Scott Creney

The Wussification of Indie Rock (it’s all Pavement’s fault)

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By Scott Creney

It wasn’t always like this. The underground used to be an interesting and occasionally dangerous place. The music birthed by punk rock — commonly known as (in order) college rock, alternative rock and eventually indie rock — used to be populated by weirdos and degenerates, noise merchants and psychopaths. Bands like Minutemen, Butthole Surfers, Sonic Youth, Mudhoney, Nirvana, etc challenged their audience’s preconceptions, wreaked havoc wherever they went, and made music that was, for its time, truly groundbreaking. So what the hell happened?

It’s a long way from Big Black to The Shins, but we can trace the development of indie rock in the 90s through a band who, naturally, performed a series of reunion shows last year, a band named Pavement.

They began the decade in a shambling noisy haze, self-destructive and beautiful. This is from 1991.

And they ended it surrounded by big league production and looking like a bunch of clean smiling dorks. This is from 1999.

From cussing out the Baptists to dancing in rainslickers and singing about carrots, it’s a strange journey, a slow sad descent into the banal. But it does help explain why we live in a world where Vampire Weekend is considered hip and edgy, a band who recently licensed their song for a Honda commercial.

Bands using songs in commercials deserves a post of its own, but here’s a question. Why the fuck do corporations want these songs in the first place? When Honda thinks your song is suitable for commercials on the Hallmark channel, your music may not be as edgy and interesting as you think it is. In fact, it may mean that your music is safe, predictable and dull. And it may mean that indie rock no longer exists as a viable subculture, but is merely one more market to be exploited.

This extends way beyond music. The writing about indie rock may be even duller than its subject matter. Underground ‘zines from the early 80s/late 90s like Forced Exposure, Conflict, Melody Maker, et al — hell, even Spin — all wrote about the music they covered with scathing wit, biting irreverence, and real passion. Back then Rolling Stone was the enemy. Today you’d be hard-pressed to find any difference between the writing in RS and the writing in Pitchfork.

Here in Athens, Georgia, two writers for the local weekly have told me that they think it’s unproductive to write negative things about bands. Which is their prerogative I suppose, if you consider Lester Bangs, Pauline Kael, Leslie Fiedler, Greil Marcus, Paul Morley — fuck it, if you consider Roger Ebert — to be unproductive. Of course this isn’t about criticism, it’s about hurting people’s feelings. And here in America, the children of the privileged class have grown up in an era of participation ribbons, of youth soccer leagues where no one keeps score so there doesn’t have to be a loser. And as these oblivious children have matured into oblivious adults, they’ve come flocking into the underground in search of an identity — which is something you pay for, naturally — or at least a suitable arena for their cocaine use and luxuriant consumption. After all, that trust fund isn’t going to spend itself.

Look around today’s indie rock world and you see a scene defined by upper-middle-class values — professionalism, good manners, no sense of humor, stultifying boredom, a need to be liked by others, and empty materialism. I tell you nobody can nail a target market like Arcade The Suburbs Fire.

Of course nothing’s more valuable to a suburbanite than money. And wouldn’t you know it, there’s a hell of a lot more money to be made out of indie rock today than there was 20 years ago. It’s a scene populated by publicists, booking agents, promoters, sponsors, and the like. An indie rock PR firm here in Athens charges several thousands of dollars to promote an artist’s new album, a job that would have been handled by the label back in the day for nothing more than a few phone calls and a fax machine.

But give the publicists credit. They’re doing a great job of getting the band’s name out there. Thanks to the blogosphere, and the constant need for news on music sites, we’re treated to an endless series of promotion before a new album comes out. It goes something like this. Announce upcoming album. Announce album art the following week, the tracklisting the week after that, then the tour dates, then a video (or two or three) of a song from the album, followed by the album review, followed the next week by an interview with the artist. It’s corporate planning at its finest, an ingenious way to maximize sales. Never mind the eventual boredom it creates for the reader (more Animal Collective news?), or the way it overexposes the artist and alienates their original fanbase. If a buzzband gets burned out, or gets too much attention too soon, or if the audience gets bored, there’s always another band coming along who’s more than willing to jump on the treadmill. Nevermind the Vivian Girls, here’s Best Coast.

Of course with great profits comes great responsibility. And when a band like Of Montreal commands $10,000 a show, that’s a lot of profit. And a lot of responsibility. A responsibility to deliver a professional show night in and night out, to please the audience, to keep everyone happy. And trying to make everyone happy is typically the death of creativity.

So it’s no surprise indie rock finds itself in its current predicament, i.e. just another store at the mall. Let’s face it, a band like Arcade Fire has a hell of a lot more in common with Katy Perry than it does with Daniel Johnston. Indie bands are lining up like American Idol contestants, desperate to be loved, and willing to do anything for money. They whore themselves out for festivals, and magazines, and blogs, and anything else that will make them famous. My publicist wants me to stand in front of this massive Levi’s sign? No problem! My label wants to sell my CDs in Best Buy and Wal-Mart for less than the wholesale price they charge the mom and pop stores that helped make me famous in the first place? Hell yeah! My management wants me to tour six months out of the year, making it difficult for me to write and record new material? Why not?

