Any indie music fan knows 2002-2004 was a great time for indie music. That raw, DIY sound, was all over radio stations. The Strokes, the Arctic Monkeys, and The White Stripes were taking over the world, paving the way for a whole generation of shoe-gazing bands and mumblecore acts. But, just as Julian Casablanca was becoming a household name in NYC, there was a band of pretty messy misfits changing the game in the UK: Let’s talk about The Libertines.
The band was formed in the late 90s by Carl Barat, Pete Doherty (who would soon become a tabloid fixture), and John Hasall and Gary Powell. Though, if there’s anything you need to know about this band is that its creative process was largely centered around an insanely chaotic yet prolific songwriting partnership between Carl Barat and Pete Doherty. In fact, their peculiar relationship was just as famous and compelling as their heartfelt lyrics.
Who Were They?
As much as artsy types like to pretend is all about talent and art, the indie scene is all about influences. If you are inspired by the right people, you immediately get indie cred. Carl Barat and Pete Doherty could name drop all the right people as inspiration for their music. Doherty has long been a fan of The Smiths (which is pretty obvious if you pay attention to his lyrics), and the Sex Pistols. Barat, on the other hand, is a fan of The Velvet Underground and The Clash. The Libertines was a weird combination of all. There was the chaotic lively energy of their live shows reminiscent of The Clash. The insightful sometimes provocative lyrics a la Velvet Underground. Political subjects peppering their lyrics like The Clash, and the depressive, nostalgic tone of The Smith. All in a fairly unpolished package.
The Libertines are largely labeled as Indie Rock, or Garage Rock Revival, though no one would blame you for thinking of them as rebellious pop. Though their recording were pretty lo-fi and seldom involved complex mixing, most of their singles still sound like slightly aggressive pop jams sung by drunken British sailors. The raw, indie, punk power they are often credited with mostly came through in their live performances. They were known for doing improvised guerrilla gigs in their flat in London. The shows often ending with them just hanging out with their fans. This approach also extended to their releases. They would often release new songs online for free, and interact directly with their fans on forums, sharing ideas for unfinished songs and unveiling meanings behind the more cryptic lyrics.
The End of an Era
In 2004 The Libertines came to an abrupt end. By then, Doherty had become a regular face in British tabloids both because of his messy on and off relationship with Kate Moss (yes, that Kate Moss), and because of his high-profile heroin addiction. The official reason for Doherty leaving the band was that his rapidly decaying stability strained his relationship with Barat leading to the separation of The Libertines. Their separation was largely the inspiration for Libertines’ single Cant’ Stand me Now.