Indie rock and the end of new ideas.
While my friend and I enjoyed our 29-dollar hot dog, I couldn’t get the fancy midtown restaurant’s playlist out of my ear. Every song was from 2003? The Strokes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Pinback. What bizarre nostalgia radio station was this? I had owned all of these CDs. I had probably heard all of these songs browsing at Other Music during its brief stint in Harvard Square. These were all popular songs on my friend’s pirate Spotify precursor, hosted from a basement at MIT. Hearing them 20 years later, this vintage had a distinctive sound.
I threw together this playlist trying to capture the vibe from that fancy lunch.
I remembered about 10 of the songs and then filled in others I’d have programmed.
In 2003, the limits of rock instrumentation were more or less set. But artists could innovate by awkwardly juxtaposing sounds from other genres and eras. In many ways, artists were sampling, but live on instruments. Indie rock became clever, overproduced pastiche of tidbits from the prior 40 years. Artistic innovation in 2003 was stitching familiar sounds together in surprising emotional resonance.
At the same time, high fidelity production technology had become widely accessible. By 2003, you could record a professional sounding record in your practice space with a desktop. And pastiche was just a matter of moving sound files around.
Recording technology has only gotten better, but we haven’t come up with any new ideas for rock music in the interim. The biggest change in 2023 would be the gender balance. The list I’d throw together capturing similar vibes would be almost all women. But other than that, the 2003 sound isn’t far off from today’s indie mainstream. The aughts marked the embrace of the end of new ideas.
Enjoy this time capsule with your own fancy end-of-summer brunch today.