"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, Ch, 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.
That said, the CD's great revelation is a kid from Irving named Brandon Boyer, a Northlake High School student who records all alone on a keyboard and a four-track ("with one to spare," he notes). His contribution, "My Dream Girl," is dreary and poorly recorded, so damned funny because it's so damned pathetic; somewhere in there is a story about a girl named Nevada and her dog and "some cosmic force." It's pure indie, cheap and lame and probably made-up on the spot, but Boyer's so unabashed about releasing it you have to give him credit. He's even doing the BottleCap 'zine and catalog.
Cunningham insists BottleCap will begin releasing seven-inches by bands on the "roster"--Audrey, Abashed, Fivehead, Western, Booze-O-Phonic, Silver Scooter (from Austin), Suretoss, and Boy Genius--and even expects to get a full-length album from Abashed at some point. He talks of getting some of his artists and some Merge Records bands to cut split singles; he'd even like to do a Superchunk tribute album, which is almost an oxymoron unless you're, like, indie.
"I was going to write them and see how they feel about it," Cunningham says. "I don't want to be rude, you know? They're the greatest band of all time."
Green Light Go! is available from BottleCap Records, 8719 Bedford-Euless Road, Hurst, TX, 76053.
Now in its third year, the two-night Wake Up Dallas showcase has burgeoned into something of a can't-miss-don't-miss event, with its lineup featuring some of the best of the area's young bands (and, this year, a few vets, as well). This year's event--featuring 20 bands, ranging from the obscure Leuciene Zipper to MC 900 Ft Jesus--will take place November 3 and 4 at Trees, with both nights' shows beginning at 9:25 p.m.; the bands will perform 15-minute sets, and admission is free for those over 21 and $2 for the kids. Friday's lineup, in order, will feature: Fishart, Mustache, Doosu, I The Jury, Mess, Loveswing, Slow Roosevelt, Earl, Sixty-Six, and Tablet. On Saturday, the bill features: Leuciene Zipper, Record Player, Juno Specter, Buck Jones, Liquid Three, Slobberbone, Junky Southern, Caulk, rubberbullet, and MC 900 Ft Jesus...
Mazel tov to Stranger Than Fiction for taking home the first-place prize at the Ticketmaster Regional Showcase a few weeks ago at Trees; the band, which has just released the CD Fate, will now go on to San Antonio November 9 to compete in the regional finals, with the winner there going to New York to fight for the chance to record at the Baby Animals studio in Seattle. As if it'll help...
The final deadline for submissions for the 1996 South by Southwest Music Conference is November 15, meaning if you want to be considered for a shot at a showcase performance during the five-day confab, you or your band must send an application and a tape by that date to: South by Southwest, P.O. Box 4999, Austin, TX 78765. To obtain an application, call (512) 467-7979 or E-mail the SXSW folks at 72662.2465compuserve. com.
Street Beat welcomes E-mail tips and comments at DalObservaol.com.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.