste with the mainstream appeal of Wolfgang. For a humorous take on the issue, check out this post on Hipster Runoff (if necessary, learn more about Hipster Runoff here).
Holocene – Bon Iver – Bon Iver
There are a lot of people who love Bon Iver, myself included. The sheer number of “Skinny Love” covers on YouTube could probably count as solid evidence of his popularity (Bon Iver is technically a four-piece band, but is often attributed solely to frontman Justin Vernon). Or look at the number of people who cheered when Bon Iver won the Grammy for Best New Artist this year over Skrillex and Nicki Minaj, and rushed to defend the choice against the naysayers and the generally baffled.
Despite the head-scratching by many mainstream music fans at the Grammys this year, Bon Iver was already a well-known artist before winning the Grammy. His debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago, became the stuff of indie legend as the story circulated of Vernon retreating to an isolated cabin in the Wisconsin wilderness and recording the album to mend a broken heart (this is actually true, although the details have often been exaggerated). For Emma went on to become a gigantic success, and caught the eye of Kanye West, with whom Vernon eventually collaborated for West’s 2010 album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
As with The National, I don’t mind the critics who say Bon Iver’s songs are too sleepy, or find his “experimental” use of autotune obnoxious (I personally think the nickname B-Pain is endearing, but maybe that’s just me). Again, it’s those who dismiss Bon Iver as too mainstream or too popular to listen to that drive me crazy.
See also: Justin Vernon and Sean Carey perform at AIR Studio’s Lyndurst Hall
I hope you’ve enjoyed this extra-lengthy edition of Now That’s What I Call Boogie! Be sure to check out all the exciting changes recently made to the PTB blog, and mark your calendars, because this Sunday, May 6th at 9:00 pm will be the season finale of Permission to Boogie on KRUI! You won’t want to miss it.