At the turn of the century, rock music was inundated with bands like Limp Bizkit and electronica acts, and artists that leaned more into pop sensibilities. But in New York City, a musical revolution was brewing. After Y2K fizzled out and right before 9/11 shook the world, bands like The Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs brought rock music back to something exciting, a style based in that old that managed to sound completely new. Based on Lizzy Goodman’s book of the same name, Meet Me in the Bathroom explores New York’s rock transformation of the early 2000s, a period full of intoxicating new musicians whose influence can still be felt decades later.
While Meet Me in the Bathroom sets its sights on the entire New York City music scene of the beginning of the century, directors Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern directs their attention on four of the biggest artists of the time. At the center is The Strokes, considered at the time to be the saviors of rock, whose “garage rock” sound took the world by storm. But heavy is the head that wears the crown, as we see their difficulties with fame, their attempts to live up to such lofty ambitions, and the dynamics in the band that could cause the entire group to fall apart.
We also follow Interpol, primarily through lead singer Paul Banks, who desperately wants to find the success of The Strokes, but has to fight for that type of recognition at every turn. Almost from the beginning, Interpol struggles with infighting, terrible tour planning, and music pirating. The doc also looks at the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and lead singer Karen O, whose experience is completely different from those of the male-centered bands, as we see Karen’s difficulties with sexism in the music industry, as well as her stage persona that feels almost like a form of self-destruction.
Finally, the film explores the story of James Murphy, the founder of DFA Records and mastermind behind LCD Soundsystem. Through his production with The Rapture, and his exhaustion with how modern electronic music was being made, Murphy (in his 30s, older than every other artist presented here) was able to create something that sounds wholly different from what the other bands in Meet Me in the Bathroom were making, yet is birthed out of that same determination to make something real, to shift music into an exciting new direction. Lovelace and Southern previously worked with Murphy on their documentary Shut Up and Play the HIts, the story of LCD Soundsystem’s then-final sold-out show at Madison Square Garden.
By focusing on these four bands, Lovelace and Southern capture the height of the musical revolution with The Strokes, the struggle to stand out with Interpol, the problems with the white male dominance of the artists at the center of this movement with Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and the music that grew out of this shift with LCD Soundsystem. Naturally, in adapting Goodman’s book, some bands fall by the wayside. TV on the Radio get a brief moment, and The Rapture becomes little more than an element of Murphy’s evolution, while both were integral to the book. Yet if this story had to focus on four bands from this period, Lovelace and Southern have made the difficult, but correct choice with these bands.
There’s a lot to cover with Meet Me in the Bathroom, but Lovelace and Southern seamlessly interweave these band’s stories together to give a fascinating look at this musical shift. For those with borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered 2000s, Meet Me in the Bathroom shows a period when the music world looked completely different, where a musical uprising could naturally occur from kids just wanting to make unique music together. Meet Me in the Bathroom at times seems like ages ago, a period when MTV was still the harbinger of what was cool, where Courtney Love and Ryan Adams could take over the TRL Studios for 24 hours, or before these bands became festival headliners. It’s almost as if Meet Me in the Bathroom is like LCD Soundsystem’s song “Losing My Edge,” as Murphy remembers the past of music history, proclaiming “I was there” at eventful moments through music history.
But considering everything that Lovelace and Southern have to compress into this documentary from Goodman’s book, it’s impressive how well they’re able to do this period and the music justice. Meet Me in the Bathroom also manages to capture that post-9/11 fear that it could all be over at any point, that while these bands already wanted to make a name for themselves, seeing firsthand how easily everything could be taken away almost seems like a wakeup call to do something great. Meet Me in the Bathroom is a tremendous document of one of the most integral musical periods of our time, when the kids asked “is this it?” and responded by changing the world.
Meet Me in the Bathroom is now playing in theaters and will stream on Showtime on November 25.