Somewhere between the “indie rock revival” of the early-2000s and the emergence of “poptimism” in the early-2010s, the UK charts were dominated by a procession of homogenous bands making a type of music that has come to be referred to as: “Landfill Indie”.
Both beloved and despised, Landfill Indie is basically “indie rock revival” afterbirth. The music industry, upon seeing the meteoric rise of The Strokes, Bloc Party and The Libertines, fanned out across these United Kingdoms in search of white boys with weak jawlines, playing in bands with names like a problematic flavour of Walkers Sensations (hello to Bombay Bicycle Club and Cajun Dance Party).
Dozens upon dozens of identikit “The Somethings” bands were plucked from the pavements of regional towns and dropped onto Radio 1 playlists overnight. From the pages of NME to all-ages club nights to the “Shirts” section at Topman, their presence was inescapable. By the end of the decade, The Kooks’ debut would outsell most albums by The Beatles in the UK, Scouting For Girls had a slew of Top 10 hits, and a band called “The Ordinary Boys” became so notable they ended up with a song on Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
The mass-produced nature of Landfill meant there was a surplus of artists but a dearth of originality, which in turn bred contempt. In 2008, Andrew Harrison of The Word magazine coined the term “Landfill Indie”, essentially turning the entire sub-genre into a critical punching bag. In a 2009 essay partly attributing the appetite for electro-pop icons like Lady Gaga, Little Boots and La Roux to Winklepicker fatigue, Peter Robinson recalls the time he visited the Sony HQ off Kensington High Street and wrote “SCOUTING FOR GIRLS = SHIT” on a chalkboard. “All these bands!” Simon Reynolds similarly reflected in The Guardian in 2010. “Where did they come from? Why did they bother? Couldn’t they tell they were shit?”
In many ways, though, the flack levelled at some of these bands was unwarranted. As Razorlight’s Johnny Borrell noted in a 2016 VICE interview: “Bands weren’t allowed to develop on their own before they were swept up in the machine.” And, for all its faults, the Landfill era was probably the last time any national outlet regularly published phrases like “the Chingford trio”, before the knock-on effects of the 2008 financial crisis clustered the entire industry around the M25. The scene booted open the door for people from outside London to become full-time musicians by singing about what they knew, which is what most British people know: that their their post-industrial hometown or middle-class suburbia was and is shit, that youth is precious and fleeting, and that the most reliable modes of escape are romance and drinking.
Creatively, Landfill Indie remains one of the least exciting things to happen to music this century. The 2000s birthed grime – one of the most significant British musical developments in decades; the mainstream success of emo bands in the US paved the way for countless thriving local scenes; the initial indie boom peeled off into more experimental, diverse and ultimately short-lived subcultures, like nu rave and electroclash.
All of this was far more exciting and influential than Landfill Indie, which hasn’t gone down in British music history as much as it’s been absorbed into British life by osmosis. At some point, these overwhelmingly white, trilby-doffed men singing about local boozers, university girlfriends and World War II became our cultural ground zero, speaking to something so uniquely pedestrian about the British experience that it became eternally relevant. You can still see bastions of its popularity today, with The Wombats drawing one of the largest crowds at Reading Festival 2019 and The Kooks and Bombay Bicycle Club billed to headline separate days of this year’s now-cancelled All Points East (arguably, the true spirit of Landfill Indie lives on through singer-songwriters like Ed Sheeran and Sam Fender).
All of which is to say: those of us who grew up with Landfill Indie have decided to unpack its enduring emotional appeal by ranking the 50 greatest most average songs of all time. For the sake of this list, we’ve defined the “Landfill” era as beginning when Pete Doherty was banned from playing with The Libertines due to substance abuse problems (mid-2003) and ending the day Spector released “Chevy Thunder” (early 2012). We’re focusing on British bands only – so, while Black Kids’ “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You” and We Are Scientists’ “This Scene Is Dead” may be worthy soldiers for the cause, they are American and therefore too unique to be included in this homogenous group of Isle of Wight Festival fodder. Similarly, we have taken all folk-leaning (Kate Nash, Jamie T), pop-infused (The Ting Tings, Lily Allen), garage rock (The Subways), art rock (Franz Ferdinand) and throwback (The Pipettes) bands out of the running for being too innovative, and therefore not True Landfill.
True Landfill is a family caravan holiday in August: kind of shit, kind of a laugh, largely unremarkable. At both its zenith and nadir, it’s “Dry Your Eyes” for couples who have fights at Tiger Tiger; ska for men who drink bottled lager in polo shirts. It’s observational comedy about funerals, a viral video of a fight in a kebab shop, a wooden sign on a mantlepiece that says “Today is a perfect day to start living your dreams.” We have no choice but to embrace it, because it’s always there, floundering between waves of nostalgia and indifference: The Great British High Street of chart music.
