Saturday, January 16, 2010
By distilling the sounds of Franz Ferdinand, the Clash, the Strokes, and the Libertines into a hybrid of swaggering indie rock and danceable neo-punk, Arctic Monkeys became one of the U.K.'s biggest bands of the new millennium. Their meteoric rise began in 2005, when the teenaged bandmates fielded offers from major labels and drew a sold-out crowd to the London Astoria, using little more than a self-released EP as bait. Several months later, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not became the fastest-selling debut album in British history, entrenching Arctic Monkeys in the same circle as multi-platinum acts like Oasis and Blur.
Frontman Alex Turner and guitarist Jamie Cook began their music careers in 2001, when the friends both received guitars for Christmas. Two years later, they began performing shows around their native Sheffield with drummer Matt Helders and bassist Andy Nicholson, two fellow students at Stocksbridge High School. A series of demo recordings followed, and Arctic Monkeys' audience swelled as fans circulated those recordings via the Internet. The musicians soon found themselves at the center of a growing media circus, with such outlets as BBC Radio examining the band's music and mounting hype.
By distributing their homemade material on the Internet, Arctic Monkeys were able to build a rabid fan base without the help of a record label, effectively circumventing the usual road to superstardom. They continued to buck tradition by signing with Domino Records in 2005, eschewing a major label's help for Domino's D.I.Y. mentality and hip roster (which also included Franz Ferdinand, a touchstone for the band's sound). The smart moves paid off as Arctic Monkeys' first two singles -- "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor" and "When the Sun Goes Down" -- both topped the U.K. charts. Critical reception was similarly favorable, but few could have predicted the whirlwind success of the band's debut album, which ousted Oasis' Definitely Maybe as the fastest-selling debut in British history (a record that was lost one year later to Leona Lewis' Spirit). Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not sold 363,735 copies during its first week alone, transforming Arctic Monkeys from underground stars into mainstream figures.
Arctic Monkeys' debut sold approximately 300,000 total copies in America -- enough to warrant more media coverage, but notably less than the album's British sales during its first week alone. Nevertheless, the band's success continued as they released a spring EP, Who the F**k Are Arctic Monkeys, and prepared for a stateside tour. Temporary bassist Nick O'Malley was brought aboard for the band's American shows, while a fatigued Nicholson stayed at home. Nicholson then announced his official departure when the band returned home in June 2006, and O'Malley remained with Arctic Monkeys as a permanent member. That fall, the musicians received the 2006 Mercury Prize and donated the accompanying money to an undisclosed charity. Additional accolades included Best British Breakthrough Act at the Brit Awards and Best New Band at the NME Awards. NME also made a bold assertion by deeming the band's debut one of the Top Five British albums ever released.
Released in April 2007, Favourite Worst Nightmare updated Arctic Monkeys' sound with louder instruments and faster tempos. The bandmates had recorded the sophomore album quickly, wishing to return to the road as soon as possible, and the speedy turnaround between records only helped solidify the band's popularity at home. Favourite Worst Nightmare sold 85,000 copies during its first day of release, and all 12 tracks entered the Top 200 of the U.K. singles charts. As Alex Turner briefly turned his attention to a side project, the Last Shadow Puppets, Arctic Monkeys received another Mercury Prize nomination and took home two titles at the 2008 Brit Awards. Recording sessions for a third album commenced in early 2008 and lasted throughout the year, with producers James Ford (who previously worked with Turner on the Last Shadow Puppets' album) and Josh Homme (frontman of Queens of the Stone Age) adding some newfound heft to the band's sound. Meanwhile, Arctic Monkeys released a concert album entitled At the Apollo -- with accompanying video footage captured on 35mm film -- before unveiling Humbug in August 2009.