Have you heard? There may or may not be a vibe shift coming. And the vibe may or may not be shifting to “indie sleaze.”
That’s what trend forecasters and apparently all the rest of us are now calling the style that typified the nightlife (and next morning) scene of the mid/late-aughts and very early 2010s. Of course, back then, it was just an unnamed American Apparel-meets-thrift shop look you’d rock to both warehouse concerts and, like, a very niche museum.
One Instagram account that has captured the vibe is the user submission-based profile @indiesleaze, which “Document[s] the decadence of mid-late aughts and the indie sleaze party scene that died in 2012,” according to the Instagram bio. The account features grainy or fisheye lens photos of candid, messy-haired debauchery. Some of the subjects are celebrities and party icons, most are just kids in glitter and hole-filled t-shirts that could be you or me. It’s joyful, embarrassing, scene-y, wistful, and a real good time.
All @indiesleaze photos courtesy of Olivia V. and @ron_snake
The account owner is a 31-year-old who referred to herself only as Olivia V. She began the account in January 2021, and in just over a year it has grown to around 30,000 followers. While that might not sound huge, she’s gotten photo submissions from party kings and queens like the fashion designer Jeremy Scott, the photographer @ron_snake who shot on behalf of Mark “The Cobrasnake” Hunter, Princess Nokia, and more.
“It’s been sort of a whirlwind, surreal experience seeing this account grow,” Olivia said. “I didn’t know that as many people would connect with it as they have.”
But people are connecting with the account, and the time and culture it documents. Looking back is ‘fun’ and ‘sad’ for those of us who lived it as a way to justify nostalgia for when we were younger and hotter and had more fun. The thought that a culture based on dancing your face off to electro-pop might be coming back is both horrifying and exciting for us young 30-somethings. And to Gen-Zers circulating through trend cycles at warp speed, the year 2009 is already retro, partially because it was the very last gasp of socializing before smartphones. Therefore it’s worthy of nostalgic rebirth or at the very least cherry-pickable, fashion-wise.
“It’s easy to see how in the moment people were,” Olivia said of the photos from that time. “Technology was such a big part of this time, but it also wasn’t so integral [that] people couldn’t look away from their phones.”
Olivia is a Toronto-based producer, video editor, and writer who moved to the city for college in 2008. That’s when she developed her indie bona-fides putting on local shows with friends and attending a weekly dance night at a “very cheap” venue where the DJ always ended his set with some MGMT.
Like so many, Olivia found herself unemployed in January 2021 thanks to the pandemic. She was looking for something creative that made her feel good, and thought back to her college and young adult years, a time she associated with fun and connectedness with the scene.
Olivia decided to start an Instagram account to post pictures from that time as a way to have some collective feel-good nostalgia, while also getting a potential jump on what she suspected would be a trend making a comeback. But she needed a name.
She shuddered at any variation of the dreaded term “hipster.” She thought “electro-pop” and “blog haus” described more musical genres than the culture as a whole. And “twee” was a cutesy fashion and music movement that, while it occurred alongside nouveau disco looks, was not the same thing. “Indie,” however, was the umbrella term for the underground music scene of the time which was really the cultural center, so she landed on that anchor. Olivia also thought about the smudged makeup and the messiness of it all, which made her think of “trashiness,” but that felt too negative. Then, she remembered the early 2000s magazine Sleaze, and the Uffie lyric “I’ll make your sleazy dreams come true.” So there she had it: Indie Sleaze.
“It was like you had to be effortless, or at least appear effortless,” Olivia said.
Olivia’s thought process was right on the money. The online aesthetics collective Consumer Aesthetics Research Institute (CARI) lists “indie sleaze” as a distinct aesthetic. Mashable asked CARI for a history of the term and it also began with associations to Sleaze magazine. The concept saw some resurgence in the mid-2010s: In 2016, a CARI-affiliated Facebook group called Post-Post-Y2K dedicated to 2000s/2010s aesthetics posted a poll about what the group should re-name itself. Someone suggested “indie über-sleaze.” Two years later, an aesthetics documenter named Dalia Barillaro created a Facebook group called Indie über-sleaze, and CARI created an official aesthetic category of the same name on its website. In 2021, it shortened the term to Indie Sleaze.
Olivia says that when she looked up Indie Sleaze, there were no hashtags or aesthetics associated with it yet. Probably, the concept was coalescing in more place than one. But it’s clear that in the era of nu-disco, blog house, and indie pop, sleaze was in the air.
The word “sleaze” is a reminder that even if that time was fun, it was also problematic. Party pics and American Apparel model campaigns came with a helping of objectification, while the rising prominence of electronic music failed to acknowledge the black and brown communities where many of the sounds originated.
“In retrospect, this term absolutely fits this zeitgeist, as scumbags like Terry Richardson and Dov Charney (American Apparel) were elevated into celebrity and cultural status,” Froyo Tam, CARI’s lead director, said over email.
Things began to take off for Olivia’s account in October 2021. Trend forecaster Mandy Lee, who said she had heard the term on Tumblr and saw it on CARI, posted a video on her @oldloserinbrooklyn TikTok showing how the trend was coming back. The video went viral, and then suddenly, follows and submissions to @indiesleaze started rolling in.
“People started sending me stuff from across the world,” Olivia said. “Through this account, I’ve been really talking with all these people that have been helping me make the account what it is and giving it back this community driven vibe, which is what I experienced at the time when I was growing up here in Toronto.”
If the Indie Sleaze vibe is in fact re-surging — and not just being fondly looked back upon — that’s what Olivia hopes we really take from it, especially as we rebuild our social lives. More important than fashion is her hope for the return of affordable venues with a sense of community. That there’s an explosion of live music, where bands you love are at the center of your life and your friendships. When we go out, maybe we can keep our phones in our pockets and give party photographers back some business. Maybe we can rediscover the fun of going online to look at a magazine’s pictures days later. Also, let’s leave the ogling Terry Richardson-esque lens in the past, OK? And after quarantines and lockdowns galore, Olivia hopes the vibe shifts to embracing the sexuality of the time — or “get[ting] some of our mojo back,” as Olivia put it.
“We can learn from the past and make an even better kind of revitalization of that era,” Olivia said. “I think it’s good to look back, take the good parts, and incorporate those into a new world.”