– Emma Garland
50: “Mr Understanding” – Pete and the Pirates
These lads are from Reading, where I was born, which is probably the main reason they’ve snuck onto this list. I was the only one on the team who voted for them. Stand up tall, RG crew! – Ryan Bassil
49: “Local Boy” – The Rifles
Considering this is basically like one of Uncle Albert’s sobering monologues from Only Fools and Horses gained sentience and started pinning mod badges to its hat, “Local Boy” goes off. It has a riff that would make Pete Doherty well up, a chorus melody straight out of The Buzzcocks playbook and a video that looks like it was set designed for an episode of Eastenders.
With their most recent album charting at 26 in the UK in 2016, The Rifles are arguably the finest example of Landfill bands fading into cultural obscurity while still doing better on paper than most of your favourite artists ever will. – Emma Garland
48: “House Party At Boothy’s” – Little Man Tate
Another one voted for only by me, Ryan, from Reading. Huge song about going out and getting trashed at some local party, with a questionable music video. Welcome to Landfill. – Ryan Bassil
47: “Annie, Let’s Not Wait” – Guillemots
On the artier side of Landfill were Guillemots, or as they preferred it to be stylised, “gUiLLeMoTs”. Bigged up by publications like NME as a sort of British answer to Arcade Fire, the band’s biggest track “Annie Let’s Not Wait” is a pretty, poppy love song backed by weirdo synths; the sort of music you’d have listened to while staring out of the sixth form common room window, thinking about your crush in the year above and pretending to be in a film.
A wistful and necessary counterpoint to its more lairy bedfellows on this list, the track does still offer the crucial Impactful Indie Chorus, made for throwing your arms around your friends to – because what is Landfill Indie without that? Tis nothing, reader. Tis nothing. – Lauren O’Neill
46: “How It All Went Wrong” – Les Incompétents
Wrap your ears around this and tell me you’re not immediately transported to an unusually hot afternoon at a British music festival anywhere between 2007 and 2011, supping a lukewarm Tuborg and watching a chorus line of lads in straw hats and UV face paint approach whatever tent James Bay is playing in next. – Emma Garland
45: “The Photos On My Wall” – Good Shoes
I don’t want to berate the taste of anyone else at VICE UK, but the fact Good Shoes only have [no spoiler] songs on our list is near scandalous. Not gonna mention which ones didn’t make the cut, but please know I would have voted in more. I remember watching them play an underage show in Highbury in 2007. I wore a retro adidas sweatshirt. I remember. Them. Good Shoes. Anyway, this is a fun banger by a good band with bad cardigans. – Ryan Bassil
44: “Amylase” – Cajun Dance Party
The notable thing about this song by the horrendously named Cajun Dance Party (former members of which went on to form Yuck) is just how many Landfill tropes it manages to pack into its sub-four minute runtime. There is a “1,2,3,4” count-in, shouted by a group, over-enunciated, southern English-accented vocals, that sort of weirdly angular style of guitar that is particularly characteristic of Landfill Indie (the one that sounds like an elastic band being enthusiastically twanged), and a repetitive end section where the singer says one line of the chorus over and over in an increasingly impassioned way. It makes this list, therefore, through sheer determination. – Lauren O’Neill
43: “Second Minute or Hour” – Jack Peñate
With a skiffle-inspired guitar reminiscent of The Housemartins, “Second, Minute or Hour” is a dizzying swirl of a track that is certain to transport you to Shoreditch pre-Brewdog and graffiti tours. It’s also accompanied by an equally memorable music video, in which Peñate puts those of us who have struggled to get past week three on Couch to 5k to shame, running the length of Brighton Beach promenade with ease.
That catchy guitar riff made pretty much every A&R in the country cream their pants, leading to a bidding war for our Jack the Lad. Ultimately, though, he fell foul to the hype train when he didn’t live up to frankly unrealistic expectations of intergalactic superstardom. The track itself is fun and energetic enough to escape being classed as quintessential Landfill, but Peñate’s “jeans and a shit shirt” aesthetic helps carry it over the line. – Jumi Akinfenwa
42: “Gone Up In Flames” – Morning Runner
It’s literally the theme song for The Inbetweeners, what more do you need to know. – Emma Garland
41: “Panic Attack” – The Paddingtons
More men with guitars, this time from Hull. Sonically, “Panic Attack” has as much in common with emo and modern punk as it does Landfill indie, but a band with a name like “The Paddingtons” was always going to find itself on this list.
The second single from the band’s debut album is the most memorable, for being about a man in crisis. Over a driving guitar line, lead singer Tom Atkin witnesses his own mood from the centre of a depressive episode as he rasps and howls towards some sort of conclusion: that he doesn’t want to die. – Hannah Ewens
40: “Romantic Type” – The Pigeon Detectives
The Pigeon Detectives are nothing if not reliable: loud drums, fast guitars and somewhat repetitive shouting. This sort of makes them Landfill Indie royalty, in that, in their early incarnation at least, they totally embodied the sub-genre, providing endless music for montages on Match of The Day (no disrespect: the sync fees are nothing to be sniffed at).
