Nostalgia for the retroactively named “indie sleaze” movement is going strong right now. With the popularity of cultural historian Olivia V.’s Instagram account documenting the party scene of the era, as well as the rise of revival acts like The Dare and Snow Strippers, the rockers and hipsters of the mid Aughts–early ’10s are getting a second outpouring of love. At the same time, however, there has been some criticism of the movement as predominantly white. While conversations about demographics and gatekeeping can be crucial, it’s also important to make sure that the contributions and accomplishments of POC artists aren’t erased. Black and brown artists didn’t just participate in indie sleaze—they were some of its most talented icons, helping to shape the scene for fans of all stripes.

Without further ado, here are some artists who showcase the diversity of the indie sleaze movement.

Bloc Party

In the early 2000s, English rockers Bloc Party gave a copy of their demo to certified indie legend Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand, along with a note expressing their desire to support his band at a show. They soon found themselves sharing a stage with them—and making a splash with debut LP Silent Alarm. The record was voted NME’s Album of the Year, and it’s easy to see why—singles “Banquet” and “Helicopter” have stood the test of time, due to passionate vocals from frontman Kele Okereke and guitar riffs that call to mind Gang of Four. They continued releasing music to great acclaim until the early 2010s; now, after a hiatus, they’re back on the scene. In 2022, they returned with sixth studio album Alpha Games and supported Paramore during their American tour. More recently, they released The High Life EP, which features a collab with KennyHoopla (a 26-year-old rising star whom many have described as carrying their torch for a new generation).

M.I.A.

It’s impossible to tell the story of indie sleaze without mentioning M.I.A. (a.k.a. Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasm). The London-born Sri Lankan is multitalented—she majored in visual art and film, and pursued several projects in these disciplines in the early 2000s—but she’s best known for her music, which blends electronic and hip-hop sounds with social commentary. Her most popular singles, “Paper Planes” and “Bad Girls,” manage to convey powerful political messages via irresistibly catchy club hits—“Paper Planes” (in the tradition of The Clash’s “Straight to Hell,” which it samples) satirically remarks upon xenophobia, while the music video for “Bad Girls” was shot in solidarity with the women’s right to drive movement in Saudi Arabia. M.I.A.’s contributions to the music industry have earned her many accolades: she’s the first person of South Asian heritage to be nominated for a Grammy and an Oscar in the same year; she was also named one of Esquire’s 75 most influential people of the 21st century. 

Santigold

Much like M.I.A., Santigold is far from a one-trick pony. The American singer, born Santi White, double majored in music and African-American studies at Wesleyan; she also fronted a Philly punk act called Stiffed in the early 2000s. While playing with the band, she was offered a solo contract with Lizard King Records. Shortly after, she was catapulted into stardom with a sound that blended dub and hip-hop sounds with pop structures. Debut singles “Creator” and “L.E.S. Artistes” garnered acclaim from Internet publications, paving the way for tours with stars like Björk, Jay-Z, and Kanye West. Her biggest hit, 2012’s “Disparate Youth,” has appeared in a number of advertisements, films, and video games. In addition to releasing her own music, Santigold has collaborated with a number of iconic artists, both as a featured vocalist and as a songwriter; she’s worked with Mark Ronson, David Byrne, The Beastie Boys, and Tyler the Creator, to name a few. 

Black Kids

Few indie sleaze groups boasted the joie de vivre that Black Kids possessed. The American rock band, fronted by sibling duo Reggie and Ali Youngblood, made a splash with a 2007 performance at the Athens Popfest in Georgia. Soon, everyone was talking about them—Vice snapped them up for an interview, while NME urged readers to boost them on MySpace, and Rolling Stone dubbed them an “Artist to Watch.” Their debut album Partie Traumatic—produced by Bernard Butler of Suede, who knew?—quickly cemented itself in the cultural consciousness. Singles like “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance with You” and “Hurricane Jane” really do feel like a celebration—Reggie’s vocals are reminiscent of Robert Smith at his poppiest, while Ali couldn’t sound any more upbeat.

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