Monday, August 2

“Five gorgeous men who play perfect songs”: how rock was reborn, triumphed and died of success with The Strokes | Culture | ICON


They appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, in 2001, a time when rock was going through one of its flatter times, and gave it one last breath of life. Between 2001 and 2011, a new batch of guitar bands stormed the charts in search of the perfect three-minute song and, incidentally, conquered the world of fashion, fame and glamor in general. July 31 will mark the 20th anniversary of the edition of the album that marked the beginning of that: Is This It, the debut of a Manhattan quintet calling themselves The Strokes. They were five kids from good families, led by vocalist Julian Casablancas, son of the founder of the Elite agency. With him, Albert Hammond Jr, whose famous father was the author of It Never Rains In Southern California, Nikolai Fraiture, Nick Valensi and Fabrizio Moretti. They were in their 20s and moved through the Lower East Side and the East Village of New York.

Behind them would come many more. America’s first: new bands like Interpol or Vampire Weekend. Or veterans who knew how to jump on the bandwagon like The White Stripes or LCD Soundsystem. Later, from the United Kingdom: The Libertines, Bloc Party, Kaiser Chiefs or Franz Ferdinand, whose leader, Alex Kapranos, expressed in a single sentence the pretensions of that whole scene. “We want to make records for the girls to dance again.”

Vampire Weekend pose for the camera during the Coachella festival held in California in April 2008.
Vampire Weekend pose for the camera during the Coachella festival held in California in April 2008.Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

Seen from today’s perspective, it doesn’t seem like a very ambitious goal. Today, Latin is the dominant force and even seminarians perrean, but at the beginning of the century things were different. The end of the nineties was marked by the scene of the rap metal for very macho young men in America and by languid post Radiohead pop bands for sad kids in the UK. “One was music for teenagers and the other for old people,” dictates Mark Kitcatt, director of Everlasting Records, the label that released the first single from The Strokes in Spain. Electronics had returned to the catacombs, and the r’n’b still hadn’t raised its head. The illusion that rock ruled, as it had done for 40 years, remained alive. But the truth is that then, a decade after the arrival of the grunge, there was nothing exciting on the horizon, and if there was, it would not be exactly in Manhattan, which since the glorious days of punk and new wave I had lost weight. “Between 1994 and 1999 when you think of groups out of New York, you only come up with groups of hardcore”Says journalist Jenny Eliscu.

So little hope had been placed on the city that The Strokes were discovered 3,567 kilometers away. At the London office of Rough Trade, the independent label founded by Geoff Travis and Jeanette Lee that had signed The Smiths in the eighties. James Endeacott, who then worked for A&R in the company, tells it from the British capital: “Music was very boring then, nothing interesting happened in rock. Only American adult bands with knobs and shorts, what did they do rap rock. In New York there was a concert hall, the Mercury Lounge, and we knew a promoter there. We said, ‘If at any time something, anything, mildly interesting happens, let us know.’ On a Monday morning in December 2000, I walked into the offices of Rough Trade. It was nine o’clock, but Geoff was very happy. ‘James, James, come to my office, run.’ Our contact in New York had sent him a demo with three songs. The first was The Modern Age, then it rang Last Nite Y Barely Legal. When those 10 minutes were up we were both jumping. That was what we were looking for ”. That was The Strokes.

There was no time to lose: The next day, the founders of Rough Trade caught a flight to New York. “When they came back I asked them, ‘What are they like?” Endeacott recalls. “Jeanette replied, ‘They’re the most perfect band I’ve ever seen. They are five very handsome men who played 30 minutes and all the songs were perfect. ‘ They had it all. That sound reminiscent of what was done in New York in the late seventies, mixed with The Velvet Underground, was very cool. Geoff convinced the group’s manager to release a single with those three songs. We passed it on to NME magazine. They love me. Then we send them a photo of them. They were sitting in a bar looking amazing. The magazine came out on Wednesdays and that afternoon the phones would not stop ringing. They just asked, ‘Who are those guys?’

Pete Doherty and Carl Barat of the Libertines share a bed with friends at the Albion Hotel in 2002.
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat of the Libertines share a bed with friends at the Albion Hotel in 2002.Patrick Ford / Redferns

Endeacott was the band’s accountable when they went to the islands for their first British tour in January 2001. “They were just perfect. The dream of all of us who work in this industry is to discover such a group at least once in our lives. They say that if you are in the center of a hurricane, there is silence. Our little office in West London was the center of the hurricane. We were quiet while the whole industry went wild for The Strokes. They weren’t original, of course not, but they were refreshing. “

And well dressed. After conquering London, Paris fell. The fashion industry gave itself over to them. The first, Hedi Slimane, then creative director of Dior Homme, who developed the clothes today associated with that scene. Leather jackets and skinny suits that only fit very skinny rockers. So close was the relationship that at some point that movement was called Fashion Rock.

What always happens happened. First, the war to see who signs The Strokes, which the multinational RCA won. Is This It it was published as of July 31, 2001 in Australia; then successive international versions arrived until the end of September, when the CD version could finally be purchased in the United States: on 9/11 the release had been delayed to withdraw a song, New York City Cops (“New York Cops”). They did not want to hurt susceptibilities. In its first year it sold two million copies.

Later came the hunt for groups that resembled The Strokes. In New York they emerged in spades and record companies pounced on them. Gordon Raphael, the producer of, Is This it, he moved to London in 2002 and soon bands began to emerge from there that moved in the same coordinates. Among them The Libertines, the quartet led by Carl Barat and Pete Doherty, who had opened for The Strokes on that first tour and whose debut was produced by Raphael. “They had been around for a while before The Strokes,” Endeacott recalls. “But it is true that they changed when they saw them. Although they always had a very British spirit, their lyrics could only be written by an Englishman ”.

The Strokes and their acolytes were relevant for around ten years. The drugs, the wear and tear of the rapid rise and the change in public tastes ended up relegating them. Now many, including The Strokes, who will perform at the Primavera Sound festival in Barcelona in 2022, are still hanging around there, but they are almost nostalgic for 40-year-olds. They are no longer the group that set the pace for the rest. But the appeal of Is This It still intact. “I always said it was the album of the decade,” recalled in 2018 James Murphy, LCD Soundsystem leader and the musician who best knew how to take advantage of that moment by talking about Is This It. “They were not entirely satisfied, they assured that they had been regular. But I was telling them. ‘In 10 years someone will put that record on a barbecue and you will say,’ how cool is this shit ‘. He was right. It has been exactly like that ”.

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