“Romantic Type” in particular leans into all of the band’s – and Landfill Indie’s – usual devices so much so that, if I were to shut my eyes and dare to imagine a wall of death in a Barfly circa 2006, populated by boys wearing those three-button Topman T-shirts, it is this song that would be playing. – Lauren O’Neill
39: “Our Velocity” – Maximo Park
This song does about four pivots in under four minutes, each one a banger. Whatever you think of Maximo Park, that is genuinely impressive.
The bad: lead singer Paul Smith’s omnipresent hat screams “I will corner you at a party and talk about why we shouldn’t judge Morrissey for being a racist.” The good: the first verse shows a rare level of indie fuckboy self-awareness (“I buy books I never read / And then I’ll tell you some more about me”). – Helen Thomas
38: “Hounds Of Love” – The Futureheads
This song answers the eternal question: “What if Kate Bush, but guitars?”
Is it kind of tragic that the Sunderland quartet’s biggest hit is a cover of a song recorded 15 years before the band was even formed? Maybe. But if you don’t feel a jolt in your chest the second you hear the first five seconds of barbershop hollering, did you really live through the 2000s? – Zing Tsjeng
37: “Munich” – Editors
Editors are basically an Interpol tribute band, but that doesn’t mean they’re not entertaining. Like many other Landfillers, they cannot be credited with creating or popularising any new sound in British music. That said, the climactic “Munich” chorus is brilliant. Acknowledging human fragility in a track this anthemic is a powerful move, and lead singer Tom Smith’s vocal skills definitely stand up.
Fun fact: in 2014, Smith was announced as having the largest vocal range of any British singer, beating Freddie Mercury and Elton John. He did, however, once try to charity auction a pair of Converse All Stars that made only £52. You win some, you lose some. – Helen Thomas
36: “Killamangiro” – Babyshambles
What do you get when you cross jangly, deceptively intricate guitars and mid-2000s Pete Doherty wailing like the ghost of a young Victorian boy? The answer, of course, is Babyshambles.
Doherty’s post-Libertines project saw him past his musical prime, but still able to crack out a rousing guitar or two when the mood took him (see: “Killamangiro”). Mostly notable for coming on at parties and making everyone involuntarily go “Ohh, ohh, oh, oh, oh!!!!!” really loudly before not knowing any of the rest of the words, at this song’s best moments – the melancholic turn pre-chorus, the heavy-booted kick drum during it – it almost sounds as good as anything Doherty ever did between the years 2001 and 2003. Almost. – Lauren O’Neill
35: “Somewhere Else” – Razorlight
There’s lots to say about Johnny Borrell. His penchant for white jeans and egotistical comments (like when he compared himself to Bob Dylan, saying, “If you’re comparing our debuts, Dylan’s making chips and I’m drinking champagne”) both stand out.
But Borrell wouldn’t have got to where he is today – a rocker who still racks up column inches every time he speaks – without the songs. And what a song “Somewhere Else” is. It swells and booms; it’s riddled with arrogance, alienation, desire, and it nails the early 2010s biting point between ennui and acclaim. Now, though, it has sadly been relegated (or elevated?) to a BBC Radio 2 break-up tune. – Ryan Bassil
34: “She’s Attracted To” – Young Knives
“Who are these people? They are too stupid to be your real parents!” is one of the greatest opening lines 2000s indie has to offer. Hailing from an English market town called Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Young Knives wore corduroy and tweed, and sounded like they were fronted by Mark Corrigan, with all the yelped, frenzied rage and performed politeness that might suggest.
The culmination of that came in this song, with its narrative about meeting a partner’s parents for the first time and it going… very poorly (it has the visceral refrain, “You were screaming at your mum and I was punching your dad”). There are also some sly observations about middle-class, suburban British life (“we were fighting in the drive under the security lights”).
Mercury-nominated and beloved by Artrocker magazine, I will stand by Young Knives being Actually Good on this album. – Tara Joshi
33: “Stan Bowles” – The Others
“When I first met you / You were wearing, wearing a tunic” has to be one of the laziest opening lyrics of 2000s indie, and also all time. It doesn’t get much better from there, with references to Voltaire, Ginsburg, Cambridge Heath Road and “smoking bone” sprinkled throughout a song that is for some reason named after a “maverick” footballer (of course it is).
That said, it has a sick driving bass line reminiscent of early Bloc Party, and some very satisfying drumming, so in the right environment – i.e. a packed regional club night in 2009 – this would go off: fingers in the air, VK sloshing all over your Toms. But it really is much better as an instrumental. Apologies to Dominic Masters. – Emma Garland
32: “What You Know” – Two Door Cinema Club
Two Door Cinema Club remind me of the best era of softboi bubblegum indie, when owning a cardigan and a guitar was enough to make you a “rock star”. As a teen, I was very attracted to these non-threatening men, who played their instruments with their feet inverted. Is there any correlation between that and my bisexual sexual orientation? I couldn’t say.
Metrosexual slurs aside, this poppy guitar riff is irresistible and will live on forever as transition music during BBC festival coverage. – Helen Thomas
31: “Passchendaele” – GoodBooks
If there’s anything Landfill Indie loves more than themes of masculinity and loss, it is the ultimate combination of the two: The War. Taken from GoodBooks’ first and only album, this song tells the story of a young soldier who died at the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917.
