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Meet Me In The Bathroom reminds me how lucky I was to live through a proper epoch in music

New documentary Meet Me In The Bathroom celebrates the New York music scene of 20 years ago but what happened to it – and us – since?

A crowded dancefloor in New York

A DFA Records party, as seen in Meet Me In The Bathroom. Image: Ruvan Wijesooriya

I haven’t yet seen Meet Me In The Bathroom, the new documentary about the New York music scene of the early 2000s, featuring never-before-seen footage of artists including The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol and LCD Soundsystem. But several years ago, I tore through the 2017 book of the same name which inspired it, by American music journalist Lizzy Goodman. If the film is even a patch on that deeply researched, revealing, funny and controversial oral history, then I’ll probably enjoy it.

In part, I suppose, because it’s snapshot of my musical youth. Not that I was lucky enough to spend my youth anywhere near NYC – about the closest you got to the Big Apple in early-to-mid 2000s Edinburgh was drunkenly devouring an American hot from Pizza Paradise at four in the morning. But through the music, fashion and exhaustive magazine coverage of what the NME dubbed “the New Rock Revolution”, I vicariously lived and breathed it from afar for a formative phase of my student years.

I was even lucky enough to have an occasional brush with bands in its orbit as the scene blew up into a global movement, such as when a cusp-of-fame Franz Ferdinand played a spontaneous New Year’s Eve gig in my bedroom.

Not everyone is lucky to live through a proper epoch in music, small bean and ultimately transient as this one may have been compared to, say, punk or acid house. A lot of it, or at least a lot of how it was framed and hyped, was probably as much a product of a British and American music media grasping to revive the thrills, hysteria and attendant mag sales of grunge and Britpop as it was anything else. But epochs are few and far between in music, especially now, in a digital age when tastes and scenes have become atomised. This one was mine. I had the long straggly hair, I had the Converse, I had the scuffed-up leather jacket.

Life has long since moved on, just as it should. My hair’s short and greying now. Chuck Taylors just don’t pass the comfy footwear test. By chance, I found that leather jacket in a wardrobe the other day. Miraculously it still fits, but I felt like a right wally pulling it on and swiftly put it back.

But imagine life had never quite moved on?

As its defining releases all pass the 20th anniversary mark, the early 2000s NYC scene has been subject of countless recent retrospectives and hagiographies. Already it’s become trapped in amber, its main protagonists destined to relive the same memories again and again, with a little less insight and excitement each time. It’s a fate all music epochs are destined to share, but to which I’d argue this one is particularly predisposed, being as so few of its artists have properly progressed.

Some of the era’s biggest bands, such as The White Stripes, have long since split up (or, in LCD Soundsystem’s case, split up to tremendous fanfare then swiftly reformed). Other progenitors and leading lights, such as Jonathan Fire*Eater’s Stewart Lupton, have sadly passed away. A few others have fallen spectacularly from grace. I dare say Ryan Adams, who features prominently in Goodman’s book (and is its main source of controversy, as the man blamed for exacerbating Albert Hammond Jr. from The Strokes’ heroin problem), features scantly if at all in the documentary, having been accused of serious sexual misconduct by several women back in 2019.

The two biggest rock bands of the era, The Strokes and Interpol, have been chronically unable to step out from the shadow of seminal debut albums – 2001’s Is This It and 2002’s Turn On the Bright Lights respectively. With every new record, they look and sound a bit more hollowed out, a little more jaded, a little less dissatisfied to trade on past glories to diminishing returns.

The Strokes band
The Strokes, who feature in Meet Me In The Bathroom. Image: Colin Lane

As is evidenced at the conclusion of Goodman’s book, The Strokes and Interpol’s fate was to burn out on drink and drugs, while being overtaken by much more business savvy second-wavers whom they had inspired – such as Kings of Leon and The Killers. Ultimately, Meet Me in the Bathroom is an all-too-familiar tale of an independent and organic movement co-opted and eventually eclipsed by forces of capitalism.

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Be all of that as it may, and by pure coincidence, one of my favourite records of last year was by arty misfits of early 2000s NYC Yeah Yeah Yeah’s – by my estimation one of the only groups to have transcended the scene. Cool It Down is the trio’s first new album in nine years, and their first since signing to respected American indie label Secretly Canadian. A humble step, after four major label records, but by all appearances shrewd and revitalising. The album’s lead single Spitting Off the Edge of the World, featuring Perfume Genius, was one of my favourite songs of 2022 – a towering wall of reverberant electronic sound, full of beauty, anger and attitude.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs latest single Blacktop, released in February, is even better, in a completely different way. It’s a disarmingly stark and simple song about pain, loss and letting go, singer Karen O’s mellifluous and tender vocal dancing in the negative space, juxtaposed against synth drones and a clacking drum machine beat. In a spoken word middle section, she quotes verbatim a verse from Dylan Thomas’s 1945 poem Fern Hill – a wistful reflection on a happy youth, and being at peace with the inevitability of aging. “Time held me green and dying,” Karen O whispers, “though I sang in my chains like the sea”.

Maybe I could try wearing that leather jacket again after all.

Meet Me in the Bathroom is in cinemas now; Cool It Down by Yeah Yeah Yeahs is out now on Secretly Canadian

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