8 Ways You Knew I Was An Indie Superfan... In The ’90s

From the perfect mixtape to vintage tracksuits that smelt like a loft, Anna Doble explores what Superfandom meant back then.

8 Ways You Knew I Was An Indie Superfan... In The ’90s

With the music industry wanging on about "superfans" this is the first in a series of pieces about what that really means. Here's Anna Doble on being a superfan in the throes of Britpop...

A bedroom wall plastered with gig tickets

Gig tickets were our badge of honour in the ‘90s: the more ragged and beginning-to-fade the better. Some had served as a place to write down a phone number, others had doubled up as a beer mat. I arrived at college in Leeds in the autumn of 1998 with a stack of them ready to pin up; these colourful squares with the names of promoters, venues, price tags and door times were proof of my indie devotion – Kenickie, Lo-Fidelity Allstars, Gay Dad, the Manic Street Preachers – but by the second term they had begun to be replaced by club flyers. I became a trainee raver but still always cherished my ticket stubs. I try not to be too Luddite now but one of the things I dislike about modern gig-going is the lack of permanent mementos. You can’t Blu Tack a QR code to the wall.

The ‘I’m in a band’ haircut

My hair misbehaved most of the time in the late 1990s but I never gave up on trying to look like the stand-in guitarist for Elastica’s support act. In Connection is a Song, my book about coming of age through the music of the ‘90s, I talk about the pressure of growing up in a provincial town where clouds of Lynx Africa met you at the door to a club where Kadoc’s ‘The Nighttrain’ wafted from the dancefloor. I didn’t fit in, I wanted my friend’s accidental Britpop fringe but my hair “curled away from the thought”. Much of university was spent snogging boys with indie kid feather cuts and Supergrass sideburns, our hairdos serving as shorthand to help us cut through the towny masses. In retrospect this might not have been the best strategy for finding true love.

‘I’ve made you a mixtape’

In the late ’90s, there was no higher art than the creation of the perfect mixtape with a lovingly crafted inlay; in my case sometimes going the extra mile by employing Letraset and tissue paper. Friendships, adventures in kissing and deep lifetime connections began this way – in the covert handing over of a plastic box, its innards spooled with hidden feelings. Thankfully, and helpfully, the point of these carefully chosen songs was to nearly give yourself away, but not quite. The titles told a cryptic story: it was really all about you and your feelings, but the tale was safely narrated and punctuated by someone else, the singer in the band. Through your esoteric choices you were saying: look at me, I am thoughtful and smart and a little bit mysterious. On any mixtape, there had to be enough weirdness to impress, but adequate familiarity to ensure your desired listener made it to the B-side. Add N To X, then Comet Gain, with a little detour via Arab Strap and then back home safe to a bangin’ tune from The Chemical Brothers and Pulp’s ‘Razzmatazz’ to conclude.

A very public hatred of ‘mainstream’ music

During the 1990s I expended a lot of energy telling anyone who would listen that Jamiroquai were shit, Boyzone had ruined the charts and that Oasis were nothing more than a Beatles tribute band. This open vitriol was an essential part of the indie kid toolkit and the more obnoxious the delivery of one’s views the better, especially when accompanied by a flamboyant gesture. While writing for Leeds Student newspaper at the end of the decade it became a ritual to toss CD singles that we didn’t like from the office window and into the freezing night air. The next day we would often find shards of silvery plastic ground into the pavement next to the kebab van. 

A vintage tracksuit top that smells like a loft

The ultimate sign that you were a child of indie was the vintage tracksuit top, preferably one found in a moment of charity shop glory while a woman to the left of you perused a Daniel O’Donnell CD, and to the right your mum’s neighbour bought a tea cup. My greatest find was the exact same zip-up top worn by Damon Albarn in the ‘Parklife’ video, with its navy sleeves, cream cuffs and green trim. I think it was Puma but on mine, bought in Oxfam in Headingley, Leeds, the logo had peeled away. I did not care and always wore it with bouncing indie pride. A few years earlier, after missing out on tickets to see Blur at Leeds Town and Country Club, I found a pristine dark and light blue Adidas zippy in Blue Rinse, a vintage shop by the city’s Corn Exchange. Mum bought it for me as a consolation and – in the circle of indie kid life - the shop attendant that day was Nick, the drummer from the Kaiser Chiefs. 

A pile of music magazines/papers next to your bed

Melody Maker, the NME, Select Magazine and Vox... sometimes a Record Collector if it featured a modern band rather than Neil Young yet again, and an occasional copy of The Face. These towering piles of glossy paper* were the side tables of the ‘90s bedroom and also served as the TikTok of a pre-internet world. You could balance a cup of tea on Noel Gallagher’s face while explaining to whoever you were in bed with that a) the sample on Saint Etienne’s ‘Nothing Can Stop Us’ was nicked from Dusty Springfield and b) you’ve never had a better free gift than the can of Apple Tango and bag of Nik-Naks given away in a pretend cereal box by the kind journalists at Select

*The post-‘90s indie superfan likely suffered a similar fate when mums across the nation sent these majestic totems of pop culture off to landfill, circa 2008.

Books (that you rarely got around to reading) inspired by the bands you loved

London Fields by Martin Amis sat on my shelf for at least a year in about 1997. Why? Because one of Blur once mentioned it in an interview. My copy wasn’t even mine – it was taken out on loan from my home-town library which led me to racking up a fine so insurmountable (£8-ish) that I eventually returned it under cover of darkness in a covert mission to the marketplace whereupon I shoved the book through the library’s awkward letterbox and ran panting for the hills. Other books on the curriculum in the School of Indie were Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting and Douglas Coupland’s Generation X (which we all actually read).

A pet named after a music hero

Yes, there were kittens called Graham, Alex, Damon and Dave. And in shared houses across late ‘90s studentdom, it was not uncommon to find two goldfish called Kula and Shaker. I never fully subscribed to this fashion but I did have a ginger cat called Boris. No, not that one, but the tennis player Boris Becker who was a late ‘80s/early ‘90s icon in his own way and wore various tracksuit tops that would not have looked out of place on the rails at Blue Rinse (Fila, Puma, a nice bit of nylon piping). The coolest of the late ‘90s indie pet owners would pick a lo-fi American band or musician for extra kudos. There was once a Jack Russell called Thurston Moore... etc.

Anna is the digital editor at BBC World Service. Order your copy of her book Connection Is A Song here. You can find her on LinkedIn here and Twitter here.