They came, they thawed, they conquered

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They came, they thawed, they conquered

Postby arctic » Sun Jan 01, 2006 11:43 pm

Arctic Monkeys are a bunch of publicity-shunning Sheffield teenagers whose songs include titles like 'Scummy Man' and 'Mardy Bum'. So how did their first single go to Number One? Craig McLean spends three months on the road with the 'new Oasis' to find out how it all went right

Sunday January 1, 2006
<b>The Observer</b>

Thursday 6 October 2005, The Astoria, London

Who the hell are Arctic Monkeys? It is a question you imagine many passers-by are asking this blowy autumn evening. Outside the huge, 2000-capacity venue there is a bigger-than-normal scrum of touts, teenagers and ticketless hopefuls. The gig, the second night of the tour, is very sold out; it has already been upgraded twice from smaller venues. Arctic Monkeys haven't even released a proper single yet.

In their dressing room, if the band are apprehensive at the prospect of playing such a momentous gig, they don't show it. At the urging of a mate from back home in Sheffield - he's been drinking all day - Alex Turner (19, vocals/guitar), Jamie Cook (20, guitar), Matt Helders (19, drums) and Andy Nicholson (19, bass) are bashing their way through a Beatles chord book they've just bought. Playing acoustic versions of 'Ticket to Ride' and taking boozy requests is a useful distraction. Their tour manager tells them it's five minutes until stage time.

'We didn't have time to get nervous,' says Alex later in his broad Sheffield accent, the same one in which he sings. 'Then we got on t'side of stage and just before I stepped up I thought, "Shit, there's a reyt lot of people out there." Then,' he adds in his matter-of-fact, unadorned, teenage way, 'we walked on and... Had it.'

They did, and so did the crowd. For much of the 45-minute set, you couldn't clearly hear Alex's vocals. A huge chunk of the audience sang, word for word, unreleased songs such as 'Scummy Man' (about the kind of plastic-bag-carrying ne'er-dowells the band saw outside their old rehearsal room in Neeps End) and 'Mardy Bum' (about Alex's grumpy ex-girlfriend). When they play 'From the Ritz to the Rubble', a tune about scary bouncers from their limited-edition (1,500 copies) first single, the fans bellow along in knowing fraternity. And, when there were no words, they shouted the guitar riff, just as they might to Franz Ferdinand's 'Take Me Out', Oasis's 'Cigarettes & Alcohol' or The Strokes's 'Last Nite'.

Beer flew through the air, T-shirts were discarded and hurled towards the stage. Topless, on each other's shoulders, bellowing lyrics, dancing like maniacs: Arctic Monkeys inspire serious devotion. But unlike, say, Oasis, Arctic Monkeys's most obvious 'people's band' antecedents, there is nothing laddish or boorish here. There were as many girls in the audience as boys.

Suddenly it was all over. It had been a raucously triumphant show. If that was what Arctic Monkeys were capable of before any hint of commercial success, what - and where - next?

Just over two weeks later, Arctic Monkeys's first fully available single, 'I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor', enters the singles chart at Number One. On its first day of release it sells 11,000 copies, more than Robbie Williams's comeback single did the previous Monday. Throughout the week, the unknown band with the secret fanbase fight off challenges from Sugababes and McFly; a wrong-footed Radio 1 broadcast 'shout-outs' to what they call the 'Arctic Army'. Were you a member? Text in now!

On Sunday 23 October, the day after Arctic Monkeys finish their UK tour with a triumphant homecoming gig at Sheffield nightclub The Plug, the single comfortably outsells those challengers - and keeps on selling. It stays in the Top 10 for four weeks, and has to date sold 150,000 copies.

Think of the other indie-type bands of recent years who became 'instant sensations', both cool and commercially successful - Oasis, The Strokes, Franz Ferdinand. Arctic Monkeys have, by a considerable margin, gone further, faster. British music has never seen the like before.

