Indie pop

Indie pop
Indie pop
Stylistic origins Post-punk - 1960s girl groups - Indie rock - Power pop
Cultural origins Early 1980s, United Kingdom
Typical instruments Vocals - Guitar - Bass - Drums - Synthesizer
Mainstream popularity High in early 2010s, North America in the US, and Europe in the UK
Derivative forms Riot grrrl
C86 - Twee pop
Other topics
Indie rockTimeline of alternative rock

Indie pop (also known as twee pop or twee music in the United States) is a genre of alternative rock music that originated in the United Kingdom in the mid 1980s, with its roots in the Scottish post-punk bands on the Postcard Records label in the early '80s, such as Orange Juice, Josef K and Aztec Camera, and the dominant UK independent band of the mid eighties, The Smiths. Unlike Indie rock, Indie pop is more melodic, less noisy, and relatively angst-free.[1]

While the term indie had been used for some time to describe artists on independent labels (and the labels themselves), the key moment in the naming of the genre was the release of NME's C86 tape in 1986.[2] Although featuring a wide range of bands, including Primal Scream, Bogshed, Half Man Half Biscuit and The Wedding Present, it over time became shorthand for a genre known by a variety of terms. Initially it was dubbed C86 (after the tape itself), the more ambiguous indie pop, Cutie or a term coined by John Peel: shambling bands. Retrospectively, especially in the United States,[3] the terms twee[2] and twee pop were used, initially ironically, due to what commentators called the "revolt into childhood" of its followers.

Musically its key characteristics were jangling guitars, a love of sixties pop and often fey, innocent lyrics. The UK label Sarah Records and its most popular bands The Field Mice and Heavenly, although more diverse than the label indicates, were probably its most typical proponents. It was also inspired by the DIY scene of punk and there was a thriving fanzine, label and club and gig circuit. Scenes later developed in the United States particularly around labels such as K Records.

In the mid to late '80s, indie pop was criticized for its tweeness and underachievement, but many now argue that C86 and the birth of the genre was a pivotal moment for independent music in the UK.[4] It continues to have a strong following and inspire musicians, not just in the UK but around the world with new labels, clubs and bands devoted to the sound.



The birth of indie pop can be traced back to the post-punk explosion in small photocopied fanzines, and small shop-based record labels, for example, Glasgow's Postcard Records and London's Rough Trade Records. The publication in Record Business of the first weekly indie singles and album charts during the week ending 19 January 1980 and the adoption of such charts in the UK music press stimulated activity. To reflect this, the British musical weekly New Musical Express released an era-defining compilation cassette called C81. This cassette featured a wide range of groups, reflecting the different approaches of the immediate post-punk era.


Five years later NME followed up C81 with C86. Similarly designed to reflect the new music scene of the time in the UK, it is now seen as the birth of so-called "twee pop" in the UK. The UK music press, in this period, was extremely competitive with 4 weekly papers documenting new bands and trends and the grouping of bands, often artificially, with an overarching label to heighten interest or sell copies was commonplace. NME journalists of the period now agree that C86 was a typical example, but also a by product of NME's "hip hop wars";[5] a schism on the paper (and amongst readers) between enthusiasts of the contemporary progressive black music such as Public Enemy and Mantronix and the fans of traditional white rock.

Featuring key early bands of the genre such as The Pastels, The Shop Assistants and Primal Scream, the tape, despite its subsequent notoriety, also featured bands with a much harder punkier shambling sound featuring tracks from as many as 5 bands from the Ron Johnson label; their loud quirkiness was completely at odds with the Byrdsy guitars and fey melodies of what came to be known as 'C86' bands.

Over time the cassette became a shorthand for a movement within the British indie scene, often derided for its twee or "cuteness", jangly guitars, the bowl haircuts of its singers and asexual looks of its followers. This was applied to bands whether they had been on the tape or not such as The June Brides and Biff Bang Pow!. Some later became associated with the sound but had yet to emerge such as Talulah Gosh, Razorcuts or the BMX Bandits, who in 1990 released an album called C86. The entire Sarah Records roster was dogged with associations with C86 and later as "Sarah bands", although the label's first release wasn't until 1987.

