top of page

So Horny I’m Bending Time: Indie Sleaze and the Collapse of Culture

Illustration by Taya Welter


Coming straight out of 2024’s winter-spring collection of post-niche-micro-macro-trends, and guaranteed to be long-outdated by the time I’ve found the perfect ironic distance to write about it, Indie Sleaze is taking over our music, our fashion, and, without warning, our conception of Time.


Like many of the trends and objects of discussion produced by social media mimetics and discourse, Indie Sleaze is best understood as an aesthetic. Although the term is used to describe a seemingly identifiable cultural moment of the early 21st century, the range of what it refers to, along with the contemporary taste for the unclassifiable, gives it a nebulous and almost limitless quality. Unlike words like “cringe”, “based” or “gaslighting”,  however, it is not the repeated use of “indie sleaze” by hyper-online nerds that made it lose all the meaning it supposedly had. The term was unclear from its inception, and serves only to try and unify an amorphous and confusing era into a digestible (and now replicable) “vibe”. 


It could be defined as “any indie-compatible cultural figure or product released between Is This It and that weird time in 2012 when white guys started growing beards and wearing suspenders for some reason”.  This includes, in no particular order : LCD Soundsystem, Alexa Chung, M.I.A, the films of Wes Anderson (kind of), Lady Gaga (probably), Graduation-era Kanye West, Crystal Castles, celebrities wearing literal trash on red carpets, Vampire Weekend, Arctic Monkeys, Kate Moss and only Kate Moss, neon sunglasses, European electronic music, Michael Cera, and some, but not all, leopard prints.


These examples serve only to show how “vibes-based” our judgement of what constitutes indie-sleaze truly is. There really isn’t a time-frame or a genre we can limit it to : it’s very much you-know-it-when-you-see-it, and even then, you often don’t. In a broad sense, it is an aesthetic judgement, one that goes beyond the traditional categories we use to understand cultural phenomena, and bases itself on vague feelings, on our blurry, deformed perception of a fairly recent past. 


That may be the defining problem of this “revival” : although, like most nostalgia-driven cultural movements, it’s looking at the past with rose-tinted glasses, it doesn’t benefit from any real hindsight. The era presumably ended about 10 or 15 years ago, but, in many ways, we are still living in it. Most of the acts from that period are still releasing music that doesn’t sound that different from what they would have put out in, say, 2009. Most of the artists from the latter-half of the “indie-sleaze” era are barely 40.  On top of that, the post-punk revival of the early 00s, and its subsequent influence on indie, pop and electronic music, was at the time slammed by critics as uninspired mimicry of the 1980s. In 2010, The Guardian published an article titled “The 80s revival that lasted an entire Decade”, mentioning the retrofuturism of Daft Punk’s Discovery as the starting point of a revival that perhaps overstayed its welcome. Although I wouldn’t encourage it, give Taylor Swift’s new album a listen : the opening track (for some reason featuring Post Malone?) isn’t even winking at the 1980s anymore. Rather, it sounds as if 1980s nostalgia has become pop-music’s default setting : the music-making-machine has reprogrammed itself, its search for the optimal investment has led it to hold on to the gated drums and synthesisers of yesteryear, and to never let go. We are repeating repetition, folding culture on itself, beating references to death, making them barely recognizable, yet just as boring.


But the obliteration of time isn’t complete. Things happen less, but still happen. Technology doesn’t get better, but it used to be a little worse. Nothing changes, but the texture of reality becomes different.


We know very little, but here is what we know : no historical or musical criteria could cast an artist out of the indie sleaze cosmos if we can picture them in the unnatural colors of an early digital photograph. Social media posts compiling stills from the not-so-distant-past are the place where the whole idea was born, and the only medium able to give it some degree of reality. Eerie pictures of James Franco in 2007, or of Kanye West wearing his signature shutter shades, scream “THIS IS NOT TODAY, REMEMBER THIS?”. The photographs are from a different aesthetic moment, but the faces aren’t, and while digital cameras have gotten better, so have make-up artists when it comes to concealing 5 o’clock shadows.



This manifestation of nostalgia, not only as repetition, but as re-presentation, is where indie sleaze thrives. It is, after all, the reminiscence of a past too close behind to be over, and not embarrassing enough to be camp. One can’t adopt the indie sleaze aesthetic without looking like a spokesperson for fast fashion. And, although the war on skinny jeans was lost in advance, the 2020’s trendsetters can’t bring themselves to sign the armistice. Nobody seems ready to delete the Strokes from their Spotify playlists, but Reptilia isn’t far enough away to be listened to ironically. 


Our inability to move forward has made our times too crowded. We are incapable of forgetting, of letting anything go out of fashion. Nothing can be out of favour long enough to become nostalgic. The cultural industries discovered that Nostalgia was a new frontier, a market with Time as its inexhaustible raw material. Now, the workers of the recollection-factory are working from home, and the machines they left running have finally managed to fold The Continuum on itself.


Making the Indie Sleaze revival a reality therefore feels like an impossible task. So why do they try ? And can it be done ?


