Does the Indie Sleaze Revival exist in real life? Investigation
According to everyone online — from TikTokers to fashion bloggers — the 2000s are back, baby. And you know what that means: indie is experiencing a resurgence, in its various scattered incarnations. From indie twee aesthetics (beads, knits, ukulele) to indie sleaze (MCAT scrub at a CSS show) to Bloc Party and Uffie releasing albums in 2022, indie is once again “in”. “.
But while indie nostalgia might have a moment online, what about out there, in real life, where real scenes are brought to life? Do people really want to wear Topshop keffiyehs and listen to the Klaxons? Do we honestly have to go back to the various trends invented by millennials walking around digital cameras between The Strokes’ debut album and the second set of Skins?
I headed to IRL to investigate.
First stop, the original indie core: Camden Town. Once the beating heart of bohemian London, the neighborhood hasn’t been the same since Pete Doherty moved to Margate to eat mega-breakfasts. I don’t see anyone on the channel dressed like Effy from Skins, nor a wandering member of The Kills, but I see a bunch of cybergoths trying to buy weed. I ask them if they’ll catch The Kooks at the O2 Academy Brixton later this week. They blink at me. I rush to discover the rest of the area.
Camden Market is one of the great philosophical questions of our time. What is that? Who is it for? What does it mean? A thousand years from now, archaeologists will unearth two giant Cyberdog statues and a bronze Amy Winehouse from the bottom of the canal and wonder what happened here. Right now, I’m wondering the same thing. Oh, and there’s no sign of Alexa Chung anywhere.
Next stop: The Hawley Arms, a pub so famous for its independent debauchery that it mysteriously caught fire in 2008. Back then, you couldn’t go take a piss without running into a member of the Libertines doing a line out of the bogs.
The scene around him may have shrunk, but the Hawley has seemingly retained his indie credentials. You hear stories of bands like Wolf Alice and Fontaines DC coming in for a pint. If an independent revival is going to happen anywhere, it will surely happen here. I sit near a table of students singing along to LCD Soundsystem and The Strokes.
“All my friends are obsessed with 90s and 2000s fashion,” 21-year-old Bebe Katsenes tells me. “I think indie is the natural progression of that.” Who knows? Maybe there is still life in the old dog? Full of optimism and pints of red tape, photographer Yushy and I take a train to the more “indie sleaze” side of town. The old heart of hipsters: Shoreditch.
This Shoreditch ain’t as good as it used to be, it’s written in shit on the cave walls. Its backstage has grown and moved to Camberwell and Clapton – or elsewhere in the suburbs – and clubs and bars like Plastic People and the Joiners Arms are long gone. That said, buried between cafe joints and newly erected subways, there remain a few relics of the indie sleaze era.
We’re headed to Rough Trade East – independent purveyors of good music and Dev Hynes’ former lair back when he was Lightspeed Champion. I go straight to the seller and ask him where he keeps his teenage records. He frowns and points to a dark, unloved corner at the other end of the store.
None of the Rough Trade punters seem remotely likely to start a four-piece indie dance band, and I’m more likely to catch COVID than a member of The Horrors to Ballie Ballerson, so we get on a bus to Islington looking for a good indie night. Because clearly nothing is going on here.
“The indie scene was over the top from start to finish,” says club night promoter Marcus Harris as he ushers us through the doors of The Lexington, Islington. “It was first ketamine, then mephedrone, that sent things in this nu-rave direction.”
His White Heat club night is London’s longest running indie party. Along with Erol Alkan’s Trash and Did We Mention Our Disco, it counts as one of the spiritual hotbeds of the “indie sleaze” era. Since 2003 they have hosted everyone from Alex Turner to Swim Deep and Grimes.
Tonight’s DJ delivers an eclectic mix of post-punk, leftist disco, new wave and electro pop. This is indie music at its kaleidoscopic best – I haven’t heard Chelsea Dagger once. Sure, there are more pissed off students in the house than indie scenes or celebrity faces, but the spirit of 2008 is alive and well here on a Friday night – that is, everyone is drunk and dancing to Hot Chip. So what does Marcus think of the indie revival rumor?
“I think it might come back, yeah. Bands like Yard Act, DEADLETTER and Opus Kink do this sparse guitar stuff – and then you have Jockstrap, Working Men’s Club and Double Helix throwing weird synthesizers into the mix. There you have it, a ready-to-use scene right under our noses. But there’s a difference between the new wave of guitar bands and true ‘indie nostalgia’, isn’t there? Working Men’s Club is great, but that doesn’t mean MySpace is coming back.
As the DJ drops Glass Candy’s remix of “Nostalgiaby The Long Blondes, I look around the dance floor at the blur of 30-somethings and college students and wonder if that counts as a scene — let alone zeitgeist?
So, is there some sort of independent revival outside of the internet? I’ve stalked Camden Market for the spirit of Johnny Borrell, delved into the indie pop records of Rough Trade East, even danced clean at an iconic indie club night – but I’m not still not convinced.
Thanks to social media, trends have the life cycle of a PinkPantheress album. Give it half an hour and we’ll all have moved on with our lives. Indie revival? No mate – my money is on cybergoths for 2022. Now get me out of that sweater.