Bloc Party - Biography
The mid-2000’s brought us a few new UK bands that seemed to worship the jagged rhythms of Gang of Four as much as their pop sensibilities. Franz Ferdinand, the first band to strike gold in this “angular” movement, gained the most chart success in the States. Right behind them is London’s Bloc Party, a quartet whose danceability quotient is often overcast by its seriousness. Bloc Party has a level of sincerity that is hard to come by in popular music these days. Whether he’s writing politically-charged diatribes or deeply personal narratives, the band’s compelling and enigmatic singer, Kele Okereke, fills his words with more emotional gravity than Bono at times. This has simultaneously helped and hindered the group since its debut. While Franz Ferdinand’s music always sounds fun no matter the lyrical content, it would feel almost inconsiderate to play Bloc Party’s albums at a party, even though the word “party” is in the band name. Sure, you can dance to it, but you better be able to listen and dance simultaneously.
Although they met for the first time in 1998 in Essex, where guitarist Russell Lissack attended Bancroft’s School and Okereke was enrolled in Ilford County High School, the duo would not decide to form a band until bumping into one another one year later at the Reading Festival, a venue they’d later return to in a very different capacity. They began writing songs in each other’s bedrooms, building up a small repertoire before bringing others into the mix. In 2000, they placed an ad in NME requesting a bass player who listened to Sonic Youth, the Pixies, and Joy Division. Gordon Moakes answered the ad, and half of Bloc Party’s rhythm section was in place.
The trio began rifling through drummers but couldn’t find one that fit their sound or schedule. Picking the right name proved problematic as well, as the band went from being called Union (the name under which their demo was recorded) to The Angel Range. Eventually, they settled on Bloc Party and found a very skilled drummer in the Bournemouth native Matt Tong, who happened to be the band’s ninth stickman overall. Their demo began making its way throughout London, earning them attention from other bands such as their heroes Franz Ferdinand and the Brittish press. Franz Ferdinand invited Bloc Party to play at the Domino label’s tenth anniversary bash in 2003.
The following year, Bloc Party released their first single, She’s Hearing Voices (2004 Trash Aesthetics), a song written about a friend of Okereke’s who had paranoid schizophrenia. The single was the very first release for the new South London-based imprint Trash Aesthetics. British DJ Steve Lamacq played “She’s Hearing Voices” on his BBC Radio 1 show and liked it so much that he invited the band to come into the studio to record a live session for his show. The buzz only continued to skyrocket from there, and Bloc Party soon released another single, Banquet/Staying Fat (2004 Moshi Moshi Records) on Moshi Moshi Records. Okereke, who had been studying English at university throughout this time, finally left school after the band signed a contract with Wichita Records (Peter Bjorn and John and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah) in April of 2004. They were subsequently picked up by Dim Mak for distribution in the US, and the group’s self-titled EP, Bloc Party (2004 Wichita/Dim Mak), which included their first two singles, was released by that label in the States on September 14, 2004.
Bloc Party had spent much of the second half of 2004 touring and working on their debut full-length, Silent Alarm (2005 Dim Mak/Vice), which arrived in the UK on February 14, 2005. After the band left Dim Mak in favor of Vice Records for their US distribution, the album made its way to America on March 22, 2005. Critics fawned over the band, comparing their jagged pop songs to Gang of Four and the Pixies, and their earnestness to U2. While the album didn’t do as well in the States as it did in the UK, Bloc Party were one of the more popular new UK bands in the US – nearly as favored as Franz Ferdinand. Later in 2005, the band released Silent Alarm Remixed (2005 Vice/Wichita), with contributions from Mogwai and Ladytron. To cap off a phenomenal year for Bloc Party, Silent Alarm was nominated for the 2005 Mercury Music Prize.
The band toured rigorously in the US and UK for the next year and a half. In 2006, they teamed up with producer Garret “Jacknife” Lee (U2, R.E.M) to record A Weekend in the City (2007 Vice/Wichita). Evidently, the group’s stateside popularity had greatly increased, as the album peaked at number 12 on the Billboard 200. The critical reception was a bit more tepid than that of their previous release. Many critics praised the group’s new polish and loftier ambitions, but others were left cold, missing the Bloc Party of Silent Alarm.
After playing the usual round of festivals and touring the world, Bloc Party wasted no time in recording album number three. Again utilizing the production talents of Jacknife Lee, as well as Paul Epworth (Silent Alarm, Kate Nash, Primal Scream), the band rush-released the new album, Intimacy (2008 Atlantic/Wichita), to their website as an MP3 download in August of 2008. Wichita released a hard copy later that year in the UK, and Atlantic then distributed the album to the rest of the world. Intimacy yielded the band its most muted critical response yet. When a band ushers an album out this quickly, critics generally commend the group’s sense of urgency and work ethic. In this case, however, most writers felt that Bloc Party should have taken more time on Intimacy. The band’s chart success took a slight dip this time around, but it is most likely a result of the album’s availability as an MP3 download before release to stores.
On May 11, 2009, Bloc Party released Intimacy Remixed (2009 Wichita), featuring re-imaginings of every song from their latest LP (in the exact same order) by artists such as No Age and Mogwai. In 2012 the band released their next Lp, Four.