Though its bright chorus and use of horns take more cues from American bands like Death Cab For Cutie or The Shins, this plainly-worded and softly-sung critique of the horrors of war could only have come from some boys who met at a private school in Kent.
Listening to this gives me the same sense of ambient dread as watching one of those feel-good independent films that airs on Channel 5 around Christmas, featuring Penelope Wilton or someone from The History Boys, but I can appreciate a good melody when I hear one. – Emma Garland
30: “Woolley Bridge” – Bromheads Jacket
An ode to “Surrey girls” in all their supposedly waxed and tight-jeaned glory (as with emo, Landfill Indie had more than its fair share of sexism, ranging from “awestruck and not quite sure what to do with the concept of women” – which is where I feel this track falls – and “actually genuinely malevolent”), “Woolley Bridge” was one of the singles from Bromheads Jacket’s 2006 record Dits from the Commuter Belt.
Sonically, it’s Landfill with all the trimmings: crunchy guitars, rumbling drums and a vocal that sort of sounds like someone you’d overhear outside a pub in London Fields. – Lauren O’Neill
29: “Monster” – The Automatic
Curiously family-friendly, this CBBC-ass anthem has kept spirits high on car journeys from Margate to The Valleys. In actual fact, it’s a song about ketamine, so not really family-friendly at all – but fair play to our Welsh representatives for this simply huge song, which pissed off everyone, remains wildly fun to sing and refuses to die. – Hannah Ewens
28: “Daddy’s Gone” – Glasvegas
Glasvegas are what I like to refer to as “dart board indie”. That is, the more matured and heavy-hearted corner of Landfill specifically reserved for blokes who are out of shape but in touch with their feelings (see also: Elbow, Athlete and Escapology-era Robbie Williams).
Glasvegas generally have more bite to them, but “Daddy’s Gone” is a prime example of this particular sub-category. A rare Scottish entry to the Landfill canon, it was received overwhelmingly positively by rock journalists in 2007 because it struck upon a formula guaranteed to win the heart of any British man: down-to-earth lyrics about parental loss, shimmering post-rock guitars and a bloke bellowing his heart out about how all he wanted was “a kick about in the park” with his da. Absolutely fair play. – Emma Garland
27: “Moving To New York” – The Wombats
A song that everyone hates but will still inspire you to grab a friend and start jumping around frantically whenever it comes on in a bar? That is what we call: Iconic Landfill. A simply huge moment in both the history of modern Britain and the formation of Dark Fruits lad culture. I can’t imagine life without it. – Helen Thomas
26: “For Lovers” – Wolfman ft. Pete Doherty
Slathered with lines about Reebok Classics and gin and teacups and all those other couplets about Arcadia but via Camden, “Albion” may have been the better Pete Doherty choice here. I say might. Love him or hate him, The Libertines and Babyshambles frontman is a brilliant songwriter, and “For Lovers” is probably the best attempt he’s ever thrown toward the UK charts.
Soft, delicate – just like the beautiful boy before and beneath the drugs – it feels more like a classic British love song, in the vein of Ronan Keating or Gary Barlow, but by someone who mostly sang about romance and getting loaded on bugle – and is, therefore, cooler. Got nominated for an Ivor Novello award, too. – Ryan Bassil
25: “Lucio Starts Fires” – Joe Lean & The Jing Jang Jong
Possessing hands down the worst band name since bands began, Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong were a bit like an indie version of the 2012 Mayan Calendar conspiracy, in that they made a lot of noise in the press, promising something terrible that was thankfully never delivered.
In JLJJJ’s case, that “something” was their much-hyped self-titled debut album, which promised to bring back real rock ‘n’ roll with a sound that hadn’t been heard since the halcyon days of Razorlight a few years earlier. Curiously, the album never actually materialised, despite being sent out to music critics, reviewed in the NME and then bizarrely retracted as it “didn’t represent their current sound”. – Jack Cummings
24: “Send in the Boys” – Milburn
As a Sheffield band, Milburn were condemned to languish in the shadows of Arctic Monkeys, but they knew (and indeed know – they reformed in 2016 after an eight-year split) their way around a brawny-as-fuck banger. “Send In The Boys” is my favourite example of that nouse.
The track gallops in with the energy of an Olympic sprinter who’s drunk at least four pints and a Jagerbomb, as noisy drums give way to a “Teddy Picker”–style guitar line, before such a thing was even a twinkle in Alex Turner’s eye. – Lauren O’Neill
23: “Face for the Radio” – The View
“Face for the Radio” is “Wonderwall” for the Bebo generation, released during that brief period when saying your poseur enemy looks like he watches Trainspotting “15 times a week” was the ultimate dunk.
