Are the Strokes the most influential band of our times? We think not

There is a great blog in this week in the NME by one of the best music journalists of our times John Doran from The Quietus.

He writes about his bafflement at the reputation of the Strokes who are constantly lauded as being the key band of our times. It’s not even fair on the band who are an ok indie band but hardly ground changing.

I don’t care that the Strokes were rich New York kids, those sort of things don’t concern me, I don’t even care if guitarist Albert Hammond’s dad was the Albert Hammond from the seventies and apparently helped write some of the band’s hits. If that’s even true it’s not part of the argument here.

I’m more surprised by the way the band is endlessly quoted as being this mass influence and of always being told that they got the ‘kids’ to rock again. Oddly it’s Green Day in the last ten years who seemed to get more people back into playing guitars from all the band’s I’ve met (and that’s an awful lot) and I hear bands talk about Minor Threat far more than the Strokes.

The Strokes occupy a strange place in the rickety and often reconstructed ladder of rock history. They were an indie band polished up a bit for mass consumption, a tidied up version of the post Nirvana American indiestream, indie music to make money out of. Indie music that you had to go to finishing school to learn how to make.

They were hardly a rock band, or, to be honest they were hardly even an indie band! Surely indie meant independent, you know, the workers taking back the means of production and creating music on their own terms, somehow this had been changed by the time the Strokes came along to boutique labels for major labels with band’s dressed in designer versions of thrift clothes shops playing designer versions of indie rock! Independent no longer meant being independent and it had been shortened down to the worst word for a musical style ever- indie.

It was hardly Crass Records!

I remember the first time the Strokes came to tour. The local music reviewer was breathless with excitement- this band was like a cross between the Stooges and The Ramones he gasped minutes before they came on.

I wasn’t sure how he knew this since the band had never even played the UK before and my suspicion was confirmed when they sauntered on stage like five expensively dressed students with curly mullets sat on their perfect cheek bones. They started playing and the huge wave of adrenalin failed to rush through the room. Far from being like the Stooges or the Ramones they were like a competent indie band who were too cool to give any energy to the world and their soon to come and rather aptly named debut album, Is This It, summed everything up.

Over the years the PR machine made sure that the Strokes were never short of good reviews as the continued their merry way of pretending to be some sort of underground band.

They released the odd toe tapping single and opened the indie floodgates to the likes of the Killers and other band’s who sound about as indie as Duran Duran. They released the odd catchy single but never got big enough to play the sort of arenas that Rammstein or System Of A Down or other bands the media totally ignores could sell out in 20 minutes. I remember at the height of their hipness when they played Reading Festival and Rancid had twice as many people watching them as the Strokes but this was reported as a Strokes triumph and how Rancid had emptied the place- oddly Rancid remain far more influential.

I don’t hate the Strokes, they are the chain store version of the indiestream, the polished up dressed down pretend take on alternative culture, they write the occasional engaging tune but drift out of the musical narrative all to easily…

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. To be influential you have to be bit more than just ‘OK’. Elvis was more than ‘OK’. So were the Velvets. And The Stooges. And Kraftwork. And The Sex Pistols. And Joy Division. And The Smiths. I guess if you haven’t heard any of the above performers you might regard The Strokes as a band to get excited about; in that case it would be a good idea to never listen to ‘Funhouse’ or ‘The Queen Is Dead’. It might just ruin your life!

  2. Jesus Christ, it would appear that you have poisoned your own critique with terrible spelling!
    AND if you really don’t care about the band’s (supposed) financial status, (supposed)social background or famous relatives, why bloody well mention them?

  3. Overhyped average fake indie band recycling the past at best, the label re-launch band of Rough Trade which is a big part of the reason a lot of people with a voice got a hard on over them in the first place. A ‘New York band’ no one in New York at the time had heard of. Apparently you can fool most of the Brits most of the time but not all of them all the time.

