The Fourth of July is, of course, Independence Day, when America celebrates the occasion, back in 1776, when it declared its independence from Britain. As of this year, however, it is also Independents Day, a worldwide celebration of a different kind of liberty: that from Sony BMG, Warner, EMI and the Universal Music Group, who together constitute the major record labels. It didn’t even take a revolutionary war.
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Thanks to falling sales and illegal downloads, current tales regarding the music industry are usually those of doom and gloom. Yet while it faces these same problems, the independent sector – a concept now entirely separate to that of indie music, many of whose leading purveyors are signed to one of “the big four” – appears to be in an increasingly rude state of health.
Independents have always done well in terms of critical acclaim and this shows no sign of changing, independent- signed acts having won the UK’s prestigious Mercury Music Prize four out of the last five years. Yet Domino, Rough Trade, Warp, XL and the numerous others who together now constitute over a quarter of the global music market, are now competing with considerable success on a commercial basis too. Whereas artists traditionally began on an independent before moving to a bigger label, they are now often staying put – or even, as with Radiohead, moving in the opposite direction.
Alongside Thom Yorke and cohorts, the independent sector now boasts such similarly big hitters as Paul McCartney, Arctic Monkeys, Björk, The White Stripes, Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party and The Strokes, as well as high-profile new arrivals such as Adele and Vampire Weekend. So whether independent labels to you epitomise the romantic spirit of rock ’n’ roll, or you’re simply a fan of decent tunes, this is a phenomenon worth celebrating. Independents Day offers various ways to do just that, from Channel 4, MTV2 and Xfm programmes to an auction of music memorabilia that is apparently the largest ever held on eBay. Most tangible, however, are the compilation albums being released across the world on 4 July, the fact that they are available in the shops for just three days intended to bestow upon them collectors item status. Not only do the proceeds go to music-related causes, but the CDs themselves offer a snapshot of the state of contemporary independent music.
The UK Independents Day release is a double album, with the first CD featuring cover versions of independently released songs from a stellar line-up that includes The Futureheads, Maximo Park, Jack Peñate and The Charlatans. The Prodigy take on “Ghost Town” by The Specials, and Jarvis Cocker teams up with The Gossip’s Beth Ditto for an assault on Heaven 17’s “Temptation”.
The second disc, meanwhile, comprises up-and-coming bands, largely chosen by the artists on CD1. These songs, in a sense, serve as an even stronger indicator of the strength of the independent sector, featuring the post punk of Shrag to the dark electro of A.Human. And with Independents Day now to be an annual event, these, of course, are the potential CD1 artists of the future.