Arctic Monkeys' Debut: 10 Years On

A love letter to Whatever People Say I Am That's What I'm Not
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A love letter to Whatever People Say I Am That's What I'm Not
Photo Credit - Wikipedia

Photo Credit - Wikipedia

It's 2006, I'm watching CBBC, Newsround is on, I'm ten. Lizo Mzimba is doing a stellar job of mixing light entertainment with horrific tragedy. Towards the end of the broadcast there is a brief music segment concerning "The UK's most hyped band of the last ten years." And the album that is "Poised to become the fastest selling debut album in UK music history." Newsround then proceeded to show footage of the band's lead single "I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor"

Arctic Monkeys were different. Very different. I wasn't entirely sure what I was looking at from initial viewing. Purple/blue camera tints and lights? Camera crew, boom mic's and small audience in view? Looks like a live recording without use of playback.

At the time the standard music video looked like the production company had spent hundreds of thousands on the project. This looked like the production company had spent nothing. Dressed in non-descript polo tops and jeans, long greasy hair, pale faces and the worst accents I've ever heard. They played their hearts out. This music was fast. This music was catchy. This music sounded like nothing I had heard before. It was a sudden change from the slow RnB grooves that dominated my Sony portable CD player at the time. (I'm looking at you “Rich Girl” by Gwen Stefani.)

My dad walks in at this point. Clocks Alex Turner and co burning a hole into my retinas. He has probably caught wind of the group from the Culture sections he read in this week's papers.

"Who are these? The Arctic Monkeys? Sounds like rubbish to me. No melody." Pretty standard dad chat, instinctively cautious of anything that isn't ELO or Rush. Truthfully I wasn't that keen on it either. Alex Turner was singing too fast for me to understand his lyrics and this was my first real experience of guitar music at that age, so I wasn't sure what to make of it. Nevertheless I was intrigued, much to the displeasure of my dad. Who swiftly made a b line for the remote, switched it off and told me to do something else with my life. I still find it fascinating that in 2006 guitar music still had enough social relevance to cause upset, alarm and intrigue, to the point of an elder figure considering it to be on the audio-visual contraband list. Joining pornography and 18 rated movies.

I continued on watching however.

From what I had previously understood at the age of ten: Arctic Monkeys went against it. Album titles are usually short, punchy, vaguely sexual and thin. Whatever people say I am that's what I'm not isnt?

Smoking is bad for you, but the cover art is the coolest thing I've ever seen, so how?

Bands with this much fame usually sign to great big labels, who on earth are Domino?

Swearing is bad, you shouldn't do it, but the Arctic Monkeys do it, and they're famous, so why not?

I was entranced. I had to listen to them. Something about regional accents, swearing, sweaty, tense, uncompromising punk cords and primal drum patterns will forever enliven the minds of a teenager who up until that point hadn't discovered punk or trap.

My uncle had bought the album so every time we went round I snuck off with the CD case and portable CD player in hand to listen to it. I think I wore it out.

The album sleeve notes, artwork and marketing was almost beautifully mid 00s. Cigarettes lined the disc artwork. Pictures of the lads in a local chippy to show they REALLY are the down to earth NORMAL everyday lads whom you ACTUALLY can relate to.

To be fair, at the time of the release if you were in a marketing team that didn't copy Mike Skinners aesthetic to some extent then record labels or other outlets of the arts wouldn’t even speak to you.

This is however judging it anachronistically. Ten years is a long time. The misappropriation of social class is a thing of the future. A micro-aggression thought up by anxiety riddled, hypersensitive unhappy media fidget’s who will stand up for any threatened group just to feel just a teensy-weensy little bit better about themselves before asking dad to put more money on their Caxton card.

Therefore Arctic Monkeys in this naive 2006 universe WERE real; they WERE the lads from down the pub. They WERE the boys who knocked round the rough bits with stories to tell. Alex Turner was the VW Polo owning Philip Larkin of Sheffield. This was the band that supposedly "destroyed the NME" according to its previous editor Conor McNicholas in a recent interview with The Guardian.

 I remember my dad taking me to HMV in town not soon after the album was released and asked whether or not I could have the album. He looked at me like I had just stomped on a mouse with my bare foot.

The ban was upheld.