How has this happened? Certainly there was the traditional music industry 'buzz' on Arctic Monkeys before Domino, the south London independent label that has found great success with Franz Ferdinand, won the race to sign them late last spring. But lots of bands get hyped, enjoy a buzz, land tasty record deals. What is different about Arctic Monkeys?

The internet has played a part. The band have long had a decent website. They made a few songs available to download for free. Also, from their earliest gigs they handed out CDs of the demos they were recording every two or three months. They didn't mind when fans uploaded and swapped copies of these songs online. And Arctic Monkeys were approachable, chatting to and spending time with fans at their gigs. One, Mark 'The Sheriff' Bull, was so into the band he posted MP3s of their demos on his own site and is now a close friend. Another pair of fans, who first saw Arctic Monkeys supporting The Ordinary Boys in summer 2004, are now their 'in-house' documentary crew, filming the band's progress.

Like The Libertines before them, Arctic Monkeys have become a word-of-mouth, street-up phenomenon. Happening, if you like, without the permission of the mainstream, traditional media.

But talk of Arctic Monkeys achieving huge success by 'harnessing' the power of the internet will only take you so far. Kids don't go on to message boards to bang on about mediocre songs.

'I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor' is a great single: urgent, exciting, anthemic, tuneful, loud. Its subject matter is ordinary, real and familiar, and all the more potent for it. 'It's all about temptation,' Alex tells me one day. 'About someone that you wanted to have but you shouldn't because, well, you were with somebody else.' It's based on a true story.

I meet Arctic Monkeys fan Phil and his mates at a gig in Germany; they are drinking with the band in a pub beforehand. He's 23, from north London, and spends a chunk of his wages from Dixon's travelling to away gigs. He has been to '10 to 15' Arctic Monkeys shows, said that he liked Oasis, Coldplay and Stereophonics, 'but I can't remember listening to their lyrics. But you hear stuff like "Dancefloor" and you think, "I could have written that..." Then you think: "No, I couldn't."' Alex is like Paul Weller in The Jam days, Phil concludes, skilfully writing about 'what you do on a Saturday night'.

'Dancefloor' was no fluke. As their debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not attests, Arctic Monkeys' songs are pretty much uniformly excellent. No wonder people rave about them to each other, learn the words off by heart. Arctic Monkeys's robustly melodic tunes have bits of everything. They're played with the scorching, tight musicianship of The Strokes. They're as thumpingly infectious and as full of innovation as any Franz Ferdinand number. You might say Arctic Monkeys are the latest great northern band, if that didn't sound regionalist or limiting. You'll hear elements of The Smiths, The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays and Oasis in there.

And forget the fool Doherty. Alex Turner is the real poet-chronicler of the times, a Weller or Morrissey or Cocker of the post-dance-music, post- Blair, easyJet-loving, 24-hour-drinking generation. His eye for detail, economy and turn of phrase are amazingly solid. You might not believe anyone could write a narratively coherent anthem about a late-night taxi journey ('Red Light Indicates Doors Are Secured') or an evocative ballad about watching the cops trundle round the corner ('Riot Van'). Alex can. He has an alchemical touch, the ability to transform the base stuff of life into solid gold rock'n'roll.

'I remember thinking, I'll write a song about taxis,' says Alex. 'In order to make it any good, you've got to create quite a bit, a whole taxi journey. There were another two verses I had to cut - summat about some verbal between passengers in two taxis. But it were all too much. We'd play it in practice - here's another bit, here's another bit - and the band were stomping along, doing the same sort of riff, while I did a load of verbal over the top. It were bollocks: if we don't all believe in it, the four kids on stage, then they're [the fans] not gonna.'

Alex and Matt have been pals since primary school, and know Jamie because they all come from High Green in Sheffield. Andy joined Alex and Matt's class at secondary school. Alex, the only child of a German-teacher mum and music-teacher dad, got a guitar for Christmas 2001, as did Jamie. The following summer, after taking their GCSEs and leaving school for college, they decided to form a band. They took their name from the list of fantasy football teams and madeup bands that Jamie was in the habit of doodling on his school jotters.

