indie rock rocks

Step Outside Your Musical Box: Indie Rock

I’m always amused at the consistent responses that I see on indoor cycling forums whenever someone asks for suggestions of rock songs. Without fail, it’s always AC/DC, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen, Rolling Stones…as if there hasn’t been any new rock music created since the ’90s or even earlier. The truth is, there has been a lot of rock music written since then, and it’s really good!

My playlists are rock oriented and feature new songs by current artists. They typically fall into the “indie rock” genre, which Wikipedia defines as “varying musical approaches [not] compatible with mainstream tastes.”

Let me share a few of my favorites with you, ones that lend themselves very well to indoor cycling.

Some new rock music is retro, reminiscent of the classic rock that you may be more familiar with. An example of this type of artist is The War On Drugs (TWOD). The band is led by Adam Granduciel, whose voice sounds like Bob Dylan. But, Adam can wail on his Fender guitars much better than Dylan ever could. There are also noticeable influences from Dire Straits and Neil Young’s Crazy Horse on their recordings. TWOD’s 2014 release, Lost in the Dream, was one of that year’s top albums. It included a song that I’ve used many times in my playlists, “An Ocean in Between The Waves.” Clocking in at 7:11 at 83 bpm, it’s perfect for a long, flat road into a headwind that gets progressively stronger. Resistance is added throughout the song while maintaining a constant 83 rpm cadence driven by the drums, as Adam’s lyrics give way to his guitar.

Some newer rock music takes its influence from older rock, but sounds completely different. M83 is an artist that exemplifies this style. M83 is composed of Anthony Gonzalez, a French electronic rock musician, along with  other band members that vary. They are equally influenced by Daft Punk as by The Smashing Pumpkins. M83’s 2011 album, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, was a masterpiece. The breakthrough single, “Midnight City,” brought Anthony from playing small clubs to selling out large arenas. There are many songs from that album that I’ve used in my classes, mostly for climbs, including “Reunion,” “Year One, One UFO,” “Steve McQueen,” and “Outro.”

My current favorite M83 song for indoor cycling is from the recent Junk release.Not my favorite album by the band, but there are a few good songs and one great one, “Go!,” which is ideal for cycling classes. It’s 3:55 at 91 bpm, perfect for a fast flat. Guest vocalist Mai Lan counts down from 8 three separate times—it’s almost as if the song was created just for indoor cycling! At the end of the countdown, have your riders execute a high-intensity surge or sprint. The first two countdowns precede 20-second choruses. The third countdown leads right into a 50-second guitar solo by iconic rock guitarist Steve Vai. Blending old with new, it makes for a perfect timed interval in any class.

Many indie rock songs bear little resemblance to that good old-time rock and roll but they are still nice to use for indoor cycling. They tend to use current technology (digital synthesizers and computers) to generate their music, mixing in guitars, bass, drums, pianos, and vocals. There are many bands that fit this description but the best for indoor cycling is LCD Soundsystem. The band is fronted by James Murphy and they expertly fuse electronic music with punk rock. Critics love them, but more importantly, so will your classes. Most of their songs are fairly long, more than 5 minutes, and they build in intensity or even increase in bpm throughout.

Several of LCD Soundsystem’s songs work great for a steady climb that leads into a surge up a hill. Examples include “Yeah (Crass Version),” “North American Scum,” “Us v Them,” “You Wanted A Hit,” and “Home.” It’s hard to pick just one song of theirs to mention as my favorite, but I’ll try. “All My Friends” was selected as the second-best song of the 2000s by Pitchfork magazine. It’s 7:37 and 142 bpm. It starts with just a lone piano loop and more instruments and energy are added over the course of the song. The song works well for a final climb, with cadence dialed in to 71 rpm. The hill becomes steeper and steeper, adding load as the band adds layers of sound. I’ve received positive feedback on it from the most unlikely of riders.

There are literally thousands of fantastic current rock songs that can be used for indoor cycling. Rather than list too many of them for ICA readers to sift through, I’m going to recommend just a few of the best, in addition to the suggestions above. Listed below are some of my all-time favorite current rock songs (as defined by a song released within the last 10 years by an artist who is currently performing), along with the length, bpm, and suggested terrain/intensity.

Our SOYMB Indie Rock Playlist below has almost 200 tracks to choose from. For more, I recommend you click on the artists and explore even deeper into their repertoire.

I’m fortunate that many of my members are open-minded enough to enjoy listening to new rock music—or at least they don’t complain about it to my face! They get the opportunity to hear some great new music that they won’t hear elsewhere, in any other cycling classes or rarely on any terrestrial radio station.

The best part about using current rock music in your playlists is that there are new songs being released constantly to keep your classes sounding fresh. I encourage you to step out of your musical box, open up your ears, and try something new and different.


  1. I do have an answer to Bonnie Gretzner’s question re the Spotify song time going away. If you double click on the right side time as it shows up, it will stay!

  2. I too love indie rock and have played quite a few of these (but not all, so I love getting new ideas and will give this a listen). I also highly recommend Airborne Toxic Event.

    Since this is on spotify, can I ask a spotify question, since I can’t seem to find an answer – is there any way to get the song times to stay on the song? every once in a while it stays, but I can’t figure out why, but most of the time the song time still disappears – would have thought this would be fixed by now…

    1. Author

      Great reminder. TATE’s “Somewhere Around Midnight” is an iconic indie song for indoor cycling.

      Sorry, I can’t help with the Spotify question. I mix all of my playlists using Mixmeister and only use Spotify to discover new music and to share this playlist. Maybe someone more familiar with it than me can respond.

      1. I love TATE and use them often. I get more riders ask for the song information after class when I use them than I do for any other artists.

  3. What a great playlist! Happy to say many of these artists are favorites of mine but I have been reluctant to use them in my classes. Thank you for the carte blanche! 🙂

    1. Author

      Absolutely. If these songs move you, using them in playlists will help you to motivate your classes. I’d have no enthusiasm in my classes if I had to play all Top 40 pop pablum. Consider sprinkling in some of these gems, or others that you enjoy. People tend to like music that they’re familiar with, which doesn’t apply to the songs on my list. So, mixing a few of these in with tunes that your riders are more accustomed to may be the right approach.

  4. Great suggestions! I’m proud to say that I already have a couple of these bands in my playlists. Hope you don’t mind if I add to your list: Neon Trees (song: Trust); Nico Vega; She is We; Bleachers.

    1. Author

      Thanks for the suggestions, although I don’t think that Neon Trees meets the non-mainstream criterion since”Everybody Talks” was played incessantly on Top 40 radio :).

  5. Some really nice music on this list. I like it.

    1. Author

      Sure, feel free to contribute any songs that meet our criterion (less than 10 years old non-mainstream rock by an artist that is currently performing) to the list if you have suggestions.

  6. thanks a ton Bill. A lot of research, effort and time put into this gem.

    1. Author

      You’re welcome. The research, effort and time made for a very pleasant experience: listening to music that I love, writing about music that I love, and riding to music that I love.

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