The ‘indie’ explosion – a missed opportunity?

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About 3-4 years ago, the devastating 1-2-3 punch of a TV series called “Kami”, its mega-hit theme song “Lagu Untukmu” by Meet Uncle Hussein, and the meteoric rise of Hujan made ‘indie’ an overnight buzzword on everyone’s lips. While there’s no shortage of people annoyed with such a cheap usage of the word ‘indie’ then, there’s also no denying what a shot in the arm that word’s new buzzword status was to our perpetually fledgling independent music scene.

Gigs suddenly became well attended events, and kids in general (in unbelievable numbers!) made genuine attempts to get to know and discover new independent music. There were even genuine mainstream stars that came out of the whole indie explosion.

Almost 4 years later, even though most of the name indie acts are still doing quite well for themselves (mostly in the mainstream), the independent scene has seemingly gone back to its old fledgling status, with sparsely attended gigs back to being a very normal occurrence, and people paying no attention to us once more. What happened?

Different people of course have different theories on why this has been the case. But to me, it’s just been the simple case of the excitement missing from most of these gigs. There’s always been indie bands putting on and playing shows before the explosion, with similarly lukewarm responses. So why did the scene suddenly explode then?

It exploded because suddenly there were a handful of bands that a lot of people are willing to pay money to go and see live onstage. Like it or not, there were now ‘indie’ stars, bands with songs that people love enough to go crazy about. And no, it’s not just a Malaysian thing, it’s been the norm the world over. The Shins, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Arcade Fire, Vampire Weekend and now The Black Keys are all prime examples of indie bands who became stars while still remaining relatively small and independent compared to the mainstream.

What’s been missing from the small gigs nowadays are exactly the kind marquee names that’s been bringing in the hordes of sweaty bodies to these gigs in the first place during the beginning and up to the peak of the explosion back then. What’s basically happened is that these marquee names have simply become too successful in the mainstream that they’ve simply priced themselves out of the small gigs now. And here is where we argue that it doesn’t have to be like that at all.

As artists who make a living doing music full time, it is totally understandable that they’d want to be paid what they’re worth. But it should also be fairly logical to look at things subjectively as well. Corporate bodies and sponsored events can surely pay an arm and a leg (and maybe even more), but to expect a gig organiser to be able to afford to do so as well is clearly unrealistic, no? Surely a middle ground can be reached in terms of payment wherein the bands won’t feel exploited (by being paid an amount not commensurate to the amount of people expected to pay to come and see them) and that the promoters will also feel that they’ll be paying a fair amount that’ll put them in with a realistic chance of at least recouping their costs.

As it is with everything indie, a fair amount of trust has to be put in to make things work, and a whole lot of compromise as well. This is after all still a labour of love on most people’s part. While we may have lost quite a bit of ground in the past few months, there’s always room to make up for it. We need to feel the excitement again. Money, after all, is just a bonus, right?

Written by Aidil Rusli