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Merchandise Made Me Believe I Can Fly With Indie Rock Again

Pitchfork Festival 2013

By Eric Sundermann

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Indie rock has become pretty fucking annoying.

Every day, it seems we have a new band that sounds exactly how we expect it to sound. They probably have a dumb name. And they're full of punkass kids, and those punkass kids are trying to make statements about the statements that are made about the current scene. And most of those statements, like the previous sentence, aren't really saying anything and don't really make much sense. As a fan of music and the scene itself, this is an incredibly frustrating experience, and it's one that makes listening to whatever new music is getting pushed by websites and publications—even the one you're currently reading—a difficult and frustrating experience. Most of the time, anymore, it feels like I'd rather hear the sound of a rock crashing against my skull than another sound byte from that kid from DIIV being a douche and shooting off his mouth again.

I write this with such disdain because I'm a kid from the middle of nowhere whose discovery of this type of music pretty much saved my life—at least culturally. Bands like the Smiths and TV on the Radio introduced me to a scene in which I felt accepted for the first time. It was a place that wasn't built upon social constructs like money, perceived coolness, or any other struggles you go through with acceptance as a kid Western Iowa. Instead, indie rock, both the music and the culture that surrounded it, provided a safe zone—this weird, strange, mystical place in which I could be free of restrictions and anxiety. I could be whatever I wanted, and that was okay.

On Saturday, I saw Merchandise at Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago. Going into the weekend, I hadn't really heard much of this band's actual music. I knew they were buzzy (I mean, they were playing Pitchfork), and they'd garnered some critical acclaim from Important Websites and Publications over the past two years. Lots of friends and writers I respect endorsed them. But, for some reason, despite hearing a few tracks here and there, nothing ever really registered with me, or grabbed me. Admittedly, the reason for me passing them by probably has something to do with the fact that their lead singer has a Morrissey haircut and their bass player looks like a character from High Fidelity. I found myself assuming that I knew everything about them, and everything I thought I knew about them pissed me off.

These pre-judgments I had were a.) not really fair because they didn't have anything all to do with the music itself, and b.) make me seem like an asshole. But then again, that's pretty much my point. In the year 2013, the indie rock scene is doing its best to eat itself alive. It's taken a person like me—someone who claimed to be an "indie rock kid" growing up—and made me take every opportunity I could to crack a joke about how dumb guitars are. At times, the idiocy within the scene has made me embarrassed to claim I like a certain band. Yes, I have turned off the "public listening" button on Spotify when I've listened to, yes, DIIV.

Anyway, something happened when I saw this trio from Tampa Bay perform with those guitars I've smugly come to believe are so dumb. Jumping into "Time," one of their buzzy singles from last year, dudes rolled out a bouncy, aggressive, grimy sound that, to be frank, surprised the hell out of me. They carried a carefree attitude, but one that wasn't pretentious or annoying. They didn't feel like they had to tell the world that they didn't care, but instead, they just genuinely didn't care. Rather than shouting off remarks about sponsorships or corporations or however-else-I-can-say-fuck-you-to-the-man-in-a-way-that-makes-the-audience-roll-their-eyes (looking at you, Foxygen), their banter was minimal and charming. Often, they'd make self-aware and self-deprecating jokes about the scene, or how long it takes to tune a guitar. Then, they'd jump right back into a song, crushing a harmony or a lick. It felt like a sonic shower after a long, exhausting day, washing all the anger and hatred I've held onto about the indie rock music scene.

In a world where our news and feeds move faster than we can keep up—and concert attendees often seem more concerned with getting a good Instagram photo than actually experiencing a solid set of music—the earnestness Merchandise provided with 45-minute set was an escape I want to become my reality. Walking back across the festival grounds, it felt good to tell a friend that, finally, I remembered exactly why the guitar is cool.

 

Eric Sundermann is an Assistant Editor at Noisey. He's on Twitter — @ericsundy

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