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Indie Rock: The Rock Sub-genre That Rocks

Updated on March 19, 2015
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Denis is a freelancer addicted to football (yeah...it's not soccer!). He thinks POLITICS and REALITY TV were invited to dumb us down.

The Black Keys
The Black Keys | Source

I’m a big fan of Indie rock, but usually find myself at a loss for words when someone asks what the rock sub-genre is all about. It is very easy to confuse Indie rock with another of rock's sub-genres: Altrnative rock.

There is a saying out there that states: All indie rock is Alternative rock but not all Alternative can be termed as Indie. What that probably means is that a band like Kings of Leon can be categorised as both Indie and Alternative but an Alternative rock band like Linkin Park can never be considered to be Indie.

So, the real question is what is Indie rock? What is the true definition of an Indie rock band? I find this question relevant because over the last decade, Indie rock has became a more than significant staple of the mainstream rock scene. Bands like The Killers, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Strokes, Red Hot Chilli peppers, The Black Keys, Kings of Leon, The White Stripes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs have successfully established themselves as commercially viable entities.

And new bands like Mumford and Sons, Arcade Fire, Imagine Dragons, Foster the People, Florence and the Machine, and Tegan and Sara are following the trend and even improving on it. This is seen by their dominance of the rock category at the Grammys. Hit songs like The White Stripes' 'Seven Nation Army' and Fun's 'We Are Young' have managed to pick up singles' awards while indie rock albums like Arcade Fire's 'The Surburbs' have triumphed in the album category. .

The biggest sign of how Indie rock has become extremely popular can be found on TV. Just sample the soundtrack playlists from hit TV shows like One Tree Hill, Vampire Diaries, CSI, Grey’s Anatomy, The OC, NCIS and Breaking Bad; and you will realize how much Indie rock is popular. Its influence doesn’t just stop with TV, but also reaches the big screen with movie franchises like Twilight and videogames like Need for Speed showcasing a lot Indie rock talent.

Indie has certainly made rock relevant again, but...

The embracing of mainstream success by Indie rock artists in the late 90s to the early 2010s has thrown this sub-genre into a crisis of identity. Indie rock could no longer claim to be free and independent as many of the bands signed up with major labels and become international hits.

Bands like The Black Keys have ad to adjust their music so as to attract more mainstream fans. Their two recent albums have a more upbeat tempo that varies from their endevears which only appealed to their core fanbase.

However, there are still many more bands that retain that independent identity and cultivate an underground fanbase.

Music Styles in Indie

One aspect of the sub-genre that is both a positive and a negative is the diversity in music styles involved. It is hard to give a clear picture of what music style vividly defines Indie rock. Indie rock is influenced by many other music genres -pop, dance, punk, emo, folk/country and blues - thus making it the extreme version of Alternative rock.

Tegan and Sara's style is heavily influenced by pop, Mumford and Son's have a rich folk/country style intergrated into their music while The Black Keys infuse a lot blues in their work. The guitar-driven sound of The White Stripes' 'Seven Nation Army' varies greatly from the Tegan and Sara's 'I Was A Fool' which is better defined as an Indie pop song, or Bear Mountain's uniquely instrumental hit 'Two Step'.

This ensures that Indie rock has probably the most number of artists in the entire rock genre.

10 Indie Rock Bands That May Appeal to the Layman

There are, in every music genre, artists who are able to make music that is appealing even beyond the fanbase of their own genre. Most of Indie rock music may be of the acquired taste variety, but there are still bands that produce music with a wider appeal. Here are 10 examples:

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1. Imagine Dragons

Relatively new to the Indie rock scene, the Las Vegas based band achieved international recognition with their debut album, Night Visions. The band is, in definition, more Alternative than Indie, mostly because it tones down on the experimentation that most Indie rock bands are known for. With singles like 'Its Time', 'Tiptoe', Amsterdam' and 'Radioactve', the band greatly appeals to the more mainstream fan.

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2. Teagan and Sara

The Canadian-born twins have been there for the last decade but achieved there most significant international success with their 2013 album, Heartthrob. Their singles 'Closer' and 'I Was No Fool' have very strong pop influences. Tegan and Sara maybe an Indie rock but their latest album can definitely be considered more pop than rock.

