The Top 10 Ridiculous Indie Subgenres

As controversial as they are, musical genres help us better express what we listen to and find artists similar to those we already enjoy. In general terms, you can say you enjoy “rock” or “hip-hop” or “country.” With indie music, you might say “this has a folk sound” or “this is garage rock” or “this is more electronic based.”

And then there are the following.

10. Math Rock

Sounds like it would be: Formulaic rock? Rock about algebra and calculus?

It really is: Rock that has a “choppy” or “technical” sound. The name come from bands that utilize less common time signatures, which I guess involves numbers and therefore math. However, some bands use dissonance, syncopation, and irregular rhythms to create the “math rock sound,” even in 4/4 time. Math rock can either be “you know it when you hear it” or you can meticulously count the time signature in every song.

Examples: (Early) Foals, Battles, Maps & Atlases


9. Post-Rock

Sounds like it would be: Logically whatever comes after rock. Paper?

It really is: Using rock instruments (guitar, bass, drums) to create music that sounds nothing like rock & roll. Most post-rock is instrumental, although some (Sigur Rós) feature vocals or vocal samples (Godspeed You! Black Emperor). The music also tends to be fairly ambient, and post-rock songs tend to run on the longer side (tracks over ten minutes are fairly common). If you ever wanted to combine classical music with rock, congratulations, you’ve found your niche.

Examples: Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky, Sigur Rós


8. Shoegaze

Sounds like it would be: The muzak that you hear in the background at a shoe store.

It really is: Rock that uses heavy guitar effects and ridiculous amounts of distortion to create a droning sound. The name either comes from the “spaced-out” feel of the music that compels band members and listeners to stare at the floor, or from the band using so many effects pedals that they’re always looking down. It may sound boring, but many shoegaze songs have strong melodies beneath the distortion.

Examples: My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Lush


7. Chillwave

Sounds like it would be: Uhhh….

It really is: Electronic music that utilizes looped samples and effects processing with an overall mellow and nostalgic sound. Chillwave (also known as “glo-fi”) is no longer the alien subgenre it once was, and seemingly blew up a few years ago. While some consider the genre to be dead as its mainstays have since branched out and moved away from its relatively simple formula, the label and its influence will likely continue to linger for years.

Examples: Toro Y Moi, Washed Out, Neon Indian

6. Freak Folk

Sounds like it would be: Weird folk music?

It really is: Weird folk music. Freak folk (and its closely associated and equally ridiculously named subgenre “New Weird America”) is basically modern, non-traditional sounding folk with a psychedelic influence.

Examples: Devendra Banhart, (Some) Animal Collective, CoCoRosie


5. 8-Bit/Nintendocore

Sounds like it would be: Songs that sound like Nintendo music. Either that or metal songs about Super Mario.

It really is: music that either uses a real or emulated 8-bit sound chip to add retro arcade game/Nintendo sounds. Nintendocore is arguably a subgenre within 8-bit music (also known as “chiptune”), which further adds to the ridiculousness as it combines hardcore punk and metal with 8-bit sounds instead of being wholly electronic.

Examples: (Early) Crystal Castles, HORSE the Band


4. Folktronica

Sounds like it would be: A combination of folk and electronica.

It really is: A combination of folk and electronica. The “folk” part of this combination tends to be pretty open, meaning there just has to be some degree of acoustic instrumentation in there (or sampling of it). The “tronica” part is a little more predictable, meaning synthesizers and drum loops.

Examples: Patrick Wolf, Bibio, (Early) Four Tet


3. Twee

Sounds like it would be: No idea.

It really is: Cutesy, quirky, indie pop, usually with a slight retro tinge. Twee music tends to be energetic, relatively simple, and usually features innocent lyrics. One magazine called a Belle & Sebasian compilation “25 charming tales of shy girls dabbling in photography and bookish boys dabbling in shy girls,” which essentially sums up the style.

Examples: Belle & Sebastian, Camera Obscura, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart


2. Anti-Folk

Sounds like it would be: Either the opposite of folk or music that rages against the folk.

It really is: folk music that is kind of a spoof of what you’d usually expect from the genre. Just as “anti-art” pushes the boundaries of what is considered art and mocks the pretentiousness of established art, anti-folk lampoons the seriousness of earlier, more political folk. A lot of anti-folk has minimal production and combines acoustic guitars with nonsensical or humorous lyrics.

Examples: (Early) Beck, The Moldy Peaches (Along with solo Adam Green and Kimya Dawson)


1. Slowcore

Sounds like it would be: Intense but really slow hardcore punk.

It really is: indie rock with minimalist instrumentation, a slow tempo, and generally depressing lyrics. The –core suffix is therefore mostly ironic, since it’s more expected with heavy punk or metal. This ridiculous label is only slightly more preferable to the synonymous term, “Sadcore.”

Examples: The Antlers, Low, Red House Painters