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Arctic Monkeys

Arctic Monkeys are an English alternative rock band from High Green, a suburb of Sheffield, England. Formed in 2002, the band currently consists of Alex Turner (lead vocals, guitar), Jamie Cook (guitar), Nick O'Malley (bass guitar, backing vocals), Matt Helders (drums, backing vocals) and John Ashton as a touring member (keyboard, guitar, backing vocals). Former members include Andy Nicholson (bass guitar, backing vocals) and Glyn Jones (lead vocals, guitar).
 

Arctic Monkeys - When The Sun Goes Down

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Their debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, released in early 2006, became the fastest-selling debut album in British music history, surpassing Oasis's Definitely Maybe and remains the fastest-selling debut album for a band in the UK.[1] Since then the band have released two more albums: Favourite Worst Nightmare (2007) and Humbug (2009).

Arctic Monkeys are heralded as one of the first acts to come to the public attention via the Internet (fan-based sites rather than from the band), with commentators suggesting they represented the possibility of a change in the way in which new bands are promoted and marketed.[2]

History

Formation and early years: 2001-2003

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In 2001, neighbours Alex Turner and Jamie Cook learned how to play the guitar, later the two boys received guitars as Christmas presents,[3] the pair formed a band with Turner's schoolmates Andy Nicholson and Matt Helders.[4] Nicholson already played bass guitar, so Helders ended up playing drums — "that was all that were left... they all had guitars so I bought a kit after a bit."[3] According to an interview with Blender magazine, Turner was not the original singer of the band,[5] but instead, Glyn Jones, another attendee of Stocksbridge High School, used to be the front man. Jones said that he and Turner "were bored [after our GCSE exams] so we started writing a song about a geek in our year...", and that he left the band because he "did not have the dedication to take it any further... to me we were just a gang of kids messing around because we were bored."[6] Although reports suggested they named themselves after Helders' uncle's (or even father's) band, Helders later admitted that "so many people asking us that in the UK, so we just started making stories up",[7] and that he just didn't have the heart to tell the original reporter he'd been lying.[3]

They began rehearsing at Yellow Arch Studios in Neepsend,[8] and played their first gig on 13 June 2003 at The Grapes in Sheffield city-centre.[9]

After a few performances in 2003 the band began to record demos and burn them into CDs to give away at gigs, which were promptly file-shared amongst fans. The group did not mind, saying "we never made those demos to make money or anything. We were giving them away free anyway — that was a better way for people to hear them. And it made the gigs better, because people knew the words and came and sang along.",[7] admitting that they did not even know how to get their songs onto the Internet.[7] When asked about the popularity of the band's MySpace site in an interview with Prefix Magazine, the band said that they were unaware what it was, and that the site had originally been created by their fans. "[When we went number one in England] we were on the news and radio about how MySpace has helped us. But that's just the perfect example of someone who doesn't know what the fuck they're talking about. We actually had no idea what it was."[7]

[edit] Record deals: 2004-2005

They began to grow in popularity across the north of England,[10] receiving attention from BBC Radio and the British tabloid press. A local amateur photographer, Mark Bull, filmed the band's performances and made the music video to "Fake Tales of San Francisco", releasing it on his website,[7] alongside the contents of Beneath the Boardwalk — a collection of the band's songs which he named after a local music venue. In May 2005, Arctic Monkeys released their first single, Five Minutes with Arctic Monkeys, featuring the songs "Fake Tales of San Francisco" and "From the Ritz to the Rubble". This release was limited to 500 CDs and 1000 7" records, but was also available to download from the iTunes Music Store. Soon after, the band played at the Carling Stage of the Reading and Leeds Festivals, reserved for less known or unsigned bands. Their appearance was hyped by much of the music press and the band was watched by an unusually large crowd. The critically-acclaimed[11] performance included spontaneous singalongs of tracks that were only available as demos on the Internet.

The band refused to change their songs to suit the industry and resisted signing to a record label — "Before the hysteria started, the labels would say, 'I like you, but I'm not sure about this bit, and that song could do with this changing...' We never listened."[9] Their cynicism towards the industry was such that record company scouts were refused guaranteed guest list entry for their gigs, a move described by MTV Australia as "We've got this far without them — why should we let them in?".[12] The success of the strategy was illustrated with a series of sell-out gigs across the UK and Ireland.