So I think I’ve proved my point. Indie rock is a bunch of ‘wuss’ music made by ‘wuss’ artists, playing it safe to maximize their earning potential and doomed by their own lack of imagination. Fuck them if they want to treat their art like a business. They’ll probably end up feeling the same way about their music that I feel about my job. May they be forced to listen to their commercials over and over for all eternity.

Before I go, I want you to think about something else. Maybe indie rock was never all that great in the first place. And before we declare some golden age, we’d better look a little closer at this time period (mid 80s – early 90s) that I’m holding up as an ideal. After all, it’s dangerous to romanticize the past, and nostalgia has a way of making the present seem more barren than it actually is.

Fact. If you played in an indie rock band during that time, you were most likely male. If there were females in your band, they probably played the bass and didn’t say a whole lot. If they played guitar or sang, they acted like one of the guys.

Fact. If you played in a band, you wore jeans (because it was masculine), you wore T-shirts (because they were masculine), you only played guitar/bass/drums (because they were masculine), and the singer usually screamed (because it was masculine).

Fact. If you stood near the front of a show, you were likely to be kicked or punched by someone — most likely someone male.

Yes, the underground today is an overhyped stagnant mess, but it’s also a more diverse place than it was 20 years ago. The music is more eclectic, and the scene more open to women, than it was 20 years ago as well. It’s impossible to imagine a place for Joanna Newsom, TV On The Radio, The Books or Electrelane in the indie rock world of 1990. And doesn’t the ecstatic domesticities of Animal Collective, or the hazy synthesizers of chillwave, represent a more enlightened, more feminized viewpoint, than the beer-swigging adolescent hijinks of Mudhoney? Something to think about.

But just remember. Either way, it’s all Pavement’s fault.

44 Responses to The Wussification of Indie Rock (it’s all Pavement’s fault)

  1. polarbearisdying March 31, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    good stuff for thought. i’m thinking.

    and yes, the diversity is certainly a good thing.

  2. downtowner April 1, 2011 at 2:43 am

    Pavement has more humor than all of those bands combined. isn’t carrot rope about masturbation? also nigel godrich (OK Computer) produced that album.

    I agree with a lot of what you said though.

    On the other hand, I’ve noticed that a lot of the bands I like are blurring gender roles. A little something for everyone 🙂

    finally, p4k has become predictable when it comes to record reviews.

  3. Hannah Golightly April 1, 2011 at 6:05 am

    I blame Radiohead. I blame postmodernist culture for it’s rehasharama that steadily waters down all essence until it’s like badly cut coke in a poor city. I wouldn’t go so far as to blame Pavement although you do make a good argument that they typify the problem of onward wussification. At least they started off rough and raw. I gotta say this one though: all bands that start off rough and ‘punk’ in some way develop. Usually they play this gutsy punk three chord parade in part because that’s all they can do at that point in their careers. If a band goes for long enough, they become better at playing their instruments and have more of an audience and more money so they can hire a ‘real’ producer… a lot of people call this selling out. I used to agree, but then I grew up and started to see the organic progression that like it or not naturally runs it’s course. I would also like to blame the listening public because really, things got confused when the underground met the mainstream around 1991 and things haven’t been the same since. All of a sudden the Yuppies who’d be quite contentedly listening to their crappy pop records started buying into the indie sound. Great! we all thought. Things are changing… naively we didn’t see what effect this would have on music and culture. The fact is that once Mainstream Pop demographics start adopting Indie, Indie becomes a new strain of Pop. At first we thought the people were changing, but really they weren’t. Suddenly the ‘cool’ thing for these mainstream normal high street suburban types was to tout around the phrase “I have an Eclectic music taste.” Oddly though they all signposted their mainstreamness by all using the same phrase and word Eclectic. They also all liked the exact same ‘eclectic’ selection of bands. Some of the shit we now have to deal with on the so-called Indie scene is deliberately selected by A&Rs for these Mainstream Mr Eclectics’s record collections. They think they’re being edgy. “A little bit different.” The word little should be noted. This crappy music has to pass itself off as Indie to play into the mindset of these mainstream buying audiences… but real alternative and indie music fans can smell a rat. And the rat, it don’t smell good.

  4. teddybear April 1, 2011 at 8:20 am

    The Stone Roses were great. Pavement were great. I don’t think it is fair to blame them for what follows…

  5. Matt April 1, 2011 at 10:27 am

    Meh. I honestly don’t find a band like the Butthole Surfers that much more visceral than a band like Arcade Fire. I enjoy them infinitely more, of course, but music’s music. Aesthetics are largely irrelevant to genuine impact and genuine impact is largely defined by the individual. Half of Aphex Twin’s work bores the shit out of me but an act like Showtek greet me like a punch in the face – and the latter is infinitely more polished and safe than the former. Certainly about a thousand times dumber.

