A Rough Guide To: Indie Sleaze

Rough Trade Records

February 27th, 2024


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“Growing up I wanted to be Pete Doherty, he was literally a cultural icon. The band had that sticky dance floor sound that you couldn’t find anywhere else.”

Peace Okezie

What is indie sleaze?

Sweaty floors, skinny jeans and angular indie rock. The term ‘indie sleaze’ was coined in 2021 to encapsulate the grimy, energetic, carefree sound and aesthetic of a scene which emerged in the early noughties. The music of indie sleaze all shared a distinctive ‘hedonistic’ aesthetic, one which prevailed in the music videos and the fashion of its artists, in their low-maintenance sometimes kooky clothing, a ‘partying chic’. The Instagram account @indiesleaze, run by a Toronto-born creator, has further defined the era, curating a totally engrossing profile dedicated to some of the most iconic and representative pictures and figures of the period – from early 2000s Kate Moss at Glastonbury to BTS photos of the Skins cast.

With its primary origins tracing back to a wave of New York City indie rock bands with a post-grunge attitude (The StrokesYeah Yeah Yeahs and Interpol), indie sleaze broadened over time to become an umbrella for various styles of indie music. The era gave us many albums characterised by their fusion of dance and punk (Digitalism, Mason, Daft Punk, Justice, LCD Soundsystem and more) whilst at the same time, many indie sleaze artists were better defined by their pure rock and roll energy, with the likes of Arctic Monkeys and The Libertines and later Vampire Weekend prominent in an unforgettable stretch in music’s history.


Breathing life into a new era of indie sleaze with his anticipated debut album, we asked Peace Okezie AKA Master Peace to guide us through the music, moments and true heroes of the noughties phenomenon.

“Indie sleaze… it’s either the clothes, the pictures, the nostalgia or the music that brought it to my attention from such an early age. I found myself being obsessed with blogs about the next upcoming indie band or artist within the electroclash and indie rock world. There was such a culture to it that inspired a young artist like myself to carry that torch, especially with my debut album How To Make A Master Peace. The bands and albums I mention below are for me, the stand-out records of that time. Here is why…”

Album artwork for I Created Disco by Calvin Harris

Calvin Harris I Created Disco (2007)

This album changed my whole perspective on music and the sub-genres of indie music. In my opinion, I’d say it’s indie sleaze. At that time there was no one making music like early Calvin Harris, and I don’t think the world was ready for the monster synths in songs like Acceptable in the 80s and hooks like the hook in Girls. Making my debut album, this record really brought me back to my childhood. I didn’t understand exactly why I enjoyed the record so much when it first came out I know I recognised how forward-pushing and risk-taking it was.

Speaking about album single Loo Song, Master Peace explains the Calvin Harris influence which can be found in his debut album: “It’s influenced by early Calvin Harris and Justice – that era of indie sleaze – the loud fuzzy synths give off an ‘Acceptable in the 80s’ vibe.”

Album artwork for Silent Alarm by Bloc Party

Bloc Party Silent Alarm (2005)

I feel like you can’t talk about indie sleaze and not mention one of the pillars of indie rock in the early 2000s, Bloc Party. This album was like the holy bible for bands coming up in the time and still is to this day. Matt Tongs drumming on this record with Kele Okerere’s vocals – a match made in heaven. You could tell that it wasn’t overthought and they weren’t trying to sound like any other indie band coming out at that time. Silent Alarm had some of its songs featured in TV shows and video games like Waterloo Road and FIFA, which again were big focal points in that era of indie, you would discover new bands because of those placements. I don’t think I’d be the musician I am today without that album.

 

Album artwork for Friendly Fires (15th Anniversary Edition) by Friendly Fires

Friendly Fires Friendly fires (2008)

Indie sleaze or indie disco at its finest. I think every song on that album is a banger, there isn’t one miss in my opinion. The stand-out songs for me are Lovers and Skeleton Boy, which were my entry-level to understanding what indie dance could and does sound like. The synth again plays a key role and you can hear a lot of influences from 80s music which is very intriguing to listen to too. 

Album artwork for Is This It by The Strokes

The Strokes Is This It (2001)

Julian Casablancas’ vocal performance on this album is a conversation that needs to be had. I can only imagine someone hearing it for the first time and being completely mesmerised by his vocals, especially on the title track Is This It, the vocal effects on his voice come through very well. Then it gets to the second verse and that baseline comes in to finish the job up. There are so many songs on that album which I wish I had written.

I think people don’t talk about the album as much as they should do, this is definitely one that stood the test of time for me. 

