If you look cool enough, eventually someone is going to talk to you and expect you to talk back; and if you open your mouth and say something like, "David Cassidy is really cool," you are liable to get the foo kicked out of you. And that would be really embarrassing because the indie rock world is populated largely by wussies.

So start somewhere safe: Sonic Youth. You cannot go wrong if you like Sonic Youth. Everybody in indie rock likes Sonic Youth, and those who don't are afraid to admit it. So you can talk all night long about what a genius frontman-guitarist Thurston Moore is, and nobody will ever think you are an idiot or don't know what you are talking about.

Once you've worn out all possible conversation topics regarding Sonic Youth, try these tips:

  • Know that the coolest indie rock band is someone nobody has heard of and is on a label that doesn't even exist yet. That's just the way it works. Of course you can't talk exclusively about bands nobody else knows anything about, and if you go to their shows, no one else will be there.

  • Don't invent bands. If you make up a name, you will give yourself away. You might think, "How can that be?" Again, that's just the way it works. So no cheating.

Depth, not breadth

If you want to look like you know what you are talking about, depth is more important than breadth. And you just need to be deep in one or two places. That is where something like the Trouser Press Guide might come in handy. It's cross-referenced so you can peruse through it and easily pick up information on bands related by history and specifically find out what other bands the members might have been in. That way, when you speak, you transcend simple knowledge by appearing to having a sense of history when you really don't.

For instance, you look up Built to Spill because you've read about them in some indie 'zine. You see that there is this other band cross-listed with Built to Spill called Stuntman. That's a bonus because Stuntman is still pretty obscure. Where you really rack up the points is by pointing out that both those bands arose out of Treepeople. You couldn't pick Treepeople out of a lineup, but you've just linked three cool bands from Idaho. That's right, Idaho. Who the heck is going to doubt your authority after that?

OK, so let's throw an example at you now: you read about Galaxy 500 and the two bands it spawned-Luna, and Damon and Naomi. Then, when you're at the indie rock show, you say:

"Yeah, DEAN WAREHAM is such a LOU REED and VELVET UNDERGROUND disciple. But it's funny because GALAXY 500 was more about the drone, but LUNA has more of the pop-strum feel of Loaded. So he's covered the gamut of LOU's influence in his career. I don't like DAMON AND NAOMI, though. They are way too Lo-Fi (Pause). You know, I saw LUNA open for VU in Prague back in the early '90s on their European reunion tour."


  • First, as in the previous example, you linked two good indie bands (Luna, and Damon and Naomi) to their parent band (Galaxy 500).

  • You referenced them back to Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. That means you were paying attention in the history section of this article, and acknowledged the importance of VU enough to integrate them into your thoughts on indie rock.

  • You recognized the differences between Dean Wareham when he fronted Luna from when he fronted Galaxy 500, and you threw in another VU reference - this time to Loaded.

  • You were careful not to do too much work for your interlocutor. You left him/her an opening to say something like. "Yeah, but Loaded wasn't really a VU record, because John Cale had already left the band by then." You are on fire. If this is a member of the opposite sex that you are talking to, you probably just got yourself a date if you want it.

  • You dissed Damon and Naomi. Good. Don't be afraid to not like someone. But not only did you dis them, you also referenced an indie sub-genre (lo-fi) in your dismissal, and you did it without hesitation. Perfect.

  • You were not done, though. You go for legendary status. You were at arguably THE coolest show of the '90s. You not only knew about that tour, but you were there. Note: if you are currently under 26 years old and you reached for that last one, you blew it. You weren't in Europe when you were 18. You were clearly trying to look cooler than you were. No bigger sin in indie city.