    Ultimately, though, I find talk such as this increasingly dull. All of this often just boils down to a cross between ‘I like your old stuff better than your new stuff’ and ‘Back in my day’ and, while this article acknowledges that better than most, there’s still only so much relevance one can squeeze out of that particular stance. I don’t really care if the world is worse, at this point – not unless someone’s going to do anything about it.

    This is the world I landed in and this is the card I have been dealt and, unless someone’s willing to try and alter it significantly, historical context and perspective have as much merit for me as some teenager telling me their life sucks and the system is fucked. Is it true? Probably. Is it interesting? Not really. Do I care? Not in the slightest.

    For the lazy, the world is shit and then you die. For the creatively lazy, the world is shit, you’re quite vocal about it and then you die. For everyone else, there are spines, eyes and brains – employ them effectively and the world can be a fantastic place.

    (I should be clear – this isn’t really directed at this article specifically, just a general ‘it was better before’ sentiment I seem to run into a lot. Really, I’m just venting in an unfocussed manner and will probably regret this comment as soon as it’s made. Oh well. In the words of B*Witched – ‘c’est la vie’)

  6. Wallace Wylie April 2, 2011 at 6:27 am

    I too have my issues with Pavement:


    I think they represent one of the first times the band themselves, as opposed to the record company, played up their alternative cred as a career choice. Malkmus seems very astute and calculating. There’s just something really inoffensive about Pavement that makes bands like Vampire Weekend their natural heirs. Pavement were a much better band musically though….much, much better.

  7. Jed April 2, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    Pavement is not to blame. Pavement wrote songs. The songs were highly personal, and definitely sincere, but came from a sarcastic, funny, slightly arch dude. They come across as an accurate representation of his personality. What really happened is that the idea of an indie career as a goal in life gained primacy as the indie media industry became bigger and the idea of underground rock or whatever went from being the provenance of the very mildly outcasted and the extremely alienated to being an expression of white upper middle and upper class socioeconomic/cultural/regional prerogatives. The fact that Arcade Fire, a band with a Garden State level banality and mediocrity in its lyrics and an almost sociopathic commitment to apersonal affectation can come to be the most popular non-mainstream rock band in the world, or something, not only indicts the generation guilty of placing it on that plateau, but the media which pushes it on them. They’re the U2 of shittiness. Indie rock sucks for a lot of other reasons too, but the suburban affluent sausage factory plays a significant role.

    Pavement were a highly original band with terrific songs and lyrics. If you’re going to indict them for not being “edgy”, you might well indict the Kinks, The Beatles, Orange Juice, whatever. The pompousness of rock is nothing to lionize. Talent and personality make memories, not affectations of nihilism.

    Also, the 90s fucking sucked.

  8. Jed April 2, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    Which means I guess that we agree on some points, and disagree on others. I think it comes down to songwriting. Great songs are what people remember, and what resonates with them. Indie rock has become background music for a demographic, but then- so was Big Black in many ways. Tell me, will you give this treatment to hip hop, because it deserves it just as much, if not more. Music, in its ideal for, should represent something of a person’s individual interpretation of reality, and the integrity of that can survive any level of pastiche, aesthetic variation, or um….wussiness. I love the Butthole Surfers but they were more of a great idea and a fun experience than a band with a lot of great songs. I miss bands writing great songs. That’s the true face of your so-called wussification.

  9. Matt April 3, 2011 at 7:54 am

    Wow – those comments made so much more sense than mine. I don’t completely agree (I don’t really care about Pavement, for example) but a lot of valid and exceptionally articulated points.

  10. Hannah Golightly April 3, 2011 at 8:59 am

    tHE ONLY Thing I love about Pavement is that thanks to them I met the legendary John Peel outside a liverpool theatre where Pavement were playing and he hand wrote me and a friend a pass to get in for free as I had travelled to the city with nothing more than a bottle of Lambrini and a train ticket, in the expectation of somehow blagging my way in all because my friend had suggested we go see them as they’d played with Nirvana. The kids of today have the internet so they don’t have to take a random chance on one sentence of kudos to discover music… but then again if I’d listened to them in advance (or been able to) then I wouldn’t have got so excited, jumped a train to Liverpool and wouldn’t have met John Peel… who stays in my heart as a really nice guy forever.

  11. Wallace Wylie April 3, 2011 at 9:24 am

    I think when you rip off The Fall as blatantly as Pavement did, you lose the right to be called highly original.

  12. Jed April 3, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    It’s a myth that they ripped off the Fall that much. There are a few musical moments here and there and their song title method was definitely heavily influenced by Mark E Smith, but they’re hardly a Fall rip-off band. Regardless, ripping people off doesn’t necessarily make you unoriginal. Being disingenuous and banal does.