The movement’s only real band so far has been The Dare, an electro-dance indie “group” - it’s actually just one guy - who put out their first project last year, called The Sex EP. Everyone better watch out because this guy is not afraid to talk about sex. He likes it and thinks it’s cool. If Justin Timberlake brought sexy back (along with scumbag behaviour and douchey masculinity), it feels like The Dare’s mission statement is to bring the excitement of plain old sex back, with mixed results. Harrison Patrick Smith (either the name of a 1970s basket player or presidential assassin) fancies himself a provocateur, unapologetically celebrating sexuality and its objectifying, almost violent nature. He tries to resurrect The Rockstar’s sexual attitudes, but with an added ironic, self-aware, and tongue-in-cheek triehardness. This, at first, is quite charming, but then only reads like fiction, like what a eunuch imagines it feels like to have an erection.


It’s not a failure on his part : making "Sleaze" the defining feature of the mid to late 2000s indie scene dooms whoever tries to identify with it to toe a controversial line. “Sleaze” isn’t exactly cool or edgy. It tries to conjure a fashionable disregard for the politically correct, or a liberated attitude towards outdated morals, but in doing so sort of suggests that the current ethics of sexuality are a liiiittle too strict. What, then, should we make of this attempt at a Sex-Revival ? Isn’t it a bit strange to celebrate the late 00s’ for their sleaziness, when so many figures from that era were revealed to be actual sex-pests who weren’t just pretending ? 


That is not to say that anyone who follows @xXindiesleaze4evaXx on pinterest is reactionary, and dangerously nostalgic for an era of sexual abuse. Only that these are tumultuous waters to navigate, ones where it is easy to get lost. There is something there, though : a compulsion, an attraction to the realm of provocation and an attempt to reintegrate the “ordinarily sexual” into indie artistic sensibilities. 


Could the sexlessness of the current moment be what produces this appetite for an old-new expression of sexuality in indie music ? The Dare’s lyrics sound less like “we can’t say anything anymore, man” and more like “remember this?”, in somewhat innocent (while punishingly hetronormative) fashion.


The age of advertisement is one which, while saturated with pornography, constantly negates hornyness. The hypersexual tends to destroy the Erotic, and, eventually, desire itself. Our movies are devoid of eroticism, and the atomised neoliberal societies we inhabit don’t have a lot to offer to make social relationships bloom into coveted, wonderful fucking. The ambiguity of desire, its taboos and playfulness are at the centre of the artistic transfiguration of sex into culture. The cultural norms for healthy expressions of sexuality have faded away as the puritanical and the pornographic merged into a single social force, smoothing everything over with their HR trowels. 


Who, then, can blame the Zoomers who came of age during the Trump years if they romanticise an era which glamorises the scandalous, instead of giving them the impossible task of policing it. We can’t hold it against them if young people get nostalgic for an era with looser morals : I often find myself fantasising about being alive in the 70s, just to know the true delight of guilt-free littering. Throwing soda cans out of car windows, flicking cigarette butts down the gutter, leaving candy wrappers lying around public parks : these are the only things that I want to do, and I want to do them all the time. That doesn’t mean I litter today! Just that it sounds like a whole lot of fun until you find out about the dangers (and benefits?) of a microplastics diet.


Same goes here : “bring sex back !” shout the crowds, with no vocabulary to say what they mean, no cultural precedent to demand a return of sexuality neither through liberation nor reaction. It ends up being a simple expression, devoid of any claims : something is missing, we don’t know where it went, and we’re not sure we want it back. This, by default, leads Indie-Sleaze down a conservative path. The lacking cultural vocabulary to express what it is longing for makes it fall back on old ideas, and ignore the somewhat anti-establishment sub-movements that indie scenes typically champion. Does anyone care about electroclash or are we sticking to LCD Soundsystem ?


In the end, like all revival movements, it is its laziness that will kill Indie-Sleaze before it gets a chance to be born. Why bother creating anything new when you can look back ? Why artistically interpret the current decade, when you can long for one that’s already processed and digested ? Don’t like the current state of things ? Just look back, imagine what life would have been like if this was 15 years ago, and also if you were rich and famous, living in upper-Manhattan.


Are we more susceptible to uninspired nostalgia than previous generations ? I hope not. Can we do away with it entirely, and finally, finally, get something new ? Probably, if we tried. Is this whole thing really happening, or is it just the DMT hallucinations of the last X-ennial, dying of old age at 47 years old ? Who’s to say ?


Either way : do not be fooled by the pied pipers of Indie-Sleaze. They barely know what sleaze means. Fuck playing the bass in an indie band called « The Coconut Commitee » and trying to open for Kasabian in 2008. Real sleaze is about being a fat, disgusting, half-bald man with worryingly large beauty marks and so much hair around his belly button it looks like someone shot a bullet through a doormat.


Salvation will not come from past glories, closing in on us at every step, but from the depth of the present. Falling into the trap they set up for themselves, today’s indie sleaze enthusiasts would love to embody the cool slacker-rockstar archetype, looking and sounding like the only field they’re true experts in is jacking off.


Sadly, like all of us, they will soon find out they’re only capable of masturbating.



コメント


bottom of page