Am I the only one that has noticed that the 1980s are coming back with a vengeance? Everywhere I look in youth culture (my culture) I find remnants of and aspirations towards the aesthetic of the 1980s. This post will mostly focus on ‘indie’ music, but even outside of music you can see it everywhere. Mullets, skinny jeans, high pants, denim jackets, neon colors, teased hair, shoulder pads, leggings, headbands, aviators etc…go to any college campus (or Williamsburg) and you’ll easily find an example of the fashions listed above. Granted, it’s not all a copy of the 80s aesthetic, perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that it’s all “influence” by the 80s. Nonetheless, I can remember my grandmother telling me that fashions repeated themselves every 30 years, and many people in the 1980s said that their fashion was inspired by the 1950, so maybe the cycle is repeating itself in the 2010s?
However my only claim to hipster credibility is in regards to music, so that’s were I’d like to focus this post. When I was in high school and in my early college years (2005-2010), “indie music,” to me at least, meant mostly music coming out of the post-punk revival of the mid 2000s. Bands like Interpol, Bloc Party, Vampire Weekend, Arcade Fire, The Kooks, Bombay Bicycle Club, The Cribs, We Were Promised Jetpacks, The Maccabees, Razorlight, Cage the Elephant, Tegan and Sara, and The Strokes all came to epitomize this post-punk sound, and much of what has constituted “indie” music for the past several years has been largely (or at least partially) defined by this post-punk sound.
However over the past couples of years I’ve noticed a change in so-called “indie” music, specifically a shift towards music that is more reliant on electronic/synth-heavy/low-fi techniques and sounds. Instead of extolling upon what I’m referring to, I’d rather give you examples. Check out these bands/songs: MGMT, Animal Collective, Matt & Kim, Passion Pit, The Naked and Famous, Everything Everything, M83, The xx, Foster the People, Say Hi To Your Mom, The Radio Dept, Crystal Castles, Beach Fossils, Wild Nothing, Washed Out, WU LYF, Phantogram, Sunglasses, Youth Lagoon, Grimes, Deerhunter, Future Islands, Neon Indians, Craft Spells, The War on Drugs, Little Dragon, Frankie Rose, Mystery Jets, Diiv, Ice Choir, Big Troubles, Geographer, Stranger Talk, Nightbox, Yeasayer, Hooray for Earth, Crystal Fighters, Purity Ring, Stars, Twin Shadows, Baths, Generationals, Hot Chip, Freelance Whales, The Limousines and Small Black.
You may have noticed that the list above is in a vaguely chronological order (or maybe you didn’t notice because it’s a stupidly long list and you didn’t listen to the songs)? Most of the songs on the latter part of the list have been released in the past 18 months, and those latter songs are where you really find the spirit of the 80s in full force. Many of them sound so much like 80s songs that I bet you could convince some people they were actually recorded in the 80s. The songs above by M83, Frankie Rose, Ice Choir, Twin Shadows and Small Black are strong examples.
Pinning down exactly where this “resurgence” of 80s-style music is coming from is not clear. It’s easy just to say it’s a cultural zeitgeist, a la repeating music/fashion styles every 30 years (thank you, wise old grandma). But it’s important not to overlook music from the early and mid 2000s that has influenced the music coming out today. The success of bands like The Postal Service, Daft Punk and The Killers certainly has help moved this style along. I even remember when The Killers came onto the scene and people were accusing them of being “just another 80s ripe-off band” (and the like). Now, almost 10 years later, bands that sound much more like 80s music are becoming very popular and are not garnering any criticism (at least that I’ve seen) for their stylistic resemblance to 80s music.
But what’s really interesting to me is that this music, while heavily emulating 80s music, is doing so unironically (and what have hipsters ever done that wasn’t ironic)? There’s no sense (at least among those consuming the music) that this style of music is meant to be an emulation or ironic replication of 80s music. Accordingly, it’s never called or referred to as music similar to 80s music. I may be describing it to you as similar to 80s music, but I almost never hear others refer to it in that way. The music is always called something like “electro-indie pop,” “synth-washed noise pop,” “low-fi electronic indie,” “indie electronic,” or just “indie.”
But how popular will this trend become? Will it swing into full force, perhaps helping to define the sound of the decade? Or will it last only a few years and remain mostly an underground thing? It’s too hard and too soon to say of course, but many of the bands mentioned above are becoming very popular, and could hardly be considered “underground” anymore. And if, at this time last year, you had told me that Mercedes-Benz would be using dubstep in their commercials, I would have told you there’s no way that dubstep would become that popular. So who knows how popular or widespread this aesthetic that’s influenced by the 1980s will become? Maybe we’ll soon see Taylor Swift playing synth? That will be the day…