Indie. From Punk to Britpop, it has had many different looks and images, but one thing is the same; a strong sense of individuality, counter-culture, and independence. It is a movement that bought us The Smiths, New Order and Oasis and has created some of the most loved and celebrated guitar songs of all time.
Here are our picks for the 20 most important moments in the history of Indie music.
The Sex Pistols Play the Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall (1976)
The importance of this gig cannot be understated, although it wasn’t exactly a full house (around 50 people attended), everyone who did attend would go on to do fantastic things; Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner (Joy Division), Johnny Marr (The Smiths), and Mick Hucknell (Simply Red) just to name a few.
What was so special about this gig? Well, for one it shattered the illusion that rockstars were deity-like figures who needed to be worshipped. What the Sex Pistols showed us is that anyone can pick up a guitar and play, and do great things with it.
The event was even planned by future Indie pioneers The Buzzcocks.
Speaking of the Buzzcocks..
The Buzzcocks release ‘Spiral Scratch’ (1977)
By today’s standards, Spiral Scratch is just another Punk EP, but in the late 1970s it was revolutionary. At a time when even the Sex Pistols were signed to a major record label, it would take a special record to break the illusion that only corporate backing could create good music, Spiral Scratch was that record.
Completely self-made and self-released, the four-track record included the timeless punk classic Boredom. Moreover, Spiral Scratch kickstarted the DIY Movement, which was one of the major catalysts for the Indie movement to flourish.
Geoff Travis Opens Rough Trade (1976)
If Buzzcocks were the first band to embrace the DIY Movement, Rough Trade was the first record shop to embrace it. Run like a collective, Rough Trade became known for championing independently made music, eventually becoming one of the central record labels in the indie world.
Big in Japan Split and Go Their Separate Ways (1978)
Big in Japan were an important part of the Liverpool Punk scene after the genre exploded in the mid 70s. However, their influence was mainly contained in Liverpool (Eric’s to be precise). However, their influence became known after they’d broken up, with several of the bands founding members going on to do great things in the British music scene. Holly Johnson wowed audiences as part of Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Bill Drummond topped the charts in the 80s as a member of the KLF, and Phil Allen joined Siouxsie and the Banshees.
Tony Wilson Launches Factory Records (1978)
Fed up with his remedial role on regional television, and with a burgeoning passion for the latest independent sound, Tony Wilson launched Factory Records in 1978 with Alan Erasmus, Rob Gretton and Peter Saville. Factory quickly became the most important label in the emerging post-punk scene, and their first two signings made Wilson’s ambitions very clear, Joy Division an Durutti Column made Factory and Wilson household names.
Factory would later go on to work with New Order and Happy Mondays before filing for bankruptcy in 1992, but not before Wilson’s nightclub, The Hacienda, became the epicentre of the Acid House revolution of the late 80s and early 90s.
Tony McNay Introduces the Independent Charts (1978)
Whilst working for Cherry Red Records, Tony McNay struck gold when he had the idea of an indie chart, which would run perpendicular to the mainstream top 40. Independent acts weren’t making any impact on the regular charts, and this new ranking system enabled people in the indie scene to find new bands to follow, the charts were quickly picked up by the big players in the music press (NME, Melody Maker), and within months, underground bands had a very realistic goal to aim for.
The Clash release London Calling (1979)
This 1979 punk rock album has a very strong case for being the greatest album of the decade. The influence of the Clash on rock music is a well known fact, and London Calling was their undisputed masterpiece.
Incorporating elements of country, reggae and rockabilly as well as punk, as well as its iconic record sleeve, London Calling is one of the most influential records of all time. This album ultimately signified the end of the Punk rock movement.
Martin Hannett Mixes Unknown Pleasures (1979)
Unknown Pleasures was the first release of the newly founded Factory Records, it was as much of an experiment as the label itself.
Peter Saville was recruited to design the albums cover, using the opportunity to create one of the most iconic album covers of all time. However, the real unsung hero of Unknown Pleasures was Martin Hannett, who had worked on the aforementioned Spiral Scratch. Hannett took the more aggressive, punk-inspired live sound of Joy Division and stripped it down to its core foundations, and the Joy Division sound as we know it was born.
Postcard Records is Born in Glasgow (1979)
“The Sound of Young Scotland”. In many ways a reaction against Punk, Postcard records laid down the foundations for the Indie Pop genre which bands like The Smiths would go on to dominate in the 1980s.
Formed in the bedroom of founder Alan Horne, Postcard had an ethos similar to that of earlier DIY record labels, a middle finger to the London music elite.
Postcard can be credited with giving the world Orange Juice, Josef K, and Aztec Camera.
‘Blue Monday’ Becomes the Highest-Selling Single of All Time (1983)
After the suicide of Ian Curtis in 1980, the remaining members of Joy Division re-branded themselves as New Order, and would go on to achieve massive mainstream success. Success which all started with Blue Monday.
