Michael Hann

The Strokes are always terrible – why do I keep going back to see them?

Bluegrass band Nickel Creek, at the Barbican, were far more thrilling – but far less cool

Why do I still think the Strokes are cool, when they're the only major rock band to have two members who met at Swiss finishing school? Photo: Burak Cingi / Redferns

Quite when the concept of coolness became a thing is uncertain, even to etymologists. As early as 1884, an academic paper noted the expression ‘Dat’s cool!’ among African-Americans. But it’s about 100 years since ‘cool’ entered the lexicon as an unambiguous description of something to aspire to (via jazz, inevitably), and it’s still a crucial concept in the world of pop: it’s being cool that meant the Strokes could attract 50,000 or so people to east London, even though most of those present were at primary school when the band released their two first two albums, which are the two on which their reputation rests, and songs from which comprised nearly half their set.

Absolutely nothing seemed to matter to the Strokes, with the possible exception of the cheque

The Strokes shouldn’t be cool: they are the only major rock band to have two members who met at finishing school in Switzerland; they are the only major rock band built on generational wealth (the father of singer Julian Casablancas founded Elite Model Management and ushered in the age of supermodels). But cool they are. They are associated not with Swiss finishing schools, but with the Lower East Side of Manhattan, with grit and grime and the underground, with men wanting to be them and women wanting to have sex with them.

Nickel Creek, on the other hand, are very much not cool. Well, they might very well be cool in the world of ‘progressive bluegrass’ from which they hail, but this is a bit like marching into Aimé Leon Dore in the most stylish pair of red chinos from M&S and hoping for kudos. And whereas the Strokes gave every impression that they would rather be anywhere else but in London, with anyone else but each other, Nickel Creek bounded on to the Barbican’s stage, beaming and grinning and offering their thanks to the audience and each other with almost pathological frequency.

The Strokes were terrible.

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