To celebrate 40 years of indie music, Lewis Oxley explores the history of the most British of genres, charting the four decades of indie over three issues.

40 years ago, an undercurrent was gently starting to rumble in the UK music scene. The next generation of youth, facing the torrents of unemployment that marked the birth of Thatcher’s Britain, started looking for ways to express their wretched circumstances. The defiant result of this would certainly have a long-lasting mark on the image of British music and the places from which this new music form originated.

The Lesser Free Trade Hall. Manchester. 1976. As the idiosyncratic TV presenter Tony Wilson and Alan Erasmus witness two of the 42 members in attendance of the Sex Pistols gig, an epiphanic shockwave begins to emerge. From this gig came not only a host of Manchester’s leading musical lights – The Buzzcocks, Joy Division and a certain Steven Morrissey – but a record label looking to change the image of northern England and with it the music map of Britain. Factory Records came to establish this new state of mind, a near futuristic anarchism; this was no ordinary factory and its products. The Durutti Column, Happy Mondays, and by far its biggest asset, Joy Division (later New Order) were just a shape of things to come. Wilson had a reputation, exemplified in an interview for the Guardian, Richard H Kirk of Cabaret Voltaire described him as a “Visionary and a bit of an arsehole”. Stephen Morris (the stickman for Joy Division, then New Order) echoed the same sentiment saying Wilson was a “bit of a twat”. Manchester had the start of musical identity and from it a new style was being formed in its heart to challenge the airwaves.    

Manchester wasn’t the only epicentre for the new independent scene, Coventry had 2Tone and Glasgow had Postcard, things were heating up nationwide.

In the years after the punk trinity of Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Damned, London’s music scene needed a new HQ of its own to spread the independent philosophy. Step up Geoff Travis (the Mr Shankly of The Smiths’ Frankly Mr Shankly) and the story of Rough Trade, a label determined to change the appearance of London as a musical hotspot and to challenge the noisy lot from up North. Travis’ secret weapon was to fight the North with one of their own: The Smiths.

The 1980s would show that the independent record label was a force that was here to stay and show the world of popular music that there was no longer an old order of things. You might say a new order.


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