    I say this as a huge fan of both the Fall and Pavement.

  13. Scott Creney April 3, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    Interesting comments, everyone. Just to clarify, the article has nothing to do with whether or not I like Pavement (because I do). It just seems to me that you can trace the evolution of their sound, from harsh to gentle, and see a similar evolution in indie rock as a (over-generalized) whole. You can also see the same thing in Superchunk, who I also like.

    No conspiracy theories here. And I certainly don’t hold the bands responsible for ‘betraying their roots’ or any of that shit. But it is interesting to see how ‘underground music’ has changed over the last 20 years. It’s interesting to me, anyway.

  14. Wallace Wylie April 4, 2011 at 10:34 am

    Oh yeah, this is hardly a rip-off,


    in comparison to this,


    No relation between this,


    and this,


    Half of “Slanted and Enchanted” is completely Fall derived. Not only song titles but artwork. They played up their haphazard Fall leanings to get an alternative edge before settling in to being an indie rock band.

  15. Everett True April 4, 2011 at 10:54 am

    Hmm. I think you’re mostly correct, Wallace. (Although, speaking as someone around at the time, I don’t think Pavement ‘played up’ to any leanings, Fall-wise or otherwise. It’s just where the muse was taking them at the time. I vastly preferred them at the start, and yes I think Malkmus in particular later became too cynical, being too smart: but the energy was what I latched onto.)

    I also think Jed’s statement here is correct.

    There are a few musical moments here and there and their song title method was definitely heavily influenced by Mark E Smith, but they’re hardly a Fall rip-off band.

    As others have pointed out, it’s not like Mark E. Smith was above ‘borrowing’ other people’s sounds (and heavily sometimes, to the extent that he could be called a ‘rip-off’, if you so felt that way inclined). I’m not sure I can name any musicians who aren’t. Originality isn’t only highly overrated, it doesn’t exist.

    There again, of course, we have Oasis – who make both Malkmus and E. Smith look like rank amateurs when it comes to the noble art of the ‘influence’ …

  16. Nate M April 4, 2011 at 11:12 am

    I shelled out the 40-something bucks to see the Pavement reunion show in Atlanta back in the fall (one of the “good” shows, I was told by a credible source) because my girlfriend was all excited and I wanted to be a good sport.

    I guess it was an okay show, but in retrospect, I wish I’d instead spent that money on making the trip to Philly to catch the closest-proximity Faith No More reunion show, because at least that was a band that I truly cared passionately about back in the day.
    Spending $40plus dollars on feelings of bland ambivalence feels shamefully sinful and remains my biggest regret of 2010.

    But, hey…at least I wore my “Don’t Trust Whitey” shirt!

  17. Wallace Wylie April 4, 2011 at 11:13 am

    I distrust Malkmus. That doesn’t mean I don’t put “Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain” in my favourite albums of all time list. The calculated way in which Pavement created a bidding war for their album….he was a manipulative careerist from the start. Again, that doesn’t mean I’m out there on the barricades saying “Don’t listen to Pavement”. Far from it. I just wouldn’t want anyone to think they stand for anything, or that they somehow represent any kind of independent spirit. They have been crowned the best indie band of the 90s and have a nice place in music history. Malkmus really has nothing of interest to say though, and their every move reeks of cynicism and career building.

  18. Everett True April 4, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    My feelings on that Pavement reformation. (No. Of course I didn’t go to their Brisbane show. Not even with the promise of free tickets.)

  19. Ken April 12, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    Collapse Board may not be the place to defend Vampire Weekend, but I would point out that Ezra Koenig’s ultra-clean guitar sound was a reaction AGAINST the prevailing fuzzbox aesthetic of 90s indie and grunge in particular. The fact that they are now attended to by people who have never heard of Pavement I attribute partly to the fact that they’re one of the few indie bands who seem to be genuinely engaged in some way with black music.

    As for Pavement themselves, I don’t hear any huge drop off in quality toward the end of their career. Certainly they mellowed a little, but that hardly mandates stupidity. Maturity is what it’s usually called. I went to the Auckland show at the start of the tour. It was a great gig, all the old contradictions and pleasures clearly intact.

    That said, please don’t construe this as a general defense of the indie scene, which is indeed an insular and often depressing universe.

  20. Niall April 13, 2011 at 10:16 pm

    I was ready to slam this article as just another example of “wasn’t the past great” until I hit the last 5 or 6 paragraphs. Oh cynical me. Nicely done, though cynical me now also begins to question what exactly it is that you are complaining about if indie rock culture is now a more diverse, emasculated place? Is it the lack of macho-ness in modern rock or the career-based nature of many bands?

    I lost interest in Pavement after the second drummer drowned. S&E is still a cracking record though.

