Indie: The institutional politics and aesthetics of a popular music genre

TitleIndie: The institutional politics and aesthetics of a popular music genre
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1999
AuthorsHesmondhalgh, David
JournalCultural Studies
Accession Number3870043
KeywordsAesthetics, Independent Record Companies, institutions, Music Industry

This article is concerned with the complex relations between institutional politics and aesthetics in oppositional forms of popular culture. Indie is a contemporary genre which has its roots in punk's institutional and aesthetic challenge to the popular music industry but which, in the 1990s, has become part of the ‘mainstream’ of British pop. Case studies of two important ‘independents’, Creation and One Little Indian, are presented, and the aesthetic and institutional politics of these record companies are analysed in order to explore two related questions. First, what forces lead ‘alternative’ independent record companies towards practices of professionalization and of partnership/collaboration with major corporations? Second, what are the institutional and political-aesthetic consequences of such professionalization and partnership? In response to the first question, the article argues that pressures towards professionalization and partnership should be understood not only as an abandonment of previously held idealistic positions (a ‘sell-out’) and that deals with major record companies are not necessarily, in themselves, a source of aesthetic compromise. On the second question, it argues that collaboration with major record companies entails a relinquishing of autonomy for alternative independent record companies; but perspectives which ascribe negative aesthetic consequences directly to such problematic institutional arrangements may well be flawed.