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Tommy (2007)
Photography Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

Indie sleaze dispatches: nostalgic photos of mid-00s London

As the chaotic fashions of the early 2000s are poised for revival, photographer Rebecca Zephyr Thomas shares her images from the first time around

In 2004, New Zealand-born aspiring photographer Rebecca Zephyr Thomas moved to Shoreditch, the British epicentre of what we’re now dubbing “indie sleaze” – the infamous 00s trend recently identified by forecaster Mandy Lee as set to make a resurgence. 

Flat-hunting with friends at that time, Thomas recalls their primary criteria was that their new home must be in walking distance of the Griffin – a now-demolished pub on Leonard Street that functioned as a grotty hub of east London hipster nightlife. “The Griffin was famous for its threadbare carpet that smelt of sick, but it was also a real community centre for a certain creative type in Shoreditch in the 2000s,” Thomas says. “Amy Winehouse’s future husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, worked behind the bar and shagged one of my housemates for a while. It was grungey but you might catch the odd indie star in there on a Friday night.”

Characterised by a low-fi, mash-up, Tumblr aesthetic, plenty of smeary kohl pencil, Ronnie Spector bed-head hairdos, and American Apparel standards as a counterpoint to charity shop finds, indie sleaze was a look immortalised in the high-contrast Polaroids and flash-lit photography that prevailed at the time. “I was never a real indie person – I liked Dr Dre – but I definitely appreciated the look and also the fact that the ‘indie sleaze’ uniform was so easy and cheap to assemble,” Thomas tells Dazed. “All you needed was a vintage dress, slogan tee-shirt, a pair of Converse, Wayfarer sunglasses by Ray-Ban and you were away. The only expensive element would have been the haircuts.”

Thomas recalls: “I shot all these photos on my father’s 1970s Nikonmat camera that I’d nicked when I moved to London in 2002 from New Zealand, everything was on film, it was a bit of a Luddite move in the early 2000s as most people were using digital... My photography style was resolutely anti-commercial – no models, no studios, no lighting setups, no stylists. I shot with either available light or on-camera flash and I mainly used the upstairs of pubs or the street as my locations.”

Throughout the period, Thomas worked part-time at Agent Provocateur whilst becoming embroiled in the world of London nightlife, never missing an opportunity to carouse around with her camera. Over the years, she amassed an archive of images capturing the faces of this febrile scene in the pubs and streets of the so-called “Shoreditch Triangle” and beyond, as well as becoming a regular at The Underage Club – a club night for teens founded by Sam Kilcoyne. “I was partying quite hard, which had its downsides,” she remembers. “But it meant I met lots of interesting people who I then took photos of.”

Below, Rebecca Zephyr Thomas talks us through a selection of mid-aughts indie sleaze portraits, recalling the characters on the Shoreditch scene and her memories of the kids who lived through it the first time around.