Arctic Monkeys are, undeniably, one of the most famous modern bands to come out of the UK. From starting out as merely some scruffy haired teens from Sheffield, the four-piece have since amounted worldwide fame, played an array of prestigious festivals and have won several awards for their music. So, how exactly did the Steel City indie rockers get to where they are today?
Arctic Monkeys formed in 2002 in the Sheffield suburb of High Green and played their first gig a year later at a local venue called The Grapes. As the band started to play more gigs and gain popularity, they decided to record a CD of demos which they gave away for free at gigs. This CD was given the unofficial name of Beneath the Boardwalk, named after one of the venues at which the CD was handed out. Some of the demos featured on this CD included what were to become fan favourites A Certain Romance, Fake Tales of San Francisco and I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor. Thanks to the power of the internet, these demos were promptly file-shared around the web, and so the Arctic Monkeys’ popularity began to spread like wildfire beyond their Sheffield roots.
Following this, a fan-made MySpace page was created for the band and gained mass popularity. As a result, the northern band started to receive widespread attention from various music publications and BBC Radio, and eventually signed a record deal with Domino in June 2005. They then went on to release a studio version of I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor as their debut single later that year.
Debut album success
Arctic Monkeys released their much-anticipated debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not in January 2006, and it became the fastest selling debut album in UK chart history – a title previously held by Oasis’ legendary Definitely Maybe. The album received widespread praise for Turner’s gritty and relatable lyrics that detailed the realities of northern England’s youth culture.
The album won the 2006 Mercury Prize for Best Album and has since been ranked as one of the greatest albums of all time by Rolling Stone and NME. In releasing a smash debut, Whatever People Say I Am confirmed the fact that Arctic Monkeys were a truly special band, and one to look out for over the years to come.
The rapid rise to Glastonbury
Only a year after the release of their debut album, Arctic Monkeys released their follow-up Favourite Worst Nightmare in April 2007. Many bands who have major success with a debut album are susceptible to suffering from second album syndrome, where their follow-up effort fails to live up to the hype of the first. However, this was not the case for Alex Turner and co., who maintained their raw, indie sound while focussing more on themes of fame and love – particularly on the album’s final track 505, a definitive crowd pleaser.
The band went on to headline the legendary Glastonbury festival that year alongside The Killers and The Who. Glasto was undoubtedly their biggest gig yet. Many bands spend years trying to acquire this prestigious accolade, while the Arctic Monkeys defied the odds and took to the Pyramid stage a mere two years after the release of their debut album.
Homme and Humbug
After returning from a tour with his side project The Last Shadow Puppets, Alex Turner returned to his bandmates to record Arctic Monkeys’ third album Humbug, which was released in the summer of 2009. The album was recorded with the assistance of Favourite Worst Nightmare producer James Ford and none other than Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age.
While the band recorded 24 songs, only ten songs made it to the final cut of the album – including hits such as Crying Lightning and Cornerstone. The band cited influences of Nick Cave, Jimi Hendrix and Cream while writing the album, so, naturally, the record’s sound diverted slightly from the raw sound of its predecessors. Nonetheless, Humbug still achieved mainstream success and Arctic Monkeys achieved their third number one album in a row. Off the back of the album’s release, Arctic Monkeys embarked on a worldwide tour and went on to headline 2009’s Reading and Leeds festival.
Suck It and See
With their fourth album, the boys from Sheffield continued to experiment with their sound, and this pattern would continue throughout their future efforts. Suck it and See was recorded at Sound City Studios in Los Angeles, the world-famous studio where Nirvana’s grunge classic Nevermind and portions of the iconic Fleetwood Mac album Rumours were recorded. The album’s title comes from an English phrase that simply means “don’t knock it until you’ve tried it”. However, the American market saw the album title as having rude connotations, causing major retailers to cover the album’s title with a sticker to censor the supposedly vulgar phrase...
Suck it and See saw the Sheffield rockers take a more dreamy and vintage approach to their sound while still maintaining their status as a rock band. Turner continued to intertwine his signature bizarre and creative lyrics into tracks such as Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair and Brick by Brick. Our personal favourite comes from The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala, where Turner sings, “Her steady hands may well have done the devil’s pedicure”. Genius.
Alex Turner’s quiff and the AM era
At the beginning of 2012, Arctic Monkeys released the single R U Mine? – which prompted speculations about the possibility of a new album. However, fans would have to wait another year and a half until the release of their fifth album AM in September 2013. The album spawned a plethora of hits that saw mass radio play, including tracks such as Do I Wanna Know, Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High and Arabella.
As expected, Arctic Monkeys adopted yet another new sound for this record, taking influence from a variety of different genres including blues rock, R&B and even hip-hop. Turner himself described the sound of the album as “a Dr Dre beat, but we’ve given it an Ike Turner bowl-cut and sent it galloping across the desert on a Stratocaster”.
Along with this new sound came a brand new look for Turner, who adopted a quiff along with a new stage persona which showed him to be as much of an on-stage performer as ever. The album achieved major mainstream success in the USA as well as the UK and was named by many as one of the best albums to come out of 2013. In promotion of the album, the band also returned as Glastonbury headliners for the second time in their career.
Five-year hiatus and Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino
Following the major success of AM, and the various tours that followed, Arctic Monkeys were relatively quiet for a while. Usually, the band would only leave a maximum of two years between albums. This time fans were left exasperated, having to wait five years to hear the band’s latest offering Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino, which was released in May 2018.
This album saw Arctic Monkeys take their most dramatic sonic diversion yet, choosing to ditch guitars in favour of a Steinway Vertegrand piano that Turner had received as a 30th birthday present from his manager. Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino is a concept album about a hotel on the moon – yes, you read that correctly. So, as you might expect, Turner’s lyrics are as whacky as ever.
While the album generally received praise from music critics, the new and very different sound of the album proved divisive amongst the band’s expansive fan-base. Although some admired the new musical direction of the band, others yearned for the more accessible and guitar-driven sound of their previous albums.
Despite this, no one can deny the iconicity of Arctic Monkeys’ discography. The band have evolved from four teenage indie rockers from Sheffield into an excellent rock band who have achieved worldwide success and earned their status as a band who will, undoubtedly, be remembered for years to come.
If the story of Arctic Monkeys has taught us anything, it’s that every band needs to start somewhere. Perhaps your band needs to record their very own Beneath the Boardwalk to catapult your career into superstardom. If you think your band has the potential to make it big, then get in touch with Kore Studios and book a session today.