“Indie Fest 2019: Celebration of Underground Music Only”—it said on the brochure as we entered the event with the same level of curiosity as the moment we purchased our tickets. Plastered on the doors was a poster with the words “Playlist check upon entrance: No Healy, No entry.”
As we stood before the concert doors, we caught a glimpse of the unfamiliar scene before us. It seemed there was a competition for the most bizarre hair color. With sullen faces, people softly sang mellow tunes about bright-eyed girls, record shops, and heartbreaks nobody else understood. We found ourselves intrigued by the likeness of the crowd—piercings on their noses and wearing band shirts with the names of artists they claimed others have never heard of: Arctic Monkeys, The 1975, Rex Orange County, and The Smiths. Concessionaires could be seen at the sides selling cheap, photogenic coffee and organic water. A young man with a hologram jacket could be heard loudly lamenting about the poor choice of the photobooth filters, commenting how it was common sense that adding the “grainy effect” would better the aesthetic.
The doors opened; everyone dashed inside. Cuffed jeans, unkempt hair, and Old Skool Vans filled the empty spaces in a flash. We walked by a pair of friends, one berating the other that her nose piercing was not counterculture enough. “Everyone has a nose piercing nowadays, Alaska! Nose rings are practically preppy now,” she threw her hands up in the air. Hoping to know more about this scene, we started a conversation with a guy in an oversized black polo and khaki jeans cuffed thrice—showing off printed socks. His bleached hair was purposely messed up like he didn’t care.
He mentioned that his name was Mattie “with an I”, commenting how baristas at mainstream coffee shops never get his name right. “That’s why I prefer to go to local fair trade artisan coffee pop-up shops where I also get to see my fellow artsy people,” he added.
We asked him which artist he looked forward to seeing the most. Expecting to hear praises for his favorite band, we instead got a different reply, “I’m just here looking for my Ramona Flowers. I feel a really strong vibe from that cute female bassist with green hair over there.”
Joking that they were a band straight from his mom’s basement, the vocalist of the first band explained the first song of the night—a sweet-sounding tune expressing his love for this one girl he saw at a record store who looked just like the girl of his dreams—except she wasn’t a dream; he could not seem to stop thinking about her fishnet leggings and choppy, dyed hair. Earning an appreciative hoot, some people in the crowd talked among themselves—hoping to find the special one in their new match on Bumble, the dating application where you could see similar descriptions like “let’s go to art museums and listen to sad songs.”
Mattie seemed to resonate deeply with the music. “I exchange playlists with the girls I date, and I always have to include this song: ‘Pretty Girl’ by Clairo. I know it might be too indie for some, and I won’t blame them for not knowing it, but I’m sure it makes anyone fall in love,” he said. He admitted that he also composed songs for those whom he felt a special connection with, “It’s all written in a poetry journal that I have to hide from others, though I sometimes share it on my dump account on Instagram. It’s rare to find people who understand me and my craft.”
It wasn’t long before the people nearby noticed us and made friendly introductions. A girl with a pink pixie haircut wearing a baby pink choker and black lipstick recognized Mattie and commented on how frequently he attended these concerts. “I go by Ramonah with an H at the end,” she introduced herself.
All sporting similar oversized shirts, cuffed jeans, and printed socks, the other bands performed one after the other. The crowd enjoyed the music silently—with a small portion humming softly as a loud guitar riff resonated across the venue. No one jumped around or hollered because, Mattie told us, “it wasn’t a cool thing to do.”
Ramonah spoke—recognition in her eyes. “I first heard this song from Mattie’s playlist ‘for u’,” she said, mentioning how he once messaged her on Twitter to offer a playlist because he saw her in a crowd and thought her pink hair reminded him of The 1975’s second album cover, but couldn’t bring himself to talk to her in person. “It’s his classic move; he said he’s too shy to approach women in person. But he would ghost you if you said you know nothing about Mac DeMarco,” she laughed.
As the chorus hit, we noticed Mattie had disappeared. Asking around, we soon found him outside—his cigarette slowly burning away without him taking a hit as he was too busy taking photos of it in seemingly different angles.
“I needed a smoke,” he said as he tried finding the right filter to really make the colors muted and the quality just grainy enough, explaining his habit of saving some change for cigarette money. “It’s like having an automatic routine that you have long unsubscribed to.” Talking more to himself than us, he wondered aloud if that was the reason for his shopping at thrift stores and collecting old records—or because it was popular with his friends.
Mattie’s friends called from inside and excitedly chattered about the main band’s appearance—talking about the startling similarity between the drummer and the vocalist of The Smiths. Following them, we made our way back to the concert.
As we moved through the crowd, we couldn’t help overhearing people’s conversations about how great the band’s last album was. Wanting to ask our friend about it, we turned around to find him gone. We silently wondered if he tended to ghost people in real life too.
Ramonah smiled before pointing at the stage. In the center—dressed in the same oversized polo and cuffed jeans—was Mattie carrying a rhythm guitar. His hair looked even more disheveled as if he wanted it to stand out more.
People shushed one another as Mattie took the mic into his hands, “This is a song for all of us who hide our feelings in the pages of our journals and in the notes of our songs. We’re all just misunderstood people living in the wrong generation. We’re all misfits trying to fit our pieces back together.”
As the concert ended, some went home while others stayed for the after party. Feeling a tap on our shoulders, we turned around to face the guitarist himself. “Tonight was quite the experience. It’s always nice to meet people who don’t listen to Spotify’s Top Hits,” Mattie said as he placed a card on our palms.
The card in our hands glistened under the moonlight with a note from Mattie, “I’d love to show you the real sound of indie. This gig was a little too mainstream for me. I swear on my Fender guitar that the next one will be smaller and more counterculture.”
When asked why he didn’t like mainstream music, he gave a noncommittal shrug and said, “I can’t put it into words. I guess it’s an aesthetic, a feeling. I don’t know, really, but I just feel much cooler being indie.”