RECENTLY, writer and singer Louise Wener was up in the attic of her home when she chanced upon an old green T-shirt, crumpled and rather washed out after more than 20 years. The four words on the front – “another female fronted band” – were still perfectly clear, but their meaning and context had, perhaps, faded away. Here was something like the Turin shroud of Britpop, imprinted with the attitudes of the time.

Wener had worn it in a magazine photoshoot, intending it as an ironic comment (there was a lot of ironic commenting back then) on the media obsession with treating women singing and playing music in groups with anthropological puzzlement, as if such a thing had never happened before. It became quite a famous garment in its way, part of the iconography of the 1990s, and it is possible to go online and buy replicas – “as worn by lead singer Louise Wener of Britpop group Sleeper”. But it is unlikely that Wener herself, now 50 and a novelist, will wear the original when the reformed group headline the Star Shaped Festival, a forthcoming package tour of Britpop acts. “I just wish,” she laughs, “that I could get into it now.”

Is Britpop still a good fit for Britain? Blur, Suede, Sleeper, Echobelly, the Bluetones: many of the bands from that scene are now back together, and – as demonstrated so movingly by the spontaneous chorus of Oasis’s Don’t Look Back In Anger at the St Ann’s Square vigil for the Manchester bombing victims – at least one of the era’s swaggering anthems has taken on a new life as a tender street prayer.

Yet Britpop does seem distant. You couldn’t have a Britpop now. The associations of Britishness back then – optimism, youth, creativity, tolerance, peacockish energy – are very different from what that word means in 2017. Britain feels anxious and angry: its existence is threatened by Scottish independence; its security by terrorists who despise our democracy and liberal values; and its future prosperity by EU leaders who, naturally, wish to get the better deal in the divorce settlement.

We have gone from Noel Gallagher’s Union flag guitar to Nigel Farage’s Union flag socks, Cool Britannia (cringey though that was) to a Britain that seems unsure of its place in the world. The world, or at least that portion articulated by the US media, is pretty sure of how it sees Britain, however. In March 1997, Vanity Fair celebrated British pop culture, “Swinging London” in particular, with a 25-page feature crowned by a cover photograph of Liam ’n’ Patsy reclining, apparently post-coital, on red, white and blue pillows. In April of this year, the New York Times published a feature headlined “Will London Fall?” which considered, gloomily, the prospects of the capital post-Brexit.

So, how to soundtrack our present cultural and political moment? This Is a Low, Blur’s masterpiece, and arguably the greatest song of Britpop, uses the soothing language of the Shipping Forecast – “Up the Tyne, Forth and Cromarty/There’s a low in the high Forties” – to drift woozily over these isles, tacking between melancholy and euphoria. Were Damon Albarn to sit down and write that song today, it would likely emerge a good deal stormier, and less insular. “I’m just worried that we’re isolating ourselves as a country,” he told Channel 4 News in May. “Isolationism, to my mind, is going back. We need to go forward.”

Albarn may very well be right. But let us, for the moment, indulge in a backwards glance; Britpop revisited. It was an extraordinary time, and there has been nothing comparable since. “Britpop was a sometimes glorious, hedonistic bubble of energy that imploded to leave a vacuum and a coming down for those involved, some of whom are still unable to move on from their glory days,” recalls Sonya Aurora Madan, the singer with Echobelly. “It was like being caught up in an utterly powerful wave.”

Britpop, arguably, began with the release of Suede’s debut single The Drowners in May 1992 and ended with Oasis’s cocaine-bloated Be Here Now in August 1997. Alternatively, one could regard it as a movement which took place between two deaths – Kurt Cobain and Princess Diana, each marking a cultural shift.

My personal Britpop (you may have your own) is bracketed by two Suede concerts. On April Fool’s Day, 1993, I went to see them at the Plaza in Glasgow, and they were wonderful: romantic, dramatic, charismatic; afterwards, my friends and I went clubbing and then walked home through a city that seemed lit by the afterglow of Suede’s performance as much as by the cool morning sun. Seven years later, I saw them again, at a fanclub gig at the Garage. I interviewed Brett Anderson that day. He was sallow and hollowed-out, hunched and stiff in a thick black parka, offering surly answers or none at all. Later, during the show, he flicked a lit cigarette into the crowd, which seemed entirely in keeping with the contempt emanating from him in waves. Subsequent interviews revealed that this would have been a period during which he was a user of heroin and crack cocaine. That dying fall – from optimism to opiates, from mirabilis to miserabilis – is very much the story of Britpop.

“Drugs were endemic and some bands got caught up in that to such an extent that making records was almost impossible,” says Louise Wener, whose memoir Just for One Day: Adventures In Brit-pop offers an insider’s account of the scene’s hedonism and narcissism. “I think drugs were also a huge part of why the music became such a downer. It stopped being a very pop, celebratory movement and became much more serious because lots of people had fallen foul of addiction. But there was also a sense in which some Britpop bands became a bit ashamed of themselves. They’d become so pop and vibrant and knees-up-Mother-Brownish that they felt they had to take a step back.”

