Revivifying Rock

by Sofia Najjar

the Strokes and the Revival of Garage Rock in 00s New York City

Once upon a time, in the fabled land of New York City, the music scene lay dormant. The city had suffered a great tragedy and a curse of musical monotony had befallen the land. 

But then, from the ashes of silence, rose a new band of musicians wielding the power of rock and roll, along with shag haircuts and skinny jeans from Gap Women’s. They were called The Strokes. The young wizards of sound (and friends from private school), Julian Casablancas on lead vocals, Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi on guitar, Fabrizio Moretti on drums, and Nikolai Fraiture on bass, cast their spell upon the city and brought the once-dead garage rock scene back to life.

The first wave of garage rock was born out of the plethora of teens forming bands inspired by the “golden age of rock” in the 60s. These bands made music with basic chord structures, electric guitars, and fuzzy sounds backing simple lyrics with sloppy, upbeat delivery. The genre eventually aged into more psychedelic and experimental styles, but some of the bigger names like Lou Reed and Guided By Voices served as large inspirations for The Strokes. After the death of Kurt Cobain in 1994, mainstream rock came to a screeching halt, and was replaced by more marketable boy bands and pop stars. 

The emergence of The Strokes in 2001 coincided with the post-tragedy cultural shift in the country.  It was the dawn of a new millennium and the nation’s lens shifted towards New York City, and panned away from Los Angeles. People wanted easy, apolitical music, and The Strokes offered the punk aesthetic without the aggressive political militancy associated with punk music at the time. The band’s debut album, Is This It, was the potion that cast the spell, featuring tracks like “Last Nite” and “Alone, Together” that captured the apathetic aimlessness of many early millennials. Nick Marc, a DJ and promoter, recalls: 

“they became the focal point of something that had been bubbling under the surface for a while. They brought a sense of excitement, energy and danger that was missing in music at the time.”

Thus marked the revival of garage rock, and the redefinition of alt-rock for years to come. 

Before The Strokes were widely credited for birthing the indie rock scene in New York and across the world, their day-to-day entailed flyers, posters, mailings, and appearances at bars or parties to promote their next show. Soon after, and before the release of their debut album, their hard work began to pay off. Many watched The Strokes perform and were invigorated to grab friends and make their own gritty music. Paul Banks, lead vocalist of Interpol, was working in New York when he saw The Strokes perform. He cited wanting to be as “cool” as Julian Casablancas as the impetus for starting Interpol. Brandon Flowers admitted to trashing all of The Killer’s songs except “Mr Brightside” after hearing Is This It for the first time. The Strokes created a template that other bands built off of. As Nick Marc puts it:

“Kings of Leon were the Southern Strokes, The Killers were the Las Vegas Strokes, Vampire Weekend were the “Ivy League Strokes,” Phoenix became the “sophisticated French Strokes,” and so on.”

With their electrifying riffs and anthemic beats, The Strokes conjured up an energy that spread throughout the city like a mystical force. The band’s legendary shows were like modern-day elixirs, the people of New York could feel the pulse of rock and roll coursing through their veins once more (oftentimes along with heroin or cocaine). New York was once again the epicenter of musical magic, the buzz of garage rock spilled from every club from the East Village to Brooklyn each night. By day, the music spread through novel file-sharing platforms born out of the dawn of the Internet Age, a simultaneous technological and cultural revolution working hand in hand to spread the word about The Strokes and other bands in the rock revival scene. 

Just as a revivify potion can bring life back to the dead, The Strokes’ music breathed new life into the dying music scene of New York City. The band’s influence spread further than just music, and into the realm of fashion. The Strokes are said to have changed men’s fashion for the better by many fashion critics. Suddenly it was “cool” to go vintage shopping, and wear fitted leather jackets with vintage graphic tees, skinny ties, and Converse. The slim cut-silhouette and androgynous look was once again synonymous with the rockstar. Gordon Raphael, producer of Is This It, remarks the impact of The Strokes:

“An entire generation that grew up hating their older brothers’ rock and roll, suddenly went out to purchase their first leather jackets and guitars, then formed their own bands.”

Ian Devaney, musician and friend of Moretti, recalls:

“There was a sense that, whatever magic those older bands had that could still capture young imaginations decades later, The Strokes were carrying a bit of that magic with them as well.”

And so, the story of The Strokes is a powerful testament to the transformative potential of music–the modern day magic–a force that can breathe life back into dying cities, transform our spirits, and reshape our culture, all through the alchemy of rock and roll.