Arctic Monkeys - Biography
The Arctic Monkeys formed in 2002, in High Green, a suburb of Sheffield, England. Co-founders Alex Turner and James Cook had attended a Libertines show in 2001 and subsequently, for Christmas, had asked for guitars. The initial lineup featured Turner and Cook on guitar, with Matt Helders on drums and Andy Nicholson on bass. Glyn Jones was the original singer but left after a few months and before the band had even played a gig. Turner, who had been somewhat reticent to take over the vocals, suddenly found himself in the position of becoming the band’s lead singer. For a while, the Arctic Monkeys were just another high school band, as they messed around and learned to play their instruments by coverings songs by the likes of The White Stripes and The Vines.
Everything, however, happened fast for the Arctic Monkeys. They played their first show at The Grapes in Sheffield. As their crowds began to increase the band started to burn demos and pass them out for free at their shows hoping that this word of mouth approach would lead to even more energetic gigs. The band was also one of the first to profit from MySpace, although the members claimed total ignorance of both the site and how its music got on to it. Whether they knew much about MySpace or not the band began to attract a buzz across Northern England with little radio support or traditional promotion.
They also began to release new recordings. Their first EP Five Minutes With Arctic Monkeys (2005 Domino) only contained two songs; “From The Ritz To The Rubble” and their first to attract real attention, “Fake Tales Of San Francisco.” The latter exhibits elements of what would come to be recognized as the Monkeys’ signature tone and style; namely Turner’s brash and braying vocals supported skillfully by the tight playing of Helders and Nicholson. In the song Turner attacks the perceived posturing and posing supposedly rampant in the northern scene. Turner’s snotty lyrics have become a central feature of Arctic Monkey songs which most critics have hailed as honest and raw while others have regarded them as shallow and superficial.
The band at first held off on making a record deal, even going so far as to refuse guaranteed guest entry for label scouts seeking to attend their shows. Human nature being what it is this only made labels want to sign them even more. Not surprisingly the strategy worked wonderfully and the Arctic Monkeys eventually signed with Domino Records (home of the Clinic and Franz Ferdinand) in late ‘05. For the band it was a chance to sign with a small label that would focus its energies on them. For Domino, it was the chance to license some of the overseas rights to EMI.
The benefits to both Domino and Arctic Monkeys were immediately apparent when their next single “I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor” went straight to the top of the British charts, initially selling 38,962 copies. In the song the Monkeys capture the essence of being young and horny on the dance floor with equal measures of ennui, lust, and irony. At the same time they craft a rhythm and melody that are highly danceable. Their second single, “When The Sun Goes Down” also went straight to number one.
The album Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (Domino) was released on January 23rd 2006. The album, amazingly, sold 363,735 units in the first week making it the fastest selling debut in UK history. At this point the hype for the band became white-hot in England and they won NME awards for Best British Band, Best New Band, and Best Track for “I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor.” While some of the praise was no doubt deserved, it also positioned the band for a king-hell of a letdown at some point.
The letdown, arguably, came in the United States. In the fractured, file-sharing, self-obsessed US, there was simply no place for yet another “Can’t Miss” Brit band. While it did become the second best selling debut for an indie band, sales were seen as comparatively disappointing. Perhaps both in response to their immense success in the UK and their perceived lack thereof in the US, the band titled their next release, Who The Fuck Are The Arctic Monkeys? (Domino) which was released in April of 2006. Like previous releases, it achieved great commercial success despite a near complete absence of radio support due to the profanity in the title.
At this point bassist Andy Nicholson found that nothing exceeds like success and announced his departure. It seems that, despite his best efforts, the fame would just not go to his head. He was replaced by local Sheffield musician Nick O’Malley. Originally he was to sub just for the summer tour but ultimately joined in a permanent role.
In April 2007 the band released Favorite Worst Nightmare (Domino). The new album again proved that the band had the talent to back up the hype, winning scads of awards in England and even winning Best New Artist at the PLUG Independent Music Awards in the United States. It also proved that the Arctic Monkeys are scary popular in England, as all twelve tracks off Favorite Worst Nightmare made it to the UK singles chart. Much as with the first album though, the band failed to stir up as much commercial success in America where it generally earned critical raves but failed to attract much of a following among the public. The band embarked on a sold-out tour in the US in the spring of ’07 playing both in smaller venues and large festivals such as Coachella. A third release in currently in the works.
The Arctic Monkeys now find themselves at a critical juncture. Despite their talent and incredibly supportive press overseas their 90s-ish brand of Brit-rock just can’t seem to find a large audience in the US. To many in the States, the title of their EP, Who The Fuck Are The Arctic Monkeys? feels less like an ironic comment on their fame in England than a legitimate question. Singer Alex Turner then formed a side project with Rascals Uk's Mile Kane, resulting in a band called The Last Shadow Puppets- regarded as nearly superior to either man's bands.In 2009, Turner returned to the Monkeys, and the band released Humbug, followed by Suck It And See in 2011.