By the late 1990’s rock music was still the music industry’s main driving force, its milking cow, its safe bet. New styles and music genres were appearing at an urgent pace, charting and selling records piggybacked by the major record labels. But, while this trend seemed like it could go on forever, the Strokes put out their debut album Is This It? Amped up by major record label support and a host of similarly minded indie rock bands leading the charge with them, the Strokes instantly made many genres seem out of date in the eyes (and ears) of many.
What genre are the Strokes anyway?
The Strokes is a mixture of many sounds, most of them strongly associated with the city of New York. Music magazines are quick to describe them as belonging to the indie rock genre. Their style both sonically and visual has formed the blueprint for numerous bands during the last decades. Primarily, the Strokes are influenced by proto-punk. Recently they have also added elements of dream-pop, post-punk, not to mention their own brand of zaniness.
While the Strokes’ songs, early on, focused on jagged rhythms, slicing guitars, Julian Casablancas’ vocals seemingly recorded through a guitar amp, and a cool NYC attitude, their style has changed. To their credit, the Strokes remain a band and sound like it. The newer songs reflect an interest in the atmosphere created by electronics. Throughout, now more than ever, the band seems to have dominated trends rather than blindly followed.
For the most part, these bands are still about, recording and playing live, but few have recovered their foothold in the mainstream music industry. The Strokes still exists as a band, a successful one at that, defying many expectations. Let’s look at 5 of the music genres that The Strokes help bury in 2001 along with the release of their debut album.
Britpop had arguably received the highest amount of popular attention following the commercial demise of Grunge. Suede and Blur were responsible for making it a commercial force in Britain. Pulp and Mansun made it respectable with the critics. Then, Oasis’ first two albums became international juggernauts.
The Britpop bands drew comparisons to their famous 1960s counterparts that had enjoyed sustained commercial success stateside. The story then takes a familiar turn. Just as it felt like the genre’s popularity could go on forever, one band made an important misstep.
Oasis put out Be here now, a commercial disappointment and an album disowned by the band’s own songwriter, Noel Gallagher. Then, Pulp became weirder, the Manic Street Preachers became poppier and Blur embraced the US indie-rock aesthetic of bands like Pavement.
By 2001, Oasis and Blur could still be found making the headlines, even though their music was less widely distributed. The Strokes’ garage rock-infused debut, made the Britpop scene seem stagnant and of ideas. Most of these bands continued in one form or another, but the public’s attention never quite returned.
One of the most controversial rock genres of any time, the Nu-Metal genre achieved immense success at the turn of the millennium, while, largely, being ignored or despised by the metalhead community. Ironic! It’s safe to say that few styles have aged as quickly or as poorly as most of these bands, but at the turn of the century, there was no escaping this type of music.
Bands included in this genre favored a blend of hip-hop beats, down-tuned 7-string guitars and tough-guy, half sung-half & rapped vocals. Korn, Deftones, and Rage Against the Machine may have introduced many of these elements to a considerable amount of critical success. But, their immediate followers, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, POD, and Staind, were the ones to truly reap the commercial rewards.
The genre had its staunch critics from the get-go. But, as time went on, few fans of traditional rock music embraced. By the early 2000s, the aforementioned groups were selling less and less. (this, mind you, was a time when music was still selling plenty of physical copies of records and albums).
The carefully planned image of indie rock bands like the Strokes, Interpol, or the Vines, made Nu-Metal‘s baggy jeans & backward cap style look dated. Most of the music was viewed as a passing fad. The style’s popularity faded, returning briefly circa 2018 for nostalgia factors, yet inspired others to meld styles in a similarly reckless way.
Infectious, hook-heavy punk music is likely never to disappear completely. In the 1980s however punk had fewer disciples than ever before. But, by the late 1990s, a new brand of pop-punk was promoted in high-school comedies, MTV videos, and mainstream radio.
The party could only last so long though. By the early 2000s the style was on its way out and ready to be replaced. Things would soon darken into what many would refer to as EMO. The straightforward garage rock sound of the Strokes didn’t help matters much for these bands.
Every important style seemed to get a brief time in the sun during, at one point or another, in the 1990s. Pop-punk‘s appeal may have been a direct result of Grunge’s dark, broody atmosphere. In 1994 Green Day released Dookie an album destined for platinum success. While some decried the band’s success, with even their Gilman Street friends labeling them as sellouts, Green Day went on to achieve national, stadium-filling success.
The Offspring, NOFX, Bad Religion, Rancid all earned gold and platinum albums. Soon, a second wave of bands, Blink-182 being the most successful, appeared and were similarly embraced fully by radio, MTV, and America’s youth.
