2001: A musical Odyssey

We are living through historic times. That is what everyone keeps saying. One for the textbooks. I think a lot of us are pretty fed up with historic though. So I’m going back 20 years. To a time that I also think is historic, but for very different reasons.

Lets set the scene. It’s 2001. I’m 11 years old. My best friend had just got a brand new Xbox and we were playing Halo in every free waking moment. That is when we weren’t playing Super Smash Bros. Melee. I also was super excited by the first instalments of the mega movie sagas Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. These cultural landmarks were the backdrop to huge global events. From the publication of the first draft of the human genome to the 9/11 terrorist attacks; 2001 has a large thumbprint on today’s society.

I want to talk to you specifically about music, though. 2001 was the year I started buying CDs on a regular basis. And there were some personally impactful, but also genre-defining albums that came out this year.

Two of my first purchases were System of a Down’s Toxicity and Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory. People always like to throw shit at the nu-metal genre, but these were the high-water mark and are albums I still listen to regularly. On the one hand we have System of a Down’s lefty deconstruction of modern society and the american prison complex. Then with Linkin Park, the lead singer Chester is open about mental health. The rawness of the album felt like something new for best selling albums, and I’m sure it has had a hand in weakening that taboo. Especially for men.

Well the next two are pretty obvious picks. Is This It by The Strokes and Turn on the Bright Lights by Interpol. I love these albums a lot. TOTBL is my favorite album. These albums and the New York scene they were born out of seemed to ignite the next decade of indie rocks domination of popular music and came to define my teenage taste. Just like many others, these albums were also a primer to a fascination with post punk. It’s probably not a coincidence that the last two cities i have lived in are NYC and Manchester.

And then we have Jay-Z. I have talked at length about his influence both in articles and on the Picky B’s podcast. I didn’t find The Blueprint in 2001. But a few years later I was all over it. I honestly don’t think it’s his best, but The Blueprint is held up as one of Hip-Hop’s greatest albums. Most importantly I think it was the start of the Kanye and Jay-Z relationship, and a production/sample style that would lead them both to domination over the next 20 years.

Without a doubt 2001 really came to influence and define my taste, and I think a lot of other folks taste as well. Even beyond the brilliant albums above, there were some absolutely cracking albums that I haven’t even been able to mention (lets just ignore how much I also was listening to Blink-182). Despite all this, I think 2001 is to blame for shaping music today for different reasons.

The culprit instead is the iPod and it’s partner in crime iTunes. Once I got my hand on one of these, I literally soundtracked every moment of my life. No more carrying a bulky CD player that would skip all the time. I didn’t have to carry AA batteries everywhere. Though I stuck with CDs for at least a decade after, MP3s fundamentally changed how I interacted with music. I would easily buy individual songs. Mix them with tracks off my CDs. Build playlists. Chuck them on my iPod. I remember rocking up at friends houses with hard drives, and spending hours uploading and downloading MP3 files. Building libraries with tens of thousands of songs. I could risk trying new artists. New genres. And that really is how an interest in music became a passion. And how that passion became an obsession.


Words by Matt Paul

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