From music streaming to TV shows, nostalgia’s on the rise – and where’s the harm in that?

Streaming golden oldies? Revisiting the arts 'n' crafts of childhood? Some may sneer at this cultural comfort food, but maybe we should just enjoy it

Growing up in the noughties in a Midlands town with one club, the highlight of my youth occurred when an indie night started up out of nowhere in a hired hall every Saturday, giving us an alternative to the Top 40 and smoke machines that the other place boasted.

The club night, Revolver, was run by a local guy who’d lived in Manchester for four years, come back to the Midlands and realised we were in dire need of a musical education amid the boom of Britpop’s younger sibling. You remember the indie uniform: skinny neck scarves, skinny jeans, Breton tops, white plimsolls and military jackets from the army surplus store, topped off with fringes that could have wedged a door open.

I’ve never managed to find these kinds of club nights since I moved to London. So in January, sort of half-heartedly, I tweeted asking if anyone would come to a one-off indie night, for a fiver in. The response was incredible. Hundreds of people responded. Playlists were shared, I gained hundreds of followers asking if I was serious, people tagged their mates in. The hype was growing by the hour. I booked a venue, took the risk of paying up front and sold out the 250-capacity space within two weeks.

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I called my club night Indie Amnesty. The event description reads: “Pretend it’s anywhere between 1990 and 2010 for one night only with cheap entry, Britpop / Indie DJs and drunken snogging in a basement bar. Forget the state of the nation in the year of our lord 2020: Labour is still in power and groups of working class Northern kids are still making music that rattles your bones from the inside out.” And the messages I received about this paragraph almost equalled the excitement of actually going.

Of course, sadly, the coronavirus lockdown threw all my plans up in the air – Indie Amnesty has postponed until the end of August. I’m currently enjoying my own self-isolated musical nostalgia, blindly opening Netflix for Supersonic about once a week, watching 125,000 people – a symbol of hope – gathered together with Oasis at Knebworth.

And it seems I’m not the only one seeking comfort in the past. Perhaps inspired by the divisiveness of recent years (anyone remember Brexit?), our collective yearning for nostalgia has been brewing for some time – ‘vintage’ technology such as record players have seen a resurgence for a while now and the ‘90s fashion revival seems to have lasted longer than the actual ‘90s.

The pull of nostalgia has intensified with the strange new restrictions placed on us all in 2020. Spotify reported a 54% increase in searches for ‘oldies’ or ‘throwback’ since the lockdown, with a surge in nostalgic playlists. Music from the ’60s,’ 70s and ’80s have all seen a spike on the streaming platform, as well as tracks you’d always hear at the end of a night (and by that I do mean ‘Wonderwall’).

It’s not just music. The BBC will show the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony (widely acknowledged to be one of the best events where everyone came together before Everything Started Going A Bit Wrong) this summer, along with highlights of Euro 96 in place of the cancelled 2020 tournament. Quiz, the ITV drama about the coughing major on Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?, pulled in five million viewers. It was just like 20 years ago, when record numbers watched the original show.

An increasing percentage of the population seem to be living their quarantine lives as if they’re on their school summer holidays with their nan, baking and doing crafts. I’ve started illustrating pictures of my friends, made some ambitious banana breads, ordered some peat-free soil and wildflower seeds from the internet and dyed my hair lilac. It may as well be the summer between my GCSEs.

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It’s easy to be cynical or snobby about this cultural comfort food – the negative connotations towards nostalgia are perhaps a hangover from the 1800s, when it was widely considered a psychological disorder – but I reckon we should just enjoy it. Whatever works, right?

Dr Natalie Cawley describes the psychology behind nostalgia as a coping mechanism. “During periods of distress and uncertainty a resilient approach to managing our heightened anxiety and physiology is to revisit positive memories,” she tells me. “These rituals and practices offer cues to safety and hold meaning.’

There’s nothing like the memories that wash over you when you hear a song that reminds you of a great love, your best summer, a time when your gang were all together. You already know the outcome of the situation, so it’s safe.

A quarter of a million people watched Oasis play Knebworth in 1996. Credit: Getty

It’s tempting to feel like we’ll never be nostalgic about the last few years – especially 2020, the strangest one yet. But for all its faults, we’ll probably still have on those rose-tinted glasses in 10 years’ time. We’ll remember welling up watching everyone come together to clap for the carers who did everything to protect us, look at the things we created, the skills we learned, the relationships that were formed or strengthened, the fads we participated in and the people who helped us through.

And when all of this is over, I’m determined to enjoy this sense of togetherness with even more intensity, and to indulge in nostalgia even more unabashedly than before. Indie Amnesty will be DJed by the guy who set up that very first club night in my hometown. I’m looking forward to dancing like I’m 17 again.

– Indie Amnesty will (hopefully) be held at Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, east London, on Saturday August 29

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