Vampire Weekend - Biography
By Marcus Kagler
In a way, the popularity of Vampire Weekend’s eclectic genre fusion aesthetic seemed inevitable. Since the year 2000, “indie-rock” has bathed in unprecedented mainstream popularity by hopscotching from one well established (predominantly western) “indie” genre to another at a rapid pace. From garage to post punk to disco and back again several times over it seemed your average indie rock band was running out of genres to rehash, so it’s no surprise a band would eventually try to throw world music into the mix. After all, Talking Heads did it throughout the latter half of their career, the Police shot to worldwide fame by incorporating various reggae and African influences into their sound, and let’s not forget the underrated African tribal percussive bombardment of nearly every Bow Wow Wow album. Then there is Peter Gabriel, who built an entire label/empire on the concept. But it would take the right band, at the right time, with the right amount of smarts to really make world flavored indie rock work in the new millennium. What really made Vampire Weekend a force to behold is not only did they succeed in their marriage of west-meets-world admirably but they shot to international acclaim in a way that foretold the future of the music industry: they took it to the blog.
Vampire Weekend was formed by Columbia University students Ezra Koenig (vocals/guitars), Chris Baio (bass), Rostam Batmanglij (keyboards/guitars/vocals), and Chris Tomson (drums) in early 2006. The name, Vampire Weekend, was actually taken from the title of Koenig’s original student film about a boy named Walcott who battled hordes of vampires in Cape Code (the Vampire Weekend song “Walcott” also details the fictional boy’s supernatural exploits). Forging a sound based on highly literate lyrical content, a pinch of post punk bravado, and a serious affection for African soukous music, the band quickly began self recording original material in their dorm rooms, a family barn, and anywhere else they could set up equipment. The infectious African rhythms mixed with indie rock smarts they dubbed “Upper West Side Soweto” was a hit with the university crowd and Vampire Weekend soon built a strong word of mouth following based on live gigs played at local parties, small clubs, and Columbia University literary societies. The group quickly received international buzz once word of the original sound began appearing on blogs as varied as Stereogum and Benn loxo du taccu. After self releasing the The Vampire Weekend EP that summer the track “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” became an Internet phenomenon and the group signed to XL Recordings, releasing the Mansard Roof EP (2007 XL) that fall. As “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” continued to garner international acclaim and the group headed to England as the opening act for The Shins in the winter of 2007. The self-titled full length, Vampire Weekend (2008 XL) was another critical and commercial success, spawning the quirky Afro-pop single “A-Punk”. The band’s in-store performance at Amoeba Hollywood on February 4, 2008 was one of our biggest of the year, with Vampire Weekend embarking a seemingly endless international tour soon after. In 2010 the band came roaring back Contra, securing the idea that they were no flash in the pan, the LP debuting at #1. Further evidence of the band's staying power came with the release of Modern Vampires of the City (2013)- which also debuted in the Number One spot on the Billboard charts the week of it's release.