by Tom Stratton

Trilbies, Brogues, and Masking Tape: My 00s Indie

Remember the 90s? That stock phrase that makes you groan with nosta...
Trilbies, Brogues, and Masking Tape: My 00s Indie
Remember the 90s? That stock phrase that makes you groan with nostalgic boredom is bandied about by those who forget about the tail end of it all. The bands that had died off and the DJs and sugary pop that took its place, rock n roll was dead (again). So let's have some stock nostalgia for the bit that came just after: The Strokes, 2001. The moment someone suddenly cranked up the reverb, made something solely for us and we grabbed on to it fully with the one hand that wasn’t holding a warm beer in a plastic glass.  

The Americans Have Arrived

The scrawny, scruffy but somehow clean-looking Americans brought their lo-fi look and sound to the forefront of our lives. We’ve all talked endlessly about Is This It, in fact we’ve probably all talked endlessly about this time, how it shaped us all, right up to the faceless companies who sold cattle-herds of leather
jackets off the back of that time. I just want to take a moment to talk about how it shaped me, who I am and perhaps who I always was.
For me it wasn’t even necessarily The Strokes who changed my life, not directly anyway. In fact I probably came a little late to that party, as I still often do. The party I was well and truly in time for came a little over a year later: The Libertines, 2002. At that time I was still deep into hip hop, my first love that stays with me to this day, anything guitar-based was way off my radar. I’m pretty sure I still had my Nokia 8850 with Jay Z’s Big Pimpin’ as the polyphonic ringtone, if not I definitely still had a shiny black FUBU American football shirt with “Compton” printed across the back (thinking about it I’d wear that now, just then it was completely without irony).

Aftershocks and Speed

The clubs and bars I rattled around then were R&B heavy: 112’s Peaches & Cream was the soundtrack to loads of trebles-for-singles, Aftershocks, and a dash of whizz. The timeline is fuzzy, probably thanks to the aforementioned combo, but I’ll try my best to piece it together. In my mind it happened overnight, like I woke up in skinny ripped jeans and tape wrapped around my brown brogues, but I think it was more of a groggy slow awakening (again that was probably the whizz). 
In the same sense I feel like I heard Up The Bracket once and fell in love, a romanticism much in the vein of the band itself. 
The reality was that, although not instantly, everything seemed to come together all at once, as it did for so many others my age. It was the perfect time, like a coming-of-age film, just one set in a grey concrete city: a cheap Shane Meadows knock-off. I’d started going out most nights of the week in those salad days when underage drinking was still a thing, I was meeting new people and evolving alongside the ones I’d grown up with. It was an older friend who I was slightly in awe of who I credit with my own personal evolution. 

Life up North

The school I went to wasn’t a place where individuality was even a thing, I mean it wasn’t a military school, it was just a northern standard setting where you played footy at dinner and now and again gathered everyone up to watch a little teenage scrap. I don’t remember anyone showing any particular fondness for specific music genres or clothing, aside from Helly Hansen jackets and Kickers. So when I left for college and made older friends with ripped jeans and long hair I wanted to know what they were all about. I did a bit of digging and got a few of my mam’s old records out, a standard teenage Doors digger: in fact I remember, very Partridge-like, announcing my love for The Best of The Doors a little before Up The Bracket entered the scene, so it definitely wasn’t an instant change.
Anyway, the buzz around the band, in parts of my new circle at least, all felt very new and instant. I started growing my shaved hair out, which I’d never really done before as a curly. You tend to hide curly hair when you’re younger and, with mine at least, it’s a difficult process as it just tends to grow outwards until it gets heavy enough to fall. The music I was pirating at the time took a swift turn and, after a while, consisted mostly of the many Libertines/Doherty bootlegs that floated around the virus-riddled internet backwaters. Then, devouring The NME weekly, plastering my walls with pictures of the best dressed bands: I’d always loved clothes but now I had a whole new wardrobe to find. 

Grotty Bars

Thinking about it now, and speaking to other people, I was probably a bit older than most when I had my defining cultural moment, but I’m glad of it. I was old enough to drink underage and a huge chunk of my learning was in the new, but equally grotty, bars I’d started to dance around. The dancing part didn’t last long, I still don’t do that now, but the chatting and meeting people will stay with me forever. If I’m completely honest it wasn’t the music, I’m not going to roll out some shit about how it ‘coursed through my veins and took a hold of me’, I mean I loved the music, even the rubbish, but it was really about the time. Stealing little ideas, bits of a look here, a phrase or two there, until you found your own way in a sea of comrades: everyone literally sticking two fingers in the air to the sound of “see these two cold fingers / these crooked fingers”.
Mates moved to university and I visited them, went to see bands in other cities, whizz made way for pills and I got chucked out of college three years running (I finally completed it in my fourth). But I needed all that to happen, it genuinely wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that I’m here now because of that time. The Libertines, and a little later Dylan, made it cool to be into literature. I’d stopped reading at secondary school because it wasn’t the done thing, now I was immersing myself in classics and poetry to later teach A-Level English and write for a living. 

Smoking Liquorice Rolls

The fondness for that time means that I can look back on all my pretentiousness with a laugh, I do so quite often. I wore a little dead mans trilby, carried a notebook that I scrawled in whenever inspiration came (which was much more often than it does today), smoked liquorice rolls for the aesthetic. I was asked when I first got to university, with a concerned look, if I needed help buying a computer. I had one, it was just that I wrote everything on an old typewriter, “no, I’ll start using the computer. Sorry, I’m just pretentious”.
It’s easy to oversimplify a chain of events, memory is as fallible as I am, and there is so much more that pours into a person to create a whole. But I look at where I’ve been and who I am and I truly believe that those pre-Arctic Monkeys years were my defining ones. I’d say I haven’t looked back since but that’s exactly what I’ve just done and anyway, what do I know? I was as fucked up as the rest of you.