This cockernee apples-and-pears aspect of Britpop is perhaps the reason why, more than 20 years on, the movement is often regarded with embarrassment and disdain. A handful of albums are accepted parts of the British canon, but much of the music remains dismissed as gauche and inauthentic. Is this fair? Doesn’t Britpop deserve reappraisal?

“Musically, I think a lot of the best Britpop stuff is tremendous,” says the novelist Alan Bissett, who has an “endless fascination” with the scene. “Suede’s Dog Man Star is way out there, completely radical for its time. And as far as Oasis goes, the sheer roar of the first two albums still sends shivers up my spine. They meant it. They weren’t faking it. Oasis are going to be rediscovered, I think, by every new generation of young people because they embody something so rarely found in music these days, a class consciousness.

“Britpop was actually a very complicated cultural phenomenon. It’s very easy to write it off as a Blur vs Oasis pissing contest, but there was a lot about nation, gender and class going on. I came from a working-class background, so I did feel included in that moment, but Britpop can now be seen as a farewell to British working-class culture. The sort of people being sung about on Blur’s Parklife or Pulp’s Different Class and who felt represented by Oasis have now been completely left behind both culturally and economically.”

One criticism often levelled at Britpop is that it was essentially conservative: white, straight males playing guitars. As Tracey Thorn observed recently, at the 1996 Brit Awards, Oasis were named Best British Group while Massive Attack had to settle for Best British Dance Act; dance being code for black. “It was,” she wrote in the New Statesman, “a classic piece of Othering.”

This idea of narrowness does not ring true for everyone. “Britpop had its fair share of colour and strong women, perhaps more so than what is around at the moment,” says Sonya Aurora Maden, born in India, whose band were notably diverse. “How many current videos contain women with next to nothing on? It has become the norm.”

For Wener, Britpop’s gender politics were frustratingly hypocritical. “It was a difficult thing to navigate,” she recalls. “We live in a culture in which women are pressured to be beautiful, and yet you cannot at any stage celebrate it. If you do feel that you are good-looking, God forbid that you should ever say so. Now that I’m old and falling apart, I actually wish I’d revelled in it a bit more. We were very androgynous, a lot of us at that time. There was a sense that to be taken seriously you had to put on your jeans, big boots and leather jacket and stride out there with your guitar like the guys did. We retreated from other notions of femininity.”

Luke Haines is the man to ask about Britpop. He has, after all, some claim to having invented it. As acknowledged in his memoir Bad Vibes: Britpop and My Part in its Downfall, the 1993 debut by his band the Auteurs, New Wave, can be regarded as the scene’s first album. In Haines’s view, Britpop could have been creatively interesting, but there came a tipping point when laddishness took over. “I felt I was up against a rollercoaster of stupidity,” he recalls over a drink in a Glasgow pub, his Panama hat sitting next to his pint on the table. The problem, he believes, is that the 1960s influences channelled by Britpop were the blandest sort. “Instead of the Incredible String Band and Interstellar Overdrive, they were harking back to Freddie and the Dreamers. Even Oasis were about as dangerous as Herman’s Hermits.”

Why, then, was the music not better? “Because it wasn’t oppositional. All those bands were very on-message. They were all keen to be seen as top of the class and part of the music industry.”

If Britpop did indeed have its own message discipline then this was an area in common with New Labour. The photograph emblematic of the period is Noel Gallagher shaking hands with Tony Blair in 10 Downing Street on July 30, 1997. As Labour entered government for the first time in 18 years, and as “indie” bands found themselves on Top of the Pops, each seemed a reflection of the other’s success. The outsiders, it was felt, had taken over. That this required compromises, political and artistic, did not seem terribly important at the time. Success was all. In retrospect, however, the symbiotic relationship between music and politics feels a little tawdry, and the reaction – in both cultures – has been to attempt a return to a sort of consoling ideological purity. Ed Balls, asked to explain the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, articulated the view of his party supporters thus: “Oh God, can’t we just get back to dreaming? Can’t we be outsiders?” This, more or less, is the indie mindset post-Britpop, Jarvis Cocker’s Mis-shapes returning wounded to the sidelines.

Britpop, then. It felt like the start of something, but perhaps it was the end. Chart positions mattered and were based on huge sales of physical records. Bands inspired tribal loyalty and could build lasting careers. Britishness was not toxic. Our present loss of faith in politics and the media had yet to happen. Yes, a fair bit of the music has not aged well. I would be content to never again hear Country House or Roll With It. But put on Animal Nitrate, or Acquiesce, or Elastica’s Never Here and now you’re talking. That music is exciting, but oddly comforting too.

“To me, Britpop represents optimism,” says Louise Wener. “Everything back then seemed simpler than right now. People were doing all right, and it felt like the new generation didn’t have much to worry about. Life seemed like it was changing for the better. But those feelings have been more short-lived than we would ever have imagined.”

Here, perhaps, is the truth about nostalgia. A new dawn, recollected at twilight, seems twice as bright.

The Star Shaped Festival, headlined by Sleeper, is at the O2 ABC, Glasgow, on August 12. Visit