After initially struggling to escape the shadow of their former sound and image, New Order became inspired by the club scene of New York City. This inspiration led to New Order creating one of the most influential singles of all time. With a bizarre, yet innovative, record sleeve and a staggering run-time of over seven minutes (too long for radio play), New Order changed the landscape of popular music, and all whilst still signed to an independent label.
Legend has it that due to the packaging of the record, for every copy sold, the label actually lost money.
The Smiths Play Top of the Pops (1983)
The Smiths are arguably the most successful indie band of all time, and their 1983 debut on Top of the Pops was one of the first times that the indie scene poked its head out and addressed mainstream audiences.
With their addictive indie pop sound and eccentric performance, The Smiths signalled the end of Independent music’s status as a hidden art.
The Indies vs Pete Waterman (1984)
You’d struggle to find an Indie purist who doesn’t have a complete distaste for Pete Waterman. His record label, PWL, pumped the indie market with pop acts such as Kylie Monogue and Rick Astley, both of whom spent weeks at a time at the summit of the indie charts.
Waterman’s actions completely undermined the independent ethos, and to be frank pissed a lot of people off. His monopoly on the indie charts meant that when his label released a single, no one else could release for weeks. The independent labels lobbied to have PWL artists banned from the chart, but this was to no avail. Pete Waterman’s controversial victory proved that Indie music was seen as a cash-cow by the major record labels, this set the precedent for the Indie genre to become part of the mainstream in the 1990’s.
NME Releases C86 (1986)
The Class of ’86 was a free cassette tape, released with the New Musical Express in the wake Indie music’s explosion in the mid 80s. It featured such bands as Primal Scream, The Mighty Lemon Drops, and The Pastels.
The Indie subculture was quickly developing its own fashion, art and design scene, and the C86 tape gave it a definitive soundtrack.
Jangling guitars and fay lyrics never sounded so good.
‘Madchester’ is Born (1989)
Towards the end of the 1980s, a new music revolution took the nation by storm. Acid House took the British youth out of gigs and venues, and onto the dance floor like never before.
This new movement saw the rise of super-clubs like the Hacienda in Manchester, the Acid House genre saw the rise exciting new bands like the Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Flowered Up and St Etienne.
Combining the aggressive counterculture of Punk with the love and camaraderie of Flower Power, Madchester went hand-in-hand with the rising popularity of ecstasy.
Factory Records Goes Bankrupt (1992)
After years of financial miss-management, Factory Records, the label behind Joy Division, New Order and the Happy Mondays, declared bankruptcy in November 1992. This came after a deal with London Records fell through.
Tony Wilson’s admirable decision to give his artists full ownership of their work came back to bite him, as no major label was willing to take on Factory’s mentality.
Factory’s decline and closure signalled the beginning of the end of the Indie label boom.
Oasis Sign to Creation Records (1993)
After the success of the Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream and My Bloody Valentine started to die down, Alan McGee of Creation Records needed a new signing. Oasis were spotted by McGee at a gig in Glasgow and the rest is history.
Within only a couple of years, Oasis became one of the biggest bands since the Beatles. And would go on to be a centre piece of the Britpop movement.
Britpop is Born (1994)
In the mid 1990’s, Grunge was the most popular rock genre in the world, with bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam gaining a huge following. Britpop was the UK’s answer.
It was catchy, relatable, cool, and above all, it was anti-Grunge.
The movement saw the rise of bands such as The Verve, Supergrass and Pulp. But the lion-share of the attention was towards Blur and Oasis, the ‘battle for Britpop’ dominated headlines in the music press and saw British music once again break America.
Long live Cool Britannia.
Rough Trade Re-opens and Signs the Strokes (2000)
By the turn of the 21st Century, the state of Independent music was pretty dire. The popularity of Britpop had eventually saturated the market and led to a drastic decrease in quality.
The rise of Garage music had also driven guitar music underground, but if Indie has taught us one thing, it’s that the best things happen underground. Cue the Strokes.
The Strokes were the most exciting rock band to emerge of the 21st century, and their debut LP Is This It was was released on none other than Rough Trade.
In the wake of the Strokes’ success, Rough Trade would later go onto release music by the Libertines and Arcade Fire.
Arctic Monkeys Go Viral (2003)
Though the Arctic Monkeys weren’t the first band to go viral, they were one of the biggest. Their early demo work made its way online during the file-sharing boom of the early 2000’s, creating an unparalleled buzz around the Sheffield natives.
After a tooth and claw fight between labels to sign the Monkeys, they eventually went with Domino records, who they are still working with today.
Five studio albums later, Arctic Monkeys are the biggest Independent band of this century.
Oasis Break Up (2009)
Oasis were on the decline when their inevitable 2009 split occurred, but it was still just as painful for fans. By the time the break happened, Oasis’ line-up had changed several times, and Noel Gallagher had relinquished creative control of the band.
With Oasis’ demise, the last great Rock ‘n’ Roll band was gone. With Noel and Liam quickly moving into new projects, rumours of a reunion have kept fans on the edge for several years now.
Written by Sam Revivo