Pretty Punks

The Strokes misbehave their way into rock critics' hearts

By virtue of the fact that they're from New York, the Strokes were quickly hailed as the latest in a great line of gritty, urban, rock and roll bands from the Big Apple. "I didn't realize how New York we sounded to people outside of there," says Casablancas. "We're trying to be universal. But I think there are just subconscious influences in New York. The city is a very intense place."

Although they are marked as new representatives of streetwise rock, there's been plenty of speculation as to how much time the Strokes have actually spent "on the streets" -- especially given the band members' prep-school backgrounds, their lack of prior experience (this is the first band for all five of them), and the fact that they're barely old enough to patronize the clubs they play. With such dings in their street cred, it's no wonder cynics have pointed to Casablancas's pedigree as a primary rationale for their quick success.

Whatever got them noticed, the band's EP backed up the hype, and soon the major labels took notice. The Strokes inked a deal with RCA records last spring and were hustled into the studio to record Is This It to capitalize on the buzz.

Unlikely heirs: The Strokes say they're not interested in cultivating street cred
Unlikely heirs: The Strokes say they're not interested in cultivating street cred


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Now with major-label backing, the Strokes don't worry about losing the ultrahip indie cred that defined their brief -- and white-hot -- ascent. "We never set out to have that," says Hammond. "We weren't trying to be indie, and we weren't trying to be mainstream, either. We were just making our music and trying to get it to as many people who were interested."

On this particular night, however, the band is happy just to wind down the night with the case of beer, which has turned certain members mush-brained and mischievous. The clock creeps past 2:00 a.m., and soon their handlers will hustle them all off to bed. The following night they're scheduled to play a sold-out show at the Troubadour in West Hollywood.

The Troubadour show is the hottest ticket in Tinseltown, having sold out weeks in advance. Crowds of eager music hounds gather on the sidewalk outside the Santa Monica Boulevard club before the show, hoping to score a way in. Onstage the Strokes rip through a fast-moving set with the skill of a band obviously tightened by months on the road. Casablancas paces the stage with loutish swagger and leaps into the crowd more than once to knock around and greet his new legion of fans.

The crowd loves him for it. After all, L.A.'s hippest have a long tradition of heralding New York's hottest bands -- the Throbs, NY Loose, D Generation, the Toilet Boys. The Strokes clearly are the next in line: Adoring fans clamor to meet the bright young musicians at the after-party in the VIP area, and the music celebs making the scene include Joe Strummer, Morrissey, Hole's Eric Erlandson, Blondie's Clem Burke, the Romantics' Coz Canler, and director-couple Spike Jonze and Sofia Coppola. The star power is electric, but the band seems unfazed.

"Buzz doesn't mean anything," says Hammond. "We don't let the attention get to us. We're doing what we've been doing, and we're not going to change that. It's what keeps us steady."

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