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Wednesday, August 22, 2001

Why (Almost) Everyone Hates The Strokes!

Neumu's Michael Goldberg writes: Oh, that poor New York punky band The Strokes. From the email I've been getting, they'll be lucky if anyone actually listens to their music. Critics and music fans are pissed about the hype, saying The Strokes have gotten media attention they don't deserve.

Last week we ran a "Daily Report" ( "The Strokes Just Wanna Play Music") by Jenny Tatone. Essentially it was a profile of The Strokes. Reacting to that, designer and music fan Rachel Lipsitz wrote in to complain about the undeserved attention she feels the band is receiving, and I ran a second "Daily Report" ("Why We Write About The Strokes").

Just to make things perfectly clear, I love both the group's EP, "The Modern Age," and its album, Is This It. But I'm fascinated by what everyone has to say about the group and the hype.

One of our Australia-based contributing editors, Anthony Carew, wrote: "I did hear that 'The Modern Age' EP before the hype made it to Australia. It's quite good. 'Last Nite' is a nice tune. The sound of it, as in the actual recorded tone/etc., is really good. Saw them live and thought they were a little mediocre, but still okay. I'm sure the hype has prejudiced me against them, but in all honesty The Strokes are not the kind of band I would get really excited about in any situation. ... Oh, and The Strokes have been marketed like a boyband here. I'm not saying that to be pissing on their parade. It's really how it is. You don't debut at #5 with a debut record featuring no hit singles without some deft retail-fellating."

A music fan named Dan Haar wrote: "I cannot sit idly by while you attack innocent victims disgusted with the press this band has gotten. I mean, they're a good band and I like the single, but as someone who reads music press from the US and UK I've got to say that I have been completely turned off. Every single New York rinky-dink publication has touted them. ...and the British press mentions them more than they mention Radiohead or Oasis (which is pretty fucking incredible). I guess it would all be OK if the writers had an ear for the music, but I have yet to read one well-thought-out piece.

"If I ever see them compared to Television again I will stop reading magazines altogether. Television were not a chugging riff, rhythm band, which at their best The Strokes are. ... Most people who know about the band are already suffering from too much hype, and we haven't even seen them play yet. When they finally play some shows, maybe we'll all be walking around mindless slaves. But until then I'm going to refuse to read another word about them. It's too bad, because we really do need a great rock band to come charging in and save our souls right now, but the press is making the whole thing kind of laughable."

Neumu contributing editor and columnist Philip Sherburne wrote: "I must admit: I'm currently wrestling with a truckload of antipathy toward The Strokes, purely because of their hype. And no, I haven't heard a single song of theirs. And yes, I realize the problem here. So 1) I am in fact very curious to hear the record, to see if it bears out my worst suspicions (then again, maybe it will, and I won't even mind!), and 2) I appreciated reading your column because at least it addressed the issue of hype and backlash. ...but I'll give The Strokes a chance, promise.

"I think what has bugged me so far isn't just the hype, but all the trappings of 'rock authenticity' that come with it. These boys are keeping it real, the press tells us, rocking as though the late '70s and early '80s had never disappeared. I hate that kind of assessment; popular music is all about artifice, and some of the most skillful musicians use that to their advantage (from Outkast to Gillian Welch, paradoxically enough). And The Strokes, with their alleged Upper East Side upbringings, will have hard time convincing me that they really embody downtown danger. And so if their story is predicated on that kind of lowbrow authenticity, I'll balk. But if they simply rock, and rock well, just clever enough but not too smarmy, I'll be happy to rock along with 'em."

Here's what music fan Ben Butler wrote: "The artistic movement known as Mannerism arose in the mid 1500s. Its proponents believed that all the representational problems associated with painting, architecture and sculpture had been solved. Turning away from the direct examination of nature — which had characterized the art of the so-called High Renaissance — they concentrated instead on questions of style. Mannerist painting is characterized by distortions of perspective (especially drastic foreshortening), contorted figures and convoluted allegory.

"The Strokes are Mannerist rock. Their music doesn't examine the basic material from which rock is traditionally constructed/reacts to (the same things any art springs from — people's relationship with the world). Instead, their music examines their record collections. There's nothing here that isn't a distortion or contortion of what has gone before. Couldn't this be said of all pop — after all, a notoriously plagiaristic and derivative form? Yes. But the difference here is that the Strokes have none of the sense of particular time and place that makes pop pop. Sure, Black Sabbath may be nothing but blues riffs played loud. But nonetheless their music is profoundly British and working-class. Insert your own example here.

"To me, the Strokes have none of that. They're a fairly typical first band (I'm only guessing they'd be these kids' first band): very obvious and not very good. For a couple of moments on their album they almost do it — 'New York City Cops' being the most obvious example — but for the most part it's an awful lot of barely digested record collection regurgitated almost verbatim. This is music for A&R guys — it has an easy-to-grasp mythology, with reference points in some 'golden age' of rock where men were men and Lou Reed was young. Television. Max's Kansas City. Blondie. The Velvet Underground. Andy Warhol. What a load of cobbler's. And as for the wank and hype: Any time I hear that a band is going to 'save rock and roll' I know they're going to suck. That's got to be the most tired line in the book. Next!"

Naturally Jenny Tatone, who has seen the band live, listened many times to their album, and (at my request) wrote the "Daily Report" about The Strokes that got all this started, has a different point of view: "I'm so tired of hipsters who try so hard to dislike something just because it's popular or because all the attention it gets makes it 'uncool.' Some people really need to learn to see beyond that mentality and stop limiting themselves."

The InsiderOne Daily Report appears weekdays at 9 AM PST, except when it doesn't.

by Michael Goldberg

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