If you ever ran for a dawn train after a narcotic all-nighter in 2007 with The Rat by the Walkmen pounding through your liquified brain and a hip flask of “breakfast vodka” in your pocket, expect flashbacks from the opening moments of Giddy Stratospheres, director Laura Jean Marsh’s debut film set amid the euphoria, hedonism and tragedy of the 00s indie rock scene.
“We were all so young, feeling invincible and wanting it not to end,” says Marsh, who put on gigs by bands such as the Horrors and Black Wire at her Dolly Rockers club night, hosted parties for the Mighty Boosh and sang with guitar pop band Screaming Ballerinas before moving on to acting and video directing.
“You didn’t want to sleep, you just wanted the fun to go on. Before you know it, it’s day three. I put on the Long Blondes – it was one of the most incredible gigs I’ve ever been to at [London bar] Nambucca, everyone dancing around on the tables and rolling around in glass and throwing confetti in the air. There was something really special about how everybody knew each other – having friends in bands from Leeds or Liverpool or Manchester and coming into town and everyone partying for 24 hours, feeling like you were part of the family.”
Based around a fictional gig by the Long Blondes and featuring music from Franz Ferdinand, the Futureheads, the Rapture and the Cribs among others, the film sets out to capture the wired unpredictability of British rock’s latest great generational wave within a dark and personal narrative.
“I didn’t make the film to represent the 00s,” explains Marsh, who also stars as wild child Lara. “I made a film about two friends. It was a really exciting time, but it was also quite a tough time for a lot of us. Giddy Stratospheres is quite a personal story to me. I lost quite a few friends and I went through some bad times. A lot of it is drawn from my past heartbreaks.”
Filming on a shoestring between lockdowns last year was quite a challenge, she says. “There were a lot of gaps in crowds with clever camera work to make it look like it was busier.”
So how successfully does the film evoke the era? We asked the people who were there.
The Long Blondes: ‘George Bush’s daughter turned up!’
Kate Jackson: “I don’t think many people have covered that era yet in film, so we were happy for Laura to use our song title for the name of the film. I really liked it. It did evoke those times really well. It actually made me feel a bit anxious – those social interactions in venues when you’re wasted gave me the fear. Everyone in Camden at that time would have been in a band. Literally everybody. I wasn’t sure whether to say yes to a cameo because I’m by no means an actress, but it was fun.”
Dorian Cox: “It’s probably happened to me millions of times, when some girl has tried to bother me when I’m getting my guitar out of the venue. That took me back to those Long Blondes times when we were still living in Sheffield and had to get back to work in the morning.”
KJ: “I was usually driving us back as well, so all the excessive scenes of drug taking, we weren’t exactly doing that. It was, like, one whisky and coke before the show.”
DC: “It was a very hedonistic time in London. Everyone just seemed to go full pelt, there was a lot of drink and drugs and no one seemed to think about the endpoint. When you’re two pills down it’s amazing but then the next day real life happens again, and I think it’s important to get that message across. I’m glad Laura didn’t make it seem like it was just a scene full of lads in pork pie hats thinking they’re Pete Doherty, too, because it’s overlooked how arty that scene was to start with. In that immediate post-Strokes time, on one bill you might find someone like the Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster, Ikara Colt, the Parkinsons, all these bands that didn’t necessarily have anything in common, just a strong feeling of fun. Like any scene, later on it becomes a bit easier for labels to recognise what sells. Post-Arctic Monkeys, it was easier for labels to think: ‘It’s just four guys in Adidas tracksuit tops.’ I do think everyone felt part of a family in that scene.”
KJ: “Remember that squat party in Peckham that we ended up playing, in the tile factory?”
DC: “George Bush Jr – one of his daughters turned up with security. She’d obviously heard that indie was cool. There was a lot of crap around then, but then there’s a lot of crap around in any scene. There were far more shit Britpop bands than there were good ones. There’s only a handful of genuinely good punk bands. Now is the time for that scene to be reappraised and the good bands to rise to the top.”
Klaxons: ‘It was Rebel Without a Cause’
Jamie Reynolds: “The film was great. But it’s not an easy story to tell. If you were to stand up and tell the story of what happens in the film as a blow-by-blow account, it’s not a celebration of 2007 – more of a depiction of the tragic aspects of it. I felt that was incredibly sad and incredibly brave. It being based in 2007 was in many ways irrelevant: this was a story as old as the hills. It was Rebel Without a Cause. It could’ve been a depiction of any music scene since the 1950s, the continuation of the classic rock’n’roll narrative: one minute it’s fun, the next minute it’s fucked. I’ve always been quite open about drugs but to see it on screen and for there to be the twist that happens in the film – it’s a fair description of how dark it could get.”
New Young Pony Club: ‘It caught the sloppiness, people in quarter of a T-shirt’
Tahita Bulmer: “There are some great moments and I definitely enjoyed the twist elements. It had the dirty feel of the mid-00s. There was a kind of sloppiness, people working with what they had in terms of clothes and makeup, and the beginnings of gender non-conformity being mainstream, guys wandering round in lashings of eyeliner and a quarter of a T-shirt held together with safety pins.
“The focus on drug-taking, the feeling that it would just be a continual party – when our band kicked off that wasn’t a reality for us but Andy [Spence, producer] and I were such massive disco freaks and we thought, ‘This scene is the closest thing to disco we’re ever going to get in terms of the debauchery and hedonism, but also in terms of the creativity as well.’ The film had a bit of that but it didn’t really show the boundless creativity and, because it’s a low budget thing, it didn’t manage to replicate that intense energy that was in London at the time which was so beautiful. As you get older, you realise: that was so rare! You’d have to have had another 40 or 50 people in those gig scenes to give you that sense of the crush and sweatiness. But considering it was filmed in lockdown, I applaud them.”
The Holloways: ‘I’ve got mates who have never been the same mentally’
Alfie Jackson: “I enjoyed it. At the start, running along to The Rat, that’s how I felt at the time. This limitless energy and this amazing music and fashion – it just felt like a moment, the same as when Britpop arrived. But it’s weighted towards the annoying drug-dealing and drug-taking types a little more than I was hoping for. We didn’t have Spotify or anything: the first time I heard these tunes was in clubs, on the dancefloors. I was hoping for a bit more of a fun nostalgia trip, super-exciting and happy – like the song Giddy Stratospheres is. But at the same time it was good to inject a cautionary tale in there because Rob [Skipper, Holloways guitarist] died, and I’ve got a couple of other mates who have never quite been the same, mentally, following their experiences.”
Dirty Pretty Things: ‘Some scenes are a bit shuddery’
Didz Hammond: “There are hardly any films that portray live music especially well or accurately. It always comes across as a bit sanitised. Having said that, the drug use and the worldview of all of the characters was spot-on, the costumes were accurate, the behaviour was accurate, the ruthlessness and selfishness were accurate. Some of it was quite difficult to watch: the scenes of misbehaviour are a bit shuddery. Everyone who was in a band in the 00s was kind of making up for lost time. Everyone was about 15 when Britpop was happening and Camden was the centre of the world. By the time we get to 2002-7, you’ve got a whole generation of kids with guitars wanting to catch up.”
Queens of Noize: ‘I remember singing along with giant groups of sweaty people’
Tabitha Denholm: “My memory of that era was one of fewer consequences. I remember it in a slightly brighter way. I did wonder: ‘Why is this room so empty?’ The thing I remember more than anything is singing along with giant groups of sweaty people and them knowing every word. The buoyancy of the musical communion, singing The Rat together or whatever. It was a naughty and badly behaved time but in a very silly way.”
• Giddy Stratospheres is out now.