Was Indie Ever Relevant? Ezra Koenig And Carles Debate

Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig and the writer behind Hipster Runoff email each other about the state of music’s long-doomed quest for authenticity.

illustration Baptiste Virot
Was Indie Ever Relevant? Ezra Koenig And Carles Debate

EZRA KOENIG: Hey Carles, they want us to talk about indie. My first question is: Does it still exist?

CARLES: Indie never existed. What people believe ‘sounds’ like indie still lives on in the fringes of Bandcamps, content farms of yesteryear, and in the hearts of regretful thirtysomethings.

Do you think this interview/deep meaningful podcast-style ‘free flowing’ interaction is dependent upon the #klout of your #reach?

EZRA: If I have any #reach, I shouldn’t waste it propagating the lie that indie existed. How does that help me and my brand?

CARLES: There is such a large audience that has no idea that indie ‘meant something’ that it would probably confuse them. The people ‘still trying to be into indie’ are into ceremonial internet album cycles of yesteryear, where they can’t even tell that ‘the artists themselves’ are tired of projecting a ‘new self’ or even an ‘actualizing self.’

Do you think that larger-than-life celebritydom is ‘back’/a safer play now that the indie/’all access’ [via the internet] phase is over?

EZRA: Carles, you keep using this word ‘indie,’ and I have no idea what you’re talking about, but I will do my best to play along. As for your question, I advise everyone to pursue larger-than-life celebrity. It just feels right in 2015. The world has spoken, and it prefers genuine fakes to fake genuines. Mid-2000s indie was full of fake genuines. I won’t name names.

"The world has spoken, and it prefers genuine fakes to fake genuines."—Ezra Koenig

CARLES: Do you feel like failed indie blogs (like my own) created a fake/misguided tier of celebrity and global cultural relevance? Also: is there more content than ever or just more mediums of consumption?

EZRA: Most media outlets contribute to some false vision of the world, so I wouldn’t pick on failed indie blogs. Yes, there is more content today. Content is the commodified form of thoughts/information, and in our hyper-capitalist era everything moves towards pure commodity. The person becomes the personal brand, and ideas become content. We all watch this process every day.

Do you feel out of sync with the times now that you create less content? Or has a wave of relief washed over you?

CARLES: I am MASSIVELY relieved to not have to create eternal and perpetual content. I was fortunate to be around when the scale of the internet wasn’t so vast. Tying that back to ‘wtf happened to indie,’ I think ‘indie’ was about romanticizing amateurism in music and media [via ‘blogs’]. But the bands that were actually successful cared about being ‘masters’ and never really were THAT amateur. And now we can romanticize amateurism with the false construct of the modern artisan: you can have it at your local coffee shop or ‘downtown district’ restaurant, places where you are served by people in chambray aprons with leather pockets.

Why must we empower people who are trying to convince us that ‘a lo-fi sheen’ is real? Let’s face it—Selena Gomez doing a Lana Del Rey impression is really all we need to be fulfilled if you are into commodified content markets.

"What people believe ‘sounds’ like indie still lives on in the fringes of Bandcamps, content farms of yesteryear, and in the hearts of regretful thirtysomethings."—Carles

EZRA: The amateur/professional dichotomy is just about destroyed now. The biggest celebrities now show the openness/vulnerability/‘realness’ that was once associated with ‘confessional’ ‘bedroom’ indie. The smallest artists now rely on big corporate money to get started. All the old dualities are jumbled.

I don’t know how ‘indie’ fits into this new era. I guess you’re right—similar to the modern artisan, ‘indie’ feels like a ‘false construct.’ It neither leans into the dominant narrative of late-capitalist-Information-Age-celebrity nor challenges it. It’s like the musical form of the hated ‘moderate liberal.’

CARLES: It really seems like the people/bands who embody the ‘spirit of indie’ from yesteryear are better off siphoning their energy towards alt-rock/softcore rap about emotions. It is sad to see acts that ‘would have caught on’ in the 2k8-2k10 bubble get oppressed/fail because they are still tied to the past. Let’s face it—most people aren’t really open to
new experiences.

Where do you go when you want to be ‘authentically immersed in culture?’ Remember when people thought they could get #networked together on the internet as a cultural aggregator?

EZRA: I feel most ‘authentically immersed in culture’ when I am sitting at an independent, artisanal cafe reading a book by a left-wing journalist with my phone flipped-over on the table in front of me.

CARLES: If you were to open a post-artisan coffee shop, what would you do? What specialty drinks/roasting processes would you serve, and what customer experience would you ‘curate’?

EZRA: The post-artisan cafe vibe wave we’re seeing in L.A./N.Y.C./London is less old-timey shit and more Scandinavian/art gallery minimalism. My cafe would take this to its logical extreme: all-white, backless benches and one large brewed pot of coffee today (when it’s done, it’s done). I would play the Billboard Top 10 singles on loop all day.

CARLES: It seems like the next wave might be popcorn ceilings, Ashley Furniture comfy cheap couches, and the sound of a humming fridge mic’d into speakers in a room with headachey public school fluorescent lights. Bad, palate-disrupting instant coffee, potentially ‘serve yourself’ out of old youth sports Gatorade jugs.

Anyway, how do you feel about being a curator of taste [via radio] [via BeatsByDre iTunes or whatever]? Do you find it fulfilling to ‘steal the jobs of media personalities’ because your ‘celebrity’ + arbitrary tastes are actually interesting to real people? Or is it just part of your evolving job requirements?

EZRA: I don’t know if I’m a taste curator yet. I feel more like a flavor. I wish I was a taste curator because then I could just trend-spot flavors. I’m like a lonely hazelnut frappuccino in a Starbucks in a Target. The real power is being Target.

This conversation was edited for clarity—namely, instances of “u,” “ppl” and “2” were changed to be spelled out. But you can imagine.




Pre-order Carles and Ezra's copy of The FADER now. It's our 100th issue, and it hits newsstands October 27th.

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Was Indie Ever Relevant? Ezra Koenig And Carles Debate