Hey Scenesters! Picking Apart The Indie Debris

Forget the amnesty - we wouldn't change a second...

Indie has been and gone. What was once a virile youth movement (we're referring to the Noughties indie resurgence, of course) is now a hashtag – an affectionate, loving hashtag, maybe, but a hashtag nonetheless. It's a strange feeling to flick through #indieamnesty, to witness people peeling back the layers of their own lives. There was a period when I lived and died in skinny jeans, when I bought all the colourful cardigans money could buy and festooned them with badges that screamed to the world about my favourite bands.

The brutal truth is that I didn't have a whole lot going on in my life at 17 – a series of family moves had left me feeling (rightly or wrongly) as though I had little to no close friends, feeling alienated, alone, and afraid. Put simply: I needed something in my life, and indie became that something, a cypher to view the world through, and in turn be viewed. It was simple and complex, somehow managing to appear shockingly new while calling on a three decade-long lineage – it was whatever you wanted it to be.

It feels rather bizarre to point to The Strokes' 2001 debut album as some seminal moment in youth culture, but then in many ways that's exactly what it is. Part of the Rough Trade resurgence – the label re-launched in 2000 – it provided a stunning blueprint on how to live your life, how to be young, beautiful, and fucked up, but without a care in the world. It was like an alarm clock going off, one that only a select few could hear.

– – –

– – –

And then came the deluge: The Libertines and the London scene, The White Stripes and the garage rock revival, The Coral and the Liverpool scene, The Rapture and the punk-funk thing. It seemed to be endless, and imbued with the sort of remarkable intensity that only the young could provide. It was an energy that threaded its way across the country, quickly diversifying into localised scenes. Sure, places like London, Manchester, and Glasgow still came up with the goods, but all of a sudden Brighton, Wakefield, Newcastle, and Cardiff were all giving them a run for their money. At one point, Sheffield was the coolest place on the planet.

The records, too, weren't all that bad. For a brief moment, Bloc Party were the hottest band around, while Franz Ferdinand went from playing rundown Glasgow arts commune The Chateau to scooping the Mercury within 12 months of their debut hitting the shelves. Major labels swiftly pulled out their chequebook, leading to a proliferation of singles offshoots and development deals. Pretty soon everyone was either in a band, or was releasing someone who was.

The explosion of independent labels during this time has left a permanent mark on British music – Wichita, Poptones, Transgressive, Chess Club, Moshi Moshi, 1965, Deltasonic, and countless others flew the flag for the mavericks, the oddballs, the fuck ups, mouth pieces, and dreamers. Each had a distinct identity, and each uncovered their fair share of gems.

Oh, and there was also the internet. Before, the existence of rare albums or neat vintage clothing was withheld to those lucky enough to live within spitting distance of a metropolis. Now, the mere mention of a Tootal scarf or Television on some new-fangled forum was enough to have you scampering off to Ask Jeeves where you could pick up an original vinyl copy of 'Marquee Moon'. Like The Cribs? Try The Replacements. Besotted with The Strokes? Here, listen to The Velvet Underground. Infatuated with Gallows? Get some Minor Threat.

It all led to an explosion of pop culture referencing that – at its best – gave the period a delicious post-modernism. Think Franz Ferdinand's arch couture, or The Long Blondes' careful pilfering of generational styling – hell, even The Libertines' Dickensian-by-way-of-CBGBs look. Before it all descended into identikit skinny jeans 'n' tees indie had a sense of cool that few other elements of youth culture could match.

– – –

– – –

Vinyl – long regarded as some kind of charity shop joke – suddenly became hip again. To own your band's best single on seven inch single somehow became a de facto statement of identity, saying loud and clear that you weren't a member of the rentamob, you were a true believer. Vinyl sales began to rise, at first a trickle, but then a flood – in the United States last year the income from vinyl outstripped that of the much vaunted free-streaming model. Vintage won.

The underage movement blew apart the way we view live promotion, at its peak even boasting its own festival – with no adults allowed on site. All Tomorrows Parties arrived, seeming to prove that a holiday camp weekender with entirely left of centre acts could draw a crowd, and everyone would get paid. Shellac seemed to be perpetual headliners, while the festival itself prompted a nationwide network of bands, zines, and labels. Yes, at one point indie was so big that we needed an alternative to the alternative.

The festival season exploded – Green Man, Latitude, Bestival, End Of The Road were launched, and still pull thousands upon thousands of fans with each passing summer. It's worth remembering how small many of these events were when they started: Green Man was founded in the Welsh hills by alt folk duo It's Jo & Danny, while the first headliners of Bestival were The Bees.

Ultimately indie's ability to shape-shift, to mean a different thing to everyone involved, lead to its downfall. The whole thing got too damn big, and the numbers alone are staggering. Arctic Monkeys sold 120,000 copies of their debut album in one day, while The Kooks' debut album 'Inside In / Inside Out' has notched up more than two million sales since its release. It couldn't last. With success came no small amount of bandwagon jumpers, while the resulting backlash seeming to create two distinct and rather ugly stereotypes: the no-nothing newbie, and the I-was-here-first snob.

MySpace – for all its wonderful benefits – seemed to gleefully piss out petrol on the already engorged fire. Getting on the front page of the social media engine became the fulcrum of every A&R's life, spitting out countless image-led hype stories in the process. Test Icicles are perhaps the most notorious – a lurid, fluorescent explosion where each member claimed to detest the music they made.

– – –

– – –

Pretty soon it all came tumbling down. The internet continued to chip away at sales, while the quality of new groups diminished. The music industry kept throwing those dice, however, giving rise to the term 'landfill indie' – groups snapped up on short term deals, hyped to levels they didn't deserve, and then cast unfairly back down into the depths. Razorlight. The Automatic. The Others. The Wombats. The Fratellis. Joe Lean & The Jing Jang Jong were handed an enormous advance and very little guidance – drug abuse, studio issues, and personal conflict caused the band to splinter before their debut album could even see the light of day.

And then came the credit crunch. With the financial crisis in 2008 the nation's loose cash suddenly disappeared – belts were tightened, choices were made, and people began looking elsewhere for thrills. Nu Rave seemed to remind everyone that electronic music was actually a hell of a lot of fun, an appetite that coincided with the explosive growth of French electro and dubstep. The short-lived, appallingly titled 'grindie' movement seemed to prove that if grime and indie were ever to have a true creative conversation then indie was bringing jack-shit to the table.

The part time jobs and easy money that had allowed young people to invest in music and in fashion dried up, and with them went a small portion of that maverick spirit. Unemployment rose, debt bit hard, and then real life came calling. Recent figures suggest that up to 11 million people in their 20s and 30s – the indie generation, in other words – will be worse off under the new state pension. We need to work until we drop.

Ultimately, indie didn't make much of a difference. The world still turned, and the Blairite bubble burst, leaving us all immeasurably worse off than we were before. Yet beneath the hubris and the apathy lay something beautiful, and it certainly changed many people's lives for the better. Musicians found an audience, and the crowd found meaning. A new generation of independent labels now exist, staffed by people who might otherwise have found a proper job. Promotion companies have risen and fallen, bands have found success and splintered.

It's easy to focus on the negative, on the empty hype, appalling outfit choices, the vacuous blokeiness of it all, and of course the endless, endless array of shit bands. But running through it all was an incredible, ineffable, youthful energy. It was beautiful, it was confused, and I wouldn't have changed a second of it.

– – –

– – –

Buy Clash Magazine

Join the Clash mailing list for up to the minute music, fashion and film news.