A link between a genre and the C86 tape is often disputed by journalists and the bands on the tape. Everett True has argued that "C86 didn't actually exist as a sound, or style. I find it weird, bordering on surreal, that people are starting to use it as a description again".[6] Geoff Taylor from Age of Chance agreed. "We never considered ourselves part of any scene. I’m not sure that the public at large did either, to be honest. We were just an independent band around at that same time as the others."[7] Bob Stanley acknowledges that participants at the time reacted against lazy labelling, but insists they shared an approach;

Of course the "scene", like any scene, barely existed. Like squabbling Marxist factions, groups who had much in common built up petty rivalries. The June Brides and the Jasmine Minks were the biggest names at Alan McGee's Living Room Club and couldn't stand the sight of each other. Only when the The Jesus and Mary Chain exploded and stole their two headed crown did they realise they were basically soulmates.[4]

Manic Street Preachers bassist Nicky Wire remembers that it was the bands' very independence that gave the scene coherence; "People were doing everything themselves: making their own records, doing the artwork, gluing the sleeves together, releasing them and sending them out, writing fanzines because the music press lost interest really quickly."[8]

In 2004 the UK focused Rough Trade Shops compilation Indiepop Vol 1 effectively documented the history of the sound acknowledging that it pre- and post-dated 1986. London clubs such as How Does it Feel to be Loved?[9] continue to air tracks from the tape. In the mid-2000s, Sweden became a major exporter of indie pop with via outlets such as Labrador Records[10]


Simon Reynolds talking about the political/cultural aspect of the scene referred to a "revolt into childhood". Style magazine i-D in an article from 1986 similarly concluded that the followers of the genre had an ingenuous devotion.

Childlike innocence and assumed naivety permeate the Cutie scene – their clothes are asexual, their haircuts are fringes, their colours are pastel. Cuties like Penguin modern classics, sweets, ginger beer, vegetables, and anoraks. Heroes include Christopher RobinBuzzcocks and The Undertones.[11]

Rather more caustically, David Stubbs, in a derogatory Melody Maker review of the C86 tape, claimed that these were bands "for whom Camberwick Green is a sort of Palestine".

Musically in his book Time Travel, pop historian Jon Savage traced the origins of C86 and indie pop to the Velvet Underground's eponymous third album, but perhaps a more obvious musical influence however was the pop side of post-punk bands such as The Television Personalities, the Swell Maps and Dolly Mixture. The most significant punk rock influences are The Undertones, the Buzzcocks and the Ramones, who had catchy power pop melodies in their songs. Power pop was also a significant infuence as well as punk and post-punk. C86 was also rooted in the Scottish post-punk bands of the early 1980s on the independent Postcard label: Orange Juice, Aztec Camera, The Fire Engines and Josef K (although those bands' soul, funk and disco influences were usually forgotten). Other influences were the DIY punk ethic represented by fanzines from the period such as The Legend!, Are You Scared To Get Happy?, Baby Honey, Rox, Simply Thrilled, Pure Popcorn and Hungry Beat! who often featured flexis of bands who then became associated with C86. The movement continued to hold sway into the 1990s with many of the riot grrl bands citing C86 as an influence and finally reached a commercial peak with the success of Scottish band Belle and Sebastian during the mid 1990s.

See also


  1. ^ Differences with Indie rock with Indie/Twee pop.
  2. ^ a b "Twee; Paul Morley's Guide to Musical Genres", BBC Radio 2, 10 June 2008, 
  3. ^ Abebe, Nitsuh (24 October 2005), "Twee as Fuck: The Story of Indie Pop", Pitchfork Media, .
  4. ^ a b Stanley, Bob Sleevenotes to CD86.
  5. ^ "NME: Still Rocking at 50", BBC News, 24 February 2002, .
  6. ^ True, Everett (22 July 2005), Plan B Magazine Blog, .
  7. ^ Taylor, Geoff, Interview, ireallylovemusic vs Age of Chance, .
  8. ^ Wire, Nicky (25 October 2006), "The Birth of Uncool", The Guardian (London),,,1930836,00.html .
  9. ^ Hann, Michael (13 October 2004), "Fey City Rollers", The Guardian (London),,11710,1325674,00.html, retrieved 5 May 2010 .
  10. ^ Rogers, Jude (15 September 2006), "Stockholm Syndrome", The Guardian (London),,,1872154,00.html, retrieved 5 May 2010 .
  11. ^ As quoted in Redhead, Steve (1990), End-of-the-Century Party, Youth and Pop Towards 2000, Manchester: Manchester University Press, p. 82, ISBN 0719028264 .

Further reading

External links

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