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3. The Script

Formed in Dublin,Ireland in 2001, The Script are another rock band that blur the line between rock and pop. One of their latest hit is the pop single 'Hall of fame' which features the Black Eyed Peas' Will.i.am.

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4. Kings of Leon

Considered to be one the best rock groups of this modern day rock. Surprisingly, Kings of Leon achieved their initial success in the UK; even though, they are originally from Tennessee. Their most successful singles to date include 'On Call', 'Sex on Fire', 'Use Somebody', 'Pyro' and 'Radioactive'.

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5. Keane

An English rock band that is so good they triggered a bidding war between major labels. Considered to be one of the most successful English band ever. Their hitlist includes such hits as 'Everybody's Changing', 'Spiralling' and 'Silenced by the Night' which is from their most recent, chart topping album - Strangeland .

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6. Young the Giant

With the fantastic vocals of Sameer Gadhia, the California-based rock band achieved instant success with their self-titled debut album. The album includes the hits, 'Cough Syrup', 'Apartment', 'I Got' and 'My Body'.

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7. Snow Patrol

A veteran of the rock scene, Snow Patrol are a successful British rock band with an impressive CV of hits that includinng the acclaimed single 'Chasing Cars' - one of the most used soundtrack songs ever. Other songs of note include, 'Just Say Yes', 'You're All I Have' and 'Take Back the City'.

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8. Mumford and Sons

They have a unique country/folk style infused into their music and are argaubly one the most lyrically gifted bands around. They also enrich their musical sound with the addition of a banjo in their performances. Have been one the best indie rock bands of the last couple of years with hits like 'I Will Wait', The Cave', Broken Crown' and 'Awake My Soul'.

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9. Death Cab for Cutie

The American rock band has been successful by fusing different styles like emo and pop into their music. Their best hits include 'Soul Meets Body', 'I Will Possess Your Heart', 'You're a Tourist and 'Meet Me at the Equinox' which was part of the 'Twilight: New Moon' soundtrack.

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10. Arcade Fire

A Canadian rock band that has collected plenty of awards, most notably, the 2011 Album of the Year award at the Grammys for their chart-topping album, The Surburbs. The band is also known for having contributed to the Hunger Games movie soundtrack with the single 'Abraham's Daughter'.

The Ultimate Indie Rock Playlist

The diversity of music styles that make up Indie rock also gaurantee that one will always find a band or artist that appeals to them personally. Here are is a playlist of Indie rock hits for your enjoyment:


Playlist A (2014) to be continued...

  1. Capital Cities - Safe and Sound
  2. Young the Giant - Its About Time
  3. Editors - What is this Thing called Love
  4. Empire of the Sun - Awakening
  5. Kings of Leon - Rock City
  6. London Grammar - When We Were Young
  7. Mumford and Sons - Below My Feet
  8. Walk the Moon - Next in Line
  9. The Lumineers - Stubborn Love
  10. Arcade Fire - Reflector
  11. Modest Mouse - Dashboard
  12. Steel Train - Firecracker
  13. Psapp - Hi
  14. Dappled Cities - Run With The Wind
  15. Atlas Genius - Symptoms
  16. Kate Nash - Merry Happy
  17. Capital Cities - Kangaroo Court
  18. Editors - Honesty
  19. Kings of Leon - Supersoaker
  20. Keane - Disconnected
  21. Vampire Weekend - Step
  22. The Script - Before The Worst
  23. The National - I Need My Girl
  24. Regina Spektor - Don't Leave Me
  25. Arctic Monkeys - R U Mine
  26. Night Terrors of 1927 - Young And Vicious
  27. Arcade Fire - Afterlife
  28. Deadwood - Cherry Red
  29. NONONO - Pumpin' Blood
  30. Architecture in Helsinki - Dream a Little Crazy
  31. Ingrid Michaelson - One Night Town (Feat. Mat Kearney)
  32. Young the Giant - In My Home
  33. Dan Croll - Thinkin Aboutchu
  34. Neon Trees - Sleeping with a Friend
  35. Foster The People - Are You What You Want To Be
  36. Cults - Go Outside
  37. Lover Lover - Young Free
  38. COIN - Time Machine
  39. Hot Chip - These Chains
  40. Bjork - Earth Intruders
  41. Starsailor - In The Crossfire
  42. Ingrid Michaelson - Girls Chase Boys
  43. Neon Trees - First Things First
  44. MS MR - Ash Tree Lane
  45. Ingrid Michaelson - Afterlife
  46. Walk the Moon - Tightrope
  47. Tanlines - All of Me
  48. Grouplove - Let Me In
  49. Kodaline - All I Want
  50. Strfkr - While I'm Alive
  51. The Fratellis - Rock N Roll Will Break Your Heart
  52. Persephone's Bees - We've Just Begun
  53. Echosmith - Cool Kids
  54. KONGOS - Hey I Don't Know
  55. Glass Animals - Black Mambo
  56. Ingrid Michaelson - Warpath
  57. Metric - The Wanderlust (feat Lou Reed)
  58. Imagine Dragons - Shots
  59. Lucky Soul - Ain't Never Been Cool
  60. alt-J - Breezeblocks
  61. The Dresden Dolls - Dirty Business
  62. Misterwives - Vagabond
  63. The Long Blondes - Giddy Statospheres
  64. The Hundred In The Hands - Keep It Low
  65. The Pipettes - Pull Shapes
  66. Fitz and The Tantrums - Out of My League
  67. Phantogram - Fall in Love
  68. Broken Bells - Holding on for Life
  69. KONGOS - Come with Me Now
  70. Gossling - Harvest of Gold
  71. American Authors - Best Day of My Life
  72. Misterwives - Reflections
  73. KONGOS - Escape
  74. The Black Keys - Gotta Get Away
  75. Echosmith - Safest Place
  76. Wolf Colony - Colorblind
  77. The New Pornographers - Myriad Harbour
  78. Alex Winston - Medicine
  79. Interpol - No I In Threesome
  80. Big Science - No One Ever Wakes Up

Playlist B (2013)

  1. Rilo Kiley - Silver Lining
  2. Phillip Phillips - Home
  3. Gorillaz - Dirty Harry
  4. Metric - Gold Gun Girls
  5. The Bravery - Believe
  6. Kings of Leon - On Call
  7. Gentlemen Hall - Makes Me Feel Alive
  8. Blondfire - Waves
  9. Lykki Li - I Follow Rivers
  10. Of Monsters and Men - Little Talks
  11. Grouplove - Tongue-tied
  12. Regina Spektor - On the Radio
  13. Florence and the Machine - Never Let You Go
  14. Freshlyground - Doo Be Doo
  15. The Killers - Somebody Told Me
  16. Hot Hot Heat - Middle of Nowhere
  17. Band of Skulls - Sweet sour
  18. Mumford and Sons - The Cave
  19. Passion Pit - Carried Away
  20. The White Stripes - Seven Nation Army
  21. The Black Keys - Sister
  22. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Dull Life
  23. The Ting Tings - Soul Killing
  24. Neon Trees - Animal
  25. Ms Mr - Bones
  26. YoungBlood Hawke - Stars (Hold On)
  27. Blondfire - Walking with Giants
  28. John Wean - New York Doesn't Love You
  29. Coldplay - Talk
  30. Death Cab For Cutie - Meet Me at the Equinox
  31. The National - The Rains of Castomere
  32. Walk the Moon - Quesadilla
  33. JT Daly - Memory
  34. Fanfarlo - Feathers
  35. The Sounds - Painted by Numbers
  36. Fun ft. Janelle Monae - We are Young
  37. Rilo KIley - Dejalo
  38. Phoenix - Long Distence Call
  39. Stars - Hold on when you get Love
  40. Foster the People - Don't Stop
  41. Lost Prophets - Where we Belong
  42. Florence and the Machine - You've got the Love
  43. Mumford and Sons - I will Wait
  44. The Airbone Toxic Event - Chaging
  45. Franz Ferdinand - Take Me Out
  46. Keane - Silenced by the Night
  47. Young the Giant - My Body
  48. Imagine Dragons - Tiptoe
  49. Bastille - Pompeii
  50. Ellie Goulding - Hanging On
  51. Snow Patrol - Chasing Cars
  52. Tegan and Sara - Closer
  53. The Black Keys - Howling for You
  54. Kings of Leon - Pyro
  55. Mother Mother - Infintisimal
  56. Neon Trees - Electric Heart
  57. Tilly and the Wall - Heavy Mood
  58. Kaiser Chiefs - Ruby
  59. The Script - Hall of Fame
  60. Whale Tooth - Wolves
  61. The Joy Formidable - Wolf's Law
  62. Silver Firs - Away We Go
  63. Keane - Spiralling
  64. Imagine Dragons - Its Time
  65. Vampire Weekend - Horchata
  66. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Heads will Roll
  67. The Naked and the Famous - Young Blood
  68. The Bravery - Ours
  69. The Lumineers - Ho Hey
  70. Arctic Monkeys - My Propellers
  71. Lucy Rose - Bikes
  72. Lucy and the Cloud Parade - Cloud 9
  73. Modern Rivals - Defenestrate You
  74. Opossom - Fly
  75. Dan Croll - From Nowhere
  76. Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra - Institutionalized
  77. Imagine Dragons - Hear Me
  78. Air Traffic Controller - Hurry Hurry
  79. The Veils - Advice for Young Mothers To Be
  80. Jimmy Eat World - Gotta Be Somebody's Blues
  81. The Bravery - Time Won't Let Me Go
  82. Their There - Hospital
  83. The Mowgli's - San Francisco
  84. Sunday Sun - Take A Left
  85. General Fiasco - The Age That You Start Losing Friends
  86. Metric - Youth Without Youth
  87. Lonely Drifter Karen - Three Colors Red
  88. Bear Mountain - Two Step
  89. Grouplove - Underground
  90. Villagers - The Waves
  91. Hot Chip - These Cains
  92. Empire of the Sun - DNA
  93. Lykki Li - Get Some
  94. The Killes - Human
  95. Mumford and Sons - Broken Crown
  96. Of Monsters and Men - King and Lionheart
  97. The Features - From Now On
  98. The Joy Formidable - Endtapes
  99. First Aid Kit - Wolf
  100. Passion Pit - Take A Walk

Playlist A (2013)

  1. The Black Keys - Lonely Boy
  2. Neon Trees - Animal
  3. Gorillaz - Feel Good
  4. Snakadaktal - Dance Bear
  5. Kings of Leon - Sex on Fire
  6. Cold War Kids - Audience
  7. Thom Yorke - Black Swan
  8. Snow Patrol - Just Say Yes
  9. Nine Black Alps - Unsatisfied
  10. I'm From Barcelona - We're Barcelona
  11. Franz Ferdinand - The Fallen
  12. The White Stripes - Icky Thumb
  13. Coldplay - Yellow
  14. Empire of the Sun - Alive
  15. The Strokes - Last Nite
  16. Blondfire - Hide and Seek
  17. The Veils - One Night on Earth
  18. Mumford and Sons - Lovers of the Light
  19. The Submarines - The Wake up Song
  20. Metric - Help I'm Alive
  21. Imagine Dragons - Radioactive
  22. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Hysterics
  23. Peter Bjorn & John - Young Folks
  24. Young the Giant - Cough Syrup
  25. Passion Pit - I'll Be Alright
  26. Interpol - No I in Threesome
  27. The Ting Tings - That's Not My Name
  28. The National - Demons
  29. Tegan and Sara - I Was A Fool
  30. Phillip Phillips - Hold On
  31. The Black Keys - Tighten Up
  32. Foster the Peole - Pumped up Kicks
  33. Arcade Fire - Ready to Start
  34. Kaiser Chiefs - Oh My God
  35. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
  36. Death Cab For Cutie - I Will Possess Your Heart
  37. Keane - We Are Young
  38. The Script - Breakeven
  39. Perry Farrell - Go All The Way
  40. Bands of Skulls - Possibility
  41. Florence and the Machine - Dog Days Are Over
  42. Hurricane - Monsters
  43. Unkle - With You In My Head
  44. Metric - All Yours
  45. Ellie Goulding - Bittersweet
  46. Blondfire - Where The Kids Are
  47. Of Monsters and Men - Mountain Sound
  48. Imagine Dragons - Amsterdam
  49. I Monster - Hey Mrs.
  50. Sofia Talvik - The Garden
  51. Two Door Cinema Club - The World Is Watching
  52. Fun - Some Nights
  53. Weezer - Say It Ain't So
  54. Cage The Elephant - Back Against The Wall
  55. The Airborne Toxic Event - Does This Mean You're Moving
  56. The Smashing Pumpkins - Tonight Tonight
  57. Vampire Weekend - Cousins
  58. Arctic Monkeys - Do I Wanna Know
  59. Jimmy Eat World - My Best Theory
  60. The Black Keys - Little Lion Man
  61. Awolnation - Sail
  62. Cage The Elephant - Shake Me Down
  63. Young the Giant - Apartment
  64. Florence and the Machine - Shake It Out
  65. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Maps
  66. The Ting Tings - Shut Up And Let Me Go
  67. Gotye - Somebody That I Used To Know
  68. Motocade - Oldest Trick In The Book
  69. The Noisettes - Sister Rosetta
  70. Pearl Jam - Alive
  71. Stereophonics - Dakota
  72. Thriving Ivory - Angels On The Moon
  73. YoungBlood Hawke - We Come Running
  74. The Verve - Bitter Sweet Symphony
  75. Mumford and Sons - Lover's Eyes
  76. Kings of Leon - Use Somebody
  77. Gorillaz - DARE
  78. Awolnation - Not Your Fault
  79. Arctic Mokeys - I Bet You Look On The Dancefloor
  80. The Black Keys - Chop and Change
  81. Blur - Song 2
  82. Jake Bugg - Two Fingers
  83. Coldplay - Fix You
  84. Death Cab For Cutie - Underneath The Sycamore
  85. Hot Hot Heat - Goodnight Goodnight
  86. Mother Mother - The Stand
  87. The Noisettes - Don't Upset the Rhythm
  88. Rilo Kiley - Portions For Foxes
  89. The Script - The Man Who Can't Be Moved
  90. Shiny Toy Guns - Ghost Town
  91. Starsailor - Faith Hope Love
  92. The Strokes - Hard To Explain
  93. The Submarines - You, Me And The Bourgeoisie
  94. Florence and the Machines - Only If For A Night
  95. The White Stripes - Blue Orchid
  96. Young the Giant - I Got
  97. Foster the People - Houdini
  98. Florence and the Machine - No Light No Light
  99. Mumford and Sons - Holland Road
  100. Tegan and Sara - I'm Not Your Hero

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    • MITNG profile image

      Jeffrey Lamar 3 years ago from Chandler, Arizona

      Great article! I try not to use the term indie or alternative, except when I am creating a playlist on Spotify or Itunes, I am of the opinion that if you are signed with one of the big five labels you are no longer indie. Thoughts?

    • Earl Noah Bernsby profile image

      Earl Noah Bernsby 3 years ago from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

      This was an interesting read, underthedome. I also appreciated the extended playlist sections.

    • profile image

      poser... 3 years ago

      I hate indie rock because it is boring and souless, as i love rock music genre and styles that I like are: hard rock, heavy metal, punk rock, prog rock, grunge and alternative rock something .....

    • underthedome profile image
      Author

      denis nasila 2 years ago from Mombasa

      For you to hate indie rock, a clear definition of the genre has to be there. Listening to Mumford & sons and The Ting Tings, you can't honestly tell that they are both indie bands. Mumford sound like an upbeat version of country/folk while The Tings are the indie version of punk. You have to sample the different versions of indie and you'll probably find something you can relate to. If you want soul please listen to 'Night Terrors of 1927 - Young And Vicious'.

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