A beautiful ditty about the virtues of being ugly – and perhaps even a mild criticism of the hopeless, cyclical nature of capitalism (“Wages on a Friday / Spent on Saturday!”) – I can only recall this song with a full whiplash spinal-cringe. – Hannah Ewens
22: “We’ll Live and Die in These Towns” – The Enemy
Here, we start getting into territory that is essentially “Oasis, but after people stopped paying for music”. An impassioned track about the societal consequences of regional deprivation, it’s hard to work out if this song is supposed to encourage you to become accepting of your background or aspirational for more. Either way, it makes me think of pints. – Helen Thomas
21: “Apply Some Pressure” – Maximo Park
Maximo Park always occupied a weird hinterland in indie – a bit intellectual, but not enough to be Art Brut; a bit arty, but not enough to be Franz Ferdinand; catchy riffs, but not catchy enough to break America.
I think they probably knew all this and slightly hated themselves for it, but that’s why “Apply Some Pressure” works – it’s two minutes, 42 seconds of steroid-fuelled guitars, under a weedy Billingham boy negging himself, talking about how ashamed he is of fancying a girl, but it’s actually fine, mum, he’s fine, because he’s not having a breakdown, he’s just jumping around to loud guitars!!!
I can only imagine the number of straight teenage boys who listened to this during sixth form, obsessing over a girl they liked with the kind of pounding heart and abject self-hatred that only straight teenage boys can summon. It’s top marks from me. – Zing Tsjeng
20: “She’s Got You High” – Mumm-Ra
This is surely an archetype for “overly-earnest, pining white boy looking for a manic pixie dream girl” kind of music. It was on the soundtracks for both (500) Days of Summer and The Inbetweeners, which is much more revealing than anything I could add by way of description, but I’ll give it a go.
Mumm-Ra were from Bexhill-on-Sea, they were MySpace darlings and, for reasons that are retrospectively unclear, they had a toy duck as a mascot. It would be easy to make fun of such an unashamedly sincere and twee band and song, but “She’s Got You High” has guitars that float like a dream, and it does a solid job of conjuring up that warm, fantasy feeling of being loved-up. – Tara Joshi
19: “See You at the Lights” – 1990s
A relentlessly hooky song, and possibly the only entry to seriously interrogate the sonic possibilities of jingle bells (and hand claps!), “See You at the Lights” is one of the best tracks by the very underrated Glasgow three-piece 1990s.
Defined by straight line riffs, an enjoyably Bobby Gillespie-like vocal performance from singer Jackie McKeown and, obviously, the bit that goes “ba-da-ba-ba-da-ba-da-da-da”, “See You at the Lights” remains on the cooler side of the late-2000s Carling Academy sound, and stands up today as an impressive slab of Landfill Indie that has earned its considerable swagger. – Lauren O’Neill
18: “Two Doors Down” – Mystery Jets
Was it this music video that popularised the “indie cindy” look – plum coloured tights, bangs, playing the drums – or was it merely a reflection of the era? Regardless, this 80s-inspired banger is joyful, cutesy and fun. I have absolutely no shame in admitting that I once queued up to get a signature from the Mystery Jets, that “Two Doors Down” was a big part of my teenage soundtrack, and that lead singer Blaine Harrison is an accessibility activist hero who had his hairstyles jacked by Matty Healy. – Helen Thomas
17: “Men’s Needs” – The Cribs
Once considered to be West Yorkshire’s answer to The Strokes, The Cribs are truly the alternative darlings of Landfill Indie. Once hailed “The biggest cult band in the UK” by Q Magazine, “Men’s Needs” pushed them right into the mainstream – arguably to the detriment of their previously permanent position on NME’s Cool List.
Their edginess was evidenced in their decision to open this track with a strike of a snare drum that almost feels accidental. Or was it intentional? We’re simply not cool enough to know.
With a jangly guitar riff that borders on ear-worm territory, coupled with lead singer Ryan Jarman’s unmistakable Wakefield drawl, “Men’s Needs” is that track that was certain to grab the attention of the pretentious yet irresistible guy who managed to squeeze himself into his older sister’s Kate Moss for Topshop jeans. – Jumi Akinfenwa
16: “Valerie” – The Zutons
That yearning ripple of guitar in the intro, the zig-zag sax riffs, that epic chorus – it’s a shame this will forever be relegated to lists like “12 times the cover version was better than the original”, because it’s such a sweet, euphoric little song from the Zutons. The Liverpool band made blues-y kind of indie, replete with colourful, chaotic instrumentation, and they were kind of silly but ultimately a lot of fun? Remember, the kind of fun where you didn’t care how you looked? (Just kidding, I have always been painfully self-aware.)
Anyway, compared to the slick swing of the Mark Ronson and Amy Winehouse cover, there’s something that feels a bit quaint and sexless about this now – but isn’t that low-key what most British indie was all about? These were unabashedly tender songs sung by people in bad jeans, fumbling over very sincere emotions rather than, you know, shagging, and we were all here for it. – Tara Joshi
15: “Sofa Song” – The Kooks
You know that thing about guilty pleasures not actually being guilty pleasures, because once you climb past your ego and get over yourself they’re actually quite good, and nothing to feel guilty about? That’s basically 75 percent of The Kooks’ Inside In/Inside Out.
