Tuesday 17 September 2019

The Strokes at the Picnic: So is this it?

The Strokes were the coolest band in the world, 18 years ago
The Strokes were the coolest band in the world, 18 years ago
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

In Meet Me in the Bathroom, Lizzie Goodman's 2017 oral history of New York's alt-rock scene of the Noughties, we learned that Pete Doherty once made overtures to The Strokes' guitarist Nick Valensi. We were also educated by Goodman's classic tome in just how cool The Strokes' lead singer Julian Casablancas was. Matt Berninger, of The National, recounts this tale...

"I saw them [The Strokes] play at Don Hill's; everybody went to Mars Bar and they were there, too. I remember Julian Casablancas looking down the bar at the girl I was with. He was looking at us and giving her bedroom eyes.

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"I was like, 'Jesus Christ, this guy can do anything!' Like, literally, if he had walked up and kissed her, she would have walked out the door with him, you know? I was like, 'F**k, that guy is cool'."

And funny.

As Julian told Rolling Stone magazine in 2003, presumably a joke: "Doing heroin is like walking around with a terrorist as your friend. It's like taking a terrorist around to parties. You never know when it's going to blow up on you."

Has his band blown up and are they trying to put themselves back together? Their new tour (their first in two years - which lands soon at Electric Picnic) along with some long-awaited new material should reveal all, or nothing, for the band that were hailed after their 2001 debut Is This It as the coolest band in the world, the greatest rock band since The Rolling Stones and the second coming of the Velvet Underground.

In May, they played a new song, The Adults Are Talking (their first new stuff since 2016's Future Present Past EP and before that the 2013 album Comedown Machine), at a charity show in Los Angeles.

The omens weren't good. NME reported that it "sounds a bit like that Strokes song written by an AI bot".

Casablancas, the foremost standard-bearer for Lower East Side ennui, as Vanity Fair dubbed him, had said revealingly in 2016 that "a band is a great way to destroy a friendship, and a tour's a great way to destroy a band". In 2016, Kevin Nguyen wrote that: "It's been 15 years since The Strokes released Is This It. Today we appreciate the decline of the band that was supposed to save rock."

In July 2017, The Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond was quoted as saying that they were working with Rick Rubin on new material. He later corrected himself, saying: "We met and played a few music ideas for Rick to feel out a vibe but even a theoretical album plan would be years away, if at all." He then tweeted: "Sorry everyone, we are not in the studio recording."

And last year Julian Casablancas (in an interview to promote the album Virtue, by his politically souped-up group The Voidz) was asked that given where his interests lie, is being in The Strokes at all inspiring?

"That's not where my focus is," he replied. "To me, The Strokes - I was thinking about it earlier today - I may have been fooling myself, but back in the beginning it was good and I was loving what we were doing. I just wanted to musically progress in certain ways.

"You have to be super hard with yourself. We would do demos and people would want to put them out and I'd be like, 'This is not good. Let's move on.' I did the same thing with The Strokes. I was like, 'This is fine but I want to move forward'. I want to evolve and do something even more challenging."

Next weekend at Electric Picnic, The Strokes, hopefully, will have answers to a few challenging questions regarding the future of their band. Chief among them - is this it?

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