On Sunday night, I finally made it out to a screening of What is Indie?, a documentary searching for the real meaning of "indie" in today's music industry. Directed, researched, and narrated by Dave Cool (yes, that is his real name), it's a worthy exploration of a relatively nebulous term and concept. I, like many of his interviewees, tend to associate that term as an abbreviation of "indie rock," but it's more of an attitude that cuts across genres and even labels. Cool even takes on the circular question of "If indie is an attitude, can you be indie on a major, or be non-indie on an indie label?" The answer winds up being yes - the rare major label artists that could issue creative terms to their label, or the artists caught in indie labels run like majors with creative strangleholds and exploitative business practices. Several of the interviewees bring up the idea of indie-by-default as opposed to indie-by-choice - artists who are waiting for one of the Big Four to snap them up, as compared to those who truly want to achieve success by their own definition.
I enjoyed the film, but it wasn't especially revelatory to me - as a musician I've heard all this before, but I don't think the film is geared towards musicians necessarily. It seems to be geared towards the layman, the listener who doesn't necessarily know where the industry's going or how it works. My Jazz Euphorium colleague and trumpeter Sean Winters rightly pointed out that there were no jazz musicians interviewed - a music that's had various levels of prominent independents and collectivists for decades. And also, the idea of being "indie" on a major isn't especially new or shocking - The Grateful Dead are the first who come to mind as being on a major label but playing and promoting their music on their own terms. If memory serves me right, I think Led Zeppelin had complete creative control while on Atlantic as well.
The screening was followed by performances by singer-songwriter Andrea Revel who's grown tremendously since I last saw her (and acquired a beautiful black Grestch Duo-Jet to boot); singer Amanda Mabro accompanied by well-meaning but often ham-handed piano and drums (the pianist was having monitor issues, so I'll refrain from commenting further); and my friends WhiteRoom, who have really come into their own as a live unit.
I suppose this is as good a place as any to link to the brilliant Marc Ribot essay. I spoke briefly with Ribot after his concert at Sala, and the treatment of creative musicians is truly at a critical juncture. If any city is going to purport itself to be a cultural centre, it needs to protect the ability of artists to live and perform. The imminent closing of Spectrum after this festival season does not bode well for the rest of Montreal, and if iconic landmarks like CBGB and Tonic are closing in the Apple, it doesn't bode well for the rest of market-driven, conservative-led North America.