Groans could be heard from North to South campus when it was discovered that MS MR was in the A&O Blowout lineup last fall.
Indie music, or music produced on an independent label, has gained a reputation of being obscure or off-putting to many people, perhaps just because they don't recognize it. Northwestern prides itself for being open-minded and accepting while offering a multitude of liberal arts programs. So why is indie music sometimes given the cold shoulder by our fellow Wildcats?
At a marketing-heavy university, the big-name bands and the ones who are "trending" tend to be the ones that catch the attention of many students.
“As a school we are already pretty brand conscious, trend conscious, you know, consumerists,” said Paul Salamanca, a Weinberg freshman.
Publicity has a larger effect on the Northwestern community than most think. While not all NU students dislike this genre, some are adamant in their opinion.
"Indie music stays indie for a reason," said McCormick freshman David Dent.
“The brand of the big pop or rock stars are more widely recognized or more consumer-friendly in this sense,” said Corey Mueller, Medill freshman.
Indie music may be associated with "hipsters” – the derogatory label referring to those who sport corduroys and color-blocked beanies. What used to be an accurate definition to portray someone’s style or mentality is now thrown around in a less formal (and more unfortunate) parameter. With this word being directly linked to the style of indie music, it may negatively impact the reputation associated with it. Indie artists can stray outside students’ comfort zones with the bands’ lack of advertising and their tendency to experiment with noise.
Northwestern is a very pre-professional school, which might play a part into the dissent. The continuous and habitual motion of an “average student” is anything but average. A typical NU student is involved in a multitude of clubs, service organizations, academic institutions, athletics and Greek life and then a full load of classes on top of that. One could fairly say Northwestern students are among the busiest in the country, and this overachieving way of life can lead to obvious setbacks, such as loss of free time.
Since indie music is often thought of as “obscure”, finding new bands and new songs takes time and effort — which Northwestern students don’t seem to have. Between rushing to six meetings and writing five papers, finding new and eclectic music is probably the last item on a wildcat’s to-do list. Future aspirations are seen as more of a priority than branching out musically. At a top school such as this, that is the norm and it is understandable why indie music can sometimes be thrown under the rug.
Even though it has become a stereotype that Northwestern students dislike indie music because of their closed off nature, there is a multitude of students who think otherwise. Sean Hughes, formerly of WNUR Streetbeat and a current writer for electronic music blog Salacious Sound, disagrees.
“I think that it’s hard to pinpoint an entire school’s music taste, but I think that as a whole there is a lot of appreciation for all types of music, from classical to obscure electronic and hip-hop," said the McCormick sophomore. "There are all sorts of radio shows that play underrepresented music, and a lot of student organizations that promote bands and artists to perform.”
With over 500 official student groups on campus, the diversity within the NU bubble is growing. No matter the circumstance, there will always be discord for any topic. The appreciation for different films, political views, and music will always differ, and that’s the beauty of it.
“I think by nature, indie music tends to be more niche," said Eliza Abramson, School of Communication junior and Mayfest Co-Executive Producer. "You have people picking and choosing what they listen to. You will have people who really really love an indie group but that might just be a smaller number of people than, say, a more mainstream artist."
"Niche" is right. The simple, textured sounds of most indie songs are an acquired taste and only attract certain groups of people. We all can understand that people are always entitled to their own opinions, but I’m sure Northwestern students can agree that there is a general need to open eyes, or rather ears, to something new. Rigorous studies, hyper-involvement and our natural pre-professional nature shouldn’t necessarily cut us off from new explorations. Regardless of opinion, I challenge Northwestern students to do something they’ve never done before: go see an underground indie artist playing in Chicago, or even go to the "related artists" option on Spotify to click on some name you don't know.