This is one of the best tracks on that album. Everyone who shopped at Topman in the late-2000s would no doubt pick “Naive” or “She Moves in Her Own Way” as the best Kooks tune, but real Landfill Indie heads – those who shopped for suits at Beyond Retro – would whisper to you that they liked this tune the best, while sucking on a liquorice paper cigarette. And if they didn’t fess up to liking it, there’s a strong chance they were lying and listened to it in secret. God, growing up is awful. – Ryan Bassil
14: “About Your Dress” – The Maccabees
If you didn’t have “You stood out like a sore thumb, the most beautiful sore thumb I’d ever seen” in your MSN name in 2007, can you really call yourself a Landfill Indie enthusiast?
“About Your Dress” is realistically the peak of The Maccabees’ particular brand of Landfill – noisy, sharp-cornered guitars that feel like the soundtrack to the inner monologue of a 17-year-old, pained but polite lyrics sung in Orlando Weeks’ signature quiver, and a gentle strain of masculinity that united football lads with boys who carried around copies of The Catcher in the Rye like Birkin bags, making sure everyone saw.
A genuinely great song by Britain’s Poshest Band. – Lauren O’Neill
13: “If You Wanna” – The Vaccines
I have a genuine fondness for “If You Wanna” – a breakup song that is neither “good riddance” nor “I’m so sad, maybe I should chop my dick off”. The protagonist respects his ex’s decision to leave, but wants to make sure she knows that he is always, always an option to her. So much so that the phrase “you wanna come back” is repeated 16 times in this timeless beta anthem. – Helen Thomas
12: “Always Like This” – Bombay Bicycle Club
I’ll start with the caveat that I was a giant Bombay Bicycle Club fangirl – as in, I made MySpace friends through a mutual love of the band (shout out Mia, Tom, Jacob, hope you’re well) – so this entry might be a bit biased.
Named after an Indian restaurant for reasons that were probably funny when they formed (they were, in fairness, teenagers at the time), this north London band started out making guitar songs about house parties, Hampstead Heath, being too scared to make a move on romantic interests (mood!) and even titled a track “Emergency Contraception Blues”.
Their influences were maybe a little more ~Serious than some of their peers (they would namecheck Pavement, Slint, Mogwai), front-person Jack Steadman’s tremulous voice had a Marmite appeal, and they had an engaging youthful vitality (it was a classic hallmark of their shows to have the stage invaded).
IMO, this is the song that showed their ability to reach beyond the Landfill Indie confines: the relaxed, ambient synth loop at the beginning and that delicious little riff would set them up for some of their best work, blending taut instrumentation, catchy hooks and dreamy electro. – Tara Joshi
11: “Boys Will Be Boys” – The Ordinary Boys
Armed with a wardrobe full of Burton Menswear cardigans, The Ordinary Boys came along looking to infuse a bit of “oi oi saveloy” into the UK Charts of 2005. All credit to them, “Boys Will Be Boys” is undeniably catchy and, despite reinforcing a rhetoric that could simply never run today, its knowing cheekiness is what gives it its charm.
The Ordinary Boys were never going to be the next Rolling Stones – or even Madness, if we’re sticking to the realm of “dad approved ska” – but lead singer Preston’s stint on Celebrity Big Brother and subsequent Never Mind the Buzzcocks appearance suggested that he was anything but “ordinary”. His marriage to former Paris Hilton impersonator Chantelle Houghton might have given off a “Pete Doherty and Kate Moss” feel in their eyes, when in fact they were more, well, Preston and Chantelle.
While career-defining for him (using the term very loosely), this ultimately served as the downfall for The Ordinary Boys in the court of public opinion. Resigned to Soccer AM highlight reels, this song is truly a reminder of what was a much simpler time. – Jumi Akinfenwa
10: “Bang Bang You’re Dead” – Dirty Pretty Things
Blessed with the clout of being a Libertines offshoot, Dirty Pretty Things were a group that genuine music nerds, Skins fans and Jack Wills models could all agree on for a while. They didn’t outstay their welcome, folding after a couple of albums, and in all honesty it was for the best.
With its mocking barbs (“Oh tell me what did you expect / Oh you’re so easily led”), “Bang Bang You’re Dead” is part-ironic death march, part laughing match. It’s widely believed to be about Pete Doherty, which Carl Barat has denied, but to whom else would he have given the “midas touch” (the only phrase to appear as many times in Landfill Indie as in the Bible) only for it to be thrown back in his face? – Hannah Ewens
9: “22 Grand Job” – The Rakes
“Twenty-two grand job? I’ll be having some of that, please” – is what I told myself when I was 13, doing a paper round for a tenner a week, and this song was released. When I eventually hit that titular wage bracket, I was in my early twenties, living in London, and realised, much like everyone else, that 22-grand a year isn’t much to get by on.
While Hard Fi’s “Living For The Weekend” was a song about what happened after the working week ended – echoing what rave culture had done years earlier, but to a shit tune – “22 Grand Job” communicated the experience of being mildly satisfied with the life you were able to live on a meagre pay cheque.
