An A-to-Z Guide to Making Your Indie Band Not Suck in 2014

There are already enough terrible bands in the world.

09 January 2014, 11:40am

Image by Cei Willis, corner graphic by Sam Taylor

Indie dudes* in indie bands: Can we just put everything down and stop for a second? Literally everyone else making music: you are OK. Carry on with what you are doing. People making hectic gabber-paced footwork on tablets, layering their voices into shimmering soundscapes using Melodyne, coming up with drone metal/Philly disco hybrids, forming Satanic choirs, learning how to DJ on wind-up gramophones… literally everyone bar indie dudes in indie bands, just keep on keeping on. This A-to-Z is of no use to you. You are already saved: go and treat yourself to a Lion Bar.

Indie dudes in indie bands: This A-to-Z is for you. Read it. Or just keep on staring out of the window, composing lyrics about your ex who won’t give you your skateboard back, while coming up with chord changes that even that bald Mormon sex-case Will Oldham would have thrown away for being too insipid. The choice is yours.

A is for Anarchy: In all creative enterprise there is no authority greater than yourself. The second you start fad chasing you are dead in the water artistically. Plus, unless you’re extremely lucky, it won’t do you any commercial favours either. For example, if your new unsigned band has a triangle in its name as a replacement for the letter A, instead why not form a new band that dresses in giant turd costumes, wears hats made out of plastic dog shits from the joke shop and rename yourself Faecal Fred and the Fucking Turd Hats? You will literally have loads more chance of getting signed/getting an audience than you will by chasing after 2009’s lamest and most insubstantial trend. Think for yourself – it doesn’t cost anything.

B is for Bullshit: Don’t believe in rock mythology. None of it is true. You see Wayne Coyne from The Flaming Lips who wrote "Should We Keep The Severed Head Awake??" and "Oh My Pregnant Head (Labia In The Sunlight)"? Do you know how many times he took LSD ever? Four times. When I was in a band (who you will not have heard of) we used to take LSD at every practice. The more scientifically minded readers among you will be able to find some correlation between these two facts.

C is for Cats: I know you’re sat at home at 4AM firing up another joint and cutting out cat heads from JPEGs and photoshopping them onto pictures of your mates’ bodies as part of your "art". Just pack it in already. This has nothing to do with your music. You are not Jai Paul. Your name is James and it’s time for you to go to bed.

D is for Doges: See C.

A guy setting his guitar on fire (photo by Nick Gazin, corner graphic by Sam Taylor)

E is for Electric Wizard: You are not in Electric Wizard and you never will be with that haircut. Sort it out.

F is for Figures: Most truly great bands look like action figures of themselves. Slayer, Throbbing Gristle, Public Enemy, Mayhem… No one’s going to make an action figure of you while you look like one of Alt-J the day after a stag weekend in Brighton.

G is for Grindstone: Get your nose out of the baggy and apply it to the grindstone. What’s that? You’re going out for a game of pool? No you aren’t – call a band practice. What’s that? You’re going to a farmers' market on your skateboard to buy some eggs? No you aren’t – call a band practice. What’s that? You’re going to get some DMT in and watch Gravity in 3D at the pictures? Shit… that sounds awesome. Can I come? (John at the quietus dot com). But afterwards – get to fucking band practice.

H is for Heroin: Do you know how old Charlie Watts was before he got stuck into the horse? Seventy-six. So until you’ve got several million in the bank and your lead singer is such a colossal bellend that murder or a crippling opiates addiction are the only coping strategies you have left – stay away from the fucking skag.

Pete Doherty, asleep in his rag and bone shop. Photo by Dan Wilkinson.

I is for Irony: I know it’s tough facing up to the fact you’re never going to be in Underground Resistance, Sunn O))), LCD Soundsystem, Wu-Tang Clan or Sun Ra’s Arkestra but that doesn’t automatically give you the right to be in a knowingly woeful garage band who sing songs about Garfield and smoking weed. What's the point in setting out to be a wilfully shit slacker who doesn't care about anything? If it helps focus your mind – imagine your own funeral after a car crash. Pay particular attention to how hysterically grief-stricken your mother becomes during the priest’s eulogy, when he says: “Gav was the bass player in Rizla King who were a bit like Drenge but without the blistering personality and great dress sense.” Your mum doesn’t want you to be in Rizla King. I don’t want you to be in Rizla King. Sort it the fuck out.

J is for John Doran is a fucking idiot: You shouldn’t be listening to anyone – least of all me. See A.

K is for King Krule: Dude. People love you more than money right now. So why do you look like a kid sat in the back of a Prius in the carpark of Barking Wetherspoons forlornly eating crisps till his dad comes out to take him home for tea?

L is for Largactil: Bar clinically prescribed anti-depressants, exercise and talking therapy, you need to immediately cease of all of the stuff you do to paper over the cracks in your psyche. Twenty hours of Capture The Flag at the weekend? No way. Nytol and Syndol aided lie-ins until it's time to go the pub? Uh uh. Nine pints of house bitter per night at your local? Forget it. Smoking so much ganja that you become convinced that Drake is awesome? Stop right now. From this point on, outside of what your doctor says, your music is the only therapy you need. 

M is for MENA: New ground is still being broken in music all the time. It might not be happening in Brooklyn or London but it certainly is in Syria, Egypt and Algeria… start casting your net further afield.

N is for Naked: As an experiment, you and the rest of your band should spend an entire night naked in a room which is empty apart from beanbags, a pack of cards, a riding crop with a feather taped to the end and a bag of ketamine. You will learn a lot about one another.

