Arctic Monkeys are a four-piece indie rock/post-punk revival band from High Green, a suburb of Sheffield, England. Their first two singles, "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor" and "When the Sun Goes Down", both went straight to number one in the UK Singles Chart. Originally established in 2002, the band currently consists of Alex Turner on lead vocals and guitar, Jamie Cook on rhythm guitar, Matt Helders on drums and backing vocals and Nick O'Malley on bass guitar, a position formerly held by Andy Nicholson.
Unlike many of their contemporaries, who were marketed and advertised extensively by record labels, Arctic Monkeys achieved their success through fan-made demo tapes and online file-sharing, culminating in fans singing along at gigs of songs which had never been officially released, leading media commentators to discuss the possibility of a sea change in the way in which new bands are promoted and marketed. The band resisted signing to a major record label, even banning talent scouts from gigs. Eventually, the band signed to independent record label Domino Records, releasing their debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, which debuted straight at number one and broke the record for the largest first week sales of a debut album in UK history. The band subsequently won several major music prizes for the album, including the 2006 Mercury Prize, "Best New Act" at the 2006 Brit Awards and "Best New Band" and "Best British Band" at the NME Awards.
The overnight success of the band and the gritty, realistic nature of the lyrics of songs such as "When The Sun Goes Down" has led to the band being described as the "yardstick for all that is current and cool". Despite such recognition, the band remains notoriously media shy; they declined to appear on either Top of the Pops or CD:UK after "I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor" reached number one, while journalists described their behaviour during a press conference following winning the Mercury Prize as "petulant" and "argumentative".
Arctic Monkeys are generally considered part of the indie rock scene alongside similar contemporary guitar bands such as The Libertines, The Futureheads and Franz Ferdinand. The lyrics of Arctic Monkeys songs often feature social realism and observations of working class life, as typified by "When The Sun Goes Down", described as a "witty, poignant song about prostitution in the Neepsend district of Sheffield", and "A Certain Romance", an attack on chav culture, which have led to comparisons with other acts, especially British rapper The Streets and older artists Morrisey and Jarvis Cocker, both of which are known for their combination of observational lyrics and humour.
The lead singer, Alex Turner, sings in a strong Yorkshire accent, typified by the contraction of "something" to "summat", the replacement of "everything" and "nothing" with "owt" (/aʊt/) and "nowt" (/naʊʔ/) and the use of Northern slang such as "mardy" for "grumpy, difficult, unpredictable". Their songs also include frequent references to popular culture both common and obscure; Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not includes references to Romeo and Juliet, "Rio" by Duran Duran, and Frank Spencer, from Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em, leading some to describe than the band as having a "camp retro-futurist fascination" for 1980s popular culture.
In 2001, neighbours Alex Turner and Jamie Cook asked for instruments as a Christmas present and both received electric guitars. After teaching themselves to play, the pair formed a band with Turner's school friends Andy Nicholson and Matt Helders later in 2002. Nicholson already played bass, so Matt Helders ended up on drums -'"that was all that were left...they all had guitars so I bought a drum kit after a bit". Although reports suggested they named themselves after Helders' uncle's (or even father's) band, Helders later admitted that these reports were untrue — "We made that up ‘cause we got so many people asking us that in the UK, so we just started making stories up", and that he just didn't have the heart to tell the original reporter he'd been lying. According to Helders, Jamie Cook came up with the name at school before the band existed, saying "He just always wanted to be in a band called Arctic Monkeys."
They began rehearsing at Yellow Arch Studios in Neepsend, and their first gig came on 13 June 2003 at The Grapes in Sheffield city-centre. After a few performances, the band began to record demos and burn them onto CDs to give away at gigs. With a limited number of CDs available, fans began to rip the music back onto their computers and share it amongst themselves. The band 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." The band themselves took no responsibility for their music, admitting that they did not even know how to get their songs onto the Internet. When asked about the popularity of the band's MySpace site in an interview with Prefix Magazine, the band pointed out that they did not even know what MySpace 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."