It’s not great, but it’s alright. That was how post-university life felt before the global economy went to shit and this song became a relic, along with homeownership and back-combing your hair. – Ryan Bassil
8: “Mardy Bum” – Arctic Monkeys
It is important to note here that while the Arctic Monkeys are not a Landfill Indie band, “Mardy Bum” is a Landfill Indie song. We know this because it sounds like something you would hear during a scene transition on an episode of The Inbetweeners.
As one of the most successful British acts of this century, it’s safe to say that Arctic Monkeys themselves have transcended the Landfill label – that nail was smashed into the coffin the moment they released an album set on a fictional space station – though it probably never applied to them in the first place, considering that even their first record, the honest-to-God rhapsodic Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, felt as genuinely exciting as guitar music by four white boys can.
It’s fair to say, however, that the band were some of the main instigators of Landfill Indie, inspiring many copycat acts (lots of whom are featured in this list) who attempted to replicate their success, and inevitably did so in a less surprising and dynamic way.
“Mardy Bum” – with its singable riff (a very important quality around these parts), relatableLAD lyrics about a moody girlfriend and down-to-earth northern-ness – was like rocket fuel to the fire of the Landfill genre we’ve come to know, enjoy and tolerate. We celebrate its contribution, not least because it brought the word “reyt” into common parlance. – Lauren O’Neill
7: “Hey Scenesters” – The Cribs
Imagine trying to explain the term “scenesters” to a Gen Z teen: “Like hipsters, but this very specific cultural moment in the 2000s that your now tragically uncool millennial relatives thought would last forever?”
Anyway, “Hey Scenesters” will be one of the artefacts that future musical anthropologists will pore over in the centuries to come as the perfect distillation of the Landfill era. Angular guitar riff? Check. Poorly communicated turn-of-the-millennium ennui? Check. Sneering use of the word “darling” in a “come on sweetheart, we’re all post-Nuts magazine here” way? Go on then.
If you want to know the true legacy of this track, the last time I heard it played was to a crowd of very enthusiastic ageing hipsters at a wedding party where the cake was a pile of artisanal cheeses. Everyone went mad for it, including me, which says it all, really. – Zing Tsjeng
6: “Not Nineteen Forever” – The Courteeners
I was 16 when this dropped and remember thinking a) that it was good, and b) that I had at least three years to go before reaching the age when everything would change. Somewhere in my early twenties I dug the song out on an old iPod and mentally accosted both The Courteeners and my teenage self: ‘What the fuck were they talking about? Being 19 was shit.’
Now, the song strikes a different chord. I’m 28; 19 feels far away – far enough to listen to a song I was too embarrassed to say I liked when I was in my early twenties, and to properly enjoy it. I guess that’s one thing getting old does to you: you enjoy things without worrying whether or not you should.
The lyrics go, “I know it seems strange, things they change.” When I was younger, that sentiment seemed good. I wanted to go forward to the better life, but as an adult it’s more complex. I miss being young. I really miss loads about it, and it’s never coming back, and “Not Nineteen Forever” makes me feel those feelings all at once, in a way some of my favourite songs just don’t. The jury’s out on whether I’ll feel the same about any other Courteeners song by the time I’m 80, but “Not Nineteen Forever” is immortal. – Ryan Bassil
5: “Six Queens” – Larrikin Love
Babbling about tragedy, morals, lipstick and bloody murder like Russell Brand after a gram of speed, vocalist Edward “Larrikin” Leeson seems to use Catherine Parr – Henry VIII’s sixth and only surviving wife, who was allowed to keep the Queen’s jewels and dresses after his death – as some sort of metaphor for gender identity.
“I’m the sixth queen / I’m the wrong queen / I’ve got mascara running through my bloodstream” go the opening lyrics. Later on: “I was a boy who yearned to be a cover girl.” It’s hammy, and loaded with stereotypes, and isn’t really about anything other than quixotic English boys’ obsession with “societal underbellies” they’ve never experienced, but it does literally sound like a wine-drunk classics student reciting a poem down Regent’s Canal at 2AM – and for that it ranks high.
Larrikin Love were basically the bridge between The Libertines and Patrick Wolf – a jagged, folk-inspired indie outfit with a thespian flair (by which I mean they cited Arthur Rimbaud as an influence and had a violin player). “Six Queens” is confrontational and feminine, perfectly embodying indie’s short-lived era where every man desperately wanted to be both a rugged Irish traveller and a 19th-century poet with a billowing white shirt and chlamydia. – Emma Garland
4: “Naïve” – The Kooks
Fourteen long years after the release of “Naïve”, I challenge you not to feel something as you listen back and hear Luke Kook’s raspy vocals come in over the second loop of that choppy staccato guitar. Yes, this is pure Landfill-by-numbers, but it was painted by the Michelangelos of the genre. The way it builds from a soft and restrained stutter – with vocals growing ever more frantic into a swirling chorus of youthful energy and GCSE English-level lyrics – make it one of the least forgettable songs on this list.
