Club Seal and the Indie Boom

You can tell a band has a particular grip on people when fans turn up to discos and dance only to their songs. Club Seal, on Friday in Islington, was the first ‘indie club’ I’d been to for about three years. Not counting my own, of course. It wasn’t particularly full, but everyone there seemed to be having fun, except for a table of three to the side left of the dancefloor, who sat and drank aloof for most of the night. Setting themselves apart further, they’d made an effort to dress up – one of the men in shabby hobo gear and a tilted panama hat, another in a suit-and-highlights combination that made him look awfully like a shorter Charlie Busted.

Were they here for the beer – it surely wasn’t the tunes or the company? But then why the sartorial effort? At one o clock it all became clear. “Can’t Stand Me Now” started and these scions of young Albion marched to the centre of the floor, shuffled and mouthed every word, and then sat back down again, perhaps to await another Libertines track that never came. Charlie B made the odd subsequent move, but Hat Man held the line and didn’t so much as twitch his hip again.

I’d guess back in the day there were Smiths fans who did the same – maybe even Oasis fans in their era. For their truest fans the Libs are/were top dog – no quarter asked, no imitations accepted. To even respond to other music would be to dilute the aura.

I’m projecting, of course. That kind of monomania is foreign to me and rather fascinating – but maybe they just weren’t in much of a dancing mood and got up to the Libs out of duty more than passion. They looked the part, anyway. Scanning the rest of the crowd the fashion codes of New Improved Indie are pretty oblique – Franz Ferdinand’s call to smartness seems not to have taken; anything still goes. Ian Watson, of flame-keeping night How Does It Feel To Be Loved, calls the modern groups “haircut indie” – it seems a little misplaced, the return of post-punk is a fashion thing alright but not I think a Fashion thing, if you see what I mean.

How Does It Feel keeps a tight and tasteful ship, in fact looking at the website you could be forgiven for thinking of it as an exercise in defining an aesthetic – but lots of friends of mine go and have a great time, so whatever it’s doing it works. But just waving away the new stuff as “haircut indie” isn’t good enough. If we’re to criticise the current sounds we need a better handle on them.

Look to the Libertines, then. What separates them from the Killers, or the Kaiser Chiefs, or indeed from laurelled, statesmanlike Franz? There’s all the public junkie stuff but on it’s own that doesn’t do the trick – what makes it seem to matter is the way it’s allied to manifestos and mythologising and the apparent belief that making their tumbledown racket is intensely urgent. What they share with a lot of the touchstone How Does It Feel acts, and what the other current groups seem to lack, is the sense that making DIY pop music in that particular form is culturally important. At the twenty-year distance between us and Orange Juice or the Bodines, that sense diffuses into a vague aura of integrity, but for the Liberteenies I suspect it’s still keenly felt.