One of my theories about being indie is that if you really had the indie spirit, nobody would really know of you. People will think twice about booking you for a gig—they’d have to ask you to spell out your band’s name just to get confirmation that it’s not Hujan. A bohemian like you, trying to get your music to people and to places, numbed by rejection, living on borrowed cash. The whole idea about being an indie artist or an indie band is precisely just that—it’s about being independent, not trying or aspiring to be what being indie seems to be about, but really living out that unabashed independence. More importantly, it’s about sticking to your guns, it’s about standing by your principles, and not ever compromising yourself for feigned success. That’s what it means to me, at least.
I have to admit though, that I am not as well versed with the local music scene as I’d like to be. I do know who’s who, but my playlist isn’t saturated with Malaysian bands. So, as a relatively fresh face, I feel that the whole indie act is rather over-glorified. In a lot of things I read online, I tend to come across the word indie. I get the impression that in some weird way, Malaysians feel the pressing need to be different by being independent—as if that alone will make them cool.
What exactly is the deal with being indie? Why do I feel that so many musicians are trying to chase after the Indie persona? Being a musician shouldn’t be about whether you have indie or mainstream streaks. To me, music is about music and just music, and it doesn’t matter what kind you make—so don’t classify yourselves indie just yet!—what I look for is good music, music that speaks volumes.
I suppose the whole idea about being independent is about doing A-Z yourself. Not losing yourself to major labels and everything else of that kind of vibe. I wonder why Malaysian musicians seem to place so much importance on keeping up to this method of doing things, when the music some bands make sound depthless and generic. Yet they want to be indie. What is the point? It is a joke. Being indie is something that shouldn’t even be in question in the first place. Musicians should never be indie first, and musicians later. Musicians should always place music above anything else; style, character, persona.
With bands that have their so-called indie pride—they are so adamant about not wanting to slink into the mainstream, not wanting to taint their indie vibe. But what I find to be quite strange, is how a band like Hujan—a band who seemed to be all about being alternative and indie in the beginning—eventually found mainstream success. It seems to me that being indie is all an act, a façade rather than a true self-defining kind of spirit, one lived and breathed, rather than acted out. It has been reduced to a mere charade.
But I believe that this is a universal occurrence, the compromise of such a stance. Heck, maybe some bands have never been fully indie at heart. Subconsciously, they might have always been after airplay, and airplay only. Though what I cannot deny, is that it must be extremely hard to live with an unstable flow of money, especially if you are a musician, what with the on-and-off gigs and faltering audiences. In such constraints, it is always a struggle to remain absolutely true to the musician you started off as.
Ask yourselves, how many musicians still retain the essence of the musician they were when they first started out? Change is something that is bound to occur. So really, the only kind of change we should give it up for, is growth—a musician that seeks to better his technique, a musician that wants to take the next album to the next step. What would the other possibility be? The compromise of one’s stance—where musicians get so caught up with their success that they lose the earnest musician they once were. What is worse is that if those musicians had nothing to lose to begin with—they hadn’t principles or beliefs of their own, if they were just like a blobs of plasticine, to be shaped by the hands of money and fame.
Then again, there have been bands who have never experienced commercial success but are influential till today. The Velvet Underground, for one. Believe it or not.
There are other music acts that don’t even bother labelling themselves as indie, yet, they live the very concept of it, not worrying about classifications. When you hear their names, you think to yourself: “who is that?”, and frown in doubt. Their music circulates round a particular community only, they’ve got a couple of recorded tracks, but you cannot download them on iTunes. They play on the streets and in the parks, suitcases open, and at clubs they can score. They sing their hearts out and fiddle around with their instruments because they can.
They emulate no one, simply because they don’t need to. There is no pressure to be indie—it is just music they play.
By Amanda Yeoh