- Ryan Moore
Indie rock originally referred to music released on independent record labels but has also come to refer to a sonic aesthetic influenced by various forms of post-punk and lo-fi music. Independent labels have played a central role in rock music from the beginning, as most rock ‘n’ roll of the 1950s was released on small, independently owned labels like Sun, Chess, and Atlantic. (See Independent label.) However, the notion of “indie rock” developed in the 1980s and 90s to describe bands on labels that grew out of the punk and hardcore scenes, especially SST, Touch & Go, and Dischord. Independent labels granted artistic license to musicians, and bands like Hüsker Dü, Sonic Youth, and Dinosaur Jr. expanded their music to the point where generic terms like “punk” or “hardcore” were no longer adequate to describe them.
Independent labels expressed punk’s do-it-yourself (DIY) ethic, created because the major labels were not interested in punk and hardcore and it was the only method for getting music recorded and distributed. They also operated under the ideal that music is a creative art and that the commercial bottom line of the major labels restricts musical freedom. Indie rock subsisted as a cultural niche throughout the 1980s, but the success of Nirvana, grunge, and the Seattle scene, followed by the commercial breakthrough of Green Day, the Offspring, and other California punk bands, transformed the relationship between independents and the major labels in the following decade. Major labels returned to signing bands away from independents, as they had in earlier periods of rock history, using them as a kind of farm system for talent scouting, while the music that was once “alternative” in its sound began being assimilated into the mainstream as the new standard of rock....