Rock & Pop: Year of the Monkeys ; Propelled to Success by Unprecedented Internet Word-of-Mouth, the Arctic Monkeys Made 2005 Their Own. by NICK HASTED
Hasted, Nick, The Independent (London, England)
If you believe the NME's new list of such things, 19-year-old Alex Turner is currently the coolest person in the world. The lead singer of Sheffield's Arctic Monkeys has seen his band rise this year from unsigned obscurities to a No 1 single with their first official release, while provoking hysterical scenes outside oversubscribed venues they surely have no right to fill. They've been dubbed the leaders of an internet- based music community that could turn the conventional industry to dust, and been compared favourably to the Sex Pistols and Oasis. A lot of this is the usual hype. But beneath it is a truly heartening story, which has helped make 2005 the most optimistic time for pop in years.
The Arctic Monkeys' own tale couldn't be more conventional. Turner and guitarist Jamie Cook, friends since they were children, formed the band with drummer Matt Helders and bassist Andy Nicholson in 2001 while still at school, having seen Sheffield friends do the same, and reasoning it 'wasn't hard'. But it was their decision to hand out free copies of their demos at gigs that started the chain reaction that has shot them to success. Impressed recipients swapped tracks on the internet, forming a self-generated community of fervent fans before the record industry even knew the Arctic Monkeys were alive. By May 2005, they had signed to Domino, home of Franz Ferdinand. By October, their first London headlining show had sold out the 1200 capacity Astoria, shortly before their first full release, 'I Bet You Look Good On the Dancefloor', stormed straight to No 1. The record industry, completely outflanked, was left gasping for breath. Ever since, people have been asking how it happened, and why.
The first element that goes deeper than hype is the music. The single that took them over the top and onto Radio 1, 'I Bet You Look Good On the Dancefloor', was a tightly controlled, thrilling burst of energy, about romantic frustration and claustrophobic nightclub rituals. Beyond fan-traded MP3s, the limited EP 5 Minutes With the Arctic Monkeys was meanwhile the first introduction to their world of small-town Saturday nights and potent teenage dreams. On it, 'From the Ritz to the Rubble' described being turned away from a club, and a Sunday morning comedown, with easy poetry.
Such scenes and feelings are shared by many of the best bands who've broken through this year, such as Newcastle's provincial outsiders Maximo Park, and Leeds' Kaiser Chiefs, whose own Saturday night single 'I Predict A Riot' is the Monkeys' only serious rival for record of the year. You can throw in the chip-shop romance of The Streets too (Turner sees his style 'on a tightrope between [The Streets'] Mike Skinner and Jarvis Cocker'). In a new century supposedly defined by globalisation, 2005 has seen British pop return to its natural home of provincial mundanity and private hopes, small specific moments of ignominy and transcendence, in a line that runs from Billy Liar and The Beatles to punk and Parklife.
This is heartening in itself, and not at all how the odious likes of Simon Cowell had our pop future planned. But these bands' relationships with the fans who have given them success is an even greater cause for optimism. It's a bond which began with The Libertines. Before Pete Doherty was half-destroyed by crack and press disgrace, his old band planted the seeds for everything that's happening now. While the previous generation of Britpop bands, led by Oasis, had either expired or become as bloated as U2 by the 21st century's start, The Libertines were idealists who recalled the earliest days of their heroes The Clash.
The tatty but transcendent, Blakean dream-Britain of their songs, which they dubbed 'Albion', is echoed in the world-views of the Arctic Monkeys and others. They also broke down the barrier between themselves and their fans, playing gigs back at their flat, forging face-to-face connections utterly alien in spirit to the practices of the majors. …