Intimate folk and aggressive punk. Squalls of avant-garde noise and sleek electronic pop. Indie has always been about artists and listeners who are independent, determined to go their own way and find their own voice. The story of this left-of-the-dial style starts with the post-punk scene of the late ’70s, where innovative bands like Joy Division and Wire began to experiment with the stripped-down sounds that had defined punk rock. By the ’80s, bands like The Smiths, The Replacements, and R.E.M. were making adventurous and often surprisingly melodic music that was still infused with punk’s do-it-yourself attitude. At the same time, groups like The Butthole Surfers, Hüsker Dü, and Dinosaur Jr. took the noise and aggression of hardcore punk in radical new directions. This under-the-radar scene soon became known as “indie rock,” a reference to its network of independent clubs and record labels. After a while, the genre's tendency to splinter into a million directions—indie pop, indie noise, indie dance, you name it—required doing away with the “rock" all together; indie music was more about the attitude than the sound.
As the ’80s ended, dissonant but oddly catchy indie bands like the Pixies and Sonic Youth were attracting a new level of attention and acclaim, and in the early ’90s, many groups broke through in the form of alternative rock, thanks to the surprise success of Nirvana’s 1991 album Nevermind. Remaining more or less underground, a new crop of proudly independent bands like Pavement and Guided by Voices blurred the lines between lo-fi punk noise and offbeat indie pop. And throughout the ’90s, indie music continued to evolve in new ways, exploring post-hardcore (Fugazi), riot grrrl (Bikini Kill), shoegaze (My Bloody Valentine), psychedelic pop (Neutral Milk Hotel), noise rock (The Jesus Lizard), chamber pop (Belle and Sebastian), post-rock (Stereolab), and many other styles. By the 21st century, longtime indie stalwarts like Modest Mouse were scoring rock radio hits, while newer bands like Arcade Fire were earning GRAMMYs®. Despite this newfound mainstream appeal, the groundbreaking spirit of independent music remains strong in the new millennium, whether you’re talking genre-bending experimental ensembles like Animal Collective or eccentric singer/songwriters like Bon Iver.