'Meet Me in the Bathroom' Shows the Sweet Side of Indie Sleaze

Directed by Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace

Starring the Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, LCD Soundsystem, the Rapture, TV on the Radio, the Moldy Peaches, Ryan Adams

Photo courtesy of Hot Docs

BY Alex HudsonPublished Nov 22, 2022

If there's one thing that unites the very different-sounding buzz bands that emerged from New York in the early '00s, it's their swaggering, slightly intimidating sense of cool. The Strokes were a gang of bad boys in leather jackets; the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were volatile hellraisers who could explode at any moment; Interpol were dapper goths; LCD Soundsystem ruled the party scene with self-aware irony. (Comedic twee duo the Moldy Peaches were the exception that proved the rule.)

The main revelation of Meet Me in the Bathroom, the documentary adaptation of Lizzy Goodman's 2017 oral history of NYC's post-millennium music boom, is that these people were actually a bunch of nerds. While the book tended to focus on salacious gossip and celebrity run-ins, the visual accompaniment highlights the tortured souls at the heart of the story: the Strokes' Julian Casablancas is clearly uncomfortable with attention and never seems to know what to say, YYYs vocalist Karen O is shy until the moment she explodes on stage, Interpol's Paul Banks seems to know that his band aren't as good as the other ones they're associated with, and LCD's James Murphy asks his therapist for permission to take ecstasy for the first time.

The main thing MMITB has going for it is a wealth of very early footage. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs are shown playing what appears to be their first-ever show, and there's so much footage of the Strokes wrestling and roughhousing. Seriously, the Strokes have the rambunctious energy of a bunch of 11-year-olds at sleepaway camp. Wisely, there are no modern-day talking head interviews; all of the footage is from the period, as directors Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace effectively place the audience in the NYC of the era. It's a beautiful, romantic document of Brooklyn before gentrification caught up with it, with a couple of truly harrowing scenes depicting 9/11 and the impact it had on the city. Ryan Adams is cast as the villain, as he's implicated as the heroin-pushing bad influence who effectively ruins the Strokes' tight friendships.

There's one question that Southern and Lovelace never bother to interrogate: is this actually a music "scene"? Nothing shown here actually suggests that the "scene" written about so much in the press actually exists. These bands don't sound alike, don't appear to be friends, don't guest on one another's albums, don't go to the same clubs or shows, and don't seem to have anything in common except for geography. Compared with the insular, self-supporting scenes of other cities, the NYC of Bathroom doesn't have any of the qualities of a community.

At times, MMITB feels like five different films going on at once; I could have watched a full documentary on the adulation and misogyny Karen O experienced, or DFA Records' transformation from studio knob-twiddlers to the lords of the club scene. And I could have done without the boring scenes about Interpol.

NYC itself provides the connective tissue of Meet Me in the Bathroom, with its cast of oddballs and misfits offering a glimpse into the sensitive characters behind the hedonism and excess usually associated with "indie sleaze."

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