The term “indie” is a bit tricky when used to describe music. Is indie simply independent label distribution? Is it an aesthetic? A DIY ethos? It’s all of these things to some degree but has come to mean even more in 2017.
The term “indie” or indie rock originated in the 80s and was used to describe bands coming out of the American punk and post-punk scenes. Moving into the 90s, the indie scene developed distinct sub-genres that allowed music aficionados to converse about the ins and outs of emo, post-rock, and lo-fi at cool-kid parties.
Enter the 2000s, with the internet and file sharing firmly in-place — the scene saw a massive explosion with several bands who started as indie artists achieving mainstream success and notoriety. With the ability to cultivate an international fanbase, suddenly the artists that were formerly niche acts had big followings and were selling out large venues. Suddenly the era of “I knew them before they were big” was born.
Let’s take a look at some of the biggest “indie” bands who entered the mainstream in the 2000s. This list is not meant to be definitive but rather a discussion generator, so go easy and have fun.
Arcade Fire’s 2004 debut Funeral immediately catapulted them into the spotlight. With massive buzz online, praise from likes of David Bowie, and an incredible and ambitious record behind it all, they made an instant impact on the consciousness of indie fans worldwide.
The Strokes massive single “Last Night” immediately captured the DIY ethos of early NYC indie reminiscent of The Velvet Underground. Oozing a casual swagger with riffs for days, the Strokes were too cool for school and backed it up with great music.
The UK’s answer to The Strokes, Arctic Monkeys infused the indie sound with Brit pop to great effect. The songs spoke volumes and Alex Turner’s boyish looks belied his bad-ass persona that is evident in many of their songs.
Sweden’s answer to The Strokes (not really) The Hives had great music, a great look, and perfectly captured the hook-laden garage sound that was massive in the early 2000s. The 2000 record Veni Vidi Vicious was an indie hit across the world.
The ultimate working band, The National took a long time to gain popularity. With a string of extremely solid records, The National has gone from playing to empty rooms to playing for the President of The United States and headlining major festivals.
Interpol may not have aged as well as The National but they were at the centre of New York’s indie music surge in the 2000s with their unmistakable first release Turn On The Bright Lights. They followed that record up with Antics and for a few years were one of the coolest, most exciting indie bands in the world.
With a day-glow aesthetic that is now synonymous with music festival culture, MGMT’s debut was incredibly distinctive. MGMT’s anthemic party jams made the band one of the most beloved indie bands in the 2000s and often overshadowed the band’s critique of the culture they also embraced.
Death Cab For Cutie
With major placements in shows such as The OC, Death Cab’s music was introduced to a generation of youth. Many gravitated towards Ben Gibbard’s sensitive song-writing and would never let go, which explains the why the band still has massive appeal to this day.
One of the biggest indie bands of the 2000s no question. The simple two-piece of Jack and Meg created songs with massive hooks, pounding drums, and intense lyrical delivery. Their ingenious music videos and ambiguous relationship definition only added to the mystique.
Few indie songs from this time period were as popular as “Mr. Brightside.” The Killers had an incredible presence, big songs, and a mix of synth and guitars that attracted fans far and wide.
One of the more unique sounding indie bands of the 2000s, Vampire Weekend had a virtuosic quality to their music, which was perfectly crafted, catchy, and completely original.
Band of Horses
One the more unlikely bands on this list BOH, started as a bunch of southern dudes, living in the pacific northwest. Frontman Ben Bridwell has stated that he is a self-taught terrible guitar player, but we think it’s a bit of southern humbleness and, in fact, Bridwell possesses one of the most powerful and distinct falsettos in indie music. BOH has played some pretty major festivals and toured with a little band you might know… Pearl Jam. Not bad.
“It will change your life, I swear.” The famous line from Garden State uttered by Natalie Portman before playing “New Slang” for Zach Braff’s philistine ears is a defining moment in indie music/film history. It is also as good a point as any to begin charting the international love affair with The Shins.
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Karen O is easily one the most captivating music performers in indie music. Her success as the front woman for one the best bands around in the 2000s is a testament to YYYs’ talent as a group. Major festival spots and radio support has allowed YYYs to take their challenging music to more mainstream audiences.
Canada’s indie supergroup has included Neko Case, AC Newman, Dan Bejar, and Kurt Dahle to name but a few. A string of great power-pop records in the 2000s had the ‘The New Pornos’ gaining fans around the world and cemented their legacy as one of Canada’s greatest indie bands.
Prolific. Talented. Experimental. Rock n’ Roll. Those four words could easily be used to characterize Spoon. The band that refuses to make a bad record is fronted by one of indie music’s best and most distinct vocalists – Britt Daniel.
Alt-country staple Wilco stems from an earlier band, Uncle Tupelo, and is led by the enigmatic genius Jeff Tweedy, who remains one of indie music’s coolest cats. Major festival headline spots, tons of record sales, and one of the greatest indie records in the past 25 years — Yankee Hotel Foxtrott have made them a household name in alternative music.
Belle & Sebastian
UK twee indie-popper’s Belle & Sebastian had a distinctive sound that nonetheless managed to appeal to a large audience.
Isaac Brock’s band Modest Mouse was largely an underground story in the nineties but when the band released The Moon & Antarctica in 2000 and Good News for People Who Love Bad News in 2004 that was forever changed with songs like Float On that became indie anthems for the decade. The loud/quiet dynamic coupled with massive emotional delivery helped Modest move towards the larger spotlight, which included a gig on Saturday Night Live.