Kitchen Sink magazine co-founder Oakes (Writing/Univ. of California; Telegraph, 2007) attempts to unpack the social trends behind the term “indie.”
The author examines the development of modern independent art scenes through a series of tenuously connected chapters. Each entry tackles a different grassroots development, in music, publishing, literature, crafts and comics at the DIY level. As a neophyte’s primer on these topics, the book is successful. 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. Oakes’ enthusiasm for the subject matter is obvious, but the writing is frequently choppy and repetitive. The author’s larger goal of tying threads together to give the reader an understanding of a constantly self-reinventing movement falls flat, and there are few clear links from one chapter to the next. Many close with clumsy wrap-up passages that attempt to integrate the topic into the broader scope or to foreshadow subsequent content. In the final chapter, “Branded,” the author bemoans the commercialization of the culture, citing the rise of Urban Outfitters and the hipster uniform of carefully messed-up hair, ironic T-shirts and Chuck Taylors. Oakes suggests that this is a part of a natural progression: What was once authentic is now a fad, and a new group of innovators will rise to reinvent “indie” at its roots.
While its premises and conclusion may be sound, the book suffers too much in execution to be persuasive.