  4. Never thought they were that special. There’s loads of way to cool “indie” bands at the moment and most of em are shit. I would argue that all the Strokes did was burn out the fantastic indie scene we had in this country by putting it firmly in a market mans box. Literally and figuratively

  5. I’m not a Strokes fan in particular (the first album is good, although possibly deserving neither the praise nor the ire it attracts from some quarters) but I think there’s a strong case for them being significant in terms of indie’s revival in the last decade. It’s easy to forget what the musical climate was like when they broke through – nu-metal’s residue still clung to the charts, the ‘new acoustic movement’ was limping its way through the pages of the popular music press, and the likes of At The Drive-In and …Trail Of Dead were failing to make the instant seismic impact that had been predicted. Indie (or at least indie as a synonym for ‘people with electric guitars that aren’t playing classic rock, metal or punk’) was dead, as the NME reminded us on a weekly basis.

    The Strokes’ immediate impact was to render all that obsolete. Limp Bizkit choked, Travis disappeared and ATD-I split. Within a year the press was seeking out bands influenced by garage rock and NYC proto-punk, and the likes of The White Stripes, The Libertines or The Yeah Yeah Yeahs began to dominate, eventually leading to art school stuff like Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party. Yes, this is still studenty stuff, but these bands and those they were influenced by paved the way for (arguably) better things.

    Admittedly The Strokes’ coverage was often more like a fashion report than a review of the music itself, and its questionable as to whether they directly influenced anything worthwhile. But The Strokes’ emergence was undoubtedly a key turning point in terms of popular (rather than underground) guitar music. Perhaps ‘pivotal’ is a better word than ‘influential’.

  6. As to whether they killed the genuine indie scene: tish and fipsy. The underground exists despite the mainstream, not in its shadow.

  7. …and I appreciate that two comments is taking the piss, never mind three, but: “pretending to be some sort of underground band.”

    When did they do that, exactly?

  8. I really liked the Strokes when they first came out – they looked cool, their artwork was great and they were stripped down, basic and artfully shambolic sounding. Their influences are obvious (Richard Hell did it better) and they seem emotionless and disconnected with their audience on stage, in interviews and on record. I doubt they will be remembered in 20 years with as much enthusiasm as Oasis undoubtedly will be or with as much derision as, say Menswe@r.

    They influenced The Killers but they also did the Libertines who I imagine most of the readers of this site will despise because of junkie rocker Pete as seen in the sun but who were an injection of life and love in the 2000’s when we desperately needed it in the UK.

  9. the strokes are a great band, i think its really easy to look back and write them off as an overhyped kind of thing. but they really kicked the door open for a market for the whole “indie attitude”. They didnt have any life changing aspects to theyre music but i think its because the 21st century kinda was defined by an unwillingness to be revolutionary or outspoken. most of the other bands people mentioned like the white stripes kinda wouldnt have had any real appreciation if it werent for the strokes making it cool to like stuff like that. kinda like how nirvana opened up a market for older bands like sonic youth as well as bands that were around just as long as them. very important stuff i think. and theyre sound to me really isnt a cleaned up anything. i just think they didnt really care about trying to anti mainstream and punk like the white stripes did. they more just wanted to write good songs that didnt necessarily combat trends or change anything. like they just wanted to be as respectable as some of the retro bands they liked. they deserve every bit of credit they get

