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Their Love Is Cool: How Wolf Alice Reclaimed British Indie

01/07/2015 17:29 BST | Updated 01/07/2016 10:59 BST

Somewhere between the cherry picker and cherry picking from Queen's back catalogue on Saturday night at Glastonbury, Kanye West informed the crowd he was the greatest rock star on the planet. Not even one of his bolder claims, it was enough to irk the dadrock contingent placated by a compensatory Sunday line-up topped by headliners The Who - themselves sneering at the idea from the same stage West had stood on 24 hours earlier.

At some point over the last decade, then - possibly just after The Libertines blew themselves out and before Kate Moss unveiled her first Top Shop collection - Britain's idea of a 'Rock Star" became a one-note caricature. A previously alternative lifestyle was hijacked for the high street and infused by - at the very least - a deep-rooted conservatism and, where attitudes to West are concerned, possibly something far worse.

Over a similar if not greater period the same fate has befallen 'Indie' music. Originally a genuine refuge from the mainstream Top 40, the indie chart's pomp came some 25 years ago when bands preferred to focus on their footwear rather than the top ten. Compiled entirely from the sales of records on independent labels it eventually produced a predominant sound of its own - gazey, wavey, ravey - you knew it when you heard it. Indie music was wonderfully unfocused and all the more mesmerizing as a result. It eyed success with deep suspicion, if it eyed it at all.

Rotated with the Rock and the Dance charts on Channel 4's (then ITV's) The Chart Show and shown once every three weeks it was a completely different beast to the national top ten, yet amusingly still had to suffer quirks like Kylie being No.1 on a technicality (Stock, Aitken & Waterman's label PWL was as independent as anyone else's) much to the frustration of fans waiting for the new Chapterhouse video.

Over the next few years this awkward standoff between indie and pop melted away and strangely (as well as being genuinely mind-blowing at the time) indie briefly had the upper hand in the national charts - probably right up until the release of Wannabe in June 1996 - though by this point it's sound had been contorted to fit the mass mainstream audiences still up for grabs in a pre-internet age.

By the time the next wave of British indie came along in 2004 its link to actual independent labels - increasingly tenuous in the 90s - had loosened further and despite the arrival of bright sparks such as Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party the genre was increasingly becoming short hand for blokes, haircuts and skinny jeans - with the results largely horrific.

It's mostly been diminishing returns ever since with much head-scratching and investigations into where "real" music went coupled with failed attempts to "save" guitar music and hand-wringing inquests asking "where have all the rock stars gone?" So when the Wolf Alice record dropped last week it felt like the last twenty years had never happened for a variety of reasons.

Their male/female dynamic feels refreshing - not a contrived industry attempt to cash-in on a Fleetwood Mac revival - but instead coming across as purely incidental in the same way no one particularly considers the gender of The XX. And, like the latter, lead vocals are up for grabs with drummer Joel Amery delivering on the never-more-indie-titled Swallowtail (starting like one of The Vines more reflective moments before an explosive & swirling Ride-esque finale)

Much like Jamie XX's recent debut, the album gathers momentum as it goes on and the blinkered short-termism of front-loading albums with radio friendly hits (an indie practice peaking with The Killers Hot Fuss ten years ago) is finally abandoned here for a desire to stretch a diverse if familiar sound across all 12 songs and trust the listener to stay with them more than they might, say, the lazy critic. And diverse it is - not only from track to track but sometimes in the space of one song - journeying from Wilson Phillips to MIA as they do on Silk.

Five years in the making, importantly My Love Is Cool came out when it was ready - an organic process that saw changes in both line-up and musical direction along the way yet tellingly this hasn't damaged them. Just a decade ago a new band's success was still time-sensitive and not delivering to either the NME or Radio 1 at the critical moment could prove fatal. Wolf Alice's ability to be patient at peak-hype suggests a brave new world awaits alternative bands that want to get it right, one not solely dictated by gatekeepers.

Elsewhere there are signs things are changing. When the aforementioned Ride headlined Field Day last month, Andy Bell cut a liberated figure lost in a sonic din, free of the need for overt rock star swagger. It suited him. Both Q and NME have Kanye on their cover in newsstands currently for the first time suggesting that a grow-your-own Liam policy might now not be the only route forward.

If nothing else Wolf Alice represent an opportunity to finally re-think what a British "indie rock star" might be and, on an album that travels all the way from The Cocteau Twins to The XX in one sitting, a chance to overlook a lot of what's been forgettable - and regrettable - in between.