   

Eventually, they signed to Domino in June 2005. The band said they were attracted to the "DIY ethic" of Domino owner Laurence Bell, who ran the label from his flat and only signed bands that he liked personally.[13] The UK's Daily Star reported that this was followed in October by a £1 million publishing deal with EMI and a £725,000 contract with Epic Records for the United States.[14] Arctic Monkeys denied this on their website, dubbing the newspaper "The Daily Stir". However, Domino have licensed the Australian and New Zealand publishing rights to EMI and the Japanese rights to independent label Hostess.[10]

Their first single with Domino, "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor", was released on 17 October 2005 and went straight to #1 on the UK Singles Chart, beating Sugababes and Robbie Williams. Four months later, they made their first appearance on the cover of NME. Their second single, "When the Sun Goes Down" (previously titled "Scummy"), released on 16 January 2006, also went straight to #1 on the UK Singles Chart, selling 38,922 copies and taking over that position from Shayne Ward. The band's success without marketing or advertising led some to suggest that it could signal a change in how new bands achieve recognition.[2]

Whatever People Say I Am... and Nicholson departure: 2006

The band finished recording their debut album, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, at Chapel Studios in Lincolnshire in September 2005. Its name was taken from the 1958 book Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not became the fastest selling debut album in UK chart history, selling 363,735 copies in the first week.[15] This smashed the previous record of 306,631 copies held by Popstars by Hear’Say, and sold more copies on its first day alone — 118,501 — than the rest of the Top 20 albums combined.[16]

The record was released a month later in the U.S. and entered at #24 on the Billboard album chart after it sold 34,000 units in its first week, making it the second fastest selling for a debut indie rock album in America.[17] However, U.S. sales for the first year did not match those of the first week in the UK for the album. US critics were more reserved about the band than their UK counterparts, and appeared unwilling to be drawn into the possibility of "yet another example of the UK's press over-hyping new bands".[18] However, the band's June 2006 tour of North America received critical acclaim at each stop[19][20][21] — the hype surrounding them "proven to exist for good reason".[22] Meanwhile, the UK's NME magazine declared the band's debut album the "5th greatest British album of all time".[23] They also equalled the record of The Strokes and Oasis at the 2006 NME Awards, winning three fan-voted awards for Best British Band, Best New Band and Best Track for "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor".

Arctic Monkeys wasted no time in recording new material, and released a five-track EP on 24 April 2006, entitled Who the Fuck Are Arctic Monkeys?. Due to its length, the EP was ineligible to chart as a UK single or album. Furthermore, the record's graphic language has resulted in significantly less radio airplay than previous records, although this was not a reported concern according to an insider — "since they made their name on the Internet... they don't care if they don't get radio play".[24]

Soon after the release of the EP in the UK, the band announced that Andy Nicholson would not take part in the band's forthcoming North America tour due to fatigue from "an intensive period of touring".[25] On returning to the UK, Nicholson confirmed that he would leave Arctic Monkeys and start his own project. He also said that he couldn't deal with the band's fame and the success over the previous six months. In a statement on their official website, the band said: "We are sad to tell everyone that Andy is no longer with the band", also confirmed that Nick O'Malley — former bassist with The Dodgems who had drafted in as temporary bassist for the tour — would continue as bassist for the rest of their summer tour schedule.[26] Shortly after, Nick O'Malley was confirmed as the formal replacement for Nicholson.

Arctic Monkeys' first release without Nicholson, the single "Leave Before the Lights Come On", came on 14 August 2006. Turner said that the song was one of the last songs he wrote before their rise to fame, and suggested that "it feels very much like it could be on the album".[27] Peaking at #4 in the UK, the single became the band's first failure to reach #1. The band was re-united at the Leeds Festival when Nicholson met up with his former band mates and his replacement bassist, O'Malley.[28] Only the original band members, minus Nicholson, were present at the award ceremony when Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not won the 2006 Mercury Prize two weeks later.[29]

Favourite Worst Nightmare: 2007-2008

The band's second album, Favourite Worst Nightmare, was released on 23 April 2007, a week after the release of accompanying single "Brianstorm". Turner described the songs as "very different from last time", adding that the sound of some tracks are "a bit full-on - a bit like "From the Ritz to the Rubble", "The View from the Afternoon", that sort of thing."[30] A secret gig played at Sheffield's Leadmill on 10 February 2007, debuted seven new songs (six from Favourite Worst Nightmare and one other).[31] Early reviews of the release were positive, and described it as "very, very fast and very, very loud."[32]

Meanwhile, the band continued to pick up awards from around the world, namely the 'Best New Artist in the United States' at the PLUG Independent Music Awards, the "Album of the Year" awards in Japan, Ireland and the US, awards for "Best Album" and "Best Music DVD" at the 2007 NME Awards.[33] They ended the year by clinching the "Best British Band" and "Best British Album" at the 2008 BRIT Awards. For the second year in a row, the band were nominated for the annual Mercury Prize, although they failed to match their feat of 2006 after the award went to Klaxons' Myths of the Near Future.

On 29 April 2007, the day Favourite Worst Nightmare charted at #1 in the UK Albums Chart, all 12 tracks from the album charted in the Top 200 of the UK Singles Chart. On 27 April 2007 they had a total of 18 tracks in the Top 200. "Fluorescent Adolescent" and "505" charted in the Top 75, at #60 and #74 respectively.

The third single from Favourite Worst Nightmare, "Teddy Picker", was released on 3 December 2007. It charted at #20 and remained only one week in the top 40 staying in this position, making it the lowest charting single for the band so far. Prior to this release the band released an extremely limited number of 250 vinyl under the pseudonym Death Ramps containing two of the b-sides from the "Teddy Picker" single.