  21. Gregor April 29, 2011 at 7:30 am

    I think the person who mentioned Radiohead, as opposed to Pavement, being the band that led to the current wussification of indie rock was right on. I agree, in general, that music has become edgeless, safe, “female” if you like that binary. I think this has to do not only with the bands’ middle class boredom aesthetic, but also with overproduction and increased use of electronica elements. I think Radiohead led us in this direction. I would include the Flaming Lips in there as well.

    As for Pavement, I think you’re being a little unfair to their progression. CRCR was more commercial, though it was also biting and funny in ways that Vampire Weekend will never be. But then they followed that up with Wowie Zowie, which has some awesome songs on there, but is definitely a step back towards disorder. No one wants Serpentine Pad on their VW ad. Sure, Brighten was polished, and more boring. I think Malkmus was probably bored, wanted to cash in a bit. And TT was awful. The Hexx is ok, but not quite like the days of Slanted. But they were writing a mix of less noisy stuff even in the beginning (Frontwards, Zurich is Stained, etc).

    Sure they cashed in at the end, but their progression is nothing like the methodical destruction of indie rock as a subculture that Radiohead represents. They rebranded and electronified “indie rock”, took it mainstream, and all the bands that follow their mainstream strategy, even if they aren’t sonically similar, are their descendants.

  22. Actual Spatula June 5, 2011 at 4:54 am

    I think Hannah and Gregor are right – I pin a lot of the blame on Radiohead – and OK Computer, and Nigel Godrich’s production specifically.

    Though I have to say the whole “assigning blame to artists for cultural trends” tactic is kind of lame, and a cop-out. They made the album they wanted to make, it was actually quite good, but it spawned a lot of crap imitators. Radiohead and Coldplay wannabes are the the biggest waste of eardrum space.

    Anyways. I remember things definitely shifting in and around 1998, the year after OK Computer came out. That year, suddenly everyone I knew wanted to listen to pretty, lush, “orchestral” pop records – Deserter’s Songs by Mercury Rev, Belle & Sebastian, Neutral Milk Hotel – I’m surprised those last two bands haven’t been savaged by commentators here. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is a beautiful record, but often savage and far from wussy – yet it gets blamed for a lot of the “preciousness” of current indie music. B&S may actually be the worst offenders in terms of popularizing the cuddliness of indie-pop culture, which had really been around since the ’80s – C86, anyone?

    The transformation / devolution of Mercury Rev may also be a more interesting story than Pavement. It’s hard to believe that those two bands were often spoken of in the same breath in the British papers when they both first came to notice in mid-1991. I love Dave Fridmann’s production on Deserter’s Songs but after that it was a pretty rapid decline into pompous pretension and Disney sounding schmaltz. How awful are those last couple of records, really?

    Pavement only had one lousy record – and you can blame that on OK Computer Guy’s production, as well as Malkmus going diva. The rest of the band hated it, from what I heard, and it pretty much broke up the band. Gregor sums up the progression pretty well – Pavement were really true to themselves up until Terror Twilight. And rather than continuing down a sad path of “a career! career! career! career!” they decided to stop instead of making more shitty records.

    I also have to admit that in ’98 I fell for some of the aforementioned “orch-pop” (ugh) records – especially Deserter’s Songs and In the Aeroplane. I and almost everyone I knew spent the first half of the ’90s listening to consistently loud, heavy, music. Hard to believe but after a while a steady die to Polvo / Pavement / Superchunk / Slint / Shellac / Fugazi / Jehu – some of my favourite bands of all time, I should note – gets a little EXHAUSTING. I think guitar-band burnout explained why, by 1996, everyone was suddently into “electronica.” Except that the few good Aphex Twin and Autechre records weren’t enough to put up with the Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim. Then there’s the whole Stereolab / Tortoise thing – remember when post-rock was “post-rock”?. Before it came to erroneously refer to drone-rock bands who ripped off Godspeed and Mogwai? Anyways. I think by ’98 there was this desire to hear something more inviting than INTENSE all the time.

    Then The Soft Bulletin came out in ’99, and then there was no hope left for non-wussy, semi-popular / semi-underground music during the 2000s – and that’s really what the complaint is about here, right? During the last decade, the underground fringes of noise, math-rock, free-jazz, metal, however, have kept growing. They just haven’t produced the signature, “crossover” band I think people are looking for – except maybe Battles. Where do they fit into the wussiness chart? They’re also possibly the most masculine of current S-P/S-U bands (did I just coin a thing there?), which makes me wonder what Scott would have to say about them, given the point he made at the end.

    Which makes me think of Tune-Yards. Now would anyone dare call her wussy??

  23. Erika March 22, 2012 at 3:08 am

    It’s not the indictment of Pavement that bugs me, but the masculine/feminine dichotomy that is set up here.

    First of all, “wussy.” Meaning “slang chiefly ( US ) a feeble or effeminate person [C20: perhaps from pussy 1 (cat)]” http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/wussy

    (cat? really?)