They practised for a year before their first gig, supporting another local band called The Sound at Sheffield pub The Grapes on 13 June 2003. Their eight-song set consisted of four songs written by Alex, and covers of 'Teenage Kicks', The Beatles's 'I'm Only Sleeping', 'Hotel Yorba' by The White Stripes and 'Harmonic Generator' by The Datsuns. Finishing college in summer 2004, they devoted even more of their time to the band, playing all over the Midlands, the north of England and Scotland. By the end of that year, the London music industry was taking notice. One year after that, Arctic Monkeys are the biggest noise in Britain.

Friday 11 November, The Underground, Cologne

Arctic Monkeys are on a high. They are at the start of a breakneck world tour; it's two weeks long, the longest any of them have ever been away from home (they all still live with their parents). They have heard that Jack White has been hymning their praises on Radio 1. Robbie Williams has sung a bit of 'Dancefloor' on telly somewhere.

Two days after hitting Number One they perform on Later... With Jools Holland because it is live and therefore 'proper'. But they refuse to perform on Top of the Pops. 'It just didn't seem right,' says Alex. And they could imagine the CD:UK interview: 'Oh, so, tell us about the internet. You must be rich now.' They got to Number One without doing 'any bollocks' - the appearances on telly with Lorraine Kelly that McFly did, the sleek video and massive marketing spend that Sugababes enjoyed. 'We were just sat in hotels doing fuck-all,' laughs Jamie. Why spoil it now?

But they are also a bit fed up. Partly because they refused to do any interviews after hitting Number One, and partly because they are a genuinely new phenomenon, the huge press interest in Arctic Monkeys has concentrated on what Alex calls 'fucking internet frenzy fuels fucking...' He splutters to a halt.

'It were on Sky news!' marvels Jamie, the oldest but the shyest and most fresh-faced member of the band. 'We were getting praised in the Economist magazine!' says Andy, the band's bullish wind-up merchant.

'But people were saying the only reason we did it was "cause of t'internet",' frowns Matt, who is normally the most excitable member.

'Someone were saying to me the other day, "Oh, I saw your myspace profile" - I ain't got a myspace profile!' barks Andy. 'I've never been on it!'

'It just really annoys us, like,' says Alex finally, quietly. He often waits till the other three have stopped blethering 10-to-the-dozen before airing his thoughts. 'Reading all that [stuff about] marketing campaigns, how we held forums with fans and...'

'...and chatted to 'em daily,' chips in Matt.

'Did we bollocks,' concludes Alex, wearily.

There have been snarky rumours of Domino employing 'street teams', of the kind once used by Busted's management, to spread the word about the band. And of people professionally associated with Arctic Monkeys going on other bands' fan forums - The Libertines/Babyshambles mainly - to 'talk up' their music. There had to be some sort of Machiavellian tomfoolery afoot; Arctic Monkeys and their success was too good to be true.

Stuart Knight is one of the founding directors of X-Taster, an online viral marketing company. They work for Domino, spreading the word about acts such as Test Icicles to their community of 35,000 'active and early adopters'. That is, enthusiastic music fans who are what Knight calls 'sticky - their passion is contagious, they have an impact on their immediate peer group'.

But X-Taster don't work on Arctic Monkeys. They don't need to, claims Knight. 'They are an isolated incident,' he says. 'They happened by themselves. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.'

The Cologne gig, at a club called The Underground, is brilliant, all the more so for being in the kind of compact venue that Arctic Monkeys have already left behind. Franz Ferdinand played this 350-capacity venue at roughly the same stage in their quick-smart ascendancy. Franz pulled approximately 15 people. Arctic Monkeys sell it out.

As their manager tells me one day, the rise and rise of Arctic Monkeys might be summed up like this: 'It was good old rock'n'roll values, plus the internet.' But it's also the songs. Without them, no amount of technology will get you very far. 'You can't polish a turd,' the manager says, sagely.

Thursday 8 December, Stockholm Arenan, Sweden

Arctic Monkeys are supporting labelmates Franz Ferdinand in this 3,000-capacity sports hall. In the basement kitchen area, they sit at a trestle table and enjoy the catering supplied to arena-sized bands.

