Time For Heroes: Has indie music got a problem in glorifying drugged-up, aggressive men?

Words: Tom Farmer

Like many teenagers, my heroes are indie stars who have their names with a guitar and a microphone: Pete Doherty, the Gallagher brothers, David Bowie etc. these are musicians who have inspired, entertained and amused millions. However, there seems to be something wrong. Surely, an idol should be someone who is a do-gooder; a Mother Theresa-esque figure who inspires millions through their acts of kindness. Whilst there are many musicians like this, I don’t think I’m alone in saying that the cult figures in indie music are far from angelic. Is it ok that I have a poster of Pete Doherty, blurry-eyed, on my wall? Is it ok that I spend nights on end watching clips of Liam Gallagher fighting journalists? Is it ok that my playlist is 90% male?

To begin, it is almost impossible to separate the intrinsic link between drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll. Whilst many may say this is changing, there is no stigma around snorting lines of cocaine or smoking cannabis in indie music. In fact, for many artists, it is a badge of honour. Infamously, Noel Gallagher compared taking drugs to “drinking a cup of tea in the morning”. Yet, I am obsessed with this man and his music. I yearn and desire for the success he has experienced, as do many millions of people across the world. Surely, there is something wrong here. Aside from music, drugs are constantly presented as a force for evil. We are constantly being bombarded with anti-drugs messages and advertisements. In music, it is the polar opposite: we are bombarded with the message that drugs are cool and (in some cases) the definition of youth. Even when we see the tragic effects of drug abuse in indie stars, this does not tarnish someone’s representation, but instead propels them into stardom. Pete Doherty, an icon to millions, has effectively built his career on being off his face. Despite trying every drug under the Sun and getting hooked on quite a few, he has achieved legendary status, over thousands of clean musicians. This bizarre form of meritocracy is obviously toxic, yet is unbreakable and often unspoken. 

As a young indie fan, it seems like (as well as being “off your nut”) a punch-up or another act of violence can be the launchpad a band needs to achieve stardom. This is not a new phenomenon. The punk scene is full of men who simply just want a brawl. If you listen to any of The Clash’s work closely enough, you will find that every second song is about wanting to get into a scrape. As if by magic, the London Punk outfit have gone down in history as being legends of music. Returning to the Gallaghers, Liam perhaps holding the record for the quickest act of bad parenting when- literally outside the hospital where his eldest son Lennon had just been born-  he had a confrontation with a photographer. Another infamous music clip from the 2000s is where, on attempting to comment on the reunion of the Libertines, frontmen Pete Doherty and Carl Bharat spit lukewarm lager at an MTV presenter. This was not the only confrontation Doherty and Bharat were involved in. After breaking into his co-frontman’s flat, Doherty was threatened by Bharat with a knife. Doherty went to prison, whilst sales of Libertines records sky-rocketed.  Just like drugs, we are constantly told as children to stay away from fights and to “keep our hands to ourselves”. Yet, in indie music, it’s often the adults that need to be taught this. 

Finally, as you may have noticed in this article, I have not mentioned the single name of a female artist. As painful as this is to write, I realized a couple of months ago that I have no female musical heroes. I like Florence + The Machine, along with smaller newcomers such as Jade Bird, but no one has integrated themselves into my record and poster collection to sit with Alex Turner and Pete Doherty. In my defence, I don’t think it is my fault. After the first list of acts for Reading and Leeds 2020 acts, a festival which looks as likely to happen as Liam Gallagher releasing a Hip Hop album, the gender inequality was unbelievable. Out of the 92 acts named, only 20 acts were female or had female members. Another example was the Radio X’s “Best of British” list voted by the listenership, who could certainly be defined as the “Rock ‘n’ Rock faithful”. In the top 100 list, only two songs were by women. The female artists represented were Florence and Amy Whitehouse, who further supports my aforementioned argument about the importance of drugs in achieving stardom in music.  To matters more complicated, at Florence’s headline show in Hyde Park last summer, the crowd was around 90% female. Let’s be honest, a large proportion of the remaining 10% was probably begrudged boyfriends who had been dragged along by their girlfriends. So, to sum up, indie music culture repels women, seemly unless they do drugs. 

Despite my complaining and grumbling, it might come as a surprise to you that I have no objection to drugged-up, aggressive men being heroes. That is because, of course, that seems to be the criteria to gain a spot of my esteemed Spotify playlist. I’m certainly not Russell Brand, promoting the use of recreational substances, or a misogynist. Yet, you can’t fight culture and the views of the masses. The tyranny of the majority unfortunately rules and, if you can’t beat them, join them. 

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