Forgot­ten late 90s Indie Pop

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A little while ago, there was a thing on Twit­ter where people used the #indieam­nesty tag to tell funny or embar­rass­ing stor­ies about their involve­ment with the whole Land­fill Indie and Nu Rave thing in the mid 2000s (there’s also a surpris­ingly intel­li­gent and self-percept­ive inter­view with Johnny Borrell (!!) here). As the Guard­i­an article I’ve linked to said, “Indie amnesty brings togeth­er thou­sands of relat­ively banal anec­dotes about unglam­or­ous people doing slightly idiot­ic things into some­thing quite majest­ic” and most of the people were writ­ing about being fool­ish and easily impressed in their teen­age years.

It was funny, but the whole thing made me feel weirdly old, because that wasn’t my era for being an impres­sion­able teen. It’s strange when you real­ise that people you mentally categor­ised as peers actu­ally grew up in a differ­ent era to you, or that people you think of as dramat­ic­ally young­er are also adults. My oldest neph­ew was born in 1996, and is now a univer­sity student with a driv­ing licence, which is just wrong really. It shouldn’t be allowed. Time shouldn’t have moved that fast. Adults are not born in the 90s. The correct time to be born is clearly the early 80s, or the late 70s at a push. I will persist in this delu­sion for as long as allowed.

I think the prime age for whole­heartedly sign­ing your­self over to whatever music­al move­ment that easily presents itself is 13-14. You start to be aware of differ­ent genres of music, want to asso­ci­ate your­self with a tribe of people, have some pock­et money to spend, and might even be allowed to go gigs if you have lax parents. The people writ­ing those anec­dotes had been that age in the 2000s. I was a teen­ager in the mid to late 90s. When the Rakes did 22 Grand Job, I actu­ally did have a 22k dull office job (although not in the City, in an office park just outside Read­ing for full glam­our!). Sadly my income hasn’t gone anywhere since then.

I met Pete Doherty a few times way back circa 2001/​02, before he was success­ful or had a seri­ous drug habit, and I thought he was a total knob even then. He was irrit­at­ing and atten­tion seek­ing, and sleazed on teen­aged girls when he was in his early twen­ties. If you were 13 or 14 he prob­ably seemed like this myster­i­ous poet, I just remembered him as that skeezy guy I met at the pub.

In the mid 2000s my house­mates worked DJing at the After Dark, Reading’s premi­er sticky-floored, £2 a drink indie disco (the day I saw the walls and floor in prop­er daylight was horri­fy­ing). Some­times I saved myself some money and got free entrance in return for fend­ing off the drunk­est people asking for inco­her­ent or totally inap­pro­pri­ate requests (guy who increas­ingly belli­ger­ently asked for Bon Jovi at a 60s night, I’m look­ing at you). My friends had to buy/​download/​scrounge the land­fill indie stuff for work because they were songs people wanted to hear, so it was even round the house, but it’s not what we listened to by choice.

So I star­ted to think about what era I was the age in ques­tion, which was round about 1997-98. It’s weird to think that this era is now as far away from the present as the 1970s were then. It was the time when grunge was on its last legs, Brit­pop was on its way out, but Nu Metal hadn’t reared its ugly head yet, and the Strokes, White Stripes et al were a long way off. It was a strange lull. So I’ve picked out some indiepop songs from that era that don’t get so much love these days.

Of course this isn’t the only stuff I listened to. In the late 90s I was a huge fan of Nirvana and the stand­ard 80s/​90s amer­ic­an altern­at­ive stuff like Hole, the Pixies, Smash­ing Pump­kins, Weez­er, NIN, Beck, Mercury Rev, Hüsker Dü and Sonic Youth. Around the turn of the century I got into stuff like Mogwai, the Beta Band, Le Tigre, Boards of Canada etc as they came out and also the late 90s emo/­post-hard­core (a radic­ally differ­ent propos­i­tion to what it became later) like At The Drive In, the Prom­ise Ring, Rival Schools etc,  I might do a 6th form playl­ist some time.