Since we last met, they have played in a club in Barcelona at 2.30 in the morning, 'in a room full of the most beautiful women ever', and been to see The Strokes in Amsterdam - exactly two years to the day since they saw The Strokes play London's Alexandra Palace, one of the first proper gigs they attended (a salutary reminder of just how young Arctic Monkeys are).

They have also walked out on eight hours of back-to-back interviews in Paris. 'It started off as naughtiness,' admits Alex, 'but then we got annoyed because there was so much of it.' They were promised, after Japan, that they would never have to do so many concentrated interviews again. They moved on to Italy, where the local label reps, aware of the Paris debacle, arranged for the band to play football against the media rather than do interviews. Unfortunately Andy, not the slightest of blokes, broke the ankle of a journalist. It was a 50-50 ball. But now the website of the magazine the guy worked for has Arctic Monkeys down as English football hooligans.

After an enthusiastic reception from Stockholm's Franz fans, Arctic Monkeys head off to their own show in a small club called Sodra Teatern. When they take the stage around midnight, they are watched by all of Franz Ferdinand and four-fifths of The Strokes, in town for their own gig the following night.

Perhaps mindful of who is in the crowd, Arctic Monkeys play with ferocious intensity. 'I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor', belatedly one of the defining songs of 2005, sounds brand new and incendiary all over again. 'The View from the Afternoon', the souped-up punk-funk anthem that brings their album roaring into life, stakes its claim to be a future classic single.

'I wouldn't want to follow them on-stage,' murmurs a Stroke in the darkness.

Backstage in the small, sweaty, beery dressing room, I sit on low sofas with Arctic Monkeys as Franz Ferdinand and The Strokes - the older bands all height and teeth and snappy clothes - file in to pay homage to these spotty Sheffield teens. Occasionally, Alex, Matt, Jamie and Andy exchange mock-panicked looks. This lot came to see them!

And as imperceptibly as the clock hands tick into the Scandinavian wee hours, it happens. Not many who are there may have seen this, but there it is: the rock'n'roll heroes' baton is handed over, from New York and Glasgow to Sheffield. There are new kids in town.

'We're recording some new songs in Liverpool next week,' Alex Turner tells me. He says with a grin that one of them is their 'mission statement'. It includes the line 'today's heroes aren't what they seem/when you've seen what we've seen'.

'It's a reaction to everything we've seen recently.' He knows they've achieved an awful lot very quickly; it could all vanish as suddenly as it came. But he is prepared for any backlash. 'Because we want to do things our way, people might think it's arrogance and get fed up with us.'

What was the new song called?

'Who the Fuck Are Arctic Monkeys?'

· Arctic Monkeys's album Whatever People Say I Am,That's What I'm Not is released on 30 January and the single 'When the Sun Goes Down' is released on 16 January
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Postby Josie » Mon Jan 02, 2006 1:04 pm

Have you just typed all that up :shock: :shock:

I read that yesterday and was gonna scan it and I was too Lazy to even do that

That is dedication sir.
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Postby arctic » Mon Jan 02, 2006 1:15 pm

No, It's taken from the website :S

I am a cheat :D

Credit to The Observer
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Postby Wooder » Mon Jan 02, 2006 4:42 pm

Cheers for that, great read :)
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Postby Josie » Mon Jan 02, 2006 7:02 pm

Ah well thats alreet then!!

x
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Postby scummy » Mon Jan 02, 2006 9:07 pm

to be fair its a load of shite innit. forget that fool doherty, how about no. and calling the song scummy man.
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Postby arctic » Tue Jan 03, 2006 12:56 am

The quote of that article is this;

"As their manager tells me one day, the rise and rise of Arctic Monkeys might be summed up like this: 'It was good old rock'n'roll values, plus the internet.' But it's also the songs. Without them, no amount of technology will get you very far. 'You can't polish a turd,' the manager says, sagely. "

What a line LOL

The line "you cant polish a turd" should be used in a song or sujmmat LOL
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