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Headlined by early 2000s music-press darlings the Strokes, with support from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, LCD Soundsystem and more, Meet Me in the Bathroom revisits the New York scene from which these bands exploded at the turn of the new millennium. With its capturing of underground gigs and its aura of DIY hedonism, it’s like a theme-park ride that floats you along a stream, tableaux of eerily familiar figures passing by in the dark. There are simulated highs, hands upstretched toward ceilings so low you could almost touch them. There’s dancing, sweat, and the fug of cigarette smoke. People use marker pens to scrawl band names on blank CDs. Yet for all its immersivity, this documentary feels synthetic.
Directors Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace do make some strong choices. Resisting the typical music doc’s tendency to include B-list celebrities and hangers-on as talking heads, Meet Me in the Bathroom largely comprises rare and private archive footage of (and by) the bands, alongside interviews with some of the scene’s key figures in voiceover. Intercutting news broadcasts and MTV skits, it positions the rise and fall of Brooklyn as the epicentre of what Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O calls “reinvention” amid technological and cultural anxiety. The harrowing effects of 9/11 on young artists in the city are poignantly realised, with the Moldy Peaches’ Kimya Dawson singing of air “filled with computers and carpets / Skin and bones and telephones and file cabinets”. It’s an early moment of sensitivity that promises much for the film.
But for all its surreal, frenetically edited evocation of the bands’ live performances, Meet Me in the Bathroom loses its way. In rejecting a clear narrative arc, it glides over stories that warrant deeper exploration. Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond Jr comments on his drug addiction at the height of the band’s fame. Members of Interpol gesture to the impact of illegal file-sharing. Karen O opens up about the rampant misogyny she experienced from journalists. But the artists’ insights are never given room to breathe. The inclusion of Ryan Adams – who in 2020 acknowledged “mistreating” women following numerous allegations of abuse – is discomfiting in its proximity to O’s testimony.
For fans of 00s post-punk, Meet Me in the Bathroom’s intimate archive footage will scratch a nostalgic itch. But given that the film trades on the spectacle of pain rather than saying anything meaningful about it, I couldn’t help asking, ‘Is this it?’ Perhaps, like O, I’ve left off “chasing the feeling of being young”, and ask for more, now, when reflecting on a period that was so much more than just a fleeting, passing scene.