Despite being titled “Naïve”, it remains the most sophisticated song The Kooks ever wrote, launching them into the relative immortality of soundtracking 17 Again and a singular episode of One Tree Hill. It’s just a shame The Kooks never brought out another song half as good as this; plus, its memory will forever be tainted by the fact their debut album, Inside In/Inside Out, also contained a song named “Jackie Big Tits”.
In perhaps the same way people from the south had no idea what Alex Turner was on about in “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor”, I’ve sung along to this 1,000 times but still had to look up the lyrics to the bit when Luke Kook warbles “fond of asking”. Comprehension issues aside, to me, “Naïve” will forever represent the innocence of summer, oversized sky blue plastic sunglasses and the generous v-neck selection at Topman. – Jack Cummings
3: “Don’t Go Back To Dalston” – Razorlight
If there’s one man who defined, embodied and lived Landfill Indie, it is Johnny Borrell. Having spent his early career in the disorderly orbit of the The Libertines – whose place in rock history was cemented by a desperate kinetic energy, mythologised love-hate dynamic and vision of a dilapidated Britain animated by romance and narcotics – Borrell went on to form the spectacularly middle-of-the-road Razorlight.
Alongside “Golden Touch,” “Don’t Go Back to Dalston” formed the centrepiece of Razorlight’s 2004 debut album Up All Night – though to hear it now, it feels like a dirge to its genre and the scene it generated, sung by a man who personified both. “Don’t go back to Dalston,” Borrell near-hums. “Don’t go up the junction.”
The song feels like a psychic sealing off of a time that listeners will never have again, “Dalston” a symbol for all the places associated with that early 21st century London indie boom. Over three minutes, the track builds rowdily, soundtracking a supercut of memories from a time when girls dressed like Jenny from The Chase and everything sort of smelled like mephedrone; a time that, for many, coincided with youth and freedom.
In 2020, the track’s pained repetition of “Come back to me” sounds less like Borrell appealing to a lover to return home, and more like an articulation of our weird relationships with nostalgia and the past. In everything it evokes – winklepickers and hair you couldn’t get a comb through if you tried, and, fundamentally, a younger version of yourself that you will never get back to again – “Don’t Go Back to Dalston” is a distillation of the reasons why Landfill Indie still appeals emotionally, despite the fact it is sometimes not actually very good. – Lauren O’Neill
2: “Fuck Forever” – Babyshambles
Anyone worth their salt knows “fuck” is the best word in the English language, so following it with the next best word – “forever” – is the zenith of all statements. It’s not hate. It’s not love. It’s two fingers toward the idea that anything, whether good or bad, could last more than the precise amount of time in which you feel that things, which it cannot.
It’s a song about happiness, but a happiness that’s trying to be upbeat in spite of whatever else life has thrown at you.
“New Labour or Tory.” “Death and glory.” The choices here seem stark and wild, so why not take the hedonistic route away from everything and “fuck forever, if you don’t mind?” That’s how Pete Doherty has always seen things. He toured Russia as a teenage poet, thanks to a grant from the British Council, was in one of two British bands to “break” America since the days of Blur and Oasis (the other being the Arctic Monkeys), then slowly succumbed to what seems (per quotes from him) to be a life of opioid daydreams, away from everything.
Like everything else by The Libertines and Babyshambles, the feeling within “Fuck Forever” can be tooled toward whatever you want. That’s the beauty of Pete Doherty’s music. He gives you the words, you live whatever you want through them. – Ryan Bassil
1: “Chelsea Dagger” – The Fratellis
The Fratellis have described this song as a “double-edged sword” – the thing that made them and killed them. But I’m sure everyone who’s written a stone cold masterpiece has felt that way.
“Chelsea Dagger” is the song you write when you’re taking a shot at rock superstardom. In an interview with The Guardian, Jon Fratelli recalled that magic moment: “I found the notebook with the lyrics the other night. It came to me really quickly,” he said. “I was going [sings the familiar refrain] ‘Do-do-do-do-do-do,’ and it was so easy to write that I couldn’t believe nobody had ever used [the melody] before.”
Neither could the people of Britain. “Chelsea Dagger” demands the listener tear off their top, tits akimbo, and howl into the night. With that rolling drop, stomp and slap, it has more pomp than a travelling circus, more pizzazz than a Bugsy Malone number and, with almost alchemical precision, the exact degree of stupidity as people who still yell “Gary” at festivals. By the final chorus, crowds will yield to its power, hand-in-hand in with enemies, weeping and screaming.
The Fratellis reached the very peak of what Landfill Indie could achieve when they charmed a nation and cemented their place in football matches, pubs, karaoke booths, weddings and summer barbecues for at least another couple of centuries.
“Chelsea Dagger” is the sound of COVID-19 being over, your friends and family safe, as you steam towards your favourite people at the pub. “Chelsea Dagger” is the sound of it being fucking On. – Hannah Ewens
If you feel strangely compelled to revisit all these songs again, we’ve put the full playlist on the VICE UK Spotify: