Dirty Projectors, Fleet Foxes Frontmen Discuss The “Both Bad And Boujee” State Of Indie Rock Today

Both Dirty Projectors mastermind Dave Longstreth and Fleet Foxes frontman Robin Pecknold are planning on releasing much-anticipated new projects this year. And that kind of work must take so much self-searching, so much consideration of what it means to be a prominent indie rock musician in 2017, especially for musicians as self-aware as those two. And last night, Longstreth and Pecknold took to Instagram, of all possible places, to publicly debate the state of indie rock. Longstreth started things off, writing a short piece about how indie rock today is both “bad” — “musically underwhelming” — and “boujee” — “refined and effete.” These are fascinating criticisms! Meanwhile, Pecknold jumped in the comments to talk about whether 2009 was indie rock’s last truly musically progressive year and to talk about the things he feels when he hears Dirty Projectors’ “Keep Your Name” and Mount Eerie’s “Real Death.” Check out their conversation below.

Longstreth:

is it me or is the condition of indie rock in the 24½th century both bad and boujee? bad in the basic sense of like, musically underwhelming — mostly miming a codified set of sounds & practices whose significance is inherited rather than discovered or reflective of the world as we experience it now — and also bad like sartrian bad faith, outwardly obedient to an expired paradigm that we know in our hearts makes basically no sense (i.e. ‘independent’ music at a time of global chains of manufacturing, distribution, label services etc render the term aggressively meaningless, and when much larger, more democratic & independent communities than the founders could have anticipated exist online in digital space) and boujee in the word’s negative sense: refined and effete, well removed from the raindrops and drop tops of lived, earned experience?

agree / disagree ?? what do you think? i don’t mean to be neg, just thinking out loud. i love the hermeneutic vibe over on @robinpecknold ‘s feed, i love ppl talking abt these q’s. maybe ‘indie rock’ is a straw man and to generalize is pointless & unhelpful , just a thought thought thought

Pecknold:

I think music is as codified as emotions are codified. Sometimes I just want to listen to Townes Van Zandt, sometimes Debussy, sometimes Kendrick, sometimes you, sometimes Solange, sometimes Television… there’s this universe of potential feeling, the music that best exemplifies a given mood (or even creates a new mood entirely, like how newly coined words enable the existence of certain states of mind) is what finds an audience. I get bogged down in thinking there is a “right” music to make at a given cultural moment, thinking influenced by retroactive-revisionist teleologies of art / music history, but to me there is a always a vast expanse of feeling being explored by everyone engaged in music and it’s all valid in that it defines a feeling or creates a new one, for whatever group or groups have their ears turned on that music. Like the newest Phil Elverum song *creates* a feeling that didn’t exist before, even if it’s musically not innovative, by virtue of it being a direct expression of his life experience that feels honest, and that one can either relate to or recognize as true, in the same way that the spoken word and voice manipulation on “Keep Your Name” conjures something fresh, suggests and depicts a personal experience in a novel way. Like they are worlds apart musically but I’d respond to both as a listener b/c they invent a new feeling and let me feel it by proxy.

Pecknold again:

Also don’t rly know what counts as “indie rock” these days… like, Whitney, Mac DeMarco, Angel Olsen, Car Seat Headrest? Idk if any of that has “cutting edge” written into the M.O., even if it’s fun to listen to. Feel like everything else that gets covered that’s progressive is in other landscapes, either more commercial ones or less commercial ones. I feel like 2009, Bitte Orca / Merriweather / Veckatimest, was the last time there was a fertile strain of “indie rock” that also felt progressive w/o devolving into Yes-ish largesse. But this part of it is mostly semantics… if I were myself as a disempowered 16 y.o. rn, when $5 house shows, 7 inches and zines were my means of social empowerment, I’d probably feel more kinship w/ the term independent than I do as a bipedal 30 year old, who feels silly and too old at warehouse shows now, but maybe the world is sort of a static constellation of states that we just move through as we get older and it can seem like the world is changing when really it’s just us?

Longstreth:

love this, novelty / newness is exciting and useful to reflect a changing world, but it seems like human experience/nature has a way of staying constant : for this ,we don’t need music that changes all the time; for this, tradition is valuable

Here’s the original Instagram post:

Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste chimed in, too, with a screaming face emoji.

These are fascinating questions that demand further exploration, and it’s awesome that we get to see two of the principal figures in circa-now indie rock wrestle with this stuff in question. Also, I love the idea that Migos’ “Bad & Boujee” could inspire a bout of self-examination in Dave Longstreth.

UPDATE: Pecknold responded to criticism of his comments via Twitter…

…and Reddit:

I’m sorry you felt that way, but it was a defense of those artists / indie rock, I was saying that music doesn’t need to be progressive to be enjoyable. The points I tried to make were fully unitarian. And if people aren’t allowed to use big words to light-heartedly mull over small, innocuous subjects, you might as well shut down the university system entirely.

Dude, what is up with selectively quoting this?? At least read the whole thing!
“Feel like everything else that gets covered that’s progressive is in other landscapes, either more commercial ones or less commercial ones. I feel like 2009, Bitte Orca / Merriweather / Veckatimest, was the last time there was a fertile strain of “indie rock” that also felt progressive w/o devolving into Yes-ish largesse. But this part of it is mostly semantics… “
This acknowledges that “progressive” music is being made in “other landscapes” besides indie rock, like Beyonce or Kendrick or Frank or Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith or Oneohtrix or Nicolas Jaar, landscapes either more or less commercial than what is described as “indie rock.” And it also acknowledges that this whole thing is SEMANTICS and thus wooly and not worth making sweeping judgments about! And when that shit hit in 2009, I wasn’t feeling a part of it, I was feeling dwarfed by it, how much better it was in my opinion than the FF debut. I didn’t even engage on the next album after that, I went full-on on Folk to try and honor that influence, music that I love, in a non-corny way when corny music like Mumford was blooming.
This is SEMANTICS. I was as lucid as possible and you still cherry pick shit and make me sound bitter?

And Longstreth responded in another Instagram

hey everybody, ‘indie’ is a community that i def consider myself/dirty projectors to be a part of. 80s/90s indie rock is the first music that showed me that i could make music and be a part of a community that way. most of my music-making friends make ‘indie rock’ and if i had to guess i’d say that the DP album that’s about to come out on domino records will be filed under ‘indie rock’ in our local record stores. so to the extent that the post was something more than a jokey riff on fake critical theory language mixed w migos lyrics, the concept of ‘indie’ is personal/important to me. i was getting kinda navelgaze abt my band’s context, wringing my hands over the way the term has been co-opted by wack spotify playlists, garageband presets etc. c’est la vie i guess … def wasn’t trying to put anybody on blast — esp younger bands, who are doing amazing shit in a super unprecedented cultural context. whitney is my favorite band in many years, i don’t know how they do that!?! abt 2009. it’s ironic to be nostalgic abt the alleged newness of something that happened 7 years ago! feel like there’s been so much mind-blowing and fresh music since then. in all diff scenes & genres. but also, as a number of people on the thread have said: innovation isn’t everything. emotion seems pretty timeless &universal, and that’s the core of music right?
i feel like in the context of 45, filling old traditional forms w new messages of resistance is gonna be a strong way forward!

…and on Twitter: