The Great in the Small: The Changing Terrain of Independence
The Great in the Small is a title of an album by Current 93, a group of English underground musicians who have a lineage that dates from the times of Punk (mid 1970s) to the present day. The title came to the leading force in the group, David Tibet, in a dream when he had been seriously ill. In the dream he had been told to assemble all the recorded work he had ever done onto one record. This he then did with the help of Nurse With Wound’s Steven Stapleton, mixing one track into and out of another they came up with one LP’s worth of material. The Great in the Small that I want to discuss in this chapter is the ‘great in the small’ that the independent music scene has been seen to be by a large number of commentators writing on popular music (Laing, 1985; Peterson and Berger, 1971; Hesmondhalgh, 1996, 1997, 1999; Frith, 1987; Negus, 1992, 1999; Guralnick, 1991; Gillett, 1988; George, 1986; Cook, 2001). These writers and others writing within the popular press suggest that the independent scene has had something more to offer in terms of ‘real’ music and creativity than what is deemed the ‘manufactured’ mainstream. As some of the theorists mentioned earlier have written, this notion is incredibly simplistic, and the relationship between the major labels and the independents and between recordings of quality and emotional affect and those of little cultural or musical value is more complex than a simple division between corporate and independent. This section of the book starts with a discussion of some of the theories of independence that have been put forward by writers from within the ﬁ eld of popular music studies. I concentrate particularly on the work of Keith Negus and Dave Hasmondhalgh, as these have been two writers whose work is often quoted and discussed around questions of independence. This will provide a background of writing about the independent scene from the 1970s to the present day including a brief mention of ideas of independence from the 1950s and 1960s. The chapter then develops by recalling a type of independence that has so far eluded academic discussions. Many academics have discussed Punk and the indie scene as examples of good independent
practice (Hesmondhalgh, Negus) but have missed the true bearers of the independent mantle. This chapter starts by discussing the development of a notion of independence that was forged during the Punk era by bands such as Crass, Poison Girls, Flux of Pink Indians, The Mob, et al. Their idea of independence was to ‘do-it-yourself’, to provide a social and lifestyle infrastructure that supported the development of their record labels, concerts, events, and publications (Crass often produced literature of a political nature to go with their recorded work). This idea of independence was in total contrast to the approach of the media-embraced Punks like the Sex Pistols and The Clash. This type of independent musical production laid down a cultural signiﬁ er of what can be seen as a purer form of independence than other forms that I discuss.