In the second of his three-part celebration of indie’s 40th year, Lewis Oxley discusses how it left its DIY roots and established itself as a popular genre.
As the 1980s dragged on, the independent music scene was flourishing more than its founding fathers could ever have imagined. The success of Factory and Rough Trade’s lead acts, New Order and The Smiths, was no longer unnoticed. The Smiths’ debut album had led the band to huge critical acclaim, whereas New Order’s release of Blue Monday in 1983 had taken everything by storm, and became the biggest selling 12’’ single of all time.
However, this success for both bands was a smokescreen for what was happening behind the scenes; all was not well in both camps. At Factory, attention was being driven towards Tony Wilson’s monument to Manchester: The Hacienda. Despite it being the centre of Manchester’s cultural universe, the financial impact became a sore wound. New Order found themselves playing and making records to keep the label afloat. Wilson had lavish ambitions for the club, but all at a price. Things for Rough Trade weren’t rosy either, with The Smiths constantly arguing over royalties. This would prove to be the impossible splinter to get out. Ultimately it was this that led to their downfall and break up in 1987.
By the end of the 1980s and the start of the 1990s, independent music, now a full established force, needed a new, big name. The Smiths had been left in the 1980s; the Acid-House rave scene didn’t catch on with everyone, both Factory and Rough Trade were struggling, and the spotlight had turned to America and Grunge. It appeared that the new thing was shoegazing and melancholic alternative pop and that this very British genre would need to branch out to its followers in a new way and follow on in high spirit from the second summer of love. The next decade would see indie become less a philosophy revolving around small record labels, but a sound. The genre now meant a lot more than simply music not in the mainstream. The twangy guitars, the sweet and simple three chords done in only three minutes or more. The guitar itself now belonged in indie’s firm grip ready for action.
In London, with the new ambitions of an uncanny Scot, Alan McGee, there were plans to make the capital the new hub of the D.I.Y indie scene, culminating in the birth of a new label: Creation. Creation had already been on the indie movement scene since before the 1990s, but only as a low-key label. They started with Scottish bands who went on to have subsequent success, including The Jesus and the Mary Chain and Primal Scream, the latter of which would have a huge hit with their landmark 1991 album Screamadelica. However, this couldn’t last.
The 1990s became the start of the buying-out period for these epic trends setters of D.I.Y.; both Primal Scream and Jesus and the Mary Chain went to majors (Columbia and Warner Bros respectively). They needed a new bunch a new face for indie; they found it in the form of two brothers from Manchester, who would take the next decade by storm, some might say, that this band Definitely Maybe did. They were a small act called Oasis.