It’s very easy to determine where is North and South in England; you just have to ask the age old question, “Blur or Oasis?”. That’s not to say that Northerners can’t like Blur or Southerners can’t like Oasis but rather there’s an unspoken, almost tribal quality about your answer. It can determine how people see you – whether you’re a Blur posho or a rough around the edges Oasis fan, there is a stigma attached to it, and more generally a stigma attached to indie music in general.
This stigma has recently come to the forefront once again following a recent ranking of “indie landfill” songs posted online that gained enough traction to warrant responses from notable names from the music world such as Tim Burgess and The Vaccines. The ranking itself seems inoffensive at first, poking fun at the influx of indie bands in the mid 00s from The Automatic to The Wombats, but the underlying theme throughout is that this genre of music is undeserving of anything other than backhanded compliments, largely because of both the origin and the themes of the songs.
Both of these things boil down to what is essentially the Northern English experience, and most of these bands come from industrial towns and a majority are indeed Northern. Courteeners frontman Liam Fray has addressed this snobbishness previously in his scathing indictment of music critics who have written off the band because they’re “only really big up North”. Other than being wholly untrue (the band have been consistently high on the bill of the biggest UK festivals) it breeds a feeling of Southern superiority that has been brewing in the UK indie scene for decades now.
To discard some of the most iconic songs in British history as indie landfill is absurd, and some of the bands lumped into this category are questionable. Take two-time Glastonbury headliners Arctic Monkeys for example; arguably the biggest band the UK has produced for 20 years, and they’re being lumped in with one hit wonders like The Automatic: it’s lazy and downright disrespectful.
This classification has come as a product of building up these bands during the mid-noughties indie boom of The Strokes and The Libertines packing out venues, with labels constantly looking for the next big thing before the bubble inevitably burst and the acts involved became a novelty overnight. The unfortunate ones were relegated to only to be played at the throwback nights of student bars and your aunt’s wedding reception, but some of the “landfill” contain genuinely good songs that have stood the test of time.
However, the same criticisms always come back to haunt the genre, “it’s nothing that hasn’t been said before”, “it’s just drinking, drugs and girls”, “they all sound the same anyway”. These comments fail to take into account two things. One, musicians write about what they know; a song is commonly based on the artist’s experience. Secondly, it’s not about creating the next modern classic. Most “landfill indie” bands began as a result of a group of friends messing about and having a laugh, whether it be in their local boozer in Sunderland or whilst on a “shit” caravan holiday in Skegness or in their uni flat in Leeds. You can’t teach camaraderie at the Brit School, and these bands have that in spades.
Not every band has to be Queen or Blondie or The Beatles, it’s alright to enjoy something big, something anthemic, something that brings you back to being 15 and drinking in a field, something that makes you feel like all good music should. These bands shouldn’t be shamed for being genuine and speaking about existence in an in between hometown where they’re not poor but not rich, where they earn just enough to survive the week and enjoy the weekend because it’s a distinctly British working class experience, especially for the bands that grew up North of Birmingham.
But the most important factor of these bands is it gives kids from those towns hope. They’re finally hearing a voice on the radio that sounds like them, singing about places they’ve been, experiences they have and giving them motivation to get up and start writing about these apparently landfill worthy lives.