    Ok I get what you’re saying but it’s troubling. It’s like this idea that rock is somehow inherently un-female and that ? oh this is so confusing. I mean, the biggest sexists in rock seemed to be the 80s hair metal bands which were made up of guys who looked like girls.

    Second of all, the stereotype of the 90s female in a band. The idea that jeans, t-shirts, and screaming are inherently “masculine.” I really don’t know.

    Rock/music/art is about gender bending – and – did I wear jeans and t-shirts because I was trying to look like a guy or because it felt natural?

    It’s so frustrating. Females are individuals too, and our femininity should not be defined by what we wear or what instrument we play. It’s sad to me that those women who are exceptions to the “rules” (like Gilly, the woman I recently wrote about) either get shoved into a pre-fab category, or ignored completely because they weren’t famous enough.

    Rock n’ roll enthusiasts, male and female, tend to go for a tough aggressive look and feel, but if you’ve ever been a mother – especially a single mother – well, then you know what TOUGH is. No joke.

    As for mosh pits up front – I don’t know about the 90s because I was living in the woods (tho I heard that was a bad era for molestation in mosh pits) but I had a hell of a lot of fun slamdancing right up front in the 1980s and in the 2000s until I hurt my knee pretty bad at a Mudhoney show last year at age 44 and promised I would stop. I fucking love Mudhoney, and I am broke right now and so I couldn’t go see them last night, but when I do see them again, I really don’t know if I’m going to be able to keep my promise.

    There are different kinds of moshpits – some are very aggro and crazy, some are just fucking fun. Mudhoney is a fun band with a fun moshpit.

    I don’t know why mainstream indie pop rock is so “wussy” but this article is a year old now and I already sense the pendulum of popular taste swinging in another direction.

    Here in PDX, the metal/stoner/doom scene (which has been around forever) is finally getting some attention.

  24. Bartosz Biniek March 22, 2012 at 6:05 am

    It’s not Pavements fault. Leave Pavement alone. It’s all about what mainstream sells to listeners and what listeners wants to listen.

  25. Bartosz Biniek March 22, 2012 at 6:15 am

    But, of course, the Pavement’s journey is strange

  26. Bartosz Biniek March 22, 2012 at 6:17 am

    I change my opinion. You’re right

  27. Bartosz Biniek March 22, 2012 at 6:21 am

    “Here in Athens, Georgia, two writers for the local weekly have told me that they think it’s unproductive to write negative things about bands”

    So what is music ciricism?

  28. jorl March 22, 2012 at 8:57 am

    Haven’t the foggiest on what “ciricism” might be, but criticism – I always thought – had to do with being impartial, sober and considered in your opinions. If there is a bunch of music out there that you think is great you should be able to go in and dissect it before shouting it from the rooftops.

    Same goes for music you’ve grown to hate. Or bands that, for any number of reasons, have taken boring career turns. You should be able to investigate a little further past “Oh, Pavement got really dull and so now all music is crap.”

    What Scott said above was sheer laziness, going over the same tired arguments: bands selling out and girls not being able to play in bands (what the fuck was that about?). It’s the music writer’s equivalent to the kid who can’t listen to his fave band any more ‘cos he caught their song on commercial radio. It’s disappointment that leads to cynicism that leads to hating on all music. Which can’t be good for anyone.

  29. Everett True March 22, 2012 at 10:33 am

    Haven’t the foggiest on what “ciricism” might be, but criticism – I always thought – had to do with being impartial, sober and considered in your opinions.

    You really are in the wrong place, aren’t you? It’s OK. There’s a rest home for people like you, just around the corner. We call it “Rolling Stone”.

  30. Miquel Ramirez March 27, 2012 at 11:12 pm

    Very nice piece by Scott, which had fell off my radar but came on top of the table with Everett’s Sacred Cows series. And also some awesome comments in here: especially Actual Spatula’s one, which hits the nail on the head for me.

  31. Miquel Ramirez March 27, 2012 at 11:53 pm

    A somewhat random musing.

    How does people feel about Thurston Moore’s latest, “Demolished Thoughts”? I actually found it to be a beautiful piece of work, but extremely out of character. I wondered if that meant that Moore had joined as well the “wussification bandwagon”?

    I went to the gig he made supporting Demolished Thoughts in Barcelona two weekends ago, with a slightly older friend of mine who has been much more into the loud/noisy 90’s than me. While we went over our “warming up” pints before the concert, we were wondering how weird would be to watch him playing an acoustic set, almost gloating over it.

    Moore’s set was nothing of the sort one would expect from listening to the record. It actually sounded like a portable Sonic Youth, that is, with little baggage. Spiced up with Moore reading his beat poetry bits before each piece. I found his poetry bits, followed by the fuzz and noise I’ve loved for so long, a quite awesome experience. It might indeed sound a cliché, but I certainly love those concerts where I go expecting to find X – X being whatever is on the record – and instead come across Y – a entirely different thing. And both X and Y are good in their own way, of course.

