July 28, 2021

20 years ago, The Strokes was gearing up to put rock back on the dancefloor and top the charts with Is This It

Ah, the year 2001… Everyone with very thin eyebrows, low-slung jeans (which left many people a second waist as a legacy), listening Hanging by a Moment do Lifehouse and seeing the U2 it’s at Destiny’s Child dominate the Grammys. A crazy cultural effervescence tried to keep up with the technological frenzy, albeit very attached to the analog of the previous decade.

It was definitely a weird year for rock music. The industry was reaping the remnants of ’90s pop, but overall it didn’t seem to know where to go. The bands tried to break away from grunge by moving to pop punk, nu metal and post hardcore. With technological advancement and the spread of digital music production, artists and bands were increasingly interested in creating layers and layers of sounds and effects.

However, in July of that year, something changed, thanks to five skinny, disheveled, clumsy young men wearing leather jackets.

Three years earlier, childhood friends Julian Casablancas e Nikolai Fraiture joined to Albert Hammond Jr, Nick Valence e Fabrizio Moretti in New York and formed the Strokes. Although they were very young and inexperienced – Albert still needed guitar lessons – they knew they would be successful. Of course, the money factor contributed to this certainty; Julian (son of John Casablancas, owner of one of the biggest modeling agencies in the world) and Albert met at a boarding school in Switzerland when they were teenagers. But the guitarist reinforced his belief in success after recording a homemade demo with Julian: “We recorded the tape and put it in the car to listen. It was sounding really good,” he says. Gradually, they began shyly playing in small bars around town and extending their audience beyond the half-dozen friends who attended the performances.

Studio debut

Strokes – The Modern Age (EP), 2001.

In 2001 in a technological and musical ebullition, the Strokes planted their feet in a place upside down. Unlike everything that was being created and produced, they were looking back. From the start, they wanted the rawness and sonic simplicity of 1970s punk and garage rock – something completely out of character for a decade that began with Matrix computer systems. While the music industry looked forward, the Strokes looked to bands like Stooges e MC5 and wondered what they would sound like if they were being born at that moment.

It was with this certainty that they released, at the beginning of the year, the EP The Modern Age, by the independent label Rough Trade, from England. The band’s first studio experience unfolded (as in the 70s) in a war between record labels across the Atlantic, later won by RCA Records. The three songs of The Modern Age they were a teaser of what was to come in an album. What is most impressive is the fact that almost nothing has changed in the songs, with the exception of a few snippets of lyrics and melody. In terms of sound, it was that right there: raw, distorted, dry and direct. Perhaps this is the biggest proof that the band was ready for what was to come.

Is This It: o indie no topo

If someone told you twenty years ago that very soon you would hear an indie rock song at every party, you would probably laugh, thinking it impossible. After all, there was no shortage of pop music to make the dancefloors boil. But there was something about the Strokes that transgressed the old rock n’ roll norms; a bold, youthful vision that refreshed garage rock, shaping the style enough that the sound would fit into any party set around the world.

Is This It, first released in Australia on July 30, 2001 by RCA Records, was the tipping point for the music industry. The strategy of releasing the album first in the southern hemisphere came after the band’s successful tour of Australia. Again, it was the Strokes showing that he was coming to turn everything upside down.

Is This It – The Strokes, 2001.

Despite the setbacks of the US release – the iconic cover had to be changed and the track New York City Cops gave way to When It Started, on account of September 11th – the tracks quickly reached the top of the music charts, reaching second place in the UK Albums Chart. The recording process was also troubled: initially, the production would be signed by Gil Norton (which produced the Pixies), but ended up being replaced by Gordon Raphael, who was already familiar with the band’s sound.

Nothing more rockstar than that.

The fact is that after Is This It, the musical world was never the same. The debut caused a domino effect in alternative rock. From there, the spotlights turned to bands with the same dirt and dryness as Yeah Yeah Yeahs e White Stripes. Alternative rock ceased to be commercially alternative and rose to the mainstream – a place it would never leave.

twenty years later

It’s hard to believe that, two decades later, Is This It it still boasts the audacious indie and alternative pioneering of the early 2000s. A lot of what we hear in bands these days sounds new, but it’s already been tested by the Strokes – and it worked. Legends and accusations of being “too hype” aside, it cannot be denied how crucial Is This It was and remains for bands and artists who want to escape the rule of technological grandiosity increasingly imposed by the music industry.

Letty

singer, songwriter, guitarist, enthusiast of do-it-yourself and restless and independent artistic wonders.