Indieplaza Comes to Rockefeller Center

A free two-day music festival reflects the strength of the independent music scene

| 09 Sep 2022 | 01:02

Indieplaza will take over Rockefeller Center on the weekend of September 17-18. A free two-day music festival hosted by Rough Trade and Rockefeller Center, indieplaza will feature several emerging musicians and is poised to reflect the ferocity of the independent music scene in New York and beyond.

Headlined by hip-hop pioneer and former A Tribe Called Quest member, Ali Shaheed Mohammed, the inaugural edition of the outdoor festival will also put the spotlight on many new artists who are making genre-meshing music. Among these are the New Wave band Automatic, the singer-songwriter Claud and the Chicago garage rock trio Horsegirl, as well as the local musician June McDoom and the Queens-born R&B musician, Yaya Bey.

Several other artists will perform, including the acclaimed harpist/composer Mary Lattimore and the hip-hop group They Hate Change, yet headliner Mohammed’s appearance is especially notable.

The quiet one from A Tribe Called Quest, the acclaimed Queens-rooted hip-hop group, Mohammed often stood at the back of the stage, modestly spinning turntables on iconic tracks like the Lou Reed-sampling “Can I Kick It?”

But he will stand center stage at Rockefeller Center. What the Brooklyn-born producer will play, whether it be Tribe gems such as “Award Tour” or “Electric Relaxation,” isn’t clear but he will almost surely spin heads.

“I Love Pop Music”

The billing of art pop musician Sofie Royer, is also notable. The Vienna-based artist may not be as well known yet as a Grammy winner like Billie Eilish or a New York mainstay like Laurie Anderson, but her pop is beguiling.

Having begun playing the violin at age four, Royer has a background in classical music and reminds that the genre was essentially the pop music of previous centuries.

“I love pop music,” she says by phone. “I was always listening to exclusively classical music. I think pop shares a lot of semblance of elements with classical music. At one point in time, classical music was the popular music and, in a similar vein to hip-hop, it really ends up marrying a lot of different kinds of genres in terms of chord progression or sampling.”

In 2020, Royer released her debut album, “Cult Survivor” (Stones Throw), and displayed a simultaneously cerebral and warm pop. Opening with the melancholic California tale, “Hollywood Walk of Fame,” Royer singing, “Doesn’t matter what you say,/They’ll make a dollar of you anyway,” the record echoed one-time New Yorker and contemporary master songwriter Lana Del Rey’s “Born to Die” while conveying Royer’s impressive balladry.

In two weeks, Royer will release her second record, Harlequin (2022, Stones Throw), and preview tracks including, “Schweden Espresso” and “Feeling Bad Forsyth Street,” have garnered praise.

The fact that Royer, like other artists performing at indieplaza, is already unveiling new work not long after her debut proves that independent music is burgeoning and alive. The words “independent” and “indie” may be thrown around a lot, their definition not always clear but, as Royer says, within the context of the upcoming festival, it means “music that isn’t released by major labels.”

Independent Spirit

Rough Trade, the London-rooted record store/venue that opened its Rockefeller Center location last year and is co-hosting the festival, embodies an independent spirit. Holding thousands of records that sit next to stages that several revered artists, from punk rockers to rappers, have played, Rough Trade has become a home for independent music.

As Stephen Godfroy, one of the owners of Rough Trade, says of the festival via video chat from his Oxford home, “One of the reasons we decided to relocate to Rockefeller was the opportunity to activate a number of their iconic spaces in the name of indie music and, so far, we’ve had some fantastic live shows in the Rainbow Room, bringing audiences to a space that they previously or otherwise hadn’t thought of or been able to visit.

“I think that that kind of democratizing of these spaces is very important, and I think we continue to do that with Rockefeller. And [the idea of having the festival take place] in the world-famous plaza area for a weekend is a fantastic opportunity for us to do that in a way that is more than 300 people in a room. It enables us to reach a few hundred-thousand people who will be in the area that weekend.”

Godfroy continues that the festival will provide “a platform for these up-and-coming and new artists, to reach audiences and to introduce them to ears that they may not have heard, to be that intermediary. It’s a fantastic opportunity for us to do that.”

In the end, Godfroy hopes that “people feel like they discovered something, that they discovered something positive as a result of the visit. And hopefully there will be a number of artists that they will discover on both days that they maybe previously had been unaware of. That’s our role: introducing people to exciting new music, and those people continue to support those artists in the months and years ahead.”