The year is 2013. ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High’ is being played on the radio ad nauseam. Tumblr is at the height of its powers with 73 million accounts, nearly all of whom seem to be posting black and white photos of very thin women wearing pleated skirts, over the knee socks and Peter Pan collar dresses. Thin is in. As is spending a long time looking as though you spent no effort at all getting ready. Indie Sleaze is, in short, shining bright as it begins to burn out.
As we have seen from the sudden spurt in Y2K fashion and aesthetic, the cyclical nature of trends is spinning ever and ever tighter. Teenagers are increasingly revisiting eras that have only just passed by in their experimentation. It’s no real surprise, then, that 2013 has come into the viewfinder of those looking closer and closer by for nostalgia kicks.
There have been several articles outlining the return of indie sleaze in recent months, most of them following a TikTok created by trend analyst Mandy Lee. Many cite the middle-00s as its halcyon age, though the era hit one of many peaks as it came to a close in 2013. And signs of the trends coming into the fashion world are numerous: Blumarine showed nipple-baring sheer for its AW22 collection, Hedi Slimane is continuing to wax lyrical on torn jeans, cheetah print and cowboy boots at Céline and there are almost 300 results for "tennis skirt" at ASOS right now.
But what of the music? What will be the soundtrack to an indie sleaze summer?
Well, Arctic Monkeys are back. And by the looks of their huge festival headlining summer—a prime spot at Reading/Leeds the linchpin of the run—they’re going to be past their Tranquility Base experimentation. Alex Turner & co. headlining the traditionally rock festival for the first time since 2014? Looks like we’re about to get an AM part II.
Then bear in mind that Yeah Yeah Yeahs have announced their first UK shows in nine years—a stint that will include “some new tunes”. Sky Ferreira is finally teasing a new musical project for the first time since…2013. The Libertines are preparing for an Up The Bracket reunion tour.
Though the return of artists who defined the original era is a big driving force for its revival, indie sleaze doesn’t look exactly as it did back when trilbies weren’t yet co-opted by the incel movement. Though its erotic charge may not have dimmed, the whole thing has cleaned up in every other way. The style may well still largely comprise of denim, leather, ripped cotton and smudged liner, but the impeccability demanded of anyone wishing to be seen on TikTok means that this time, nails will be done, make-up will be exaggerated and a penchant for drugs will be a theatrical suggestion rather than an essential accessory. If Euphoria is this generation’s Skins, then full-body exfoliation is the new wet-wipe wash.
In kind, the music to soundtrack indie sleaze looks a little different too. Charli XCX, with the bad attitude eroticism of her new album CRASH and her leather-heavy stage looks, screams a new age of the trend. To prove it, she’s even rejoined Tumblr. The ongoing popularity of Royal Blood—a band grown in the Petri dish of indie erotica—speaks to a community of music lovers who carried the torch throughout the 2010’s. Meanwhile, bands like Working Men’s Club are showing us how indie electronica continues to figure in the whole movement: their new sound ‘Widow’ suggests a loucher, more devil may care sound for their sophomore record Fear Fear, out in July.
And would you just look at Måneskin for God’s sake. Has there ever been a better poster group for indie sleaze?
Pop was always a big piece of the indie machine, though back then it wasn’t so cool to admit that. Now, the genre is at the forefront of much of this whole business. Just as Charli’s music exudes muddy festivals and all night benders despite its pop bent, so PinkPantheress and her UKG beats suggest a nonchalance that sums up the indie sleaze agenda. Even Doja Cat, with her recent Hole cover and confessed love for rock’n’roll, could very well go in a grottier direction in the next year.
What’s clearest is that the first full summer of festivals since 2019 is going to attract festival mania. And what is the energy of a festival if not one of intense indie sleaze? As in the return of any trend, there will always be those who deny its existence. But what’s looking more and more apparent is that indie sleaze has merely shapeshifted into something a little cleaner cut to the eye, but no less debauched at heart.