The indiepop revival: Why Now?

Indiepop, dreampop, shamble, jangle, C86, or cutie – whatever you call it, were certainly seeing something of a revival at the moment. We’re seeing it in new bands like Brighton indie “supergroup,” Milk and Biscuits, with their child-friendly name and sweet sound, in the buzz generated by the extensive Scared to Get Happy 80’s indiepop compilation and festival, and even in the way the past few years have seen women (me included) swap their grown-up handbags in favour of school-style satchels. But … why now? Revivals don’t usually occur without a good reason.

The whole point of a counterculture is to offer an alternative to the mainstream, and as Simon Reynolds influential essay on C86, “Younger Than Yesterday,” pointed out back in the eighties, the mainstream world was telling us to grow up fast and join a glamorous adult world of sex and money. Indiepop was a movement built on the idea of returning to childhood (the children’s tv- referencing names such as The Woodentops and Tallulah Gosh, the fondness for hairslides and school-trip friendly anoraks, the lyrical coyness), in the hard, fast, mature, shoulder-padded eighties. “Indiepop” is the generally used term when it comes to labelling, but considering “pop” is a diminutive of “popular” this might not be terribly appropriate. Sometimes the term “C86” is used to describe the whole genre, as a reflection of how important the cassette compilation of the same name which came free with the NME and introduced many of the bands of the movement for the first time was.

Twenty seven years later, all of this is still relevant as we replay the eighties. Conservative governments often encourage a sense of social Darwinism; and this goes beyond merely pandering the yuppies. Last year, David Cameron said that he thought it was important that physical education in schools kept the focus on being competitive –the essence of sheer play is getting well and truly lost. Its not hard to see why the Situationists wanted to reclaim play as an alternative to capitalism – capitalism, in short, is what you what grown-ups make.


This is now...

The original 80’s indiepop movement also built itself on a sense of chastity and innocence as an alternative to the sexualised mainstream. This is certainly even more relevant now. Watch the music-video chart on television and the level of bared flesh, sexual aggression and X-rated lyrics seems to have accelerated rapidly in recent years. My recent article on pornography raised concerns that unrealistic views of sex were being sold to adolescents; well, the same could be said about mainstream pop music. Early sexual experiences are not like a Rihanna video; they are more likely to be reflected in the awestruck uncertainty of possibly my favourite indiepop song, The Bodines “Therese” (“it scares the health out of me!”).

Of course, some of the revival is just down to cultural chance – in the case of Tallulah Gosh, for example, interest has been generated again by former member Elizabeth Price winning the Turner Prize and their major role in Jon Spira’s documentary on Oxford music, “Anyone Can Play Guitar”, while recent years have seen the Pastels return with beautifully delicate music once again. The revival of such the indiepop “look” is probably just a mere case of celebrity (cue Alexa Chung, who the Mulberry bag which made satchels de rigueur is named after, and Zooey Deschenal, herself a creator of whimsical loveliness with her band She and Him.) But on the whole, environment can have a lot to do with revivals, and right now the “grown up” world forced upon is … well, not much fun. Childhood isn’t perfect, and neither are children themselves with their playground cattiness (something the original indiepop movement recognised – witness the hair-pulling spite of The Shop Assistants “I Don’t Want to Be Friends With You”, sung with childlike joy and innocence) but perhaps William Wordsworth was right with his “the child is the father of man,” statement. Even more so Pablo Picasso and his claim “every child is an artist, the problem is how do they remain one when they grow up?” In a world which is forcing us to grow up fast, a timely indiepop revival is a great way of letting us know that there are some fields in which we can embrace that childlike artistry.

Amy Britton

That was then.