In late 2004, the band began to grow in popularity across the north of England, receiving attention from BBC Radio 1 and the British tabloid press. Mark Bull, a local amateur photographer, filmed the band's performances and made the music video to "Fake Tales of San Francisco", releasing it on his web-site, 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 EP, 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 1000 CDs and 500 7" records, but was also available to download from the iTunes Music Store.
Their appearance on the Carling Stage at the 2005 Reading and Leeds Festivals was hyped by much of the music press – NME in particular – and the band was received by an unusually large crowd for the billing they played. The critically acclaimed performance included spontaneous singalongs of tracks that were only available as demos on the Internet.
The band resisted signing to a record deal, refusing to change their songs to suit the industry — "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." The band's cynicism with the industry was such that record company scouts were refused guaranteed guest list entry for their gigs. The success of the strategy — "We've got this far without them — why should we let them in?", was illustrated with a series of sell-out gigs across the UK. October 2005 saw the band sell out the historic London Astoria, and Turner saw this as proof that they were justified to ignore the record companies, saying "Once it all kicked off, we didn't care anymore. In London, the kids were watching the band, and the record company were at the back watching the kids watching the band".
Eventually, the band signed to Domino Records in June 2005. The temptation of money saw the band almost sign for an undisclosed "other label", but the band were attracted by Domino owner Laurence Bell, who ran the label from his flat and only signed bands that he liked personally. The UK's Daily Star tabloid newspaper reported that this was followed in October 2005 by a £1m publishing deal with EMI and a £725,000 contract with Epic for the United States. The band 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.
Their first single after signing to Domino Records, "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor", was released on 17 October 2005 and went straight to #1 on the UK Singles Chart, selling 38,962 copies and beating McFly and Robbie Williams in the process. Three days later, the band made their first appearance on the cover of NME. Their second single, "When the Sun Goes Down" (having been renamed from its original guise as "Scummy"), was released on 16 January 2006 and also went straight to #1 on the UK Singles Chart, selling 38,922 copies and dethroning Shayne Ward. The band's success in reaching the #1 spot without marketing or advertising has led some to suggest that it could signal a change in how new bands achieve recognition.
The band finished recording their debut album at Chapel Studios in Lincolnshire during September 2005. Its name was confirmed as Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not in early December, with release originally intended for 30 January 2006. Although early versions of many tracks were already freely available to download from the band's pre-label demo CDs, it was widely expected to be one of the biggest releases of 2006 with thousands of copies pre-ordered. On 5 January 2006, Domino announced the album's release would be brought forward one week to the 23 January apparently "due to high demand". While the same thing was done with the release of Franz Ferdinand, there has been continued speculation that the move came as a result of the album's leak and the impact of file sharing — a controversial suggestion given the part file-sharing played in establishing the band's fanbase.
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. This smashed the previous record of 306,631 copies held by Hear’Say with their debut Popstars, and sold more copies on its first day alone — 118,501 — than the rest of the Top 20 albums combined.
The record was released a month later in the United States and sold 34,000 units in its first week, making it the second fastest selling for a debut indie album in America and debuting at #24 on the Billboard album chart. 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". However, the band's June 2006 tour of North America received critical acclaim at each stop — the hype surrounding them "proven to exist for good reason."
In a similar fashion to bands such as Oasis and The Smiths, the band wasted no time in recording new material, and released a 5-track EP on 24 April 2006, entitled Who the Fuck Are Arctic Monkeys, and was seen by many critics as a swipe back at the snowballing hype surrounding the band. The EP was ineligible to chart as a UK single or album. Furthermore, the record's bad language has resulted in significantly less radio airplay than previous records, although this was not a reported concern — "since they made their name on the internet — and that got them a No.1 single and album — they don't care if they don't get radio play".