A major factor in discov­er­ing and listen­ing to music in those days of course was that it was totally pre-inter­net. Even when the inter­net did appear, it wasn’t up to play­ing music yet. To discov­er new things you had to hear it on the radio, borrow your friend’s copy to tape, or scour inter­views or reviews in the music press for recom­mend­a­tions that you’d have to buy blind in the record shop (inter­views where musi­cians recom­men­ded their favour­ites were the best). CDs were expens­ive (and even still had value second hand), and buying a new one felt like a commit­ment because you’d given up the possib­il­ity of other albums to afford that one, so you really did give it a good listen from start to finish. I spent a lot of time hover­ing over the record button of the tape play­er listen­ing to John Peel or Steve Lamacq on the radio wait­ing for things that caught my ear. You were used to being surroun­ded by music that didn’t interest you and then leap­ing on anything that did, because the oppor­tun­it­ies were rare.

1) A Life Less Ordin­ary- Ash 1997

Even though they were born in 1977 (hence the album title) and me and my friends at school were between 82 and 85, it felt like they were some kids close in age, perhaps because there had been so much atten­tion drawn to their young age at the begin­ning of their career, and articles never really bothered to mention that they actu­ally hadn’t been teen­agers for quite a while.

I had a Now! compil­a­tion I’d been given that had this on it, along with Radi­o­head. I couldn’t remem­ber what else was on it, so I looked it up just now, and it’s pretty unin­spir­ing. I kept it though and regu­larly listened to the hand­ful of songs on it I liked. CDs were expens­ive in those days, and you took any chance you could to get to listen to the songs you wanted. I didn’t get my own CD play­er until 1998, and even after then the major­ity of my CDs came from French super­mar­kets, as they were a lot cheap­er over there. (That prob­ably sounds ridicu­lously fancy if you’re not famil­i­ar with the geography of where I grew up “oh la di da, swan­ning off to France to buy CDs” – I should add that France is right next door, in fact easi­er to get to from Kent than anywhere in the Midlands or the North of England, and the exchange rate was mostly in our favour)

I had a friend at school (hi Ester­ina!) who has a broth­er who’s about 4-5 years older. When we were about 12 he was study­ing at the local art college, which seemed awe inspir­ing. He had an extens­ive cd collec­tion and being a nice older broth­er, was happy to share things and make recom­mend­a­tions (thanks Rob!). It was very conveni­ent, as like I’ve already said, CDs were about £15 in those days, and you didn’t have instant access to songs on the inter­net.

E was also a big fan of both Ash and Ewan McGregor, so this was really the ideal film for her. Our school was near a decrep­it cinema, and they used to do really cheap school show­ings. I think they were £2 or £3 or so. However, because the age certi­fic­ate for films suit­able for teen­agers is 12, and the young­est kids at the school were 11, this mean we always had to watch family films. We went to see the first new Star Wars film with school, and I think she was one of the few people who actu­ally enjoyed it, mainly because she got to stare at Ewan McGregor for a long time.

2) 36 Degrees- Placebo 1997

Placebo were huge with teen­age girls at this point. I think I had a tape of their first album prob­ably copied off Rob’s cd collec­tion again until I obtained my own copy. I rushed out and bought their second album as soon as I could (again prob­ably from some giant branch of Auchan or Carre­four some­where in Normandy or Nord-Pas-de-Calais)

When we got inter­net at home at home in 1998, I down­loaded the video for this song, in the days before YouTube. It came in three parts, was grainy and about the size of a post­age stamp and took hours to down­load. I honestly felt like I was living in the future though. There used to be this tv ad for MTV with Nancy Boy in the back­ground (we didn’t have MTV at home, I had to make do with UK Play), and it used to be excit­ing every time they played it, no matter how often it had been repeated.

3) Anim­al Nitrate- Suede 1994

Suede were also huge then. For the Sixth former who wanted to try to give an air of slightly sleazy soph­ist­ic­a­tion.