    It was also interesting to note who were the backing musicians he brought along. Two guys and a girl who were much younger than Moore, actually from my generation, more or less. I think that’s worth a thought: with such a expanded scene, that sounds indeed samey and safe, how can we be sure we’re not dismissing too soon and too out of hand a generation of potentially brilliant musicians? Even applying the 90% crap 10% gold rule, the sheer numbers of musicians popping out of the woodwork every day seem to ensure we will end up with quite a nice pile of gold by the end of the day.

    My point is: Moore, perhaps the most brilliant figure of the fuzz/noise era, doesn’t shrug from coming down from the pedestal *we* the fans and public have put him and gets rolling a show with the “wussy kids”. Probably “teaching” them a few tricks, but also learning from them a few new ones.

    That’s something worth noting, and it’s also something I doubt very much we will ever see Malkmus doing.

  32. buddyroe May 17, 2012 at 4:16 am

    I totally agree. I bought “Slanted and Enchanted” without hearing a single song, just because Pavement was the holy grail for indie music critics. In fact, it was considered very uncool to not consider Pavement cool. After “Slanted,” and several other Pavement albums I purchased, I never figured out why they were considered so untouchable in Indie music. I think they were the most overrated band of the 1990s. Just maybe, no as a matter of fact, the indie music wasn’t really that good, or radio stations would still be playing Pavement today instead of Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

  33. Tj March 25, 2013 at 6:07 pm

    The problem with wussification of indie rock today is it’s become a self for fulfilling prophecy.

    . Kids who llike indie rock (small r) these days don’t see as you do/did…its not dangerous, heavy, orignal, urgent… its not the deafening noise and glorious guitars of dinosaur jr or mbv…….. the thunderous riffs and black humour of the melvins or shellac, or the heart on the sleeves lyrics and pounding melodies of the replacements or husker du…


    Indie kids today see it as vampire weekend, Bon iver and arcade fire.. They wear skinny jeans, retro shirts and watch girls.. Its a subculture..but a dying one, as confrontational as lukewarm tea.

    What would have ben the indie rock target market of a few decades ago… eg intelligent non PC,white college kids -who want authentic, exciting music – mixed with sex and danger are to today to listerning hip hop/rap, EDM or to less extent metal ( doom, progressive ..doesn’t matter) anything with “balls” ( for the lack of a better word) and i dont blame them one bit….

    Sooooo by default,the only people left listening to “Indie”are the wussiest, whitest emasculated youth there is! ….and it will eat itself alive, one tofu burger at a time!

  34. Peggy May 9, 2013 at 11:21 am

    Is this article one giant rhetorical question??? WTF do you MEAN?? WHY do corporations want these songs??? ARe you stupid?! TO SELL SHIT TO 18-35 year olds DUH!!! I mean is this really an article? Why not go out and find the most obscure music you can and sit alone in a dark corner and listen to it BY YOURSELF so NO ONE ELSE IN THE WORLD can play it or use it or like it so it remains obscure so YOU can remain uber cool hipsters. Get a clue. Ad agencies hire people right out of college so they can be clued into what people are listening to. AND SO FUCKING WHAT if a band wants to make some $$ and sell their tracks to an agency to use in a campaign?HOW HAS THIS AFFECTED YOUR LIFE IN A NEGATIVE WAY???HAS it made you lose your job? Have your ears started to bleed uncontrollably? Are you LOSING YOUR HIPSTER STATUS?????? But let me guess, you write this brilliant twaddle for free and you have no bills and you live off the grid with a monkey that plays a triangle while wearing a baret and riding a hovercraft and is signed to a label that is so obscure you can’t even pronounce it because the combination of the letters that spell it out are so obscure they have never been uttered by human lips before….

  35. Pet Cathy May 14, 2013 at 5:51 am

    Yeah, I’m 50, and if MY GRANDMA likes something then it’s so fucking safe it’s absurd. Rock and roll was wild from the start, it actually scared some people.

    These days popular “indie” bands are more likely to bore one to death.

    Like one of my favorite indie bands of all time, Fatima Mansions, once said, “Keep music evil.”

  36. Peier May 16, 2013 at 11:12 am

    I Loved Pavement but wouldn’t have gone to any of the reformed gigs as I cherish the moment when they chucked it in at Brixton. There;s some great bands plying the Black Heart in Camden Town a little hardcore scene that’s worth checking out.

  37. L April 20, 2015 at 3:03 am

    I don’t think Pavement ever pretended to be hip and edgy, and I like that about them. And to whoever said kids who want authentic and exciting music listen to EDM: WTF.

  38. Alvaro Ramos July 24, 2015 at 6:14 pm

    We have to clean the slate again.

  39. Robert October 23, 2015 at 4:27 am

    Honestly, you’ve might as well blame early 20th century sound engineers for the ‘self-destruction’ of the music industry.

