Kaitlyn Hardy ‘25 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Dripping with nostalgia and vibrating with excitement, Meet Me in the Bathroom is a time capsule into the music scene of New York City in the early 2000s. In focusing on the build-up of a handful of legendary New York City bands– The Moldy Peaches, The Strokes, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, TV On The Radio, The Rapture, and LCD Soundsystem– the film provides context to the environment that bred this lively scene, and the ensuing issues that drove it out as well.
Meet Me in the Bathroom had a limited release on November 4, and on November 25 became available on streaming services supported through Showtime. The film, based on the 2017 book of the same name, was directed by Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern. Lovelace and Southern are a music documentary duo known for their previous films, No Distance Left to Run, about the British rock band Blur, and Shut Up and Play the Hits, about LCD Soundsystem.
The beginning of the film sets the scene of a New York that was desperate for another music revolution after being left barren since the musicians of the 1970’s New York City music wave departed. Karen O, lead singer of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, states, “The last big wave of New York bands was a long time past.”
With that, the documentary takes viewers into the underbelly of the city, turning past bougie clubs and the “dry pop-rock” of MTV, instead showing the open arms of the anti-folk, indie scene. It’s in these spaces that we become familiar with the works of bands such as The Moldy Peaches and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
From here, the film establishes the phases of New York City from 2000 to 2001 that led to the expression and experimentation so unique to this era of music. The pandemonium of Y2K was a time of wild excitement and sensationalized fear that left a cumulative feeling of mania in the air. When computer systems were first created in the 1960s, many were designed to shorten four-digit years to two digit years (1998 as ‘98, for example). So with the arrival of a new millennium, people feared software systems would not understand the year 2000, causing mass glitches and overall havoc. Yet, as the clock struck midnight into 2000, a wave of elation and relief gave way until a year later, the tragedy of 9/11 wracked the city.
The film perfectly captures the string of emotions that followed the disaster, and how this was manifested into the music industry. Upon showing clips of the day, viewers are hit with stark despair, as the shaking voice of Kimya Dawson sings “Anthrax” behind clips of vigils and missing persons posters. This tone is then flipped on its head, as the high energy sound of “Tick” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs plays to track the shift from immense depression to impassioned rage. Then, ambient music leaves room for the fear and nihilism that was left in the air, with a voice explaining, “New York felt really claustrophobic; so much paranoia, everyone’s confused and scared[…] A lot of people quit their jobs and just were like, ‘Fuck it, I’m gonna play music full time.’”
It was within these hazy times that the fear of failure evaporated, leaving a space for the sounds of the underground to flourish. “Abandoned buildings and warehouses became practice spaces outside of public attention and expectation– that’s what nurtured us. We could all be weirdos in the best way possible,” explained Brian Chase of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
Bands such as The Moldy Peaches found a home for their sound as The Strokes, “a band that was born as a band” exploded into stardom, and other artists such as Interpol made a more difficult, subtle entrance into the music world. Either way, the film travels outside of New York City, showing the great expanse of the city’s culture into other parts of the world. The film rides high on this golden era of the 2000s music scene as its players were “drunk on that ravenous fanaticism,” as Karen O describes it.
However, what goes up must come down, and the film does just as great of a job outlining the successes of these musicians as it does breaking down the pitfalls of the music industry. Within this section of the film, Lovelace and Southern delve into the conflict between artist autonomy and stardom, perfectionism, the pressure of having a persona, the use of drugs and other vices in such a charged environment, and Napster taking the music industry hostage.
In balancing the phases of an entire era, the film is structured very cohesively. When you’re talking about multiple bands and multiple people all at once, there’s potential for things to get muddled. However, the film arranged the personalities and phenomena of the era seamlessly. Viewers watch the rise of the bands in tandem with each other then see the difficulties of each band mesh together.
Despite this, it could be argued that the film has a “tunnel vision” of sorts. While assiduously focusing on a handful of the bands and people featured– The Strokes (specifically Julian Casablancas and Albert Hammon Jr.), The Yeah Yeah Yeahs (specifically Karen O.), Interpol, James Murphy, and LCD Soundsystem– some of the other figures and bands mentioned were glossed over. For example, viewers are introduced to The Moldy Peaches in the beginning of the documentary– they’re actually the first band we meet in the documentary– and follow them through their rise as they tour with The Strokes. Yet, there’s no information about them outside of that context. There’s nothing about the release of their debut self-titled album in 2001, where their career continued after touring, or how they were affected by the changing environment of New York City at the end of the early 2000s, where gentrification and increased rent pushed people out of the city.
Additionally, the beginning middle of the documentary includes interviews with the members of TV On The Radio, as well as a few clips of them performing. Yet outside of these five or so minutes, plus a brief clip at the very end of the film, the band is not included in much of the documentary. Tunde Adebimpe, the band’s vocalist, mentioned the experience of being a New York City musician and an immigrant, which gave the film the potential to unpack a whole other layer of the New York music scene. New York City is a place built up and held up by immigrants, so leaving this topic as a one to two sentence quote seemed empty.
Despite this, the documentary altogether does exactly what it strives to do: it completely immerses viewers in the environment of New York City and the music scene of the 2000s. Much of this is done through incredible, never-before-seen pictures and videos of this era. The film uses intimate pictures of the figures of music– from portraits of Karen O, Julian Casablancas, Albert Hammond Jr., and James Murphy as children, to glimpses of their lives behind the scenes of the stage, and candid interactions with members of their bands. Even more valuable are the unique video clips of the early days of these bands. Audience videos of their first shows give the viewers nostalgia for events they most likely didn’t even attend (such as a video of The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas kissing a crowd member who crowd-surfed onto the stage); camcorder footage of tour bus and backstage shenanigans provide viewers with deeper connections to these bands and their members. Because so many of these clips were never-before-seen, the film invoked an awe and excitement that made it seem like these clips themselves could revive this era.
Meet Me in the Bathroom wonderfully captures the creation and dynamics of early 2000s New York City. Whether viewers lived through this time or only distantly know the music that marked this era, the immersion and energy of the film makes all audiences feel at home. We live vicariously through footage, having imaginary conversations with legends of indie rock, and moshing at the concerts that set the stages of the underground scene. The film leaves viewers nostalgic for an era they’ve become so fond of in just an hour and 45 minutes– a gilded age of sorts, one that could be characterized by pain and chaos, but one that also holds an exciting, everlasting, legendary status.