Growing up on Tumblr 2014 and obsessed with The 1975, I acquired a fondness for indie music, but that blessing came with a curse – white people dominated my library. Thankfully, the seemingly unbreakable bond between white people and indie music is finally dissipating.
Since its emergence as a music label in the 20th century, white artists and listeners have dominated independent music. Of course, the contributions of black musicians have always played a central role in influencing independent music, but with the emergence of the music streaming era, independent black artists are finally enjoying their own successes.
Let’s first eliminate the ambiguity of the term “indie”. While indie music was meant to refer only to artists who aren’t signed to major music labels, it has since become more of a cultural marker that describes musicians who sound different from the output of those major labels, much like the “alternative” label. ”
Music critics noted white dominance in independent spaces, which makes the production and consumption of independent music considered a “white thing”. It’s not because black people don’t like indie, but rather because various obstacles have made it harder for independent black artists to break into the industry. However, as music production programs have become more accessible and streaming platforms have dominated the music industry, many of these barriers have begun to fall.
PinkPanthress, a black indie creator who has enjoyed huge success since releasing various singles and her “To Hell With It” mixtape, started out singing along to GarageBand instrumentals and uploading the results to SoundCloud and TikTok. Her music and style are resolutely independent: she cites pop pock artists of the 2000s as his inspiration and exhibits a dark aesthetic in his works. It’s a great example of how today’s artists can thrive without access to expensive computer equipment or the backing of a major record label.
As barriers to music production and distribution have fallen, black people have become more visible in independent spaces. With that, indie music‘s status as a “white man’s thing” is finally deteriorating. Pre-Broadcast Age Black Creators Recall feeling unsupported and marginalized to participate in an alternative culture intended only for whites. Compare that to modern times, where social media platforms like TikTok have popularized alternative music and styles, increasing the visibility of alternative black people and diversifying the image of indie.
Rico Nasty, another black artist who rose to internet fame, started releasing music independently in 2014. Nasty, now a hugely successful figure in the hip-hop scene, remembers when her participation in independent culture made her an “outcast”. Today, she says, the Internet has completely changed the game; independent spaces have become much more diverse and accept groups beyond hipster whites.
Many of my indie black heroes – Dev Hynes, FKA twigs, Solange, Azealia Banks and many more – were creating beautiful indie music long before society started to recognize the contributions that black people make to the genre. Just because many of these artists are enjoying more mainstream success doesn’t mean there weren’t black people on the indie scene before, or that indie audiences are excused for their mistreatment of creators. who are not white. I’m thrilled that indie music is finally branching out, but more importantly, this prospect should motivate listeners to explore beyond what’s supported by white-dominated spaces. Independent black artists have and will continue to bring great music to the world, and I just ask that we pay attention to them.
Nicholas Black ’24 is from Rochester, New York. It only listens to Pitchfork recommendations.