Indie Sleaze and the Bands that Triumph it￼
By Ari Lauer-Frey
What once seemed like an aesthetic blip of the mid-2000s may instead become a regular guest in the never-ending cycle – and recycle – of pop culture’s stylistic ideals. Low-rise jeans, micro bangs, oversized sunglasses, overexposed flash photos from pocket-sized cameras, the irony and absurdism of the chronically online, performative dishevelment, designer drugs, teens dressed like 6’2” Hedi Slimane models who are 130 pounds soaking wet, and all else that may consider itself hipster and bohemian: welcome to Indie Sleaze, a new cultural center for those seeking some frivolity in their lives.
Though the inspiration for the Indie Sleaze movement comes from a time of young, fashion-forward millennial party-goers, the “Indie Sleaze” label is a new one – a transplantation of those 2000s looks, sounds, and feelings for today’s audience. Julia Guerra makes this distinction between now and then in her InStyle article titled “What is Indie Sleaze Aesthetic?” where she finds the difference to primarily be one of intent. “The Gen-Zers who first embraced the Indie Sleaze aesthetic weren’t trying to make a fashion statement; they were just putting more stock into experiences than they are material things,” she wrote. For those 2000s folks, what is now considered Indie Sleaze was simply an outward representation of a cultural attitude: an attitude that prioritized the here and now, with a dash of carelessness and a pinch of dirty, trivial fun.
Today’s use of this aesthetic seems to have some greater purpose within it, and while that purpose is not exactly clear, the deep sense of irony that lives at its center is. The “trashiness” of Indie Sleaze is part of its appeal, and underlying the air of ignorance that it exudes is a discernable self-awareness.
Perhaps Indie Sleaze is a rejection of normative, aged-out ways of presenting that instead prefers an imagined reality based on a not-so-distant past. Perhaps it is indicative of communal boredom, or nihilism, or simply utter confusion in the face of organizing oneself in the modern age. Whatever the reason may be, the result is a blend of endless irony, extremity, and a very real attempt to produce something that is just fun – neither overly-philosophized nor purely empty – just fun.
The attitude and style of Indie Sleaze can also be seen in the artists that produce its sound. For the 2000s, this was the noisy introduction of indie rock staples like The Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, as well as dancier artists such as LCD Soundsystem and Crystal Castles – who ushered in a new age of electronic music and changed the status quo in the mainstream by providing it with increased abrasiveness and cool-factor. Today’s successors reimagine these sounds, with perhaps an even greater emphasis on disorder and movement. Sonically, the new Indie Sleaze is noisy and messy; it emotes a feeling that is sometimes angry, sometimes seductive, sometimes incomprehensible, as if the arrangements are threatening to collapse into a crumbling wall of unidentifiable sound at any moment. The lyrics usually match this tone, often abstract or purposefully simple, while at other times telling stories that speak to the senselessness of it all, absorbed in drugs, infatuation and dark, sweaty rooms.
The Indie Sleaze of decades past was never much beyond a fleeting subculture. Small but rising, it is harder to determine where today’s Indie Sleaze will go. For those who don’t see the appeal in its return, don’t worry. It will take a lot of time and effort before we’re all wearing skinny jeans again. For those intrigued, below are some artists to get you started on your journey to tight pants, faux fur, and wearing sunglasses inside.
Artist: The Hellp
The moment you see this duo, you will know hipsters are alive and well. The pair look like Men in Black from an alternate universe (often adorning dark, full denim outfits, and concealing their faces with unkempt hair over chunky shades) if Men and Black worked tirelessly to raise the prices of thrift shop clothing around the world instead of protecting it from aliens. One of the members, Noah Dillon, started his artistic career as a professional photographer; he continues to practice this craft even today, and has worked alongside fashion houses such as Gucci and Maison Margiela. This case is indicative of a closely-tied link between visual and sonic aesthetics to which many Indie Sleaze artists seem to adhere. As for their music, it is perhaps the most unique to come out of new Indie Sleaze so far, a controlled mess of noise-rock, blaring synths, and wailing, whining vocals.
Project recommendation: Vol.1 (2021)
Song recommendations: Elevation 001, Ssx, Tu Tu Neurotic
Snow Strippers, a Detroit duo, seems to be the fastest-growing of the new Indie Sleaze artists. They released their first album in 2022, and already have a Lil Uzi Vert feature on their song “It’s A Dream” from their 2023 album “April Mixtape 3.” This quick popularity may be due in part to the relative familiarity of their sound, as it takes heavy inspiration from Witchhouse, a genre notable for its eerie synths that was popularized by artists like Crystal Castles and SALEM. Their music is absolutely fun, if a bit formulaic, offering bouncy dance beats, captivating textures and icy vocals.
Project recommendation: April Mixtape 3 (2023)
Song recommendations: Deceitful Eyes, Under Your Spell, It’s A Dreamz
MGNA Crrrta is a NYC-based duo (I know, so many duos right?) and is likely my favorite discovery from this journey through the new Indie Sleaze sound. Similar in many ways to the music of Snow Strippers, this pair takes all the same elements and sets the controls on max. The production is a discombobulating driving force that puts the listener on the same adrenaline, drug, and passion-fueled rollercoaster as the vocalists. On their first and only album so far, “New Jersey,” MGNA Crrrta has tapped into the absolute recklessness and joy-seeking essence of Indie Sleaze like no other. This can be seen in songs such as “Coke Baby,” where a chorus repeats the title in a gravelly, desperate tone – 32 times for good measure.
Project recommendation: New Jersey (2022)
Song recommendation: $ome Drugzzz, Let’s Go, Hookers of San Andreas