Arctic Monkeys headlined the Glastonbury Festival on 22 June 2007, the highlights of which were aired on BBC2. During their headline act, the band performed with Dizzee Rascal and covered Shirley Bassey's "Diamonds Are Forever".[34] The band also played a large gig at Dublin's Malahide Castle on 16 June 2007, with a second date added the following day.[35] The band was also slated to play the Austin City Limits Music Festival in September 2007. Other European festivals include Rock Werchter in 2007. The band played two shows at Cardiff International Arena on 19 June and 20 June 2007 supported by local friends of the band, Reverend and the Makers. They also played two London gigs at Alexandra Palace on the 8 and 9 December 2007.

Humbug: 2009-2010

The band recorded a total of 24 songs; 12 in the Rancho De La Luna recording sessions with Josh Homme and 12 in the New York sessions with James Ford. It was later revealed by Matt Helders in a video diary that the album would consist of 14 tracks and that Alex Turner would stay in New York to oversee the mixing of the material.[36] However, the claim that there were 14 tracks was proved wrong, as the track listing, revealed on 1 June 2009, listed only 10.[37]

In a preview article on ClashMusic.com, writer Simon Harper claimed that the band had "completely defied any expectations or presumptions to explore the depths they can reach when stepping foot outside their accepted styles", and that "Turner is his usual eloquent self, but has definitely graduated into an incomparable writer whose themes twist and turn through stories and allegories so potent and profound it actually leaves one breathless".[38] On the same site, Alex Turner revealed that the band had listened to Jimi Hendrix and Cream while writing the new album, the title of the which would be Humbug.[39] As announced on the Arctic Monkeys website the first single was "Crying Lightning", released on 6 July, digitally through iTunes and also received its first radio premiere on the same day. On 12 July 2009, the single "Crying Lightning" debuted at number 12 in the UK Singles Chart and number 1 on the UK Indie Chart.

In August 2009 it was announced that Arctic Monkeys were to release a vinyl version of their new single "Crying Lightning" exclusively through Oxfam shops, with proceeds going to the charity. The 7-inch release also came with a code to enable download of a free MP3 version. In October 2009, the band announced that "Cornerstone" was the second single from Humbug, and was released on 16 November with the video premiering on 15 November. The music video, directed by Richard Ayoade, who worked on the videos of "Fluorescent Adolescent", "Crying Lightning" and their "At the Apollo" DVD, shows frontman Alex Turner singing the song alone in a white room during the whole video. The band continued to work with Oxfam for the release of this single.[40][41]

Arctic Monkeys embarked on the first leg of the Humbug Tour in January 2009. Arctic Monkeys were the headline act for 2009's Reading Festival (watch the BBC broadcast), Leeds Festival, and they informed fans that free tickets were included within two copies of their new single Crying Lightning.[42] They were also the headline act on the first night of 2009's Exit festival in Serbia. It has been announced that they will perform at Osheaga Festival, as part of a line-up which includes Beastie Boys and Coldplay. The tour has already gone through several North American and European legs and is expected to extend well into 2010.

It was announced in February 2010 that the 3rd single to be taken from Humbug would be "My Propeller", released on March 22, shortly before a one off UK show at the Royal Albert Hall in support on the Teenage Cancer Trust on March 27.

Criticism and controversy

Former Depeche Mode keyboardist Alan Wilder, describing the state of the music industry in an article for Side-Line magazine, used the Arctic Monkeys as an example in his criticism of the use of dynamic range compression in modern recording techniques, calling the song "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor", "a bombardment of the most unsubtle, one-dimensional noise".[43]

The release of the EP Who the F*** Are Arctic Monkeys just three months after their record-breaking debut album has been criticised by some, who have seen it as "money-grabbing" and "cashing in on their success".[44] The band countered that they regularly release new music not to make money, but to avoid the "boredom" of "spending three years touring on one album".[45]

The cover sleeve of Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, showing Chris McClure, a friend of the band, smoking a cigarette, was criticised by the head of the NHS in Scotland for "reinforcing the idea that smoking is OK".[46] The image on the CD itself is a shot of an ashtray full of cigarettes. The band's product manager denied the accusation, and suggested the opposite — "You can see from the image smoking is not doing him the world of good".[46]

Band Members

  • Alex Turner - vocals, guitar (2002-Present)
  • Jamie Cook - guitar (2002-Present)
  • Nick O'Malley - bass and backing vocals (2006-Present)
  • Matt Helders - drums and backing vocals (2002-Present)
Session and touring musicians
  • John Ashton - keyboards, guitar, backing vocals (2009-present)
Former members
  • Andy Nicholson - bass (2002-2006)
  • Glyn Jones - vocals, guitar (2002)

Discography

  • Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not (2006)
  • Favourite Worst Nightmare (2007)
  • Humbug (2009)

Tour history

At concerts, the band are known for their sing-along nature, and fan participation.[47] However, their shows have sometimes been criticised for a lack of showmanship.[47]

  • Whatever People Say I Am Tour (2005–2006)
  • Favourite Worst Nightmare Tour (2007)
  • Humbug Tour (2009–2010)

References and Notes

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