Indie rock’s slow and painful death
Sales figures suggest alternative rock is in a dismal place right now. Will it ever recover?
And should we care?
The changing face of indie rock … Noel Gallagher in 1995 and 2010. Photograph: Ilpo Musto/Yui Mok/Rex Features/PA
This year’s Brit awards will be a melancholy experience for indie fans. The genre’s big performers on the evening will be Blur and Noel Gallagher, a pairing that will evoke memories of the 1995 ceremony, when Britpop swept the old guard away, and thus highlight the contrast with the current state of play. The latest issue of Q magazine opens its review of the new Maccabees album with the rhetorical question: “Has there ever been a worse musical climate to be a guitar band in Britain?” The past is another country. The British public buys guitar music there.
Just before Christmas US music writer Eric Harvey compiled a list of sales figures for the top 50 albums in Pitchfork’s end-of-year poll, inspiring the Guardian to conduct a similar exercise (see below). Each list prompts much the same conclusion. Of the five albums in Pitchfork’s list that sold more than 100,000 copies in the US in 2011 only two (Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes) are indie artists. In the Guardian’s top 40 the only alternative acts to pass 100,000 (the benchmark for a gold record) are Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, Noah and the Whale, PJ Harvey, Radiohead and Laura Marling.