September 11: Indie Rock’s Response

The Strokes perform in Manchester, UK, January 2001. Photo: Jon Super/Redferns

American indie rock was in dire need of new energy in the early ’00s. It got a massive jolt thanks to the Strokes, who made New York’s music scene the epicenter of cool for the first time in twenty years. By September, when the band returned from yet another round of massive U.K. shows, anticipation for their debut full-length, Is This It, had reached a fever pitch. The album had been scheduled for release on September 25th, but then the 9/11 attacks happened, and suddenly it didn’t seem like such a good idea for the city’s most beloved young band to release a tune with the lyric, “NYC cops, they ain’t too smart.” The band decided to remove the song “NYC Cops” from the LP (their press statement said they stood by the song, but didn’t like the timing), replacing it with the considerably less ass-kicking track “When It Started,” and delaying the album’s release until early October. A decade hence, “NYC Cops” remains one of the Strokes’ most┬árevered songs and a staple of their live set.

The 9/11 attacks also impacted that year’s CMJ Music Marathon, the annual indie rock conference and festival that features shows at dozens of downtown New York venues. Originally scheduled to begin on September 12th, the event was pushed back a month — in part because a number of venues scheduled to host CMJ gigs were rendered inaccessible by street closures following the terrorist attacks. Only about half of the 8,000 people who had paid for CMJ registrations showed up in New York for the rescheduled event, but the Marathon went off without a hitch in mid-October.

In the months following 9/11, a new wave of NYC rock began to swell, with bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, Walkmen and Liars emerging in the Strokes’ wake. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ first EP — released in summer of 2001 — included a song called “Our Time,” a fuzzy, scuzzy tune that echoed “Crimson And Clover” and found Karen O. reminding “all the kids in the street” that it was “the year to be hated.” When the band played it at hometown shows in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, crowds sang along in teary agreement: In New York City, and in the indie world at large, it was “our time to break on through.” As eyes of the world were pointed at New York, the city’s indie rock scene found an international platform at a time when it most deserved one.

RELATED POSTS