This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.
It takes a good few years after a cultural wave has crested, broken, and washed up on a mobile phone advert before we’re able to contextualize it properly. Now that it's been over a decade since indie had its heyday, the strength with which it’s been cemented into the aging pores of cultural history is beginning to emerge.
Between the indie amnesty hashtag that dominated Twitter for most of yesterday, and a Noisey article in which Johnny Borrell reflects on the genre’s lowlights published the day before, indie has been trending for 48 hours straight in The Year of Our Lord 2016. Sure, the revisitation may have arrived dressed in an ill-fitting blazer of irony (because all music trends stem from youth culture, and youth is defined by embarrassment and poorly informed fashion choices), but under the veneer of “dirty laundry” there was also a discernible sense of sincerity. As though people weren't just embarassed about having sentiently purchased a signed Little Man Tate seven-inch, but also weirdly proud to have kept it in their record collection for so long. So what exactly is it about indie that makes us reflect on it with such misty-eyed nostalgia? What makes us wax so lyrically about an era defined by winklepickers, heinous collections of cardigans, and polyphonic ringtones of “Don’t Look Back into the Sun”?
For me, indie was the thing that happened between the decline of commercial emo and where we’re at now—which can loosely be defined as the “thinkpiece pop” years, or the grand ascendance of Future Hendrix. I turned 15 the year The Libertines released their self-titled album, and although it was undoubtedly the sound that shaped my latter-adolescence, I was definitely a fairweather indie who dipped my toes into the best of it without fully investing.
At Reading Festival 2007, I watched Hadouken! into New Young Pony Club into Jamie T into CSS into LCD Soundsystem into Klaxons (missing Brand New, my favorite band of all time, in the process). But I was equally there for Fall Out Boy. I didn’t own a blazer or a satchel, nevermind adorn them with band badges. I didn’t get Libertine tattooed on my chest, as one of my best friends did. I never went to an NME Tour, and I thought The Pigeon Detectives were shit. The most stereotypically indie thing I did was attend a Patrick Wolf concert in a waistcoat, and even then I didn’t feel entirely confident about it.
Nevertheless, indie was unavoidable. It spilled over the boundaries of genre to engulf the entire country. Skins took everything that was happening in that particular corner of youth culture and reflected it back at us to the tune of The Gossip’s canonical “Standing in the Way of Control;” The Horrors made an appearance on The Mighty Boosh two years before Primary Colours propelled them to wider credibility and recognition; and Kaiser Chiefs and Franz Ferdinand provided the same toneless soundtrack for lads to chant at football games as Pulp and Blur had the decade previous.
Around the same time, grime had started to pop off too. Dizzee Rascal’s Boy in Da Corner came out one year before The Libertines self-titled. Lethal Bizzle collaborated with Babyshambles and performed at the inaugural Underage Festival—London’s de-facto music event for 13 to 17-year-olds—sandwiched between Matt & Kim and Late of the Pier. Kano went on to work with Damon Albarn and Kate Nash on London Town. For a time, these cultures almost coexisted. But until grime started to creep back in a few years ago, indie was arguably the last significant shift to take place in British culture. Not just because it represented the dominant music taste within the young generation, but because their dress sense, their life, was informed by it too. Where the flat-peaked Nike cap and Air Max trainer combo has become the staple uniform for today's teens, the overgrown children of yore couldn't leave the house without buttoning up their shirt to a respiratory threatening level.
Yesterday's hashtag revealed that—just like grime, or dubstep, or drum'n'bass—the indie music scene in Britain was something that, inherently, belongs to Britain. As soon as Americans began to infiltrate the indie amnesty hashtag with their musings on Pavement and Bright Eyes, the country almost tilted off its axis from the amount of people in the UK shaking their heads in dismay. Which, I guess, is where the cultural divide between UK and America/Canada comes in. The Strokes were too objectively cool for us to relate to; The Killers were too bombastic—destined to be stadium rock stars; and Crystal Castles were too brilliantly batshit to represent anything logical let alone tangible. But in the UK, there were relatable people representing experiences middle-of-the-road kids could recognise. I guess it helped that the genre's biggest star, Pete Doherty, rarely left the frontpage of the newspaper for a good few years too. In the process he became a household name and solidified the genre until it become impossible for the British public to ignore. It's hard to imagine that happening with Stephen Malkmus.
Yet perhaps one of the reasons indie felt so “British” is because it wasn’t bound by geography. The Libertines and Bloc Party may have held it down for London, but groups like Arctic Monkeys, The Kooks, The Automatic, Franz Ferdinand, The Cribs, The Wombats, and The Ting Tings represented the rest of the country. For many of them, their discernable regional accents weren’t even incidental—they were the whole appeal. Although it wasn’t without its problems, the genre wasn’t entirely roadblocked by white dudes either—a crime very much perpetrated by its cultural predecessor, mainstream emo. The Gossip, Kate Nash, Lightspeed Champion, Bloc Party, Crystal Castles, The Magic Numbers, Cajun Dance Party, The Kills, CSS, New Young Pony Club, The Von Bondies, Metronomy… the list is endless. Indie was a platform where the voices of women, people of colour, and the LGBT community shouted alongside straight white men with big hair.
The culture that accompanied indie music in the UK was so specific. For anybody who lived through indie in Britain, the very mention of it will start a fire in your belly, taking over your whole body and forcing you to frantically Google search “Naive” on the bus while rattling off a thesis about A Decade In The City. It will render you incoherent with feels as you try to proffer all your deepest, darkest secrets at once—whether your crime was playing an in-store at Beyond Retro and accepting payment in clothes, cheating on your partner with a Zuton, or being in The Coral. If the indie amnesty hashtag taught us anything, it’s that plenty of us are bound by the experience of simply being young and alive in the UK between 2003 and 2008. That’s pretty unique.
But all silver linings have a dark cloud, and what started as a magnificent renaissance and redefinition of the idea of “the band” quickly descended into the Topman-branded hellfires of what became known as “Landfill Indie.” That’s your “Boys Will Be Boys” and “Sex is on Fire” and the second Razorlight album, which even Johnny Borrell thinks “opened the way for a flood of mediocrity in UK music.” Although some groups—be it Remi Nicole, Bloc Party, or CSS—made indie an all-encompassing genre, inclusive of different backgrounds, by the time landfill indie came around it had been white-washed once again. Perhaps that's why we all moved on to pastures new. Isn't music that's inherently made for one very specific group of people often the most boring? Now all that remains is Ricky Wilson’s presence on The Voice.
Who knows, maybe enough time has passed that 00s indie will be the next massive cultural regurgitation. Maybe The Long Blondes and The Paddingtons will join forces on a McBusted style tour. Maybe boys will start pairing their girlfriend’s skinny jeans with battered boat shoes, and Camden will be great once again. Or, slightly less depressingly, maybe we’ll all end up in a retrospective BBC music documentary 40 years from now talking about how Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not and Myths of the Near Future were The Queen Is Dead of our generation. Or, I don't know. Maybe I'm talking shit. The Paddingtons were pretty terrible, weren't they?
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