According to everyone online – from TikTokers to fashion bloggers – the 2000s are back, baby. And you know what that means: indie is having a resurgence, in its various scattered incarnations. From the indie twee aesthetic (pearls, knitwear, the ukulele) to indie sleaze (gumming MCAT at a CSS show) to Bloc Party and Uffie releasing albums in 2022, indie is “in” again.
But while indie nostalgia might be having an online moment, what about out there, in real life, where real scenes are revived? Do people really want to wear Topshop keffiyehs and listen to the Klaxons? Do we honestly have to return to the various trends invented by millennials slinging around digital cameras sometime between The Strokes’s first album and the second series of Skins?
I headed out IRL to investigate.
First stop, the original indie nucleus: Camden Town. Once the beating heart of bohemian London, the area hasn’t been the same since Pete Doherty moved to Margate to eat mega-breakfasts. I don’t see anyone on the canal dressed like Effy from Skins, nor an errant member of The Kills, but I do see a group of cybergoths trying to buy weed. I ask them if they'll be catching The Kooks at O2 Academy Brixton later this week. They blink at me. I scuttle along to check out the rest of the area.
Camden Market is one of the great philosophical questions of our time. What is it? 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 the hell happened here. Right now, I’m asking myself the same thing. Oh, and there’s no sign of Alexa Chung anywhere.
Next stop: The Hawley Arms – a pub so notorious for indie debauchery that it mysteriously burst into flames in 2008. Back in those days you couldn’t go for a piss without bumping into a member of the Libertines doing a line off the bogs.
The scene around it may have shrunk, but the Hawley has apparently retained its indie credentials. You hear stories of bands like Wolf Alice and Fontaines D.C. popping in for a pint. If any indie revival is going to happen anywhere, it’ll surely happen here. I sit down near a table of students singing along to LCD Soundsystem and The Strokes.
“All my friends are obsessed with 90s and Y2K fashion,” Bebe Katsenes, 21, tells me. “I think indie is the natural progression of that.” Who knows? Maybe there’s life in the old dog yet? Full of optimism and pints of red stripe, photographer Yushy and I catch a train to the more “indie sleaze” side of town. The old hipster heartland: Shoreditch.
That Shoreditch isn’t as good as it used to be is written in shit on the walls of caves. Its scenesters have grown up and moved to Camberwell and Clapton – or else somewhere out in the suburbs – and clubs and bars like Plastic People and the Joiners Arms are long gone. That said, buried between coffee joints and newly-erect Subways, a few relics from the indie sleaze era remain.
We head to Rough Trade East – independent purveyors of great music and old hangout of Dev Hynes back when he was Lightspeed Champion. I march straight up to the sales clerk and ask where he keeps their Teenagers records. He frowns and points to a dark and unloved corner at the other end of the shop.
None of Rough Trade’s punters look remotely likely to start a four-piece indie dance band, and I’m more likely to catch COVID than a member of The Horrors at Ballie Ballerson, so we hop on a bus to Islington in search of a proper indie night out. Because clearly nothing is happening here.
“The indie scene was excessive from start to finish,” says club night promoter Marcus Harris as he ushers us through the doors of The Lexington, Islington. “First it was ketamine and then it was mephedrone, which is what sent things in that nu-rave direction.”
His White Heat clubnight 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 homes of the “indie sleaze” era. Since 2003, they’ve hosted everyone from Alex Turner to Swim Deep and Grimes.
Tonight’s DJ is spinning an eclectic mix of post-punk, leftfield disco, new wave and electro pop. It’s indie music at its kaleidoscopic best – I don’t hear Chelsea Dagger even once. Sure, there are more pissed up students in the house than indie scenesters or celebrity faces, but the spirit of 2008 is alive and well up here on a Friday night – which is to say everyone is steaming drunk and dancing to Hot Chip. So what does Marcus think of the rumoured indie revival?
“I think it could come back, yeah. Bands like Yard Act, DEADLETTER and Opus Kink are doing that sparse guitar thing – and then you’ve got Jockstrap, Working Men’s Club and Double Helix throwing weird synthesisers into the mix.” There you have it – a readymade scene right under our noses. But there’s a difference between the new wave of guitar bands, and true “indie nostalgia”, right? Working Men’s Club are great, but that doesn’t mean MySpace is coming back.
As the DJ drops the Glass Candy remix of “Nostalgia” by The Long Blondes, I look around the dance floor at the blur of 30-somethings and students and wonder if this counts as a scene – let alone the zeitgeist?
So, does any kind of indie revival exist outside the internet? I’ve stalked Camden Market for the spirit of Johnny Borrell, dug through indie pop records at Rough Trade East, even danced myself clean at an iconic indie club night – but I’m still not convinced.
Thanks to social media, trends have the life cycle of a PinkPantheress album. Give it half an hour and we’ll have all moved on with our lives. Indie revival? Nah mate – my money’s on the cybergoths for 2022. Now get me out of this jumper.