However, soon after the release of the EP in the UK, the band announced that bassist Andy Nicholson would not take part in the band's forthcoming North America tour due to "fatigue following an intensive period of touring". Upon their return to the UK, it was confirmed on the band's official website that Nicholson had indeed left the band. The statement, "We are sad to tell everyone that Andy is no longer with the band", also confirmed that Nick O'Malley — former bassist with Arctic Monkeys' fellow Sheffield band, The Dodgems, who had drafted in as temporary bassist for the tour — would continue as bassist for the rest of the band's summer tour schedule. Shortly after Nick O'Malley was confirmed as a full-time member and bassist of the band.
The band's first release without Nicholson, the single "Leave Before the Lights Come On", came on 14 August 2006. Turner suggested that "it feels very much like it could be on the album", and that the song was one of the last songs he wrote before their rise to fame. Although reaching #4 in the UK, the single became the band's first failure to reach #1 — leading to Turner referring to it as "the black sheep of the family" at the band's performance at the 2006 Reading Festival. The band were re-united at the Leeds Festival when Nicholson met up with his former band mates and his replacement bassist O'Malley; however 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.
* "I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor" (file info) — play in browser (beta)
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The band have revealed that they are well on their way to recording their second full album, having already penned at least 10 tracks. The band have been writing new material since May 2005, and have stated their reluctance to "live off old records" for a long period of time. Guitarist Jamie Cook suggested that their new album was to be recorded in August 2006, adding "I couldn’t see us being like Coldplay... You tour your album for three years and play the same fucking gig night after night... Some people might enjoy doing that, but we couldn’t."
The band have received some criticism, based largely around the media circus that has surrounded their rise. Critics described them as one in a long line of largely overhyped "NME bands", while the release of the EP Who the Fuck 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". However, 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".
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". The band's product manager denied the accusation, and in fact suggested the opposite — "You can see from the image smoking is not doing him the world of good".
October 2005 saw the group's only UK television appearances, performing on Popworld (15 October), E4 Music and Later with Jools Holland (28 October). Since these appearances, however, the band gained a degree of notoriety by refusing to play on any further TV shows. The band have repeatedly turned down offers to play on the BBC's long running chart show, Top of the Pops, as well as ITV's CD:UK. The first footage of the band's gigs was broadcast on MTV2's Gonzo on Tour on 12 November 2005, featuring footage from a recent gig in Liverpool.
The band's refusal to attend the 2006 Brit Awards was originally seen as another snub to television, although a statement explained that it was in fact due to their prior commitments on the NME Awards tour. In their recorded acceptance speech for Best British Breakthrough Act, the band gained a "mystery fifth member" who did all the talking. Known for being camera-shy, it turned out that the band had recruited We Are Scientists frontman Keith Murray, a friend of the band, to accept the award for them, to just "confuse the audience".
Despite their hostility to appearances on UK television, the band made their biggest TV appearance when they appeared on Saturday Night Live on 11 March 2006 to kick off their sold-out US tour. The performance included the songs "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor" and "A Certain Romance", and saw the word "ASBO" printed on the bass drum. However, just before the guitar solo of "A Certain Romance", Turner castigated a yawning audience member, and Cook tossed his guitar at an amp at the end of the song.
The popularity of the Arctic Monkeys in the UK, especially among young people, has led to politicians and journalists referencing the band in speeches and texts; Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown stated in an interview with New Woman magazine that he listened to them every morning, claiming "they really wake you up in the morning", although in a later interview was unable to name any of their songs. He went on to reference this in his speech at the 2006 Labour Party Conference, joking that he was "more interested in the future of the Arctic Circle than the future of the Arctic Monkeys". Liberal Democrat leader Menzies Campbell also refered to the band at the 2006 Liberal Democrats Party Conference, mistakingly claiming that they had sold more records than The Beatles, a comment which led to much derision from the media.
The Sun newspaper claimed that Liverpool footballer Peter Crouch's goal celebration, a variation on the robot dance, was based on "dancing to electropop like a robot from 1984", a lyric from "I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor", quoting an insider as saying "He's a massive Arctic Monkeys fan. Believe me, he can't sing — so the dance is the next best thing".