And Start West, Again and Again and Again...

by Joseph Fisher

17 November 2010

Can we, finally, begin pondering how cultures outside of the West—outside of London and New York—conceive of terms like indie and punk?

I’m writing this (relatively) brief blog entry because I want to start what I hope will be a long discussion in the comments section.  I’m also writing today from a position of genuine ignorance, which is why I want to hear from you, PopMatters Readers the World Over.

Jake Cleland’s recent piece here on the evolution of punk culture struck me for a few different reasons, not the least of which was because it began with an apparent breakup over punk music.  Jake, for what it’s worth, my wife loathes my collection of My Bloody Valentine, Mogwai, and Merzbow records, and we’ve been happily together for eleven years now.  Don’t let punk rock get in the way of love—or, I suppose, sex.  It’s not worth it, my friend.

More significantly, though, I was struck by the way that Cleland’s post, which was intriguing, situated New York and London as (once again) the hotbeds of punk/indie/DiY culture.  For me, this narrative has become really, really, really tired, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s wholly accurate.  Dick Hebdige, for one, has already excavated the connections between British punk and Jamaican reggae.  These connections establish a richer, more diversified history for punk culture that is much too often whited out, no matter how much time music critics spend geeking out about the Clash.  For proof, look no further than the discussions of, like, every single band in this gospel-like text.

As I’ve suggested before (I promise I’ll get back to all of you with responses to those comments), this same kind of whitewashing has similarly muted the culturally complex history of lo-fi, perhaps a more current catch-all term than indie.  All too often, contemporary music critics, particularly those of us in the blogosphere, tacitly construct lo-fi music, which has recently been termed “shitgaze” in certain circles (who says bloggers have too much time on their hands?), as something written primarily by and for white Western audiences. 

All of which brings me to my question: Is punk/indie/DiY only Western? To put it another way, can we, finally, begin pondering how cultures outside of the West—outside of London and New York—conceive of terms like indie, not to mention independence, and punk?  Must those terms always be adorned with safety pins and Ray-Ban Wayfarers? 

If I were going for the jugular here, I’d say that it’s downright imperial to suggest, explicitly or implicitly, that indie culture, whatever it is, can only be contextualized in terms of Western notions of independence, music, and, well, culture.  I’m not necessarily going for the jugular, though.  I’m asking all of you to go for the jugular—my jugular, if you wish.  Have at it!

Topics: indie rock | lo-fi | punk
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