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The Strokes
Alternative


Equally inspired by classic tunesmiths like Buddy Holly and John Lennon as well as the attitude and angular riffs of fellow New Yorkers Television and the Velvet Underground, the Strokes were also equally blessed and cursed with an enormous amount of hype -- particularly from the U.K. music press, whose adulation for the group rivaled their fervor for Oasis in the early '90s. Barely in their twenties by the time their debut album Is This It? arrived in 2001, singer/songwriter Julian Casablancas, guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr., bassist Nikolai Fraiture, and drummer Fabrizio Moretti's success wasn't quite of the overnight variety, but it still arrived pretty swiftly. Casablancas (the son of Elite modeling agency kingpin John Casablancas), Moretti (who began playing drums at age five), and Valensi started playing together in 1998 while they attended Manhattan's private prep school Dwight School. Soon after they met Fraiture, who attended the Upper East Side's Le Cest Francais, and added him to their ranks. Hammond (the son of singer/songwriter Albert Hammond, whose songs include "It Never Rains in Southern California," "When I Need You," and "To All the Girls I've Loved Before") came from Los Angeles to attend film school at N.Y.U. and was invited into the band by Casablancas; the two met at L'Institut Le Rosey in Switzerland when they were kids. Casablancas officially christened the quintet the Strokes in 1999, and the group spent most of that year writing and rehearsing material in New York City's Music Building. They made their live debut that fall at the Spiral, and word of mouth about the Strokes' incendiary live show propelled them to gigs at venues like Under the Acme, Lower East Side clubs such as Arlene Grocery, Baby Jupiter, and N.Y.C.'s Luna. The band's December 2000 dates at the Mercury Lounge and the Bowery Ballroom not only gained them a manager (Ryan Gentles, who booked them at those clubs), but also helped Strokes-mania reach critical mass in New York. Rough Trade released the group's three-song demo as The Modern Age EP in January 2001, which sparked a bidding war from which RCA emerged as the victors. Meanwhile, the Strokes' acclaim reached the U.K. and grew to massive proportions over the course of the year. NME quickly championed the band, profiling them several times that spring and summer as the Strokes' live act and singles like Hard to Explain (which debuted at number 16 in the U.K. charts) won them a rabid British following. That spring, the band also completed their first U.S. tour as the opening act for the Doves and proceeded to play dates with Guided By Voices and And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead in the U.S. and the U.K. The group's popularity continued to snowball in the U.K., with a side stage slot at the NME Carling Weekender changed to a main stage performance for fear of people trampling each other to see the band. In late summer of that year, Rough Trade released Is This It? with an album cover featuring a sexy, Helmut Newton-esque photo of a woman's nude behind and hip with a leather-gloved hand resting on it; the U.K. chains Woolworth's and HMV objected to its controversial nature. The U.S. version of Is This It? was released in October and featured a few changes from the U.K. edition. The Strokes opted for an abstract pattern on the cover and removed the song "NYC Cops," feeling the song was inappropriate in the wake of the terrorist attacks that struck New York prior to the album's release; the planned B-side "When It Started" took its place. The group closed out the fall with an extended tour of the U.S., culminating with a Halloween gig at New York's Hammerstein Ballroom. Heather Phares

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