And here it was, the last time people argued about indie rock.
Okay, that’s not true. But the confusion does put a fine point on how times have changed in four years; the truth is, with the way music is now, there probably is real, pervasive nostalgia that LCD Soundsystem could cash in on. In fact, you could argue that the 2011 Madison Square Garden show is as good a marker as any for the end of the era when “indie rock” was a term with any cultural significance. Cultural is the key word there—“indie” has long been more of a social description than a musical or economic one, though it originally referred to a truly countercultural movement that predated the Internet. When I use it here, I’m talking about the parade of aughts bands feted by Pitchfork, selling out venues, and making a musical canon that served as a plausibly vibrant alternative to the mainstream.
Defining golden eras and genre trends is always messy, limited, inevitably silly. Plenty of standard-bearers—Arcade Fire, Animal Collective—are still working; plenty of underground and alternative scenes thriving right now; a few newish acts, like Tame Impala or Haim, successfully fit the old definition. But Google “indie rock is dead” and you come up with a slew of think pieces in the last five or six years with that headline: Just today, The Fader published a Q&A between the Vampire Weekend singer Ezra Koenig and Carles, the blogger behind Hipster Runoff, that takes for given that their subculture has died. If it ever lived, that is: “Indie never existed,” Carles says. “What people believe ‘sounds’ like indie still lives on in the fringes of Bandcamps, content farms of yesteryear, and in the hearts of regretful thirtysomethings.”
Parsing exactly what has changed is tough. Maybe it’s the way that streaming has made obsolete many record-collector’s cravings as well as the need for distribution channels separate from mainstream ones. Maybe there’s a gender and race dynamic going on; the artists with the highest name-recognition-to-innovation quota now are those like FKA Twigs and Grimes, women who received attention from indie-rock tastemakers but draw on very different traditions. And maybe it’s the rise of “poptimism”—the phenomenon that allows “cool” people to enjoy Beyonce and Taylor Swift.
To hear LCD’s camp tell it, it’s all of these things and more. Days before he took to Twitter to deny the reunion, DFA’s Petersen had written there, “How come the minute I start working in music everyone stops being elitist and snarky and starts liking pop bullshit :(.” And in a follow-up interview with the Village Voice, he observed that it’s plenty plausible that major festivals offered lots of money for an LCD Soundsystem reunion, simply because there aren’t many acts of that band’s tier active at the moment. It also sounded like DFA—one of the most influential labels of the new millennium, having released albums by the likes of Hot Chip, Hercules & Love Affair, and The Rapture—was facing struggles. “I sort of have the understanding that [LCD Soundsystem is] probably going to be the biggest band that comes off this label,” he said, “not because they’re so special, but because there’s no music industry anymore.