The early 2000s was a ripe time for the music industry, with physical record sales plummeting and piracy and trading websites like Napster on the rise, it was an unprecedented time for music. One where no one really had an answer to, forcing record companies to scramble and close up any loopholes they could find. However, the joke was on them, because soon enough those file sharing and streaming services would eventually become the preeminent way of consuming music.
The twenty-first century’s introduction was a tumultuous one, rotted by war, terrorism, and shitty pop music. Rock guitar bands found themselves going out the window, with the fall of 90s grunge into the boy-band pop of the new millennium. Even the cover of Rolling Stone depicted the end of rock music in early 2001, displaying a tombstone in the shape of an electric guitar. But while all the politics were going on, there was a quiet music uprising going on in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
After the events of 9/11, there was a gaping hole left in the music scene in New York. Much like the death of JFK left a void for hope giving rise to the success of the Beatles in the U.S., 9/11 ripped a hole out of the middle of America, making us desperate to hang onto something, resulting in an out-pour of post-punk music from the city – bands like the Strokes, Interpol, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, LCD Soundsystem, the White Stripes from Detroit and Wilco from Chicago, used former punk elements to revive a classic garage rock sound, bringing the rock guitar barely back into fashion. It was a breath of fresh air of sorts, echoing sounds of the Velvet Underground and Joy Division and Nick Cave, it brought about an organic spontaneity to fill the void that was torn open early on in the twenty-first century.
In 2002, the Strokes felt like they could’ve been the biggest band in the world. And for a second, they were. The release of Is This It? resuscitated the classic rock and roll sound that had been lost a decade before. It had blazing guitar riffs, fast but metronomic drums, and raw lo-fi vocals – it was a sound that was all but forgotten. But in 2002, all of that changed. The Strokes had brought it back into popularity, if not just for a moment, giving rising millennials an audible backdrop to drive around in their new cars, a familiar sound that reminisced good times to fall back on. It was the sound of a new generation.
At the same time, while the Strokes were on the rise, several other bands were plotting their own musical revival in New York. Interpol and Yeah Yeah Yeahs were all affiliated with the band and each other, but had their own ideas of how to interpret New York life. Interpol’s Turn On The Bright Lights was similar to Is This It? in that they both evoked nostalgia. But whereas Is This It? was about friendships and familial relationships, TOTBL portrayed New York as it was unfolding around them, an environment full of walking home on dirty subways and sleeping on 200 couches. It was an album that threw back to the 70s and 80s, an album that depicted an ending of a pre-Giuliani New York.
And again, in another part of the city, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were forging their own lo-fi post-punk sound that would soon become Fever To Tell, another record of raw, emotional angst brought on by the city’s youth culture.
However, all of these records were made in a certain state-of-mind. They were all reactionary responses from what was going on in the city at that time. The events of 9/11 put forth a fertile breeding ground for new music to be developed. It opened an emotional void that needed to be filled, allowing the youth to cling on or retreat to anything that made them feel comfortable, to not have to be scared.
But like I said, these records were all made in a social state-of-mind, a state-of-mind that would eventually become stagnant a few years later. Now, 15+ years after all these records were released, they still echo the same meaning, the same nostalgia. Which, as a result, cause these bands to peak just a little too early. Listening to all these records, one could tell these bands weren’t able to recreate that magic again: The Strokes never had a better album than Is This It?, Interpol never had a bigger record than Turn On The Bright Lights, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs never surpassed the success of Fever to Tell. LCD Soundsystem was an exception, but they always toyed with electro-dance sounds along with Post Punk, and were able to re-define their sound, and Jack White eventually got the idea, having been caught in a pigeonhole with the White Stripes and eventually broke free to create more colorful, melodious music.
And yet, these bands are still around today making music, even trying to revive this old nostalgia by revisiting these old records – Interpol just embarked on a 15th anniversary tour of Turn On the Bright Lights, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are re-issuing and also playing anniversary shows for Fever to Tell. These records have since then become a crutch to lean on, a method to monetize nostalgia. The early 2000s was another sign of history repeating itself that gave the public something to fall back on. However, just like the Beatles, and grunge and trip-hop a decade before, the movement was never meant to last.