4) Only Happy When It Rains- Garbage 1995

I used to babysit for my older sister a lot, and she had satel­lite tv, which we didn’t at home. When my neph­ew was in bed, I’d sit and care­fully make mixtapes of videos I liked from the music chan­nels, which needed light­ning reflexes and took a long time to fill up a video (which is prob­ably good, as blank videos weren’t partic­u­larly cheap either). I’d then take them home and watch them again and again. I even lent them to friends from time to time. That seems abso­lutely ridicu­lous now in the context of YouTube, but it really was the only way.

Shir­ley Manson was a real fash­ion icon at the time. This aesthet­ic of making video look like cross-processed slide film (when you process slide film in print film chem­ic­als to get surreal blown out colours and high contrast) was the thing in the mid 90s. I still like this look. I wonder when it’s going to come back. The early 90s reviv­al is in full flow now, so I wonder when the mid 90s reviv­al is going to start.

5) Ladykillers- Lush 1996

“Telling me that women are super­i­or to men
Most guys just don’t appre­ci­ate this…
… So he talks for hours about his sens­it­ive soul…

When he’s nice to me, he’s just nice to himself,
Watch­ing his reflec­tion”

Hah, that one, the approach of sleazy guys trying to use being “sens­it­ive” as a chat up tactic hasn’t changed. Miki Berenyi was also anoth­er fash­ion icon. So many girls wanted her bright red hair. You need a perfect base of even bleached blonde hair, the right choice of red colour for your skin tone (much like with bright red lipstick), and the time and effort to main­tain it to stop it going patchy. There were a lot of girls at school with patchy orange bits (myself included, first attempt- learn­ing to bleach hair is a sink or swim exper­i­ence)

6) Punka- Kenick­ie 1997

Being a punk is a weighty busi­ness. Progress­ing through the ranks and accru­ing enough punk points for the others to respect you is a gruelling process, and should really not be treated so lightly by Lauren Laverne. She doesn’t even have a back patch.

I used to have the picture disc of this that I bought when it came out, but I have no idea what’s happened to it over the years. It was pink with yellow stars on.

7) This is Fake DIY- Bis 1996

I still have loads of Bis 7″s though. Magic Discs, my local second hand record shop had loads of them. I miss that place. I used to go in there so regu­larly that the owners star­ted pre-empt­ively reserving things for me and giving me a discount. The shop also had a lovely dog.

(Bis also provided my entrance to zines)

8) When I Argue I See Shapes- Idlewild 1998

I still hold that Idlewild were best when they were rolling around on the floor, but I suppose every­one gets older and their back hurts.

When 100 Broken Windows came out in 1999 it was one of my all-time favour­ite albums. It was also inter­est­ing over the years as Roddy’s scot­tish accent became stronger, and his amer­ic­an one receded (he’s a scot who spent a lot of time grow­ing up in the US and then returned to Scot­land). There’s not many sing­ers whose accent morphs over the years in the same way.

I also collec­ted the Idlewild 7″s, which had a consist­ent look with mono­chrome photo­graphs of the Scot­tish high­lands on the front of each, which I still have. Some of the b-sides lik Victory at Sea and Meet Me At the Harbour were better than plenty of bands’ a-sides.

9) Hermann Loves Pauline- Super Furry Anim­als 1997

I first came across this song on the Chart Show. It was a tv show on a Sunday morn­ing that simply showed the music videos for the music chart that week, with no presenter. There were often slim pick­ings, you’d sit through possibly an hour of songs you weren’t inter­ested in to catch some you were.

I’ve just looked up what was in the charts that week- there’s Love­fool by the Cardigans (at the point where you were almost sick of that song), I Believe I Can Fly by R.Kelly, the Friends theme tune, Placebo, One in a Million by Aaliyah, and Susan’s House by the Eels. I don’t know if they would have played those videos in full, for a lot of the songs they played a clip. That time however, they played the whole Super Furry Anim­als video, and it imme­di­ately drew me in with its surreal petrol station setting. You didn’t see much stuff like that, so it really caught your atten­tion when it did.

10) Porch­light- Seafood 1998

Seafood were never a big band, but the people who liked them have really fond memor­ies of their songs, and it was sad when David Line had to stop singing because of his collapsed lung, as his distinct­ive voice was part of the charm. I used to clip out the mean burn reviews in the NME and Melody maker for my own person­al amuse­ment, and I still have one stuck in a scrap­book from 2002 that reads “the Seafood songs sound like Seafood songs always do (Sonic Youth fall­ing asleep)” that was meant as an insult. I’ve writ­ten next to it “what’s the prob­lem? I enjoy both Sonic Youth and naps”.

