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LFF 2022 Review: Meet Me In The Bathroom – “The documentary’s strength is in the archive footage”

Named after The Strokes’ song, Meet Me in the Bathroom is a documentary about the rise of the New York City indie scene in the late 90s’ to the mid-00s. Based on the 2017 book by Lizzy Goodman which covers a longer period – Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern’s film largely centres on The Strokes’ stratospheric rise and features the other bands that came up at the same time.

The documentary’s strength is in the archive footage including, grainy home recordings of early gigs by The Moldy Peaches, The Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, LCD Soundsystem and The Rapture that capture the energy and excitement of those days. An early trip to the UK saw The Strokes blow up from indie club darlings to Reading Festival headliners with only one album to their name. Having seen The Strokes headline Reading 2002 in a field full of screaming fans – I remember feeling like it was the closest thing my generation had to Beatlemania. The filmmakers captured that moment in time well.

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But the film is mostly a fairly straightforward rock doc, and partly works a social history of NYC explored through the bands from that scene. It covers the impact of 9/11 and also the last few years of pre-gentrification New York, where bands could still rent cheap places in Brooklyn. The scene’s explosion also collided with Napster and the impact of file sharing on record sales. It was a sea change moment for the record industry, but lightly touched on here. In trying to cover so much ground, some of the film’s more interesting insights get lost and it has a meandering focus, loosely following The Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas as a reluctant star, who didn’t contribute new interviews for the film.

Other musicians from the scene are heard in voice-over, rather than appearing as talking heads, including Kimya Dawson of The Moldy Peaches, the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Karen O, and Paul Banks of Interpol. Some of Karen O’s stories are the hardest to hear. She talks honestly about the misogyny, sexual harassment, and loneliness that came with being one of the scene’s only front women.

The scene was very white, as well as very male-dominated and race isn’t really explored, apart from Karen O also sharing her experiences of growing up mixed-race. An all too brief inclusion of the excellent TV on the Radio, shows lead singer Tunde Adebimpe talking about the complexity of being a Black, second-generation immigrant trying to explain his plans to move to New York to be an artist to his parents. But it’s little more than a footnote, and not featuring more TV on the Radio is a massively wasted opportunity. It would have been better than passing the mic to known abuser of women, Ryan Adams. He comes off pretty badly, in this case allegedly for introducing The Strokes’ Albert Hammond Jnr to heroin.

The LCD Soundsystem origin story is one of the highlights of the film. It features some of the film’s most entertaining moments, including James’ Murphy’s ecstasy fuelled, dancefloor epiphany that led him to get the band together. Whether it quite happened like that or not (including the detail that he got clearance from his therapist first), it’s a fantastic story. But Murphy’s story is also one of later-in-life success, and of finding your friends and fellow misfits. Meet Me in the Bathroom isn’t quite music documentary cannon, but there’s enough to hook people who were into the scene.

Meet Me in the Bathroom screened at the LFF2022 as part of the Create strand.

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