New York City has always been known as a hotbed of cultural activity, with various artistic movements arising from the city that never sleeps. One such movement was the indie rock scene that emerged in the early 2000s. This era of music is celebrated in Lizzy Goodman’s 2017 book, Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City, 2001-2011, which chronicles the emergence of bands such as The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, and LCD Soundsystem. The book’s title is a reference to a now-defunct nightclub in the East Village that served as a popular venue for these bands early on in their careers.
The book is a time capsule of a scene that is now over a decade in the past but continues to influence popular music today. The book is a comprehensive look at the bands, musicians, and personalities that helped make the scene what it was. It is also an insightful exploration of the factors and conditions that allowed this surge of indie rock bands to emerge from New York City during that time.
Goodman presents a vivid portrait of the people who shaped the scene, from the members of The Strokes to the managers, producers, and fans who supported them. She tells tales of the bands’ early shows at grungy bars and clubs, the DIY ethos that guided their early careers, and the strange series of events that ultimately propelled them into the mainstream.
One of the key factors contributing to the emergence of these bands was a shift in the music industry. In the late 1990s, major labels began to focus on boy bands, pop stars and rap. This left a gaping hole for alternative, guitar-driven rock. This paved the way for independent labels to take the reins and bring new sounds to the fore.
Another factor contributing to the rise of the New York indie scene were the lifestyle and setting of the city itself. In the early 2000s, Manhattan was not yet completely gentrified and was still largely affordable for young people. The East Village, in particular, was home to a thriving artistic community, with rehearsal spaces and cheap apartments littering the neighborhood. Venues like Brownies, Mercury Lounge, and Bowery Ballroom provided stages for new bands to cut their teeth, while quirky bohemian hangouts like Lit Lounge and Niagara were social hubs for the burgeoning scene.
This unique setting was fertile ground for bands to take risks and experiment with new sounds. In this scene, music was a shared experience between the bands and their fans, as everything was done at a grassroots level. Shows often turned into wild parties, the bands and their audience in a state of mutual intoxication. There was a palpable sense of excitement about the music and the potential it had to bring people together.
The scene reached its peak between 2001 and 2004. At the forefront was The Strokes, a group of young men who embodied the zeitgeist of the era in their leather jackets and shaggy haircuts. Their debut album, Is This It, was a near-perfect distillation of the sound that would define the era. With catchy melodies, simple guitar riffs, and a New York cool that was as irresistible as it was effortless, the album became an instant classic.
However, as with any cultural movement, there were challenges and controversies. Substance abuse and infighting plagued many of the bands, leading to the demise of some, and the creative maelstrom ultimately scuppered the happy party vibe surrounding it.
In retrospect, the New York indie rock scene of the early 2000s stands as a moment in time that can never be duplicated. The conditions that made it possible- the convergence of talent, a changing industry, and a unique setting- have changed too much. The city has changed as well, with gentrification driving artists away from the places that make the city so vibrant. And most importantly, the internet has had a profound impact, changing the way people consume and produce music.
That said, Meet Me in the Bathroom serves as a nostalgic reminder of a time when the world was a little less complicated, and the music was a little bit simpler. It’s a tribute to a scene, a group of people who came together to create something beautiful and meaningful, and a reminder that, even if it could never happen again, we should always appreciate when it does.