Interpol Turn On The Bright Lights (2002)

To me, this album is melancholy heaven. The songs are very beautiful, in terms of the way they make you feel. A song which really highlights this is Untitled. It’s most instrumental but it’s so pleasing and interesting with the riff catching you from the jump.

When the vocals are coming you can’t help but be still and just be in the moment with the song, the lyrics being painted. It’s definitely giving main character vibes, could easily be in a Skins episode.

Album artwork for Idealism Forever by Digitalism

DigitalismIdealism (2007)

This record again touches on the subgenres of indie music and the productions you can tap into as an artist. I feel Digitalism execute that perfectly. My favourite song is Pogo, the vocal delivery and the electronic baseline on that record can not be overlooked. It reminds me of parties I used to go to, hearing it all the time, also hearing it on video games such as FIFA. Definitely up there for me. 

 

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Lightspeed Champion (Dev Hynes) – Falling of a Lavender Bridge (2008)

Dev Hynes has always been a big inspiration of mine. He is like a superhero to me because of all the artist projects he’s managed to do and do very very well. My favourite is definitely Lightspeed Champion.

This album shows the vulnerable side of indie sleaze which we don’t really see from artists at that time, but Dev completely understood what he was going for.

The songwriting on the record stands out especially, it’s very poetic and very well, put together. Definitely a highlight of my teens.

Arctic MonkeysWhatever People Say I Am That’s What I’m Not (2006)

The relatability factor this album brought to me as a teen living in Surrey can’t be overlooked. The riffs on every song were just unbelievable, no one else was playing to this level at that moment in time, Alex Turner‘s straight-no-talking, let-the-music play attitude, made people more engrossed in it more. It was like a cultural reset. Every band in my area wanted to look or sound like Artic Monkeys and that’s factual. My favourite song off the album would be Mardy Bum, it reminds me of my childhood a lot. They are definitely the indie sleaze OGs for sure.

READ NOW: Ranked: Arctic Monkeys’ Greatest Albums

The Libertines in Margate, 2023.
Album artwork for Up The Bracket by The Libertines

The Libertines Up The Bracket (2002)

Growing up I wanted to be Pete Doherty, he was literally a cultural icon. The band had that sticky dance floor sound that you couldn’t find anywhere else. The Libertines and The Strokes debut albums had that same impact but in different ways when they both came out. Carl and Pete‘s genius collaborations on this record prove why their music still stands the test of time to this day. If it was Pete being a big part of pop culture around that time or their music making noise, it was hard not to love what Up The Bracket did for indie music forever.

M.I.A Arular (2005)

This album is so good I don’t even know where to start. M.I.A‘s flamboyance on the record, the art and the topics she touches on, it’s hard to fault such a masterpiece.

Bucky Done Gun changed my musical ear growing up and the rap side of the music made me feel confident within my music to experiment and explore avenues of indie sleaze that hadn’t thought of initially. 

Oracular Spectacular: Amazon.co.uk: CDs & Vinyl

MGMTOracular Spectacular (2007)

It’s so funny how in interviews they said they weren’t trying to take this album seriously but then ended up making one of the best indie sleaze, early 2000s albums of all time. MGMT and this album, in my opinion, nothing comes close to it. I’m so glad the recent Saltburn movie highlighted these bangers to refresh everyone’s memory because what they did on this record, I don’t think this had ever been done. So forward-thinking, so electric (no pun intended) and so inspiring to a generation of indie pop/indie sleaze artists.

The synths capture that adolescent side of indie sleaze and the mischief you get up to when you hear the record.

Karen O in 2009. Photo by James Looker.

Today, indie sleaze is very much alive and kicking, with the likes of The Libertines, MGMT and Chromeo all returning with new music in 2024. A number of indie sleaze icons celebrate huge anniversaries (Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm and Franz Ferdinand’s S/T album) and newer acts like The Dare, Jockstrap or Snow Strippers take inspiration from the electroclash dance-punk side of the scene.

Meet Master Peace…

Set to release his debut album How To Make A Master Peace in March 2024, Peace‘s work is described as ‘a pastiche of the alternative music the British artist was raised on’. His ability to translate these influences into his own unique live performance captivated our audiences at both Rough Trade East and Record Store Day last year, leaving us very much looking forward to hosting the artist again for three Rough Trade in-stores celebrating his debut. The rising artist is poised to further showcase his knack for creating anthems, a rowdy and unique energy which rivals the commanding nature of the indie giants he is so inspired by.

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