‘Being a woman in the indie sleaze era was a lot less fun than it seems now’
Noughties nostalgia is going viral, but it wasn’t the utopia social media would have you believe, says Hanna Hanra
Who’s that tapping at the window? Oh yes, it’s the inevitable return of what people are calling ‘indie sleaze’ although at the time I just called it ‘being 20-something in the mid-to-late aughts’.
During this time I wrote for various newspapers and magazines, but most of my income was earned from DJing. I lived in Dalston with 3 friends in a house that was £328 a month: slightly more than our previous flat on the same street, because it had “a power f*****g shower,” according to Jeff the landlord, who air humped the words out of his mouth with white coke-y spitty bits at the edge of his lips – something so gross I can remember it fifteen years later. It was a very different time indeed.
Life was chaotic, but that’s what made it fun: it wasn’t controlled by an algorithm. You could forge your own identity and make mistakes that were not there for all to see for eternity.
My friends and I had the kind of fun that comes from going out without plans. No-one minded if you had a drug problem, or had bad skin, or you’d fried your hair and it was falling out, that was just how it was. Ketamine was prevalent (not for me, but for many), and by dint of us being a generation who shunned the nine to five in favour of making fanzines, djing, running nightclubs or whatever, it meant that parties ran every night of the week – it was acceptable to be out of your tree from Monday to Monday.
And of course, we didn’t go to the gym or meditate; self care was cutting back on a fourth vodka and tonic on a Tuesday at Catch. When I think about how much I drank, relentlessly, recklessly, every night, I feel sad – for my liver, mostly. If I knew that girl now I’d say she might have a little drinking problem, but then? The only thing she had was fun.
And it was Fun with a capital F. Free and expressive, it was community minded – you had to find like minded individuals in the real world, not the digital. If you wanted to start a night club you printed some fliers and put them in Beyond Retro and people would come. You didn’t need a five year plan, or a website, or a job. Or even ambition – opportunities, more often than not just arose from being out. Working partnerships were forged at a Bistrotheque Pop-up, or a Thursday night at the George and Dragon.
London felt alive, and full of thrust. It was exciting. Magazines ruled everything: they were glamorous portals into the world of celebrity and fashion. Of course, behind closed doors they were filled with underpaid people trying to work themselves out, who wore vintage clothes in dingy nightclubs filled with non-ironic optimism.
It was the demi-decade that saw the financial crash and the Tories return to power – austerity wasn’t a word on our lips until it was but until then brands had so much money to throw at things. Barely a week went past where my flatmates and I weren’t catching the bus to some decadent extravaganza. I was flown business class to Tokyo for the launch of a perfume. I DJed in New York on a boat, where Grace Jones appeared naked in a glass lift and sang to us, I DJed up the Eiffel Tower, in a still derelict Battersea Power Station, in Iceland and Krakow and when I wasn’t doing that I was flown to LA to interview film-stars and musicians for a few pages in indie magazines.
But for all of it’s get-up-and go, it’s fanzine-cut-and-paste aesthetic, it’s flashbulb throwaway photography, 2007-2012 was also a binary time. Being a gay woman in the indie sleaze era was not aspirational. The only ‘celesbians’ were Lindsay Lohan and Samantha Ronson, a relationship that was documented in detail by the press, who referred to them as ‘gal-pals’ because, I don’t know, seeing the word ‘gay’ relating to two women in print might make people puke on their a-symmetric t-shirts. There were no gay characters on TV (if there were, they died, always) – only on the L Word. And as one friend lamented at the time, “it’s so embarrassing I have to keep my box-set in the closet. Right next to my sexuality.”
Nowadays you don’t even have to be defined by the gender of the people you sleep with, but back then, if you were a woman, ‘not being sure’ was like having a neon GAY sign flashing above your head. There was no language to describe the spectrum of queerness. Homophobia was both acceptable and legal.
The first girl I dated wouldn’t walk next to me in the street in case anyone saw us together
There were gay clubs, of course, like GAY, and over in East London, clubs were “gay” (in 2022 lingo they’d be “queer”). Anything went in the sense that men prowled about in leggings, but they weren’t encouraging of out, queer women. It was still ‘yucky’. I didn’t come out until the indie sleaze era was coughing its neon death rattle, and the first girl I dated wouldn’t walk next to me in the street in case anyone saw us together.
Of course, it wasn’t just members of the LGBTQI community who struggled. Allegations against many, many men have been made about things that happened in that era. Consent just ‘hit’ differently, as they say – painful mistakes were made. Mental health didn’t exist. If you felt sad or something bad happened you had a night in watching a new show called Come Dine With Me and then hit the dance floor again to drink your sadness away, and it’s only now that women are finding enough voice to discuss their discomfort of that time.
The indie sleaze era was a time where you could spend £350 a month on rent, £7 on an outfit, £1 on a tasty lahmacun and see Crystal Castles play in someone’s basement for free. Sadly none of those things will return. But thankfully neither will the mindset that came with them the first time round.