Culture | Stuck on Shuffle: From Crystal Zimbabwolf to Sex Mammoth

The naming conventions of indie music – a primer

I heard you were forming a band with your friend James and a guy he knows who plays bass and doesn’t ever shave. Congratulations, that’s pretty cool! You probably already know that you’re going to need a band name, and you’re going to need to call your band something good because no one will come to your show if the flyer says “Me, James, and Beardy on the Bass.” Fortunately for you, the indie music scene these days is a hodgepodge of all sorts of sounds. You can get away with playing just about anything and still call it indie rock.

People love labelling things as many times as possible, so there are a ton of arbitrary sub-categories, and one of the easiest ways to help people figure out which category you belong to is with your band name. Certain kinds of names pop up all the time, and if you have just the right one, you and James and Sasquatch will have an automatic leg-up when it comes time for the industry showcase. The press will heap praise upon you as the best new thing in (insert sub-genre), and once someone tells you what particular brand of indie music you’re actually playing, you can get around to the timeless art of vehemently resisting categorization…but all in good time. Let’s name you!

Like I said, every band name sends a different message. Certain words become very popular from year to year, and if you use them, you will seem superlatively trendy for the shortest amount of time imaginable. For example, last year you were almost guaranteed fame and glory if you had the word “Crystal” in your name. That’s probably played out by now, so if you use it, you’ll look like a loser. That is the nature of the beast. Speaking of, animals are also popular. If you use an animal in your name, you seem woodsy… people will find folksy undertones in everything you write. Sometimes, everybody uses the same animal like they use the same word. (Around 2005, you might have noticed that everyone was “wolf” crazy.) You can also usually get away with just picking an animal that everyone thinks is cool (like Grizzly Bear) or if you have a name that makes absolutely no sense, throw an animal in there and people will think, “Oh, it’s cool. They’re just doing the animal thing.” (Like Department of Eagles).

Buzzwords and animals are nothing compared to the ease of using geographic locations in your name. There is only one rule, but it’s sacred: you can NOT be from the place that you use in your name. (Trust me, that is band name kryptonite. Boston? I rest my case.) After that, it’s all just simple science: your band name already has tons of identifiers associated with it. Places are rich and evocative – everybody knows something about any given place, and even if they don’t, that’s even better because it’s all the more exotic. And because you obeyed the first rule of indie rock band place-naming, you’re not actually FROM the place, so you’ve satisfied the second rule of indie rock band place-naming: irony! It’s worked for countless musicians: Of Montreal, Beirut, Portugal, The Man, Brazilian Girls, and many others as well. Just try counting them – you can’t.

All of the names I’ve suggested so far are typically associated with not-so-intense brands of indie rock. “Post-rock” is more out there. It’s kind of a weird term – it generally means that you’re using rock instruments but you’re not using rock song structures, and there are two basic pathways here: orchestral post-rock (like Sigur Rós) or heavy post-rock (like Explosions in the Sky). I can’t really help you with the former, because I don’t trust those people, but if you’re ready to get heavy, picking a band name is as easy as going outside and picking your favourite thing. It helps if it’s huge because it implies your sound is also huge. It might help to use this simple formula: more huge = more good. Think simple: Tree would be a great name for a heavy post-rock band. Don’t be afraid to get “too big” either. There is a “drone metal” band from Seattle called Earth. You could call yourselves Solar System and one-up them, but if you’re going to play that game, you might as well go whole hog and call your band Universe. In your face, Earth.

There you have it. You could also mix and match and maybe even create a new genre entirely. You’ll be thanking me when everyone refers to you as the next “indie post-freak folk rock buzz band.” And now that I think about it, “Me, James, and Beardy on the Bass” is actually kind of a good name. You’d better let me use it though; it’s not very ironic if you use your actual names.


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