Seafood were also obli­ging in play­ing Medway sever­al times, which saved me the travel into London.

Check out Kevin from the band’s record shop Tome Records in London, which has an excel­lent selec­tion of stock (and Kev is a very nice guy).

11) Lazy Line Paint­er Jane – Belle and Sebasti­an 1997

I haven’t kept track much of what Belle and Sebasti­an have done in years- really, they’re one of those bands I think should just call it quits. Tread­ing a line of childlike/​slightly sleazy works better when it’s people in their early 20s doing it than when it’s middle aged people (also, they were a lot better when Stuart Murdoch wrote all the songs).

The first few albums are great though, with their care­ful music­al arrange­ments, storytelling and Velvet Under­ground influ­ences. Again, I collec­ted all the 7″ eps over the late 90s from the local second hand record shop, and still have them.

Amongst the people I knew, enjoy­ing both Belle & Sebasti­an and Shel­lac was totally normal, and I find it odd now when you meet people who only listen to one genre (ie hard­core mostly) and see everything else as ignorable/​only to be listened to iron­ic­ally.

12) Akumu­lat­or- The Delgados 1996

Scot­land is pretty over-repres­en­ted on this list. I think the Delgados have been forgot­ten about a bit these days, which is a real pity. They were well-known and success­ful at the time, and all their albums are really worth a listen.

13) Connec­tion- Elast­ica 1994

Elast­ica were also a big name at the time. I’ve picked this song in partic­u­lar though, because it was the theme tune of a daytime music show on UK Play- the free chan­nel that showed a mix of music shows and old BBC comedy shows (we didn’t have cable at home, which was the only way to get the MTV chan­nels). Each song had a connec­tion to the previ­ous one you had to guess, and then a caption would reveal it later. It was a real low budget oper­a­tion, and whoever chose the videos seemed to be given free reign, so they’d dig out all sorts of things from the archives that I hadn’t seen before, and intro­duced me to a lot of new music.

14) Disco 2000- Pulp 1995

I still have my old tape of Differ­ent Class, which still works. Pulp were really the only ones out of the big Brit­pop bands who had much polit­ic­al comment­ary in their songs (Blur tried, but err…).

15) Being a Girl- Mansun 1998

At the time, I never real­ised what a dedic­ated and down­right odd group of fans Mansun had- you had to answer the right small ad in the back of the music papers to receive the right zine in the post to even know about their whole little cult. To me, they just were a band I liked who occa­sion­ally turned up on the radio or Top of the Pops, with strange but catchy songs. In 2014 someone organ­ised a confer­ence about them (without the band even play­ing). I can’t say that kind of thing has ever really appealed to me person­ally. I just enjoy their strange songs.

Maybe about five years ago I saw a copy of Six on vinyl in a char­ity shop in Seaford in Sussex. I didn’t have enough cash on me, they didn’t take cards, and the shop was clos­ing, so I didn’t buy it, and wasn’t head­ing back that way for a little while. Later on I thought, oh maybe I can get that on ebay. Turned out to be seventy quid, so I wish I’d bought it in the char­ity shop when I saw it now.

Mansun are prob­ably the band from this playl­ist that I still listen to the most.

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  1. I was born in 78, and 92-96 (my GCSE & A-Level years) were abso­lutely form­at­ive in terms of music for me, so this brought back LOTS of memor­ies. When #indieam­nesty appeared, all of my stor­ies were about the Brit­pop bands I’d met through writ­ing a zine in the 90s – Mark from Ash draw­ing me a cartoon of the band (I still have – and treas­ure – that piece of paper!), hanging out with Placebo back­stage and giving Brian a lolli­pop, borrow­ing Lauren Laverne’s lipstick in the loos at the same Placebo gig (Kenick­ie suppor­ted them – dream line-up). Ah now I want to make a zine about my zine years, haha!

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