'Saltburn' Gave Us The Ultimate Indie Sleaze Playlist
By Ilana KaplanJan 04, 2024
This holiday season, the English countryside was teeming with duplicitously posh co-eds, baroque parties and the noughties indie sleaze craze, which returned in all its grandeur. It was all thanks to Saltburn, the deliriously dreamy cinematic universe helmed by Emerald Fennell who brought to life an erotic thriller-meets-campy revenge tale of toxic elitism. But as amusing as it’s been to watch Ollie (Barry Keoghan) lick Felix’s (Jacob Elordi) bodily fluids from a bathtub (both in the movie and in viral memes), it’s the film’s back-to-back bangers from its early 2000s soundtrack that has made it undeniably alluring.
From MGMT and The Killers to Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Bloc Party, Saltburn’s indie sleaze playlist pays homage to the days when American Apparel had a monopoly on fashion, edgy hipsterdom dominated and opulent clubbing was en vogue. Millennials, in particular, are nostalgic for the heyday of Meet Me In The Bathroom bands — and the movie delivered on those vibes. Saltburn’s epic needle drops have reignited the careers of artists like Ellis-Bextor — whose effervescent dance-pop number “Murder on the Dancefloor” scores Ollie’s nude dance scene around the manor — and Princess Superstar, whose club mashup with Mason "Perfect (Exceeder)” backs Ollie’s birthday blowout.
“It has been unbelievably amazing to see my song going viral on TikTok and even on the UK top 100 charts because of Saltburn —17 years after release,” Princess Superstar told PAPER. “After languishing in obscurity for a while, it’s a beautiful thing for an artist like me. I think it resonates because it's just a fun cunty song, and those songs last forever!”
In the spirit of Saltburn, grab your deep V tees, disco pants and film cameras and get ready to dance to the best tracks from the movie.
There isn’t a millennial who wouldn’t instantly start vibing to the opening beats of “Time to Pretend,” a song band member Ben Goldwasser said was “about becoming rockstars and destroying our lives.” MGMT’s breakout hit the airwaves just before I was graduating high school and entertaining my freshman year of college — and it soundtracked an entire generation. “Time to Pretend” was the ultimate carefree anthem for the rebels and dreamers who wanted to feel and be seen. That era-defining tune has lived on as the band’s breakout hit, featuring prominently in shows like Gossip Girl, Skins and Girls and a slew of commercials alike. In Saltburn, it captures Ollie’s initiation into the Catton family’s luxe lifestyle of pool lounging and pickleball playing.
When “Mr. Brightside” was released in 2003, it wasn’t exactly party fare. The sardonic indie rock cut detailed the devastation of infidelity but its sticky chorus became a beloved classic — a group karaoke anthem and inescapable bar song that you can’t help but start scream-singing to when it blasts over the stereo. It’s even become synonymous with the Nancy Meyers holiday rom-com The Holiday in an epic scene where Cameron Diaz’s character Amanda gets drunk and shouts the classic’s catchy chorus with a glass of wine in hand. In Saltburn, “Mr Brightside’s” seemingly freewheeling placement during Ollie and Felix’s road trip becomes unsettling when the destination ends up being Ollie’s real home.
One band at the heart of indie sleaze was the English rock outfit Bloc Party. To this day, their debut album Silent Alarm is one of the most exhilarating and adventurous takes on suburban ennui. It’s an album that, whenever I’ve returned to it, I discover a new reason to love it. While “This Modern Love” wasn’t a single, it remains the essence of what makes the record so unforgettable — a visceral track that highlights the tension of desire between two people. (Bandleader Kele Okereke even announced last year that he’d be adapting it into a gay rom-com.) It’s the perfect placement for Saltburn when Ollie longingly stares at Felix from outside the bar window, realizing he decided not to invite him out.
“Perfect (Exceeder),” the synth-heavy collaboration between Dutch artist Mason and American rapper Princess Superstar, became an international club hit in 2006. Over the years, it’s found placements in commercials for the 2009 mockumentary film Brüno and was featured in the video game Wipeout HD. But after several years off the radar, Saltburn gave the dance smash a second wind as it played during Ollie’s birthday party as he and Felix experienced their fallout.
Back in 2001, the disco-pop-tinged “Murder on the Dancefloor” took over Europe. Not only did it become a No.1 single and a Top 10 international hit, but Bextor’s most successful song. The campy number represented the heyday of wild club nights and sweaty dancefloors—the peak of indie sleaze partying. Since the release of Saltburn, “Murder on the Dancefloor” has gone viral and earned its most one day Spotify streams ever. It seems Keoghan’s manor romp has, in fact, renewed quite a lot of interest for this one.
“Hang Me Up to Dry” has long been synonymous with Cold War Kids. As the second single from the band’s 2006 debut studio album Robbers & Cowards, the track became a hallmark of the indie-rock scene of the early 2000s. The gritty cut, which details a one-sided relationship, encompasses the ethos of Saltburn. “Hang Me Up to Dry” plays in the background as Ollie, frustrated with Felix’s hard-partying ways, cleans up his bedroom for him.
Ladytron made their mark with their brand of experimental electro-pop in the early aughts indie scene. As the second single from their third studio album Witching Hour, “Destroy Everything You Touch” features a haunting fembot-like vocal that ruminates over the destruction of a relationship. The toxic nature of the track — and the era it was released — makes it an ideal choice for Saltburn. In the film, “Destroy Everything You Touch” plays as Felix’s friends pressure Ollie to buy everyone at the table a round of shots. At the time, Felix believes Ollie can’t afford it and tries to help him out.
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