Combining the forces of music and film comes Sound Unseen Festival, marking its beginnings in Minneapolis and gradually expanding to other cities around the nation. Taking stake in Austin in 2021, the festival has presented numerous and highly regarded titles in just the last couple of years. Presented at the esteemed Austin Film Society, Meet Me in the Bathroom immerses its audience in the burgeoning indie rock scene that transpired in New York City at the turn of the millenium. Based on the book by Lizzie Goodman, the film captures live video footage, interviews and snapshots of bands from the likes of The Strokes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Rapture, Interpol and a broad scope of other recognized acts. Directors Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern (co-directors of Shut Up and Play the Hits) are undoubtably maestros in crafting and portraying a musical ecosystem that took New York, and eventually the world, by force.
Consisting entirely of archival footage, we come to know frontmen and women up close and personally; celebrating with them in multi-continental tours and just as quickly dragged to the ground in their whirlwind partying and drug fueled haze. At the forefront are the members of The Strokes with Julian Casablanca stealing the spotlight. Widely recognized across the globe for their charisma and exhilarating debut album, Casablanca and his peers are less remarkable in their characters and nuances than many of the film’s other contenders. Karen O is an especially compelling and admirable musician as she battles life at the forefront of the stage amongst her male kindred, yet consistently has to prove herself and confront media headlines often paradoxically portraying her as ‘cool, sexy, and drunk’ in the same sentence. James Murphy also stands out amongst his New York underground peers, albeit in a more cynical and intellectual way. Calling Murphy a ‘perfectionist’ as he fills the shoes of performer, record producer, label founder, DJ and songwriter might still be an understatement. Though in a bursting collective of artists often compounded with a taste for drugs, alcohol and sex, it's tough to not commend Murphy for sticking to his unwavering (yet obsessively compulsive) roots.
For someone that has surface recollections of this era, Lovelace and Southern paint a more vivid picture of these underground years on film versus Goodman’s verbatim interviews on paper (if only because I had to keep flipping back and forth to remember musicians names and their associated acts). The directors also intertwine the political and historical events of this time, including 9/11 and the technological scare of the turning to year 2000 for a more nuanced portrait. The film seems to stand as an especially subjective documentary in that it will almost certainly resonate with fans of this scene, though admittedly as a general outsider, Meet Me in the Bathroom still has merit in bringing its audience along for the ride with its personal and layered depictions of the time. Plus, who can harp on a legitimate reason to embrace the youth in all their creative, artistic and partying glory?