Meet Me in the Bathroom
The Strokes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and NYC’s early-00s indie-rock scene get the in-the-moment documentary treatment by the directors of 'Shut Up and Play the Hits'.
March 16, 2023
In 2022, The Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were meant to share the same Splendour in the Grass bill. Karen O's band didn't make it to what became Splendour in the Mud, but the two groups have shared plenty before — and for decades. Their maps have overlapped since pre-9/11 New York, when both were formed in the turn-of-the-millennium indie-rock wave, then surfed it to success and worldwide fame. Both The Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were born of the Lower East Side pre-gentrification. Both spun in the same orbit as late-90s saccharine pop and Y2K nu-metal rock gave way to electrifying guitar riffs and an explosive sound that'd become a whole scene. Both are led by charismatic singers who came alive onstage, but also found chaos and challenges. Alongside Interpol, LCD Soundsystem, The Moldy Peaches, The Rapture and TV on the Radio, both now sit at the heart of documentary Meet Me in the Bathroom.
Based on Lizzy Goodman's 2017 book Meet Me in the Bathroom, an oral history that focuses on exactly what its subtitle says it does — Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001–2011 — this is a fond look back at bands setting the room on fire and rolling heads as one century gave way to the next. While the film isn't about just one or two groups, it returns to The Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs again and again, and not simply because they're two of the early 00s' biggest NYC post-punk, garage-rock revival names. Listening to The Strokes' first record, 2001's Is This It, is a jolt and a buzz. With Julian Casablancas behind the microphone, it thrums and hums with the energy of hopping between bars, gigs and parties, and with the thrill of a heady night, week, month, year and just being in your 20s. Hearing O's voice is galvanising — intoxicating as well — and has been since the Yeah Yeah Yeah's self-titled EP, also in 2001. It's no wonder that directors Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern just want to keep listening, and also inhabiting that vibe.
Meet Me in the Bathroom jumps around like a mixtape — or, befitting the period, like illicit tunes acquired by Napster and LimeWire, tools that aren't irrelevant to this story. Before technology changed the radio star again, making global fandom easier, better, faster and stronger, the movie's bands had to come to fruition in the first place, however. Lovelace and Southern start with images of the Manhattan skyline, and of New York's subway system. They hero Andy Warhol, Lou Reed and Blondie, ticking through New York icon after New York icon. They position The Strokes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and company's arrival as the next step and, by using such familiar NYC mainstays, they mark Meet Me in the Bathroom's key players as era-defining legends who were always going be legends.
Before this, Lovelace and Southern's best-known film was Shut Up and Play the Hits. In that James Murphy-centric doco about what was then LCD Soundsystem's last gig at Madison Square Garden and in this alike, the directing duo are patently enamoured with their subjects. That doesn't dampen or discount Meet Me in the Bathroom's passion and insights, not for a second — but the film is preaching to the long ago-converted rather initiating 00s-period indie-rock newcomers. There's a wistfulness beyond nostalgia to the movie as well that's a few strums away from being out of tune. The years have passed, naturally. It'll never be the advent of the 21st century again, short of time-travelling DeLoreans or phone booths. Still, The Strokes' last album arrived in 2020, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Interpol released new records in 2022; they're all still together and still touring.
In a counterpoint to Meet Me in the Bathroom's confidence that this talent in this town was always going to lead to this tale, The Moldy Peaches' Adam Green voices early doubts: "I remember thinking maybe New York isn't the kind of city anymore that produces iconic bands." The film wouldn't exist if the names it surveys hadn't made their mark, of course, and helped ensure their scene made a mark. Viewers know that going in, but watching the process via archival footage, home movies and gig snippets from the time, much of it handheld and atmospheric — and hearing from Casablancas, O, Murphy, Green, Interpol's Paul Banks and more — is as immersive and transporting as Lovelace and Southern want it to be. A like-you're-there sensation kicks in; Casablancas looking so fresh-faced assists, plus O talking through how fronting a band helped her work out who she was. (Her comment that there were no women in rock leading the way beforehand aren't as spot-on.)
O is a fascinating, mesmerising, don't-want-to-look-away point of Meet Me in the Bathroom's focus. The movie does peer elsewhere, but the audience wants it to swiftly return. Her transformation from a quiet girl with an acoustic guitar from New Jersey to a rock goddess doesn't just feel fated, but earned. Her honesty, especially when chatting about the solace from racism and sexism she sought in music, then the treatment that women in rock receive, is pivotal to making Meet Me in the Bathroom more than a vivid effort to revisit a time, place, mood and scene. Also, her candour sits in contrast to Casablancas, who the doco gravitates towards as the world did, but conveys most of what he's going to by saying little. The bigger The Strokes get, the less comfortable he is. And, given that everything in the film's frames comes from back in the day, that's without Casablancas knowing that two decades later this documentary would take its name from a track from The Strokes' second album.
Affectionate, in the moment, revealing, reverent: Meet Me in the Bathroom hits all of those notes. It also covers much, from Y2K predictions to 9/11 and its aftermath, sweaty club shows to internet-enabled album leaks, and whirlwind tours through to struggling to get deals and records out. With editors Andrew Cross (Ronaldinho: The Happiest Man in the World) and Sam Rice-Edwards (Whitney), Lovelace and Southern structure the film by feel more than anything else. There's a timeline to this time capsule, but in flitting from one band to the next and back again, choosing where to linger — including an indulgent midsection spent charting Murphy's switch from producer to LCD Soundsystem frontman — and picking what to leave out, mood seems the biggest influence. That's music, though, as anyone who has happily lost themselves to The Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on a heaving dance floor or among a jostling festival crowd knows, as does Meet Me in the Bathroom.
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