Thursday, February 18, 2010

review: Slanted and Enchanted: The Evolution of Indie Culture by Kaya Oakes

Friday Five with Kaya Oakes tomorrow!

Slanted and Enchanted: The Evolution of Indie Culture
by Kaya Oakes
Holt McDougal, 2009

As one of the cofounders of indie mag Kitchen Sink, Oakes is undeniably qualified and interested in compiling a book about the modern indie culture. She never delves quite into the specific semantics of “indie” (cue recent Paste Magazine article) but instead provides myriad examples of the indie culture’s growth and transition.

By location and interest, Oakes is west coast specific, but it doesn’t hurt the examples. The Gilman Street, Op Ivy and Lookout Records in Berkeley or the Riot Grrrl, Bikini Kills, Sub Pop and Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington are all appropriate examples, of course. If all good big media ideas come from the east, then all good DIY ideas come from the west. Oakes is suited perfectly to explain all of this--she either experienced it firsthand or has met most of the major players in the various zine, punk and handcrafted scenes from general interest or personal involvement.

The thread through the chapters exploring punk, indie rock, zines, crafts and comics is a homegrown/grassroots newness/isolation. Nobody knew if they had a good or marketable idea at the beginning of Bikini Kills, they just had an idea that seemed fun. No one knew that Operation Ivy was going to revolutionize punk rock they just had a sound that everyone immediately gravitated towards. Sometimes when more “professional” planning came into play, it also killed what had made it great.

As Oakes says in the example of Lookout Records: “anyone who’s been involved in the arts knows that once something goes mainstream, thing can never go back to how they were before” (76). No one gets into labors of love for the money, and if and once the money comes, it often disrupts.

The book is part history lesson and part appreciation. It’s awesome to learn about the history of the zine Cometbus or Fantagraphics comics or how Pavement wandered into indie rock accidentally only to be castigated once they veered towards the arena rock they appreciated.

In addition to mainstream exploitation, another indie pitfall is for fans to build idols out of their favorites then destroy them when something isn’t “indie” enough---but the word itself balances on a treacherous edge.

More from Oakes on contemporary Internet infusion would have been helpful--just in the way that blogs, mp3s, mashups and community boards have influenced the DIY movement, or if that is indie/DIY at all. There is no history lesson here on the first video games or blogs, information that may have been interesting or at least addressed for why or why not they should fall under indie.

Oakes obviously did her homework. There are tons of interviews and first-hand visits and she speaks with a insider’s knowledge, but with a clear head towards objectivity and description.

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