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New Yorker: Indie rock too white

Sasha Frere-Jones of the self-hyped funk band, Ui, attempts to take to task the apparent "whiteness" of today's indie rock and understand how it came to be in his New Yorker article, "A Paler Shade of White." The first sign that things might be a little off is in his analysis of the origins of indie rock: "The indie genre emerged in the early eighties, in the wake of British bands such as The Clash and Public Image Ltd." Nevermind that The Clash was originally signed to CBS Records, aka Columbia, or that indie isn't really a genre - It just means all the music associated with being outside of the major labels, which just happens to be most music. Or that his lamentation of the death of rhythm is easily upended by Deerhoof. Or that The Field's "From Here We Go Sublime" is composed entirely out of The Flamingo's "I Only Have Eyes for You." Read it if you want to laugh at some misplaced Sufjan Stevens references (who, by the way, makes about a thousand references to black folk music on his albums), and a conclusion that sees racial equality as the cause of indie segregation.
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New Yorker
Sasha Frere-Jones
The Clash

Point of clarification: Frere-Jones is a man, not a woman.


Yeah, I got that immediately, sorry.

Sean Nelson

Sasha's an idiot. I'm not sure he actually listens to music, he just finds ways to call out everyone as a racist, even though it's becoming clearer to me that he's the one who's hung up on all of it. I think most reasonable people aren't this invested in any sort of indie rock white boy witch hunt.


Surprisingly uninformed discussion of Wilco in there, with respect to 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,' too, when he remarks that Nonesuch is an Atlantic subsidiary:...further evidence that ''"indie rock''" has become an aesthetic description, and no longer has anything to do with labels...Does he not remember the backstory? They were dropped from another Warner Bros affiliate for the very "aesthetic" of their record, and when they began offering the recording online in streaming form, Nonesuch couldn't be quicker in picking them up. Could this be more indie? Getting dropped from Warner Bros. for your record's sound, offering it online to the masses, and getting picked back up by Warner Bros.? Tsk, tsk, Mr. Jones.


I agree that lots of "indie rock" is kinda boring these days, but that's why I don't go out to see it much. Not sure why he'd venture out to see music that he so obviously doesn't have an appreciation for. I get what he's trying to say, but he's not arguing it very well. He should just come right out and say that music is more about rhythm than melody, lyrics or harmony. And that restraint is a European (therefore bad) thing. I think we can gather that he'd rather go see a hiphop show than an acapella performance of 16th century British folk songs. And that in his mind, pop music inspired by African sensibilities is somehow better or more emotionally honest. I disagree with his implied position that tastes are mutually exclusive. I know he'd argue that he has broad taste, but the way he refers folk music and music not specifically indebted to black musicians in his article makes me think that he's kind of narrow minded.And let's just talk about who reads the New Yorker anyway and what motivation he had to write that article in the first place. They guy likes to be controversial. That means getting asked to write articles and attend important events like the EMP Conference.


white people revolt!! lol


the thing i don't understand is: what if all of the indie rockers were copping from "blacker" sources? wouldn't that provide a sort of race-baiting topic, a la elvis? and what about bands that are taking cues from rhythmic and soulful sources, like celebration and vampire weekend [just to name a couple]? it just seems as though frere-jones would be complaining even more if bands were copping from the sources that he's bemoaning the lack of.

douglas martin

next thing you know he's going to say star trek fans are too white.


white dudes should stop writing for the new yorker

blah blah blah

Isn't Frere-Jones African-American?

John Zeiss

no. he's a white guy, i've heard him give a paper at the aforementioned EMP conference. he's just as full of himself/his tastes in spoken format as he is in written.


I could've sworn from the only picture I've ever seen of him that he was African-American. Maybe my eyesight is just going.

John Zeiss

I guess I have to preface this with saying that I'm black (but it doesn't really matter). I listen to a lot of indie rock and I always thought that indie rock was mostly white because most indie rock musicians are white. Just like rap and contemporary r&b being a mostly black genre since most of it's participants are black. And I do agree with douglas martin's point on the potential bemoaning of copping from sources if they were black. Eminem anyone?I think in that aspect it all comes down to acknowledging the pioneers. I get upset when people refuse to acknowledge the past or at least see where there favorite group gets elements of their sound from. Rap has made me go back and listen to the original recordings of sampled records and made me like them more because of it.

Stephon Johnson

here's a pic of sasha hangin' with RZA:


This reminded me a lot of American Hardcore, especially the part where Ian MacKaye describes how white musicians felt guilty for essentially adopting black music as their own and taking credit for it - that hardcore was a white genre they could call their own without having any "stealing" to feel guilty about. (This is still technically wrong, since rock and roll led to punk, which led to hardcore, but the idea is interesting). Is it possible that the alt-country, Americana and folk crazes in current indie pop came from the same idea, white musicians not wanting to feel as though they were wrongly taking from black music? A couple of you guys already touched on that. I think the Americana trend still has the same conflict as hardcore in this case because there was early folk and blues, not quite "white" genres, but it seems it's currently associated with whiteness, being somewhat associated with country.The thing with Sasha Frere-Jones, and critics who make music a race issue in general, is that rather than critiquing music for what it is, or letting it be, they make a big deal of how "black" or "white" the music is, which I imagine would make musicians really conscious of what type of music they make. If you're a white musician inspired by black music, you're stealing, but if you stick with bland indie pop, you sound too white, etc. And I'd be curious to know whether decades of criticism have shaped music trends, meaning that if musicians are afraid to be accused of attempting to be "soulful," they instead resort to trying to sound more white, and vice versa, leading to tons of musicians either being overly politically correct or overly influenced at one time. Musicians definitely pay attention to criticism and press. There's either a ton of shameless borrowing or a ton of white guilt at once, it seems, and maybe that's what leads to so little diversity in a trend of music at any given time.Also, Sasha looks much older than I'd expected, and looks very out of place next to Steve Albini.


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New Yorker: Indie rock too white — Indie Mus

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