It was the feel-good sound of the decade. By the end of that decade though, the general public had had enough of the humorous, high-intensity sound of pop-punk. Bands like the Strokes seemed to represent a slick alternative, raised on the Velvet Underground, rather than the Descendants. Pop-punk continues to enjoy some degree of success within its niche but has never regained its status in the mainstream ever again.
No other rock band has had quite the same effect on mainstream music as Nirvana. The band enjoyed colossal success with their major-label debut, Nevermind, leaving record execs desperate to capitalize on their appeal. By 1994 Kurt Cobain was no more and the rest of the grunge bands (Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden) had taken a step back from the media’s spotlight.
Left scrambling for a follow record labels went looking for similarly sounding and looking bands. Some of the bands found were talented. Others simply resembled Nirvana. By the turn of the century, bands like Silverchair, Staind, or Filter had put out critically successful records. Other groups like Bush and Candlebox presented a more palatable, radio-friendly alternative to grunge. Post-grunge even spawned a Christian derivative style out of which Creed became one of the USA’s most successful groups of the time.
But, the heavily distorted, down-tuned guitars were no longer in vogue by the turn of the 2000s. Instead, these were replaced with punchy, lite-sounding tones of which Franz Ferdinand and the Strokes were masters. The quiet-loud dynamics and the sadness-tinged lyrics were replaced by street-smart commentary. It took post-grunge’s success apart. Yet, as unexpected as it may be the genre refused to go away.
By the mid-2000s, bands playing a similar style of music were at it again and mainstream radio was ready to embrace them. Puddle of Mudd, Three Days Grace, 3 Doors Down, and Flyleaf all released successful records taking the post-grunge genre’s popularity all the way to the bank. Nickelback was for a number of years one of the highest-grossing rock bands in the world, in spite of the music critics’ opposition. And, even bands like Five Finger Death Punch, continue to draw inspiration from this kind of music, proving post-grunge was the genre that not even 2000s indie rock could kill.
Sure, many industrial metal bands continue to be active until the present day. Yes, industrial metal is not strictly liked to one period. But, by the late 2000s, a more commercially acceptable version of the genre had come to dominate MTV and the radio waves, with some still considering it the golden period of the style. A backlash was on the way, sure enough, for the synth-heavy, EDM-infused music genre.
Yes, the Strokes too would make ample use of electronics. The benefits of technology would not be denied these five New York City hipsters. But, when they opted for this route, the results were a melancholy, indie-rock, semi-programmed result as on their 2020 album The new abnormal.
Industrial metal had become a surprising addition to mainstream rock in the early 1990s when Ministry scored a hit with its album Psalm 69. Nine Inch Nails quickly followed, registering a number of successful singles and albums and having record industry execs mouth watering at the prospect of a new Nirvana.
The commercial potential became even more evident with the rise of Rammstein and
Marilyn Manson, featured in popular culture, often, for better or worse. By the turn of the century the industrial sound was so popular that many established rock acts were openly experimenting with the type of sound and aesthetic favored by bands like White Zombie or Ministry, anxious not to be left behind by modern trends.
But, by the time the Strokes had released its debut album, industrial metal’s image in the eyes of the mainstream had become tainted. Its sound, once groundbreaking, had been copied to no end and the general public had had enough. The New York indie rock bands represented a return to the jagged guitars and street talk of bands like Television, Talking Heads, and Lou Reed. The Strokes and their skinny jeans-wearing friends were crowned winners.
What about the decline of the Strokes ?
Depending on whom you ask, and how much they enjoy the Strokes, the decline has not yet occurred. Others, more conservative observers, would argue that the Strokes shone brightest on their first two albums. That was the time when groups like themselves, Interpol, the Vines, the Hives, Razorlight, The Libertines, managed to bring their blend of indie rock into the mainstream.
Their style was based heavily on the ubercool and artsy New York groups like Television, The Modern Lovers, or The Velvet Underground. Their sound was anchored on jagged, punky guitars and sped-up, garage rock drumming. Their fashion sense, clearly far from an afterthought, also owed much to the group’s fame.
By 2005, the Strokes had gotten bored of their association with rock and were experimenting with new sounds. By the time of their fourth album, the experiments had become more pronounced, with modern production, synths and even, falsetto vocals, becoming part of the equation.
The Strokes continue to be successful. They are championed by the magazines and websites that supported them from the very beginning. Their side projects are enjoyed by many. And, their reunions, however infrequent, continue to represent considerable events in the alternative rock & indie universe.