There's something about musicians I really envy. I work in the entertainment industry, but in a full time job. As much I like the idea of dramatically quitting and trying something that leaves me feeling a little more free, throwing caution to the wind and stepping out on my own - and leaving me without that stability - terrifies the hell out of me. I have nothing but respect for those who can, and even more for those who succeed. 'Meet Me in the Bathroom' is a look inside the music scene of New York City in the late 1990s and early 2000s - pop was dominating the airwaves in the United States, but a new sound was brewing from this hotbed.
Filmmakers Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern ('Shut Up and Play the Hits') take us on a journey back to the very beginning, as bands that are well-known today are just forming. The biggest - The Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs - are tied together by The Moldy Peaches, and it's really amazing to see how the three are so intrinsically linked. As the story chronologically unfolds, we're also introduced to Interpol, TV on the Radio, The Rapture and LCD Soundsystem.
SWITCH: 'MEET ME IN THE BATHROOM' TRAILER
What's most clear is that Lovelace and Southern have come across a treasure trove of archive material. The quantity of intimate footage from early rehearsals, performances, tours, recordings, interviews, dressing rooms and day-to-day activities is astounding. That alone makes the film worthwhile for fans of any of these bands, but for someone like myself interested in the filmmaking process and the history of modern music, this kind of access is phenomenal. It's before the time of cameras on mobile phones, before computers were commonplace. With that in mind, the sheer quantity on offer and the scope of time it takes in is jaw-dropping.
With that amount of content and with so many interviews to juggle, it could have been easy to make a mess of the film's focus. Fortunately, pursuing the chronological route and using straightforward techniques (there are a lot of name graphics repeatedly up on screen) to keep the storytelling clean.
That doesn't mean it's a boring documentary. It starts and ends with visual poetry (paired with actual poetry - fitting portions of 'Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun' by Walt Whitman are recited beneath). It's presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio, giving a really cohesive look and style to the entire film, drawing from the quality and aesthetic of the archive archive footage. The documentary intertwines politics and pop culture; we see how events like the turn of the century and 9/11 affect the bands and the people of New York City to bring about a change and a surge in adoration for rock. We also see how popularity and commercialism puts pressure on all of the members of all of the bands, changing them for the better and for worse.
The documentary intertwines politics and pop culture; we see how events like the turn of the century and 9/11 affect the bands and the people of New York City to bring about a change and a surge in adoration for rock.
The great positive about 'Meet Me in the Bathroom' is that we hear from so many of those involved in these bands. The downside is, with so many stories to be told, some of them are heavily curtailed, and it would have been great to dive deeper into a few of them, particularly those with a little more meaning like the financial struggles that many lived with in their early days, or Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Karen O speaking further of her challenges as a female fronting a band. In all honesty, Karen O is probably the most charismatic person in this piece, and no amount more of her would have been problematic; hearing that shy yet lyrical honesty is certainly a real point of contrast to the brash, extroverted personalities that tend to make up the music industry.
The music business is a constantly evolving beast, and becoming consistently harder for genuine talent to break through. The period delved into in 'Meet Me in the Bathroom' may be one of the last true eruptions in the industry - when one band in particular was in such high demand that they dragged an entire subset along with it. This is a time capsule of that era; a moment captured so perfectly it feels almost coincidental. Seeing the inner mechanics of these acts delivers far more depth than you would ever expect, and the documentary's wide breadth of material captures the feeling of listening to the music of these artists for the very first time all over again.
'Meet Me in the Bathroom' is in cinemas across Australia from the 16th March 2023.