The year is now 2016. Th years between the album's release and its 10th anniversary have been pot-marked by explosions of thousands of cultural shifts like the finale of a firework display before the show ends. Guitar music is limp; the press have essentially given it a quadruple heart bypass over the years trying to reignite its relevance. There are still great guitar bands, loads even, however they have been overshadowed, by new-ground breakers who are willing and able to use digital sampling and pioneering studio techniques and that essentially sets them apart from the rest. 

I  listened to the album recently to actually try and define what makes the album so well loved and talked about. Its hard to put your finger on what they do exactly. But what they do is pretty simple. The tried and tested standard for any groundbreaking band or album, and that is to make hits. They’re packed into this remarkably short album, for the cultural impact it had and still continues to, (clocking just over 40 minutes.) Only two singles appeared from this release. But at least none out of the 13 tracks on here could also be considered for single release too.

There's a lack of gentleness about the album as well. You can hear the spit leave his mouth as “the band were fucking wank” scars your mind and vocabulary forever more. There are times of light heartedness however, for instance on "Mardy Bum" and "Riot Van" . They are however concerning being a bit of a tit and making everyone aware of it or thinking you've annoyed the local police and scarpering. 

Even though kitchen-sink style realism was nothing remotely new. The press latched onto it as if Turner had the patent to its invention. So confident, catchy and brazen was the arsenal of his lyrical canon. Rumours circulated that the KLF may have had some part to play in it, but they hadn't. It was all local, witty articulated clever lyricism. Cynically observant but never sneering. Clever but not pretentious. Home-grown yet inclusive.

The critical and commercial success of the album was stratospheric. It became the fastest selling album in British music history selling 360,000 copies in its first week of sales. It has since gone on to go quintuple platinum. It received the 2006 Mercury for best album. NME's album of the year, best album at the Q awards. Time magazine gave it album of the year. And the Brit awards gave it best album.

What group or artist now doesn't upload their material to social media sharing sites? Bands had previously experimented with social media and online publication, but only minor art projects. The Arctics birthed the new age of guerrilla viral promotion.

Photo Credit - Wikimedia Commons

Photo Credit - Wikimedia Commons

They're a starter band. A "try this" recommendation your older cousin instructs you to sample, after you declared one of your favorite songs was Rihanna’s "Shut Up and Drive." An iTunes first purchase. A "00s Indie Rock Number 1s" Spotify playlist mainstay. I can't remember a QTV music channel countdown that didn’t have these or Oasis at the top spot. 

It serves as an instant social inclusion tool, that enables you to take part in the oncoming trend of teenage conversations that when someone references a band in a clique you have found yourself talking in, you can now be a part of that clique by stating "their earlier stuff is better" and the clique nod and now you are a part of the "I've lost my fake ID" god-like gang of heroes.

That band and that album have become a first step in your starter kit of culture exploration. You go from the more guitar driven pop tunes to looking up the songs from Guitar Hero 3 you like on YouTube. Then your journey continues down the sidebar of similar guitar string recommendations, going from a Strokes phase to a Smiths phase to an Oasis phase to a Madchester phase.

Then you land here. Your Arctic Monkeys Phase. 

You’re a bit cooler than the dads’n’lads mafia of the 90s but not as cool as the stark freaks of the 70s gutter rock kids. You know everything about the band. Every single, every EP, every release, when they’re next on tour, what each songs about. You haven’t listened to the charts in years because “They’re shit mate.” Standing in your “jacket” you wished was vintage but you actually bought from Diesel. You have never felt more powerful yet at he same time more vulnerable.

There's something to be said for the first initial splashes of music that whet your appetite as you dive into the big pool of sound that'll soundtrack your oncoming years. There's a great simplicity to that album that mirrors the simplicity of your life at that time. You don’t really want much. Chords, funny lyrics, lads that look like you. Easy. How much is the album? ‘ON OFFER NOW GREAT BRITISH CLASSICS ONLY £4.99 AT THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT!” Cheap too. Do they tour? You’ll know when they tour, as all the young pubs go quiet.

Its all looking to be a perfect recipe. Maybe that’s why they’ve lasted so long?

If I told you what I listen to now, the almost universal reaction would be "trying a bit too hard now aren't we buddy?" As I spin Cambodian jazz on vinyl that I bought for 30 quid from a shop that was under another shop and sold shit drinks. I hark back to the days of scrambling upstairs to hear the opening chords of 'The View from the Afternoon.' And feeling the hair stand up on the back of my neck.

There is always a soft spot in my memory for that band who exploded out of Newsround and into everyone's music collection and my final words to them are…Thank you. Thank you for starting something.

@TheKickPush