By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
"Indie-rock," once used simply to describe music made on independent record labels with no connections to the majors, has become a genre unto itself as much as "alternative rock" or "metal" or "free jazz." It now signifies a lifestyle, an allegiance to an aesthetic, a specific sound born in the bedroom, a mostly white culture filled with its own stubborn cliques. Diehard indie-rockers abhor music made with money pumped in from one of the Big Six majors, shunning those comrades who abandon the fight and sell out for large-figure recording contracts and the trappings of would-be fame. When Urge Overkill left Touch and Go for Geffen a few years ago, their old pal and indie-rock gatekeeper Steve Albini disowned the band, writing them off as talentless traitors. It's a cause, by God, worth fighting for till the bitter end, but they used to say the same thing about collectives, too.
And it's a culture in which the participants dance to an intimate, lo-fi sound: They prefer their music recorded in bedrooms and garage studios on two- and four-tracks, and they embrace pop music that used to be called "new wave" back when it was recorded in studios. Indie-rockers, be they the musicians or the fans or the apologist fanatics, live for the latest releases on such labels as Mint, ChŽ, Drag City, K, Amphetamine Reptile, and Quarterstick; they debate the merits of Unrest and chart the influence of Slint while listening to the new Magnetic Fields seven-inch on their ancient turntables.
Twenty-year-old Brandon Cunningham is one of those indie-rock purists, though he would explain his passion as an adherence to an "ideal and not so much a sound." As the bassist and vocalist in the Hurst-based band Audrey, he's both practitioner and fan; he says he likes indie-rock because of its scene and "how friendly everyone tries to be." He says he likes to buy indie because "I'm supporting [an] idea and a dream," though he does buy the occasional major-label disc.
"But just because something's put out independently doesn't make it 'indie-rock,'" Cunningham explains. "It should, but people don't look at it that way. To be 'indie-rock,' you have to consort in the same circles. It's very cliquish, almost too cliquish. There are a lot of people that only listen to certain groups, and I'm not like that.
"I mean," he adds, stammering a bit, "I listen to America, too--you know, the '70s band. I listen to a lot of '70s rock, and people make fun of me."
Cunningham's questionable admiration of white-bread pop from the '70s notwithstanding, he's not just some kid from the suburbs in some little rock band that's had a few gigs at the Kharma Cafe in Denton or the Engine Room in Fort Worth. He's actually part owner in his own indie-rock label based in Hurst--BottleCap Records, which he founded about a year ago with Craig Crafton, who's facetiously referred to as the label's money man.
"I tell people we signed our band to Brandon's label for free T-shirts," Crafton says, "and we never got them."
Until recently, the label was just a cassette-only deal with BottleCap bands selling their tapes at shows. But that changed a few weeks ago when Cunningham and Crafton released an actual CD, Green Light Go!, that compiles 19 indie bands from around Dallas-Fort Worth, Denton, and assorted hot spots around the country; running the gamut from Denton's Suretoss to Austin's Furry Things to Vancouver's much-revered Cub, it's a cross-section of Amerindie pop, for better or worst.
"Me and the other two guys in Audrey wanted to start putting stuff out as well as play, and we just asked other bands to be on the CD," Cunningham says of the disc's origins. "It started as a cassette idea and we were going to do just local bands, and when we started meeting touring bands, they were interested, too. We figured we might as well do a CD because more people would buy it and we'd get better distribution."
Which turned out to be a wise move: The album is being distributed locally through Crystal Clear Sound, with some national assistance coming from K and Mint Records, two of the more above-ground underground labels. Adhering to the Spinart Records model of compilations, the BottleCap boys rounded up known artists like Wally Pleasant (Michigan's post-folk savant, represented here by the hilarious put-down "Alternateen"), Cub (so adorable and loved by the kids), and San Francisco's Mommyheads and used them to attract buyers who wouldn't otherwise get a CD featuring anonymous bands from Hurst (like Starlet, fronted by a warbly female named Niki Nash) and Denton and Austin. No dummies they, Cunningham and Crafton both made sure to include their bands (Audrey and Booze-O-Phonic, respectively) on the disc as well.
Like any compilation, Green Light Go! is a hit-and-miss proposition, so many of the bands merely self-indulgent and self-aware when a modicum of talent would have sufficed just fine. When it's done without irony and imbued with genuine pop affection (see: Nothing Painted Blue, Bunnygrunt), the music sparkles, but if there's one real reason indie-rock sucks as much as major-label garbage, it's the indie-rocker's wrong-headed belief that the inability to play or sing translates into naive charm when recorded on a crappy home tape deck.