There’s a suspension of disbelief in the air in London’s Corsica Studios tonight. Two girls are standing in front of me: one is wearing knee-high tube socks and Amy Winehouse-esque ballet flats, the other is in ripped tights and a top that says “Don’t Bully Me I Will Cum”. Behind me, there’s a man with a devil-may-care energy proudly donning a tie and T-shirt combo, and he looks as if he hasn’t slept for days. Everyone is smoking.
I am in the queue for The Dare’s debut London show. The man behind the moniker is Harrison Patrick Smith, New York’s latest It boy. Just a year ago, Smith was working as a substitute school teacher – now he’s the poster child of the indie sleaze movement, an unashamed dewy-eyed revival of 00s era UK and U.S. culture.
The trend forecaster Mandy Lee defined the era by its “provocative advertisements”, “amateur-style flash photography”, “opulent displays of clubbing” and the “rise in outdated technology”. Think Union Jack shutter shades and blurry shots of Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke DJing at The Lexington. It’s fancifully remembered as a time when people were jobless but had money; careless but cool; drunk but never hungover; drugged up but totally there.
In 2022, The Dare released his first single “Girls”, a song firmly rooted in the bands of that sordid era with lyrics that rejected today’s moral puritanism. The song’s “I’m horny, I’m debauched and I couldn’t give a fuck” energy immediately caught the attention of A) sad and stressed millennials keen to relive their glory days as young bucks with no responsibilities, and B) Gen Zs that are pining for an era they never got to experience first time around.
The song took off on TikTok and Instagram, alongside content with titles like “Five Indie Sleaze Outfits I’m Wearing This Summer” from Gen Zs, and blurry throwback carousels from millennials who now live in Shropshire. The Dare’s popularity has continued to grow as a result of his latest release, The Sex EP. His free-entry New York club night, Freakquencies – an event so baked-in with indie sleaze that all the photos from it look like they’ve been uncovered from MySpace using the Wayback Machine – has also become a success, and has even partnered with brands like Playboy.
The crowd here tonight seem almost exclusively in the Gen Z contingent of The Dare’s fanbase. “I don’t usually look like this – I tried to dress indie sleaze for tonight, I had to,” says Theadora, 24. “It’s just fun… it’s party music,” shrugs Niamh, 20. Not all of them agree with the indie sleaze categorisation, though. “I think the term is derivative,” says Valentina, a 19-year-old student. “The Dare makes music that is harsh and makes me want to move,” she adds, earnestly.
I head upstairs to meet The Dare himself. For a man that seems to embody the essence of the party and uploads videos of himself speedrunning cigarettes, Smith is surprisingly chill. He seems almost nervous as he sips his beer, politely posing for pictures. “I get a kick out of making people laugh or feel joy,” he tells me. “My favourite music makes me feel euphoric, and I want to make music that achieves that through intensity, comedy or just plain madness.”
A few £6 cans of Estrella later – a stark reminder that it isn’t actually 2008 – and I’m waiting for The Dare to come onstage. He’s ten minutes late, it’s already past 10PM on a Tuesday, and the crowd is getting restless. Finally, the lights dim, a techie walks on, hits play on a laptop and a wall of sound hits us. Then it abruptly cuts out and we’re all left in silence again. “Turn it off and on again!” a man enthusiastically shouts from the crowd. Welcome to England, Harrison.
Eventually, the show begins, and The Dare appears onstage in his trademark suit, with a cigarette dangling from his mouth, asking the crowd for a light. Someone sparks him up and we’re off. He opens with a new song, but everyone is so pumped they don’t seem to mind. He follows it with “Good Time”, which includes the lyrics, “Let’s have some fun tonight / Yeah I might start a fight tonight / ‘Cause we’re all on the brink of suicide” – loud, lewd, and fucking fun.
At the 20 minute mark, I realise the lateness may have been a ploy because The Dare actually only has about eight songs. That said, it makes for a ridiculously tight set, with no lost momentum, and as we near the close his suited and booted outfit has been reduced down to a barely buttoned-up white shirt. For the penultimate track, he debuts a new one, “All Night” and starts chanting, “From LA to New York, from New York to LA / Every other state, we’re doing it all night” as if he’s covering LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem”. Needless to say, it brings the crowd to a boil.
By the time his hit single “Girls” arrives, the entire room is jumping, and people around me are grinning at each other and shouting out the lyrics: “Girls who got so much hair on their ass, it clogs the drain”. Then the set finishes, the crowd filter out into the streets, spark up their cigs and return to the familiar glow of their phones.
Of course, any idiot with a passing knowledge of mid-2000s music knows that The Dare emphatically nods to LCD Soundsystem, with a generous twist of Babyshambles. “No one has done [indie sleaze] in a way that isn’t a pastiche. Without the substance, you seem like an asshole. You have to have something new to offer,” a 22-year-old fashion student told me before the show started.
The Dare does seem to offer something new. LCD Soundsystem’s Sound of Silver came out in 2007, long before Snapchat, TikTok, and Instagram were invented, and before Twitter had become a thing. With lyrics like “You’re online, I’m in the club”, The Dare turns our simmering frustration with modern life into danceable, high-energy bops. Despite its well documented atmosphere of sexism and misogyny, the untroubled hedonism of indie sleaze feels so very far from our anxious present. In these shitty times, why wouldn’t people latch onto that?