In the musical landscape of 2012.....
What is today's definition of "indie"?
Is it an image? a mindset? a particular way of naming your band? bands that feature a synth or cello?
I used to be under the impression that it applied to a certain sound, but even a casual glance around town shows that the musical style varies considerably between so-called "indie" bands.
Is it just a generic term of the time? Kind of like 10 years ago when every non-metal band that played fast, was considered "punk"?
That's a great question. I have a hard time defining "indie", but I always know it when I see it or hear it.
More than resembling misapplications of the word "punk", the term "indie" seems like an updated version of "alternative". Like that predecessor, indie is technically an umbrella term that has, with age/use, become refined. Currently, the availability of production and consumption of music via the interweb has caused or allowed a situation in which genres multiply almost as quickly as bands. Consequently, every band plays its own genre, which is "something meets something meets somebody with a little retro-something thrown in and a good drum track". The word "indie" has ceased to be a viable umbrella term simply because all umbrella terms have been replaced by newly coined, individualistic labels. So..."indie" now is a gatekeeper term applied to those acts which might have an appeal across micro-genres, but more importantly appeal to the self-anointed arbiters of music culture. "Indie" has become a term of acceptance within the counter-culture academy. A band that fits this year's fashion is "indie", and a band that doesn't gets the micro-genre description. As an example try to remember 5-10 years ago when the trend was toward larger groups and "collectives". Those were considered indie bands. Then (The) Arcade Fire pretty much hit the peak of that path, and "indie" turned to meet something else. As of today (judging by local output and big time mags. like Spin) it indicates a band with 3 or 4 bearded dudes, and a chick singer, who rehash "Americana"/roots music. In a year or three the Americana movement will have achieved some form of success; and at that exact point, "indie" will be ascribed to something else. It is an essentially reactionary term, reacting against the tyranny of the majority-- which is "pop" music a la ClearChannel radio stations. To the extent that the label "Indie" provides support for resistance it remains a useful term. To the extent that it is used to validate only currently fashionable forms of resistance, while denying validity (by replacing it with on-the-fence, half-assed micro-genre labels) it becomes hypocritical. "Indie" once meant independence from a major/paying/controlling label. That is now common even for bands who have big audiences, big sales, and who make good livings. For it to be a useful designation, "independence" must come to mean independent thinking.