Indie's Biggest Badasses
by Stephanie Benson | March 6, 2013
For those who may question indie music's badassery, let us now list a few of the genre's smartest, boldest, most positively resolute don't-f*ckin'-mess-with-them-or-their-craft artists. Without futher adieu:
1. Nick Cave
The Numero Uno badass in our book, this gothic eccentric from Down Under has successfully tantalized both ears and minds for over three decades now with some of the creepiest, eeriest, sleeziest, bawdiest, most cerebral and complex music around via The Birthday Party, Grinderman and his work with The Bad Seeds. (See their new one, Push the Sky Away.) Plus, he pens award-winning novels, writes screenplays, scores movies, acts in movies, and doesn't seem to be slowing down one bit.
Badass Quote: To the question "What's the deal with re-forming Grinderman for Coachella?", posted by a fan on Twitter: "Every other sh*tty band is doing it, why not someone who's actually good."
2. Karen O
Let's just list this out: She appeared on a track with a deceased Ol' Dirty Bastard ("Strange Enough". She covered Led Zeppelin alongside Trent Reznor ("Immigrant Song") and made it even more salacious. She collaborated with dirty girl Peaches and Jackass Johnny Knoxville. She yaps and babbles like a kid on the soundtrack she created for Where the Wild Things Are. And oh yeah, she fronts one of the most successful and critically hailed badass rock bands of the '00s. Hell yeah yeah yeah.
Badass Quote: Regarding the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' upcoming fourth record: "The title track, 'Mosquito,' is literally about mosquitoes. I'm surprised that there aren't more songs about them out there. I have a pretty passionate hatred of them." [Via Pitchfork]
3. Ian MacKaye
Oh, ya know, he just fronted a couple of the most influential hardcore punk bands of all time (that'd be Minor Threat and Fugazi, for the uninitiated). He cofounded one of the most influential DIY independent labels of all time (D.C.-based Dischord Records). And he's still admonishing authority and injustice via indie rock duo The Evens. And he don't smoke and he don't drink.
Badass Quote: "The thing you have to understand about me is I care, but I don't give a f*ck." [Via Exclaim]
4. PJ Harvey
When a woman moans a line like "I'll make you lick my injuries / I'm gonna twist your head off, see," do you really even have to question her badassery? And that was 20 years ago. Since, she's released a half-dozen or so albums that have earned her numerous nominations and accolades. Her last, Let England Shake, was one of the best of 2011, and offered more biting lines, like "What if I take my problem to the United Nations?" Bonus points: She dated fellow badass Nick Cave. And broke his heart.
Badass Quote: "For me, music is something that is very sexual. It's a turn-on. It's not something to do with your head, it's to do with your body, which is a very sexual instrument." [Via Q Magazine]
5. Bradford Cox
The self-proclaimed "little, tiny punk person" is the brain behind psychedelic noise-rockers Deerhunter and the ambient dream-pop project Atlas Sound, both critically acclaimed, both outrageous live. He writes in stream-of-consciousness style, which also seems to guide his performances, like in 2012 when he covered "My Sharona" for an hour after a request from an audience member. Below is his badass response to that, um, performance.
Badass Quote: "No one else f*cking allows themselves to become unhinged. If it's frightening to people, then those people seriously need to look at the mediocrity they subscribe to." [Via Pitchfork]
6. St. Vincent
Look at that sweet, Snow White face and you'd never guess that this woman can shred like nobody's business (just check out this Big Black cover for evidence). Sure, being associated with The Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens may not immediately elicit badass status, but she's proven it since with a stellar solo career (plus a duet album with alt hero David Byrne). She may have a sugar-lined singing voice, but you'll be sufficiently unnerved when she slyly purrs visceral lines like "Come cut me open."
Badass quote: About the inspiration for her stage name, the hospital where Dylan Thomas died: "It's the place where poetry comes to die. That's me." [Via The New York Times]
7. Ariel Pink
One of the most prolific indie oddballs of the '00s, Ariel Pink has transformed from cult star to indie darling, and has helped bring avant-garde lo-fi rock back into the indie topography, influencing a slew of artists over the last decade. On his most commercially successful album to date, 2012's Mature Themes, he sings about "testicle bombs" and "blowjobs of death," then does an awesome cover of Donnie and Joe Emerson's "Baby." That juxtaposition alone is something only a badass could get away with.
Badass quote: "I just don't like the institutions. I have a chip on my shoulder about lots of things. Authority and stuff like that. It sucks. It's bullsh*t. Everything … the world is evil." [Via The Fader]
8. Cat Power
The rough times of Ms. Chan Marshall are well documented, and even just recently she had to cancel a tour because of health and financial problems. But this badass still presses on, even after public breakdowns and breakups, and she's got nine albums under her belt, the last, 2012's Sun, one of her best and most experimental.
Badass quote: "I don't want anyone ever producing me unless I'm giving my soul to them. Like unless they're writing the songs and I love them so much and I want them to f*cking tell me what to do. But I'll never do that." [Via Pitchfork]