The 2000's, when the Strokes took photos in front of Kaws paintings and moving to New York was still career suicide.
Now that we are living in a landscape fueled by the 24/7 flow of digital content from every corner of the globe, the recent past seems very long ago. The rapid-fire pace dictated by extremely online culture is mirrored by the sweeping transformation of the American landscape, where once-battered cities like New York are being gentrified at a dizzying rate.
In retrospect, the turn of the millennium seems positively quaint, with its dial-up modems, payphones, film cameras, and fax machines in wide use—but the seeds of our present era were being spread far and wide. New York in the 00s was a crossroads between two realms: the past and the future squaring off against one another—perhaps best illustrated by the explosion of rock ‘n’ roll that emerged this decade.
In her vibrant oral history, Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001–2011, author Lizzy Goodman takes us back to the last era of underdog New York, when bands like The Strokes, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, LCD Soundsystem, Interpol, and Vampire Weekend brought rock ‘n’ roll back to the forefront. Goodman recently teamed up with Hala Matar to curate Meet Me in the Bathroom: The Art Show, a group exhibition organized by UTA Artist Space and The Hole. Now, in an exclusive conversation for Document Journal, Luke Jenner of The Rapture and DJ Justine D. take us back to this transformative era in New York nightlife.
Luke Jenner—The Rapture was started in San Francisco. We signed a deal with Sub Pop and they gave us $10,000 and we bought a van. I moved to Seattle, that was my big career move. I didn’t like Seattle. There was a lot of coffee and smoking pot and I was a beer-drinking guy. I was giving up on the music industry when I moved to New York in 1999. I was a bartender and that was a dream job for me because I read Please Kill Me. I was really into Alan Vega. I read he had married a lawyer, and she took care of him. He had his art career and that was my goal. I moved to New York and was looking to be a boy toy.
Justine D.—I’m a native New Yorker, born and raised in Chinatown. I moved to Queens when I was 13 but would still travel back into the city for school. I like to say my nightlife career started when I was 14. A lot of the scene that is the genesis of this book and exhibit happened ’95 and ’96; it was a Mod ’60s throwback scene. I was 19 or 20 and going out to Coney Island High and Shout! at Bar 13. We lived in this alternate universe of paying homage to our heroes of the ’60s and ’70s. I fell into DJing in ’99 and the scene simultaneously started to get a little bigger. By 2000–01, the New York bands started getting a lot of attention and the city had a music revival.
Luke—I lived on Houston and Avenue A and worked at Plant Bar on East 3 Street, which was where all the people at Vice magazine would go. They’d be at the bar saying they were all going to be millionaires, and we were like, ‘Yeah, whatever.’ I remember seeing The Strokes taking a photo in front of this famous KAWS graffiti that was across the street from the studio where they recorded their first record, and gave them dirty looks. Nobody knew The Strokes. There was all this fashion money. All of a sudden bands were getting $10,000 to play at fashion events—or just going to England. The British mainstream art and culture press gets behind bands and that didn’t happen so much here. For one or two years The Rapture played in England more than we played in New York.
Justine—I agree with Luke. I went to Redding Festival in 2000 or ’01. The Strokes were playing, and they got bumped up to the main stage. Less than a year before they were playing one of my parties to a very small crowd of people. When I saw them playing to tens of thousands of people I was amazingly happy a band from New York was able to reach a large audience, and I took that back home with me. By 2001, I started to meet people a lot of foreign people who were coming to my parties and expecting to see this scene that had already passed. But the great thing about New York and nightlife is things morph so quickly. What started out as a Brit-centric rock ‘n’ roll scene turned into something more inclusive.
Luke—New York belongs to itself, and it is the world in a sense. There are people from every place all together and that’s unique to this city. You come here and create your own mythology. DFA and our little corner of the scene, we were into the ’70s New York culture, the birth of disco, Paradise Garage, The Loft, David Mancuso, and Liquid Liquid. New York is an idea, not a place. You get these people together and they agree. This scene was mindfully placed to be a New York thing.
Justine—This city was very different in the late ’90s and ’00s. Society wasn’t as accepting of subcultures as maybe it is now. When I was doing the Motherfucker party, which lasted eight years, we started it because we wanted to throw a really good party and create a safe environment for people who didn’t identify as mainstream. It was a mixture of all different types of people coming together under one roof: gays, straight, drag queens, normal-looking people, freaks, mods, and goths. After our first party we knew we were doing something special.
Luke—This was the last time New York was the underdog. When I moved here, it was considered career suicide to move to New York. Then we went through a long period where New York bands kept getting more popular. But I don’t want to play Madison Square Garden—it doesn’t appeal to me. All I wanted to do in my life was move to New York, hang out with other weirdos, and have a book written about it. There’s a huge checkmark next to that.