By Dale Y the Green Guy
Indie bands and experimental music are all the rage right now. Bands like Toro Y Moi, The Shins, Metz and Bat for Lashes, just to name a few, are hugely popular among Indie fans. At one time they were referred to as “alternative,” but with the coming into prominence of “Nirvana,” the word Indie became the ‘go‘ word to describe that genre’.
Although arguments can be made as to who may have been the first Indie band, a strong case can be made that the Velvet Underground, based out of New York, was the first real alternative band on the scene. Consisting of Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Mo Tucker, this was the definitive line-up during the groups most influential time period in the mid 60’s. They were joined, at times, by Christa Paffgen, better known as Nico, and who was featured on their seminal album, “The Velvet Undergorund and Nico.”
The Velvets, as they were known around town, became the backing band for the legendary artist Andy Warhol and all of his film and musical projects. Warhol liked the Gothic or Bohemian look, and the Velvet Underground embodied this persona in almost every musical composition that they created. Although they could play straight-up raucous rock and roll, the Velvets were known for their slow droning music, a style that John Cale would attempt to get into everything they played.
Cale was the master of the drone, and he would frequently play just one note on a violin for an entire song, slowly pulling and pushing the bow over one string to achieve the desired effect. Reed was usually the lead singer, Morrison would provide backing music and Tucker would play the drums. Her style was unique. She would routinely stand up behind the kit, then turn the bass drum sideways so she could hit it with a mallet, or anything else at hand. This was, without a doubt, the most distinctive drumming style ever played.
Everyone who was anyone listened to the Velvets. Not only was their music evocative, but so were their lyrics. In one song called “Heroin,” Reed sings about the exact feelings of his own rush, and those people that participated in using it knew exactly what he was talking about.
The Velvet Underground never became a mainstream band. They were mostly popular in and around the New York area, but in the music world at large, they were never to be forgotten. Even such bands as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones listened to the Velvets, and without them, the alternative or Indie band movement may never have been born.
Drone along to the Velvet Underground playing Venus in Furs
The Velvet Underground and Nico singing Femme Fatale
The Velvets doing Heroin