Who’s in with the indie crowd?

This Civil Twilight and Champion, Alberta symbolize two sides of the indie coin

I think it’s time we addressed the State of Indie Rock in 2004. With
the genre’s Rolling Stones (a.k.a. the Pixies) in full reunion mode and
Kurt’s guitars now garnering Apprentice-worthy sums on the auction
block, truly, “indie rock” has ceased to be an even
pseudo-underground phenomenon and has become a fully-grown, self-respecting
musical genre. However, when two local bands hit the stage this Friday,
implicit or not, what is essentially taking place is an indie rock showdown
of epic proportions. Simply put, the bill represents two schools of thought:
Old School vs. New School. You disagree? Take the following as proof. In the
Old School corner is local rock outfit This Civil Twilight. Forged in the
mid-’90s as Kung Fu Grip, these guys play indie rock the way your daddy
likes it: fuzzy, angular and studiedly discordant. Heavily influenced by the
off-kilter, slacked-out guitar energy of primetime indie rock like Archers of
Loaf and Sonic Youth, the band’s average age hovers somewhere in the
early thirties, their live performances are intentionally haphazard affairs
and they look and sound like they’ve been magically transported from
1993 into the present day—something which the band’s frontman
Mark Simpson readily admits to. “I’m not so sure my tastes have
shifted that much,” he explains via e-mail. “I still love the
Archers of Loaf to death. I figure I’m stuck in ’93 and just need
to hold on long enough for the early ’90s revival to take firm
hold—triggered, perhaps, by Pixiesmania?” Pixiesmania aside,
being stuck in 1993 isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially when
you’ve got the cred to back it up. Simpson spent the better part of the
’90s in Durham, North Carolina, a mere seven-inch-Frisbee toss from
Chapel Hill, the college town which midwived the birth of indie and gave us
Archers of Loaf, Superchunk and Polvo. This Civil Twilight are far from being
indie-rock revivalists, though. “I’m not listening to the same
records as I did in ’96, largely because a lot of good records have
come out since then,” contends Simpson, whose current faves include Les
Savy Fav, Interpol and Pretty Girls Make Graves. “I’d say changes
in our sound have more to do with what, collectively, we’re able to
imagine and then to pull off.” In the other corner is Champion,
Alberta. Having formed together two years ago, the Champs (who are in their
mid-20s) are indicative of all things New School indie rock: their sound is
increasingly driven by keyboards, there’s nary a distortion pedal in
sight and they espouse a eclectic minimalism—both sonically and
aesthetically—that’s miles removed from the slacker ethos
embodied by Steve Malkmus’s Pavement and Lou Barlow’s Sebadoh.
Equally, frontman Rob Wood runs an online music community, namechecks
Basement Jaxx and is just as likely to fire up his laptop as plug in a
guitar. So what makes them an indie rock band, then? Last year, the band
issued their fabulous debut EP The Silk Purse via home-pressed CD-R, the
group still favours gaunt sonics over easy listening and their sound takes
bits of Sonic Youth, New Order and Belle and Sebastian and funnels it into an
angular, post-rock delivery. Perhaps what separates the two bands and their
respective schools of thought the most is eclecticism. Whereas a lot of indie
kids from the past have worn their musical tastes as a badge of honour, today
it’s not unusual to see kids quoting 50 Cent and digging on Death Cab
for Cutie. And with producers like the DFA and the Neptunes calling the shots
both on the dance floor and from behind the record shop desk, in some ways
the music world has never been smaller. “I’m guessing that the
capacity of the web to enable music-sharing has produced a tendency toward
eclecticism that is distinct to the current moment,” Simpson agrees.
“These are developments that, as a crusty Luddite, I don’t
pretend to understand.” “My tastes are really broad,” says
Champs singer Rob Wood. “I listen to just about everything. I
don’t think there’s any sonic innovation coming from rock
music—all the cool sounds are coming from pop records.”
Differences in delivery, tastes and direction may separate the two bands, but
what ties them together is a devotion to keeping it real and flogging the
road less travelled, musically speaking. “I guess I’m less
convinced by the force of ‘indie’ as an ethic than as a mere
description,” Simpson says. “We play rock
music–that’s the better, shorter answer.” “Music is
always changing and evolving,” continues Wood. “Maybe 2004 will
be the year that everybody digs out their Pavement albums again.” V
Champion, Alberta With This Civil Twilight • Seedy’s • Fri,
Apr 23

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