These days, the term ‘indie’ is so riddled with contradiction and hypocrisy, just parting with the word almost makes you want to take a scolding bath in bleach.
In the purest sense of the term, it should be defined as independent bands who don’t use some major label conglomerate as a vehicle to facilitate their art. Not some term to define a sound over ethos and while it seems obvious, some of the bands that get lumped into this quagmire would have you thinking otherwise.
Granted, with the scope for independent artists to make a living from their art ever shrinking, over the past two decades indie labels have had to get inventive. The cross-pollination and fine balancing act of art and capitalism being employed to merely stay afloat and exist. Whilst even your staunchest lefty will bemoan such antics, sadly today’s capitalistic framework is something most independent labels are unable to overthrow.
So, when ‘indie’ was actually a thing in the ’90s we had bands like Montreal’s Sofa.
Many before them had plied their trade across North America, adopting the ‘band in the van’ ethos (many still do of course), but many also don’t, merely falling by the wayside in a world where money rules just about everything. These days the margins for existence in such a space are so fine that they are hardly visible.
One way indie labels have survived is revisiting discographies and Sofa, Constellation Records’ first ever signing, have done so here with Source Crossfire. A retrospective release of a different kind, which sees one of the finest independent labels of our time shining the light on a period where it all began. Constellation haven’t been the only ones in 2021, of course. Southern Lord’s Engine Kid is another that springs to mind.
While the cynics may see this as self-congratulation of past glories, let’s be reminded of the term ‘indie’. There was fuck all money to begin with, after all. Just bands surviving and revelling in a world where the bottom line didn’t rule every single thing. A world where bands like Sofa and many others of their time could exist.
In any case, revisiting the past is no bad thing. It’s a chance for those of us who didn’t grow up in this fertile landscape of creativity to discover every inch of its terrain.
Sofa consisted of Brad Todd – singer; Ian Ilavsky – guitarist and Constellation co-founder; Scott Clarkson – bass, and Keith Marchand – drums. IIavsky teamed up with The Besnard Lake’s Jace Lasek at his Breakglass Studios and alongside Harris Newman (Greymarket Mastering), the trio have pieced together this retrospective tour-de-force.
Source Crossfire contains two notable omissions from Sofa’s debut album, Grey, in On/Off and Red Lake. However, filling the void and more comes material from the band’s two self-released cassettes from 1995, which anchors Source Crossfire, highlighting the stylistic range that Sofa clearly possessed.
The unadulterated sonic free-for-all of math, noise rock and cow punk is evident from the outset, with Ch2Chi, Stress and Comma. There are echoes of post-hardcore and noise rock luminaries that run all the way through Sofa’s DNA. The Jesus Lizard, Don Caballero, Killdozer, it’s all here.
They bring such aggression forward in time with The Fence, Monotone and, arguably their finest song, Regret, leaning on the post-hardcore verve of Girls Against Boys. It’s Marchand drums that bend the band’s aesthetic into this elusive, shape-shifting odyssey. So much so that, at times, Source Crossfire feels like a ’90s post-hardcore compilation as opposed to songs produced by the same artist.
And with that, Sofa dial it down with 80000, Current and Travel; songs that dance with the quiet/loud spoken-word build-ups of early ’90s staples, Slint, and Codeine, and later with Shipping News.
On Archlight, Sofa combine all four of the aforementioned styles in this otherworldly tourism of sound that covers every corner of the ’90s North American independent music landscape.
Medicine Hat, Radio One, and So Around, showcases Sofa’s tender streak even further, and on reflection it’s where they flourish the most, carving out an emotional depth that, for the most part, the band eventually moved away from during the songs that would form Grey.
Those unfamiliar with the trans-Atlantic ’90s scene could do a lot worse than spending time with Sofa’s Source Crossfire. In this particular space and time through musical history, it’s arguably the capsule to occupy.
It’s a retrospective that covers all bases, presented in the right fashion. The right way. In many respects, the ‘indie’ way.
Source Crossfire is out tomorrow via Constellation. Pre-order from Bandcamp.