A clutch of mid-noughties bands have risen from the ashes of #indieamnesty to fight another day. But how?
When The Kooks played Reading & Leeds Festival in 2014, they caused a stampede akin to the The Lion King’s charging wildebeest sequence. Stumbling and racing their way into an overspilling NME/Radio 1 Stage, and almost drowning out vocalist Luke Pritchard during ‘Naive’, their crowd was easily one of the wildest of the entire festival. Witnessing the whole thing unfold as somebody who remembers The Kooks only as an indie relic consigned to an old iPod Nano – a band to be filed alongside Tribes, The Ordinary Boys and Joe Lean & The Jing Jang Jong – it was a confusing turn of events. And yet, taking a look around the festival line-ups emerging this year, there’s clearly a revival taking place.
Continuing their sudden upward trajectory, The Kooks released two new singles last week, and return to Reading & Leeds’ main stage later this year, playing just two slots down from headliner. They’re preceded by none other than their mid-noughties contemporaries The Wombats; who have returned with a new album following a sell-out tour to celebrate ten years of their first record ‘A Guide to Love, Loss & Desperation’. Somehow, their latest record has made them bigger than ever. Scouting For Girls (remember them?!) are headlining multiple smaller festivals across the country this summer, while last spring saw jean-loving crooners The View embarking on an entire tour in honour of debut album ‘Hats Off To The Buskers’. While those of us old enough to remember the more embarrassing aspects of indie music circa 2006 might be bemused by the whole thing, there’s clearly a whole new wave of fans enjoying The Kooks, The Wombats, et al, with zero snarkiness, and no indie amnesty confessional needed afterwards.
Though all of these noughties guitar bands first broke through a mere decade ago, it was a completely different era. The internet has completely changed the conventional path of nostalgia, for starters, and pop cheese purveyors – from B*witched to Vengaboys – are catching a second wind of popularity thanks to niche festivals like The Mighty Hoopla.
Ten years ago accessing music cost actual money, for starters, and without the limitless possibilities of discovery playlists and streaming platforms, distinct fandoms belonging to different genres were more clearly defined. The internet has changed this. When you consider that the ringleaders of Camp Indie back then all had one skill in common – they specialised in penning radio-friendly, infuriatingly catchy, and usually well-behaved indie bangers – is it really any wonder they’ve endured? With the exception of Scouting For Girls’ really quite debauched ‘She’s So Lovely’ (sample lyric: “she’s flirty, turned thirty, and that’s the age a girl gets really dirty“) it was a heady age for cheerful, sunny, and wholly innocent pop-rock; the product of a more carefree, pre-recession age where Donald Trump’s only air-time came from embarrassing himself on national television. If a band released a song as sickly sweet as ‘Shine On’ by The Kooks today, it’d probably be banned under the new sugar tax.
It’s these jangly, hummable rays of sunshine that might well draw younger music fans towards the same bands time very nearly forgot. Shit on The Wombats all you wish, but 1) ‘Let’s Dance to Joy Division’ remains a stone-cold banger 2) “everything is going wrong, but we’re so happy” may as well be an escapist slogan for coping in modern times. And while it’s easy to turn your nose up at the slightly nonsensical lyrics of The Kooks’ ‘Naïve’, only a big old fibber would pretend not to know them by heart.
Ironically, streaming platforms – whose absence back in the day helped to build distinct fan followings around different music genres a decade ago – might now hold the key to the early-noughties resurgence we’re seeing in 2018. Speaking to Music Week last year, Robert Swerdlow, from The Kooks’ management team at Starwood, pointed out the link between Spotify’s popular curated playlists, and the demand for the band’s arena tour last autumn. “When you’ve got songs like ‘She Moves In Her Own Way’, ‘Naïve’, ‘Shine On’ and ‘Junk Of The Heart’ – big indie pop and rock songs – they’re fitting into those playlists,” he said. “The kids are listening to it, they are popping when they come across The Kooks, they’re saving it and putting it into their own playlists.”
“Streaming has clearly given them a platform to reach new people who are very hungry to see them live,” said promoter Matt Woolliscroft from SJM Concerts, echoing the same sentiment. “There will be a lot of people seeing them for the first time at the moment.”
Take a cursory look at some of Spotify’s most popular playlists, and it’s easy to see how these bands are picking up new fans. Along with the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Dua Lipa, a electro-pop remix of The Wombats’ recent Dagny collaboration ‘Turn’ features in Summer Hits UK; a Spotify playlist with over 220k subscribers. Referencing “listening to Drake” – where the band would previously have chucked in a nod to Bridget Jones’s Diary – a newly returned Wombats are making still-sunny music that reflects current times. Scouting For Girls, meanwhile, find themselves with a new untapped audience to the tune of half a million potential listeners. It’s all thanks to their inclusion in the platform’s Sing-Along Indie Hits playlist; a collection which lumps Tame Impala, Vampire Weekend, and The Strokes in with Stereophonics, The Kooks, and The Fratellis. Whatever your thoughts on the latter band’s marmite-tinted smasher ‘Chelsea Dagger,’ there’s no denying it’s hooky enough to warrant a comeback album and busy summer schedule with several sold-out shows. Though unexpected, the new demand speaks for itself.
Razorlight’s Johnny Borrell – arguably the unofficial white denim-clad mayor of the entire mid-noughties indie genre – once said that The Kooks were “utterly formulaic” adding: “at exactly 0:38 you get that “Uh oh” chorus – and you know this is a product that has been specifically conceived and designed for daytime radio. And the band seem completely cool with that.” Borrell, who eventually got caught up in a never-ending cycle of sarcastic press coverage that virtually outweighed his music, also pointed out the effects of so-called indie stars merging into the mainstream at the time. “I don’t think the impact of Preston going on Celebrity Big Brother can be underestimated,” he claimed. “I think that was what tied supposedly “real” music with the worst trash of celebrity culture. These guys contributed to landfill indie by devaluing music with the worst of celebrity bullshit. From 2006 the slide was fast and hard,” he told Noisey.
Indie’s slide into irrelevance might’ve been real at the time, but ten years on, the audience that once scoffed at The Pigeon Detectives has grown up and moved on, and the kids discovering music are too young to remember Preston storming off Never Mind The Buzzcocks. It’s true that songs like ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ haven’t dated well, and sure, The Kooks, The Wombats, Scouting For Girls et al might follow a musical formula, but there’s also no denying that they do what they say on the tin very, very well. The Kooks’ new singles ‘No Pressure’ and ‘All The Time’ might not be for you, but so be it. If there’s one major positive to come from all of this this, it’s that the tired old school of musical snobbery may finally be dying an long overdue death.