When Rowan Martin of the brilliant Rhythm Method started the #indieamnesty hashtag on Wednesday morning, he probably didn’t know quite how deep the well would go. People were soon stepping forward with their deepest darkest indie confessions, from the laconic (“Was in the coral #indieamnesty” - @bryderjones) to the iconic (“Got Kung-fu kicked down some stairs by Pete Doherty and Klaxons went to look for him to beat him up for me #indieamnesty” – @grimmers) to the tectonic (“I married Jeremy Wamsley #indieamnesty” – @sankles). “This is our Panama Papers,” exclaimed @sahilv, as we watched a wormhole rip wide open. For some of us this is a wormhole that never closed, but for those sane enough to throw their CD collections away with their MySpace profiles, it meant a lot of skeletons and a lot of closets. By mid-afternoon the hashtag (50k tweets and counting) was charting higher than the second Cooper Temple Clause album. I guess it’s true what they say: if you can remember indie, you were there.
For me indie was divine inspiration. The first time I saw a picture of the Strokes, my life was changed irrevocably. I didn’t need to hear them to know that they were now my favourite band and indie my favourite word. I never listened to Onka’s Big Moka again (OK maybe a few times). When school suggested we do work experience at 15, I asked everyone I knew if they had any contacts in “the music business” and was eventually put in touch (via my grandmother) with one Sean Mclusky – truly the Jabba the Hutt of London’s indie scene, and I mean that as a compliment.
Within a fortnight I’d witnessed the Towers of London’s equipment getting stolen, Bloc Party playing in a Turkish warehouse on Commercial Street, Max Carlish turning up at the office brandishing a samurai sword in a black plastic rubbish bag, the Others’ Dominic Masters having an argument with Sam Hope of the States about who got the bigger record deal, gigs at Pete Doherty’s flat where £20 (straight to the dealer) would buy you a bizarre evening of entertainment involving anything from poetry readings to mass sing-alongs to half-remembered Disney songs and the odd bonus appearance of Wolfman himself (only on a full moon of course). Ironically, this was less than a year after my mum had told me I couldn’t go to Reading because I was too young and it was too dangerous. Maybe I did miss Jack White playing the guitar solo on New York City Cops on Julian’s birthday in August ’02 (in reality I wanted to see Muse the most #indieamnesty), but looking back now it doesn’t really matter. The most important events were never really the ones the NME were writing about, they were the things happening to you and your friends on the frontline.
It was all those formative moments in so many lives that makes the last great wave of guitar music such an evocative subject. Everyone has a fragment of the story to call their own. Every time Doherty didn’t turn up, the fans had to make their own fun. If I wanted to have skinny jeans like Test Icicles I couldn’t go to the shops – I had to turn a pair inside out and safety-pin them. If someone wanted to meet people who liked the Rakes, they had to go and post anonymously on badly coded unofficial forums and arrange clandestine drinks in suburban pubs. The second my friends and I noticed The Rhythm Factory in Whitechapel putting on six-band bills (most week nights), we realised we actually had a chance of getting gigs – gigs we’d spend performing songs about Record Breakers presenters in a band named after an oblique Home Alone reference. We saw Mystery Jets putting on gigs in their front room, Selfish Cunt distributing a single through Limewire, and Vincent Vincent and the Villains stocking Rough Trade with seven inches out the back of their car and realised we could do the same thing (as long as someone lent us their car first).
The highlight of my AS-level year was leaving a lesson to listen to a voicemail from my cousin telling us he’d got us a gig on a bill with the Pipettes and Neil’s Children at the Elbow Room. Our generation went to nights like Trash, White Heat, Liars Club and Queens of Noize, and took notes. Within a few years you had Frog, Young Turks, Way Out West, Troubled Minds, Young and Lost, Transparent and Chess Club. Indie meccas were popping up all over the UK, and legends were born on a nightly basis. It doesn’t surprise me that the skull in a fez logo I first saw on a photocopied flier for a Maccabees/Ludes show at On the Rocks is the same one you still see on the back of every FKA Twigs and Jamie xx record, or that a decade after Kid Harpoon wrote Riverside he would co-write Years & Years’ Desire – but indie was never really about the success stories.
Even when it reached its commercial event horizon in 2006-2008 (impeccably chronicled by Johnny Borrell earlier this week), the scene’s roots in the UK Indie Chart (started in 1980) remained visible. Most of the people I met through indie and grew up with are now are running record labels, venues, publishing companies or websites. The sounds and styles might change but the spirit remains the same. Read through the hashtag and you’ll see that music really isn’t even half the story here. It’s the people, the places, the clothes, the nights that turned into years, the adventures, the shared experience. Every Red Stripe, every WKD, every time you ripped your T-shirt to look like Tom Paddington, wore odd Converse, cut your own hair, started a night, started a band, made up a genre, cried dancing to The Rat by the Walkmen, lied about where you were going to your parents at 14, your friends at 24, or your kids at 44. It was the last great pre-internet overload scene in the UK, widespread and tribal. Indie amnesty brings together thousands of relatively banal anecdotes about unglamorous people doing slightly idiotic things into something quite majestic. Yeah we got old enough to enjoy the nostalgia, but if you’re young enough to see how stupid we all looked (and sounded) then now it’s your turn to rip it up (Razorlight reference, not Orange Juice).
Is indie dead? On paper maybe, but no more than it appeared to be at the end of the 90s, long before our golden era even began. It might be in a transitional stage right now, but you only need to spend a few minutes at a 1975, Wolf Alice or Ratboy show to see how much romance, anger and energy bands can still elicit. The sets end, the lights go up and the clubs close (sometimes for good), but the music doesn’t ever really stop. It’s not over. Yet.
- Spector’s Moth Boys is out now, with live dates throughout July.