    Music shouldn’t evolve within a strict set of rules. You can deride Arcade Fire’s ‘Garden State Banality” or criticize the ‘faux-swagger’ of The Strokes all you want. But if they had followed your idealistic, fantasy-land prognostication of indie-rock, music would’ve remained stagnant and dull. ( The thing you criticized in the first place) Let’s be real, here. Do you want a thousand-plus bands aping Slanted and Enchanted circa 2015, or legions of young artists copying Daydream Nation? Ideas and scenes evolve, and the commercialization of a scene doesn’t always equate to an artistic regression within that movement.

    Look at Nevermind for example. Without the ‘big-ol-profligate-money-maker-devil-machine” aka record labels we wouldn’t have sonically innovative artists like RATM, Beastie Boys, Radiohead, Sonic Youth dominating the top-ten charts. Enjoy your slice of recycled, dated bad soul music. ( Whitney Houston)

    Also, how is Pavement responsible for any of this?

  40. PhilKnows October 27, 2015 at 1:28 am

    I’m going to have to slay the Golden Goose here – it’s actually Sonic Youth’s fault. How you say, they were noisy and cool? Well, when SY went to DGC in 1990 they set the tone for the decade ahead, what had been a disparate and largely unconnected but allied bunch of bands under umbrella of alternative in 80’s was streamlined via SY as the in house talent scouts for DGC. Now Geffen didn’t expect SY to sell loads of records, just in their existing fanbase (tens of thousands) and to bring a culture to his company that would create similar fan bases for same sales. But when Nirvana unexpectedly toppled Michael Jackson from the charts at No. 1, the SY talent scouts were seen as the gods of new market.
    From this came the SY endorsed lineage – Pavement/ Bikini Kill and so that were the core of approved/sanctioned indie cool in 90’s (it wasn’t journalists but SY that were the tastemakers) and launched a thousand awful copies. The endorsed bands also suffered a weird fate – they were given higher expectations of main stream success that was ever conceived previously and probably bent their trajectories and strategies around that possibility rather than having time in wilderness to create own position and generate something long term to say.
    All of this drew money and labels and crowds away from looking for themselves – at weird and often terrible bands that they might have tried out before – and into that official sanctioning from SY. Sonic Youth drew the alternative/indie sound into a tight defined space – that was flogged to death musically and financially by circa 1998.

  41. eleutherophile October 29, 2015 at 9:22 am

    I try not to blame popular/influential bands for the fact that thousands of much sh*ttier bands try to sound like them. There are lots of good bands whose countless imitators are to blame for the horrid state of modern indie music: Pavement, Radiohead, Magnetic Fields, Wilco, Modest Mouse, The Arcade Fire, Neutral Milk Hotel… Those bands had distinctive sounds and good songwriting (at least they used to back in the day). Then a million wannabes mashed up that sh*t with a big dollop of Coldplay whine, sterile digital production, zero originality, lazy and pointless lyrics, humorless beardgazing and clear attempts to tick all of Pitchfork’s boner buttons. It’s pretentious without having any reason to be pretentious because it’s utter sh*t.

    The co-option and commercialization of indie by the mainstream worsens everything. I honestly can’t distinguish the average indie band reviewed well on Pitchfork from American Idol star Phillip Phillips. You could slot his sh*tty “Home” song or some steaming turd from Mumford and Sons into an average hipster’s modern indie playlist and it wouldn’t make any significant reduction in quality, or at least wouldn’t stick out as being that out of place. It doesn’t seem to at any coffee shop or restaurant playing a generic mix of typical indie-folk-beard-poop. I mean, most indie stuff is so bad these days it makes bland 90s alternative bands like The Goo Goo Dolls and The Gin Blossoms sound like pretty damn good bands in comparison.

    Making it worse, there’s such a glut of bands out there competing for your attention. So I’m sure there are good and interesting bands out there, but as hard as I’ve looked, I’ve usually found flashes more than any kind of sustained quality. It’s really saddening. I don’t think I’ve bought a CD of a modern band formed after 2000 since “Funeral,” which I bought not long after it came out.

    What’s even more saddening is watching good old bands go to utter sh*t to sound “modern.” AUTOTUNE?!?! WTF PIXIES!?! GOD DAMN IT.

    I’m worried culture in general has run out of ideas…Television is still breaking some ground, but I’m not seeing much in art, music or cinema that deeply inspires me.

  42. at yr request she gives you nothing October 31, 2015 at 11:56 pm

    You guys do realize that some poor person wld have had to clean up the shit from the venue floor after a GG Allen gig. Vampire Weekend don’t shit onstage. Life’s different now. Shitting onstage is no longer boundary pushing.its inconvenient.let the kids make their own mistakes.oh and for fucks sake its only music.write about ecology instead.you might make a real difference to the world that way.
    Thanks for yr time.
    PS Pavement were shit.3D’s much better.

    Greg C.

  43. Dan November 5, 2015 at 6:42 am


  44. Pingback: Various: Day of the Dead | Beautiful Freaks – Reviews

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