Maybe the reason that indie sleaze is back is that it allows you to be really, unashamedly horny. It makes sense that following the prudish detente of the 2010s, there is nostalgia for the era of Terry Richardson sexploitation, smoking a cigarette in your G-Star Raws next to a dumpster, Uffie rapping about popping the glock in a British accent. Indie sleaze brings us full circle to decadence, to licentiousness, to the come-hither gaze of American Apparel ads of yore that seems to say: Let’s fuck.
It is not back for those who were into it the first time, but instead for young people in their twenties—a generation of people who are not really millennials but also not really zoomers, who remember 9/11, just barely, were preteens for the recession, grew up reblogging nose bleed photos on Tumblr and smoking weed to Odd Future, and then graduated from college between the caution-filled eras of #MeToo and the pandemic. Some of them now party in a crook between East Broadway and Canal, a slice of Chinatown called Dimes Square, a scene that is exhaustingly compared to the Williamsburg of the early aughts, despite the lack of any sort of legitimately serious musical output. It is full of kids cosplaying as pre-existing archetypes from a sexier and simpler time, who wish they were in TV on the Radio but are not. Kids like Harrison Patrick Smith, a 27-year-old musician who fashions himself as indie sleaze incarnate and performs incredibly horny electronic pop as the Dare.
He’s become very popular, very quickly. A few years ago, he was at the helm of the winsome indie rock band Turtlenecked. In the past year, following the release of his debut single “Girls,” he’s quickly ascended to the ranks of guy who DJs Hedi Slimane’s parties, sits front row at Gucci, eats at “every single Keith McNally restaurant, twice,” and after a major bidding war ends up on Republic (home of the Weeknd and Taylor Swift). You cannot read a profile of him that does not compare him to someone like James Murphy or the members of the Rapture. When Smith screams over a drum machine and tells you that he likes “girls who like to fuck” and “girls who got so much hair on they ass, it clogs the drain,” he is doing LCD Soundsystem doing Justice doing Peaches doing Liquid Liquid doing Lizzy Mercier Descloux. All of it is an ouroboros, all of it is connected.
But Smith is not quite the provocateur that the hype would lead you to believe. His debut EP Sex is not a particularly erotic collection of songs, nor is it very cool; it would even be generous to call the four tracks “silly.” It’s less indebted to the DFA maxi single than to the early-2010s megahits that came out when Smith was a teen, like uncle-nephew duo LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem,” or like Macklemore’s“Thrift Shop, which opens with “Whaddup I got a big cock.” Indeed, the title track, “Sex,” which is, of course, about sex, features Smith saying things like “Sex! I think I had it once/I think I had a bunch,” over the strident electrical charge of a synthesized click track. The song moves at a breakneck pace, kind of alluring the first time you play it: You might imagine a strobe light chopping up your face as you straddle a stranger in a nightclub bathroom. But play it again, and again, and again, and it kind of sounds like the Right Said Fred song, “I’m Too Sexy,” or maybe an Italian guy from Rimini writing about fornication with Google Translate. In other words: You would not want to have sex to this.
“Good Time” has Smith doing his best “Losing My Edge” impression. The synthesizers sound like someone revving the engine of a motorcycle and blowing through a red light as he yelps, screams, throttles his voice into a falsetto. It all hinges on Smith saying things like, “I’m in the city while you’re online!” and “Hope my set sounds good outside,” feigning some kind of exclusivity. The lyrics seem to suggest: If you listen to this song by the Dare, you will be cool, like me—unlike people who do not listen to the Dare, who are uncool. It is a formulation that looks better on a T-shirt than in a song, where its snarkiness is a little exhausting. It’s trying so hard to not try hard.
Then there is “Girls,” which is offensive, parodically and purposefully misogynistic, but also funny and good. “I like girls with no buns/Girls that’s mean just for fun,” Smith almost-rhymes. It’s an earworm, something to shout at someone when they shove a key under your nose or while you push your tiny sunglasses into your face. But it is not, as some people will lead you to believe, a song that will save rock music in New York. Because Harrison Patrick Smith’s ridiculous horny music is not genius or innovative like James Murphy’s early interventions as LCD Soundsystem. Instead, Smith is only prodigious at one thing, something that took Murphy years to figure out: churning subcultural credo into mainstream publicity, which if you think about it, is not very sexy.