Two decades before a bunch of geeky American boys messing around on computers created social media, an earlier generation of geeky kids (mostly boys) messing around on guitars created another sort of social network. At its heart was the kind of music you wouldn’t hear on commercial radio or, except in the wee hours of Monday mornings, on MTV. It came on the heels of 1970s punk rock, and while it owed something to punk’s velocity and sneer, the spirit was experimental, as if all the old rules had been swept away. Ragged guitar riffs, ferocious decibel levels, and unpredictable song structures were its trademarks, but the sounds—from the percussively headlong to the distorted and depressive—proliferated as fast as the labels for them. Under the various headings of punk, post-punk, hardcore, alt-rock, underground, noise rock, post-rock, and, most generic, indie rock, bands such as Mission of Burma, Minor Threat, Hüsker Dü, Sonic Youth, and Slint laid down the soundtrack of an alternative culture. If you were over the age of 30 when the Berlin Wall fell, this music probably seemed pretty much pointless. If, on the other hand, you were in your teens or 20s, especially if you were a skinny white male and wore glasses, it’s just possible that indie rock sounded like community—salvation, even.
Everywhere, the line between fan and performer was paper-thin. The approach was anarchic and participatory: the idea (at least theoretically) was that anyone could get a band together, learn to play, and maybe even press a record and take the show on the road. At the same time, indie music was a judgmental world of cognoscenti, of teenage boys disputing Talmudically about guitar tunings and feedback. Hole-in-the-wall venues, alternative record stores, ragtag independent record labels, and copy shops incubated a subculture where outsiders became insiders and found one another. Flyers on telephone poles were its smoke signals, xeroxed fanzines were its telegraph wires, bringing news from far-flung scenes. Before the breakthrough success in 1991 of Nirvana—whose album Nevermind topped the Billboard charts and eventually sold more than 30 million copies worldwide—raw and abrasive rock, by definition, meant tastes and sounds that could never become popular.
Via The Atlantic