BBC Four celebrates The Story Of Indie

We're always hearing about the seismic shifts the music business is undergoing, but in many ways, this was the first – when the egalitarian independent spirit of punk and DIY broke the stranglehold of the men in suits in the posh offices of the major labels in that there London, creating the soundtrack of our lives along the way.Mark Radcliffe, Presenter
Date: 14.08.2015     Last updated: 14.08.2015 at 12.10
Category: BBC Four
This October, BBC Four tells the definitive story of indie music with a series about the genre that became the soundtrack to a generation.

The channel will broadcast a new three-part documentary series, The Story Of Indie (working title), which charts the evolution of alternative music from the its inception in the late 1970s with the explosion of independent record labels and their associated acts, to the boom of the genre in the ‘80s, onto its demise following the mainstream success of its Britpop successor in the ‘90s, and finally its legacy and influence in the current music scene. This inside story on the pioneering approach to music is a must for music lovers, and features the best songs of the era, archive video footage and exclusive anecdotes from the people who were there and central to the scene.

The series is presented by BBC Radio 6 Music’s Mark Radcliffe and features exclusive interviews with performers including James Dean Bradfield of Manic Street Preachers, Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos, Carl Barat of The Libertines, Happy Mondays’ Shaun Ryder, Suede’s Bernard Butler, ska icon Pauline Black of The Selecter, Holly Johnson of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Buzzcocks’ frontman Pete Shelley and Joy Divison/New Order’s Stephen Morris, plus key music industry figures.

Presenter Mark Radcliffe says: “This is really a story that's been waiting to be told. We're always hearing about the seismic shifts the music business is undergoing, but in many ways, this was the first – when the egalitarian independent spirit of punk and DIY broke the stranglehold of the men in suits in the posh offices of the major labels in that there London, creating the soundtrack of our lives along the way.”

Cassian Harrison, Channel Editor of BBC Four, says: “Following on from the success of BBC Four’s acclaimed Rock ‘n’ Roll America season, comes another new three-part music documentary series on the channel. This time, the focus is indie. The series is a must-watch for music lovers as it is the definitive inside story of the genre of a generation. BBC Four is delighted to celebrate this pioneering musical movement as part of its much-loved Friday night music schedule.”

The hour-long programmes will air on Fridays from early October.

The opening episode of the series explores the origins of the UK’s alternative music scene with the emergence of independent record labels and the eclectic sound hubs they spawned in cities across the country. It starts in 1977 with punk music on the wane, and the seminal release of the Buzzcocks’ Spiral Scratch EP, the first independently produced and distributed release of the era. The Manchester group self-funded an initial pressing of just 1,000 copies, which instantly sold out. The idea of selling records without the support of a major label was born, and kick-started a revolution in the way bands made and distributed their music.

The episode charts the rise of independent record labels across the UK such as Manchester’s Factory, Zoo in Liverpool, Glasgow’s Postcard, and Rough Trade and Mute in London – each with its own identity and associated acts. They began to resonate with a population hungry for new sounds, leading to the emergence of the first wave of DIY bands including Joy Division, Aztec Camera, Echo and the Bunnymen, Big In Japan, and Orange Juice.

Episode two looks at the 1980s, when the independent labels transformed from cottage industries into real businesses that could compete with the majors. It examines the evolution of independent music into “indie” – a guitar-based genre of music with its own sound, fashion and culture. The programme also features the first cross-over of alternative music into the mainstream chart, as well as the fanzines where aspiring music journalists could access their favourite indie stars at the small and intimate gigs where they performed. The episode concludes in the late ’80s and the Madchester scene, which was inspired by indie rock and the emerging acid house rave culture that spawned a new crop of bands such as The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays.

Episode three begins with the original independent labels struggling in the wake of acid house, allowing the major labels to move in on 'indie cool' with Britpop and the subsequent rise of early ‘90s heavyweights Blur and Oasis. Bands with an old indie ethos, such as Suede, were still breaking through but switched from independent labels – creatively thriving, but in crisis financially – to majors which, although conservative, were commercially astute, thus guaranteeing international recognition and success. By the mid ‘90s, this move away from the independents, along with the demise of many of the era’s defining bands as a result of money problems and creative divisions, meant the spirit of the DIY boom had all but gone and for now 'indie' became a genre/sound rather than an alternative approach to making and releasing music.

The series also highlights how many of the acts on the independent scene didn’t have what we now see as the classic 'indie' sound and image, such as ska and reggae label 2 Tone Records, the bubblegum pop hits produced by independent song-writing and producing trio Stock Aitken Waterman, and the multi-million-selling acid house tracks by The KLF. It also explores the current indie renaissance, the enduring appeal of the movement’s first wave of bands, the return of labels such as Rough Trade, and the new crop of independent labels that have learnt from the mistakes of the past and are teaming creativity with commercial success, such as Domino, which manages Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand. It ends with the legacy of this pioneering musical era and an examination of bands today who learnt about music from the artists of the DIY boom.

The series features exclusive interviews with a host of music names including Joy Division/New Order’s Stephen Morris, New Order’s Gillian Gilbert, Buzzcocks’ frontman Pete Shelley, Holly Johnson of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Malcolm Ross of Aztec Camera/Orange Juice, The Jesus And Mary Chain’s Jim Reid, ska artist Pauline Black, The KLF’s Bill Drummond, Cabaret Voltaire’s Richard Kirk, Jayne Casey formerly of Big In Japan, Throbbing Gristle’s Genesis P-Orridge, Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti (all episode one), James Dean Bradfield of Manic Street Preachers, Shaun Ryder, Suede’s Bernard Butler, Stuart Murdoch of Belle And Sebastian, Cocteau Twins’ Simon Raymonde, Talulah Gosh’s Amelia Fletcher (episode two), Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand, The Libertines’ Carl Barat, and Bob Stanley of Saint Etienne (episode three).

The programmes also include interviews with a number of influential music industry figures such as Pete Waterman, Factory Records’ designer Peter Saville, music entrepreneur Seymour Stein, music producer and Mute Records founder Daniel Miller (episode one), former Happy Mondays manager Nathan McGough, journalists Alexis Petridis and Sian Pattenden, record sleeve designer Vaughan Oliver (episode two), James Endeacott formerly of Rough Trade Records and founder of Sony BMG subsidiary record label 1965 Records, Heavenly Recordings’ Jeff Barrett, Creation Record’s Alan McGee, and indie music author Richard King (episode three).

The series is commissioned for BBC Four by Greg Sanderson, Commissioning Editor Arts & Music, BBC TV.