Cosmo Jarvis, just in case you didn't know what he looks like

O is for The Occult: Take a record that sounds like it was recorded by Cosmo Jarvis. Wax seal it on a Ouija board into a spell sheet written in the ancient Nordic runes of Elder Futhark and only play the songs at special rituals held on sacred days in the Pagan lunar calendar that culminate in blood sacrifice and speaking in tongues. Unfortunately for your record, it still sounds like it was recorded by Cosmo Jarvis.

P is for Post-Punk: The most important thing when it comes to heavily mined scenes from the past is to take inspiration from the spirit, not the sound. If you’re in a band in 2014 that sounds exactly like The Slits, PiL or Joy Division then you have spectacularly failed to grasp what was special about the post-punk movement. If, on the other hand, you are in a guitar band but also listening to the latest dance music coming from black America, the UK underground, MENA countries and Jamaica – while reacting in visceral style to your immediate environment and drawing ideas from the bleeding edge of contemporary underground literature, art, cinema and philosophy – then you might be on to something.

Q is for Queen: If you at least aim to be in a band as awesome as Queen and put a lot of effort into it over a two-year period then I guarantee that you will, at the very least, be loads better than King Krule.

R is for Romance: I love you. I really do. That’s why I want your band to be good and succeed. A world with more great bands than I have time to listen to is my idea of paradise.

S is for Shock: You are suffering from intense need of deprogramming. You have spent your entire life suffering from the misapprehension that Pet Sounds is “important”. Fuck that shit. The notorious CIA-funded proponent of mind control and psychic driving, Dr Ewen Cameron, would probably have recommended several hundred courses of electroshock therapy followed by weeks of solitary confinement and sensory deprivation, paired with a steady diet of LSD, barbiturates, tranquilisers, PCP and amphetamines. But I’m guessing this would be a bit of a stretch. More realistically, why not sit in Bob’s bedroom in the dark, occasionally huff some poppers and think to yourself, '"God Only Knows" is a bit boring, now that I think about it.’

Awkward, guitar-based piggy-back (photo by Andrew St Clair)

T is for TL;DR: For all the many faults that they may have, artistically successful musicians don’t sit round on the internet leaving snide comments because they don’t have time to. Boil down 90 percent of all troll posts and they all have the same message: stop creating. Stop making music. Stop writing. Why did you even bother? Why isn’t this person dead? TL;DR – which boils down to, "You have been creative – this offends my prematurely ingrained sense of failure and apathy." This should be antithetical to how you think – no matter how much it flies in the face of prevailing trends. What I’m saying I guess is be militantly optimistic, have unshakable faith in your own vision and be radically creative at every opportunity. It will probably help to get off the internet altogether. You won’t miss anything. It sucks. It’s full of stupid cat pictures, ashen-faced and bewildered contractors getting beheaded by the Taliban, painful-looking sex and I don’t get what that Doge thing is all about. If it was up to me I’d switch the entire thing off and go and feed the ducks down the park.

U is for Ugandan Discussions: Be more sexy – it’s not going to kill you. And if it literally does kill you – well, at least it's something for the grandchildren to talk about.

V is for Volca: Check these little beauties out. An analogue drum machine (kind of like a pocket TR-808) called Volca Beats, an analogue polyphonic synth (kind of like an even more pocket-sized Micro Korg) called Volca Keys and an analogue bassline composer (kind of like a pocket-sized TB-303) called Volca Bass. They’re plug and play, you can record with them, you can sequence them and as soon as you link them with a headphone cable they sync up and they only cost £120 each. Right now you’re saying, "But I’m in an indie band – why do I need this punchy, affordable, portable gear for making acid, crunk, techno and footwork?" To which I say, "Yes. Exactly."

Some band. I don't know who they're letting off smoke flares in the forest but apparently the red ones signal "Distress".

W is for What Is Your Major Malfunction? So your band is a democracy where everyone gets an equal say? Okay, good luck with that Chumbawamba. You don’t necessarily need to be ruled by a control freak who dictates every aspect of the group but you do need a drill instructor figure who will ensure that regular practice happens, people turn up on time for gigs, no one "accidentally" drinks a bottle of poppers half an hour before the big show at the Hull Adelphi and essentially keeps the show on the road.

X is for The X In Xmas Is A Substitute Crucifix For Christ: If you are in a guitar band with any ambitions towards originality whatsoever then you are in that smallest and most melancholy of groups: people who should not, under any circumstances, listen to The Fall.

Y is for Y-Chromosome: Why aren’t there any girls in your group? Serious question.

Z is for Zacharia: One day – relatively soon, in the bigger scheme of things – the last broadcast of electronically recorded music will happen. These final radio messages from Planet Earth will be the inside edge of a circular ripple of radio waves created during the 20th and 21st centuries travelling outwards into the cosmos for all eternity, as if caused by a tiny pebble dropped into a perfectly still pond. And, eventually, long after the seas have boiled dry, the mountains have crumbled to dust and the last human being has died, this thin, elegant wave will contain the only remnants of what we were. In it will be all of our films, radio, television, electronic communications and internet activity. It will contain all of our art, history, news and entertainment – in all of its stupidity, glory, inconsequentiality and brilliance – heading outwards across the void to the ends of time itself. And riding this wave, out past the Shoulder of Orion, through the Tannhauser Gate, way out into the Hubble Deep Field, will be the tiny pulse of information that your band transmitted, when your demo was played on XFM, encoded into peaks and troughs. And millions of years after the initial transmission a life form will pick up this very fragment of information and this will represent humanity’s first contact with an alien civilisation. And this alien being will think to itself: 'What the fuck is this shit that sounds like Razorlight on a bad day?' Come on, indie dudes – the entire cosmos is listening. Nice up your game!

*I know some women are in unsigned indie bands that totally blow but come on… it’s close to a statistical zero. Indie guys – pull your fucking fingers out.

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