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The look: skinny jeans, Chuck Taylors, perfectly mussed bed-head hair. The music: Modest Mouse, the Shins, Pavement. The ethos: DIY, with a big helping of irony. But the blanket term “indie” represents a culture that has evolved over time, drifting in and out of the spotlight in the mainstream.
As popular television shows adopt indie soundtracks and the signature style bleeds into mainstream fashion, the quirky individuality of the movement seems to be losing ground to mainstream outlets looking to co-opt the indie aesthetic as a marketing tool. In Slanted and Enchanted, Kaya Oakes demonstrates how this phase is part of the natural cycle, charting the historical path of a culture that reinvents itself continuously to preserve its core ideals of experimentation, freedom, and collaboration.
Through interviews and profiles of the artists who have spearheaded the cause of indie over the years, including Mike Watt, David Berman, Kathleen Hanna, and Dan Clowes—as well as mining her own experience as an adherent and participant for the past twenty years—Oakes examines the collective creativity and cross-genre experimentation that are the hallmarks of this popular lifestyle trend. Her visits to music festivals, craft fairs, and smaller collectives around the country round out the story, providing a compelling portrayal of indie life on the ground. Culminating in the current indie milieu of music, crafting, style, art, comics, and zines, Oakes reveals from whence indie came and where it will go next.
"Pinning down the subculture known as 'alternative,' 'underground' or 'do-it-yourself' is a tricky thing: By any of these names, it's something that resists simple definitions even as it begs to be explained. In Slanted and Enchanted, Kaya Oakes settles on the term 'indie' to describe the throngs of artists, musicians, crafters, writers and assorted unclassifiable creative types to whom she ascribes a long list of enviable values, including 'self-reliance, open-mindedness, and the freedom to take creative risks.' It's a project with clear personal stakes for the author: Oakes has long been deeply invested in the culture she chronicles here, publishing her poetry with the small Pavement Saw Press, co-founding the excellent (and sorely missed) arts and culture magazine Kitchen Sink and teaching a class on underground music at UC Berkeley. While she relays indie's development with predictable expertise, she does so with uncommon insight, showing how the many scenes it encompasses (punk rock, riot grrrl, self-publishing and crafting among them) have been originated, reinvented and co-opted over more than 50 years. Her reflections on her own involvement are notably lacking the self-congratulatory tone that often accompanies attempts to define and defend one's own community, and she makes an impassioned, optimistic case for indie's vitality that doesn't assume readers are coming to her book already well versed in the subject. From postwar avant-garde poets to contemporary hipster crafters, Oakes draws compelling connections among the varied 'notes that formed the chord' of independent culture, revealing how they've all grown out of and fed off of one other. She deftly links the seemingly disparate groups that fall within a common cultural community (showing, for example, how the ferocious sounds of '80s Bay Area punk bands were influenced—consciously or not—by the decidedly 'outsider' writings of Frank O'Hara and Allen Ginsberg) and highlights the common threads that have tended to prompt indie surges across social and political climates. It's a comprehensive approach to a subject that is too often reduced to discrete parts, making Oakes' conversations with a full cast of indie stalwarts (including Kathleen Hanna of the influential feminist bands Bikini Kill and Le Tigre, comics artist Daniel Clowes and Jesse Michaels of the seminal ska-punk band Operation Ivy) feel fresh and perceptive . . . Although indie may be increasingly difficult to spot, Oakes testifies that being a part of the real thing is well worth the effort; things that are made and done by hand, with personal investment and a spirit of invention, have 'an inherent sense of value that would be absent if it were a copy of a copy of a copy.' Ultimately, it may be an idea you either trust in or you don't—but in these pages, Oakes is awfully persuasive."—Eryn Loeb, San Francisco Chronicle
“[An] absorbing nonfiction study of indie culture . . . Oakes is no dry outsider. She believes in what she describes, she contributes to it and she speaks its language.”—The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
“[Slanted and Enchanted] is filled with excellent and extensive writing . . . Oakes, thankfully, provides a sustained look at indie culture itself, from the mule-like stamina of Mike Watt (former bassist for the Minutemen and Black Flag) to the institutional significance of punk club 924 Gilman Street, the influence of K Records founder Calvin Johnson and the overlooked politics of Riot Girrl. In the process, Kayes demonstrates that indie culture is way more than 'hipster in skinny jeans' . . . A superb analysis of 21st century culture, along with a breezy but necessary history of the late 20th century indie nation, skinny jeans and all.”—Ryan Bogge, The Toronto Star
"The term 'indie' or to be independent, is an umbrella covering a wide variety of areas. For instance, there are indie bands, indie bookstores, indie movie and even a way of dressing that suggests being indie. However, the concept of what it really means to be indie has been blurred due to recent mainstream appeal and adaptation, leaving the originators of indie culture to question what it means at all. But we're luck, because Kaya Oakes is here to shed light on the subject with Slanted and Enchanted: The Evolution of India Culture . . . She sets out to illuminate the origins of indie culture and the various creative movements within it like music, comics, crafts, literature and publishing. Her prose is straightforward with a smattering of cursing that lends an intelligent, but passionate voice to the book. Despite the length, Slanted and Enchanted is not lacking in information and serves as a manifesto got indie culture and its ideals of DIY, community and constantly reacting against the mainstream. So folks listening to Animal Collective and wearing ironic clothing unite! Pick up this book and discover that you might actually be relevant for once."—Michael Garcia, Synthesis
“Oakes’ entry on underground comics gives a focused history for the uninitiated, while her firsthand experiences in self-reliant publishing provide a unique insider’s view of the struggles to keep such operations afloat. Luminaries such as itinerant bassist Mike Watt, Silver Jews leader David Berman and Ghost World author Dan Clowes give further insight into their respective fields.”—Kirkus Reviews
“As Oakes reminds us, indie culture has a strong history of reciprocity between producer and consumer; it is a creative community that should produce an equal amount of inspiration and consumption . . . Covering musicians, zines, comics, independent presses, and homemade crafts and events, Oakes uses the concept of a creative community as a mediating theme to illustrate how indie culture has oscillated between the music and literary scene throughout the last few decades . . . this will particularly appeal to artists, musicians, writers, and kids with thick-rimmed glasses.”—Library Journal
“[A] lively and highly literate explication of various American indie scenes and art forms . . . [Oakes’] focus on independent publishing and writing provides a worthy parallel narrative to Michael Azzerad’s essential indie music history, This Band Could Be Your Life . . . Oakes begins the book with a much appreciated primer on some of the intellectual forebears of her book’s central characters, including the poets Frank O’Hara and Allen Ginsberg and the revolutionary street theater group the Diggers. As an explanation and excavation of the already fading recent past, it is essential reading.”—Publishers Weekly