Post-Classical Indie Rock Jams
by Seth Colter Walls | July 15, 2013
In Rhapsody's Indie Goes Classical playlist, we looked at alt rockers who crossed over to play the works of contemporary composers (or who, in some cases, wrote their own classical-ish works). But that's not the only way traffic runs on crossover street. In musicology, "post-classical" describes an era after minimalism, during which experimentation with amplification and outsider rock made some composers seem, well, post-classical. They sounded like they were making rock music with their conservatory skills. And that was just fine with them.
Some composers trained in the very latest polyrhythmic complexity, such as Mikel Rouse, started indie bands in the 1980s. Rouse's was called Tirez Tirez; they opened for Talking Heads and were on the IRS label with a little band called R.E.M.. Tirez Tirez's catalog is out of print, but you can hear Rouse's post-classical indie side on solo albums like 2010's Recess. A cut like "Plug Nickel" may seem deceptively simple: a Talking Heads-ish acoustic guitar-meets-world beat affair. But then the layers upon layers of instruments come in, insisting on strange new rhythmic rounds; or else, on "Dolls & Dreams," a sample of a beeping ATM is looped to make the beat.
When microtonalist composer (and guitarist) David First started the band Notekillers in the late 1970s, he had already played with free-jazz legend Cecil Taylor. And while his no wave band's first single, "The Zipper," would make a big impression on Thurston Moore, that's not their only rightful claim to fame: A track like "Roll Over Stockhausen," with its reference to Chuck Berry, suggests the meeting of rawk-riffing pleasure and hyper-complex modern classical. Rhys Chatham and Glenn Branca have both long worked with ensembles that double as indie-like, guitar-based groups, too.
All the fact that those works have just happened to inspire some of today's most adventurous indie acts gives us a second way to think of post-classical: namely, as a kind of math-y indie that came after the classical kids made their rock moves. Check the skewed riffs on St. Vincent's "Marrow" (or the minimalist arpeggios on her "Surgeon") for confirmation of the post-classical influence. Or how the driving, crushing beat always seems like it's moving around in surprising places during songs by the group Buke and Gase. Meantime, when he's not composing chamber music pieces (like "Linear Tableau with Intersecting Surprise"), Sufjan Stevens' post-classical side still peeks out during his albums of experimental pop (as on The Age of Adz). Find all of these artists -- plus more (like Micachu & the Shapes collaborating with the London Sinfonietta) -- in the appended playlist.