Here we come to probably to most pivotal year for music in the 00s. The first year of the 21st century had felt like a complete washout, pop culture-wise. When it came to rock music, we were still very much dealing with our Britpop hangover, feeling a little weepy and able to manage nothing stronger than the bland and inoffensive gruel of Travis and Coldplay. Meanwhile, the charts were overrun with Godforsaken kiddie pop peddled by Steps and S Club 7. For anyone looking for something fierce, messy and glamorous from pop and rock, for anyone who still came to these apparently used-up and spent art forms looking for something life changing, for some Goddamn passion... Well, they just had to make do with Starsailor. In short, things sucked.
Then, just when it looked like the most exciting music event of 2001 was some woebegone mithering NME dubbed ‘The New Acoustic Movement’, along came two bands who, in retrospect, demand to be granted equal billing in our rock revival narrative: The Strokes and The White Stripes. The former were sharp-suited posh boys slumming it in an imaginary New York they pieced together from cherished records by Television, Blondie and The Velvet Underground. The latter were a truly, gloriously weird coupling who claimed to be brother and sister but were actually former husband and wife. Their explosive mix of punk and the blues, introduced to the wider world via the excellent Sympathetic Sounds of Detroit compilation, existed in an imaginary Americana wonderland they pieced together from forgotten blues records and half-remembered, half-concocted mythology.
In some ways, they were poles apart, but it’s important to grasp the vital ingredient these two bands shared: imagination. Like all the greatest bands, they imagined the kind of band they wanted to exist and the world they wanted that band to exist in, and then they invented both. Both bands understood and intuitively grasped the importance to pop culture of sex, glamour, violence, misery, defiance and a splash of seedy sexual ambiguity. And they brought all of this with them when they gained international attention in 2001, the first bands for years to do so. They were also the first bands for an age to build a genuine rapport with their audience; an intimacy which bands such as The Libertines would adopt and build on in the coming years. Not to put too fine a point on it, but without them, it’s a fair bet the 00s would have been pretty shit.
However, leaving these two bands aside, plenty else was happening in 2001 to get excited about, and on an international scale. From the gritty garage soul of The Dirtbombs’ Ultraglide in Black to the murky, mercurial instrumentals of Eletrelane’s Rock It to the Moon; from the spasming punk funk of !!!’s debut to the hushed, autumnal wonder of múm’s Yesterday was Dramatic, Today was OK; from Squarepusher’s jaw-dropping ‘My Red Hot Car’ to Missy Elliott’s ‘Get Yr Freak On’, which carved a deep chasm of funk out of a sparse scattering of bhangra samples, it was like the world’s music makers suddenly woke up to the possibilities of their craft. So, as it turned out, 2001 was a great year, full of music which was messy, confident and as diverse as you could possibly wish for. Take a noisy trip down memory lane with our list of the best of the best.