The Problem With Sad Indie Trash

By Jacqueleen Eng ’19

unnamedI have a friend who might be Spotify famous. His playlist titled “emotional dreams and drunk feels” somehow gained 55 followers, which is achievement since Spotify isn’t the most social of the social media platforms. The playlist features music of the genre what I like to call “sad indie trash.” That kind of lo-fi music where the lead singer may or may not actually have the ability to sing, their releases are probably only through Bandcamp, (where they sell hand stenciled cassette tapes)—the kind of music that’s pretty popular at liberal arts schools like this one. Bands like Elvis Depressedly, Teen Suicide, Pill Friends, Spook Houses and Modern Baseball. Labels like Double Double Whammy, Too Far Gone Records, and Father/Daughter Records. Darker than your typical shoegaze and garage surf rock. I like this type of music. You can find me listening to my own playlist titled “sad indie trash” and crying somewhere on the third floor of the library. But, I’ve noticed that most of the artists that dominate this genre are male. Usually white males. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but there is certainly a lack of diversity in this scene that is hard to ignore.

There are great female acts that fall under this genre umbrella. Projects like Frankie Cosmos, Cyber Bully Mom Club/CBMC, Girlpool, Chastity Belt, and Adult Mom do feature female members and vocalists, if not completely female fronted. They’re still a minority. It’s been hard for me to find bands that fit this sound that have a female voice, and that caused me to question the genre as a whole. When I first started listening to whatever “indie” is, it was mostly surf rock bands like Wavves and FIDLAR. Female acts like Tacocat, La Luz, The Babies, Cherry Glazerr, Colleen Green, etc. seem more prevalent in this type of genre. So why does it seem easier for guys to create depressing music? Despite not having the ability to sing or play any musical instrument whatsoever, it made me want to recite sad lines into a microphone and bash on my Macbook’s keyboard and post it to Soundcloud. If this type of music is supposed to have a do-it-yourself mentality, why aren’t more girls doing it?

It’s not just females that are underrepresented in this genre. The problem with racial diversity within the indie rock community as a whole is not a new one. Not many of the bands included on “emotional dreams and drunk feels” or “sad indie trash” playlists feature projects from people of color, if at all. Most of this music comes from sad white guys. Specifically, it seems that when alternative music from black artists do come out, it is categorized under r&b, hip hop, rap, etc. Indie rock is seldom associated with people of color, and that says something more about where we stand on race as a society than anything else. An interesting essay posted to MTV Hive a few years ago discusses what it was like to grow up black liking indie rock and the stereotypes associated with it. The author felt embarrassed to be at a Joanna Newsom concert. It’s similar to what I sometimes face when I talk about how much I like rap music, (do I say the n-word out loud since its in the lyrics?), but it seems that white people liking black music is still more acceptable. The author of the article talks about how he was taught to “embrace his blackness” and liking a genre dominated by white people isn’t doing that.

This genre also says something about class. A lot of these projects come from twenty-somethings, in college or dropped out of college, in basements who can afford to put their music first or even take time off from their studies and jobs to pursue it. This certainly isn’t always the case, but it seems like many of these bands come from some sort of wealth, which could also have something to do with the fact that minorities are underrepresented. Indie rock is generally often associated with the upper and middle classes. The type who listen to NPR on their way to work and can afford to buy vintage records and expensive headphones for better listening quality. The way the genre functions now makes it a polarizing genre of music to be interested in if you don’t fit the socioeconomic class or stereotypical image. Unless society’s preconceptions about the genre change, our sad and angst filled playlists won’t be getting any more diverse anytime soon.