  10. The strokes were an absolute turning point in music. they were an attempt to market the “hipp” intellectual music that occupied the pages of cool indie magazines to a more hairband, mainstream audience. I remember when they came out. The climate, especially in music was stilled filled with a great amount of hutspah about the new music and where the generation would go, as it were, as the generation of the 60s had gone, and 80s and 90s. Soon people like modest mouse and franz ferdinand were coming out but they were much more radio rock. previous to them, people were infected by radiohead heavily, and a return to what would become new rocknroll’s revival and they became the proto-hipsters (rejecting in many ways radiohead’s then direction and also coldplay had evolved: and rock had been seen popularly as a progression, and the “guitar” was increasingly growing “obsolete” as it were, since the end of nirvana and the whole american grunge thing which had been seen in many ways as a decline of rocknroll guitar—who could reinvent rock and roll to make it new, reflect the new era) one must put them in their context like the 60s everyone was waiting with an attitude of “progress” that music history would be a linear progression. recently it seems of that has been shaken, we no longer always drink coke, go to the movies and wait to see who will take rock’nroll to the next state. (as many americans were doing then) our movies and everything got ruined it seems. our coke stayed the same, but people got fussy and stopped eating unhealthy. hippie revival exploded, like devandra and etc, and even mgmt and sicn ethen we have forgotten the modernism that was “supposed-to-be-cool”/ the strokes were just that…they were like the led zeppelin of the era. they werent as well known, overplayed, but as definers of their moment they wer ein a way the proto-hipsters. the bridge between what was indie and what became mainstream later. in many ways we have lost this new era consciousness, which in many ways had to do with our parents generation watching to see where we “would go” like they did….so sometimes we forget what the strokes meant. they also paved the way for a sloguh of really bad bands like all american rejects and jonas brothers as everyone had a crush on nick valensi but that wasnt their fault.

  11. Did The Strokes revolutionize music? I don’t think so. But they brought back a raw almost garage type sound that hadn’t been heard since the early albums of The Who. The Strokes brought classic rock sound back into the public consciousness, and helped a lot of people (myself included) start listening to stuff that wasn’t on the radio.

  12. It’s not so much The Strokes’ output rathermore in culture into which they appeared – nu metal and folky stuff in the post Britpop void.

    One really good album is all they had – but they’re a gateway band.

    How many people FOUND the great bands through listening to the The Strokes, just like a generation found The Stone Roses, The Smiths, The Sex Pistols, The Kinks and any number through Noel Gallagher?

  13. I absolutely adore the Strokes. With each album they bring something new to the table. Sure, FIOE is less gritty and more polished than the previous albums – but it happens to be my favourite. What I like about them is that they aren’t afraid to venture into new musical territory, regardless of reactions. It is ridiculous that people say that they didn’t amount to much after their first album – and consistently claim that they are over-hyped without ever giving very concrete reasons why – simply saying that they are not as influental as people claim them to be, as opposed to Green Day?! If we’re even going down that road , I think that the Strokes caused more people to discover “old music” than Green Day, particularly as they always cite 70s and 80s music as their influence. But that’s just the thing, maybe I’m wrong. So to each his own, and so it should also be with the Strokes. Entire disparaging articles devoted to them seem a little pointless, as do people looking for a particular sounds or failing to see what the fans love (which is no crime, I myself don’t see the appeal of many other popular bands) and deciding to critically analyse them, or even claim that the fact that they are less popular than rancid makes them less “good”.. despite the fact that neither of them are mainstream it’s still like comparing apples and oranges. This author seems to fundamentally dislike them.

  14. Music is art, and art can be interpreted in the eye of the beholder. The Strokes didn’t make the hype, same why Nirvana and Kurt Cobain didn’t make it theirs.

  15. It’s clear that this guy hates The Strokes. He says that they weren’t able to sold out an arena but they’re point was never to play arenas or that kind of stuff, they never embraced that kind of rock n roll cliché, they just wanted to make good and more underground music popular.They wanted to be a good band, not a big band.
    You say that rancid are far more influencial than the strokes??? Who the fuck are Rancid?? The Strokes oppened the door for other musicians and bands as well as inspired other people to play and listen to good music, they made rock’n roll cool again, and that’s far more important than solding out arenas…

  16. The Strokes were the Nirvana of the 2000s…. minus the cultural impact, mainstream popularity and legacy. They revitalized the indie scene with a modern and refreshing sound. ( Pick up a Britney album and then pick up Is This It. The latter still sounds fresh and modern while the earlier sounds dated) They were the forebearers of a scene and influenced quite a lot of bands. I doubt Kings of Leons, Franz Ferdinand, Interpol, Black Keys, Arctic Monkeys would achieve success if it weren’t for them. Sadly, the band hasn’t been memorable enough with later releases and won’t be regarded as legends. They could’ve been so much better…


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