We’ve dug up Arctic Monkeys’ debut cover feature, which ran in October 2005 – in the same week that their fourth album ‘Suck It And See’ turns five years old.
You can read the article in full below. But first here’s Tim Jonze – who wrote it – with his memories of the encounter:
Tim Jonze: When I first met Arctic Monkeys around 2005, the indie scene was so healthy that the NME offices had a steady stream of bands knocking on the doors begging to make it onto the pages. I turned up to meet Alex Turner’s gang assuming they’d be the same, thrilled to bits to be slapped on our cover, but it wasn’t like that at all… they were suspicious of the music press, wary of the hype and – while not rude exactly – certainly stand-offish.
Reading the piece back I can see why – we were all so excited by the band (and Turner’s lyrics in particular) that we were falling over ourselves to declare them a “once in a generation band” alongside the Beatles, Stone Roses and the Libertines. For a bunch of teenage mates playing music for a laugh it was probably pretty terrifying. They never asked to be the Next Big Thing – but the talented fuckers went and became it anyway.
Now read the original article
‘We’re more than just the next big thing!’ – Arctic Monkeys, NME, October 2005
They’ve gatecrashed the charts, their gigs are near-riots and they’ve done it all themselves. Arctic Monkeys mania is sweeping the nation… and it’s right mental!
There’s a riot goin’ on – right in the middle of the Astoria. A couple of guys have bashed into each other during the pre-gig soundtrack and now they’re hungry for blood. Insults are traded. Fists start flailing. A few more people get swept in and start landing punches and kicks. This could break into a full-scale riot if someone doesn’t do something soon.
KABOOM! Suddenly, a roar so deafening you’d think The Beatles had just arrived for their comeback gig. With John and George resurrected on guitars. And God playing keyboards. Backwards. Everyone swings towards four skinny lads onstage. The first riff cranks up and nothing else matters. Scrap? What scrap? The same guys who wanted to rip out each other’s eyeballs have now got their arms around each other…
Once in a while, there comes along a band who unite a generation – a band who sum up what it is to be young, lost, broke and British. The Smiths, The Stone Roses, Oasis, The Libertines… Arctic Monkeys might tremble at the prospect, but they’re that kind of band. Hailing from Sheffield’s healthy indie scene, they’ve got the gang mentality, the cocksure swagger, the ability to sum up a young lifetime’s torment in one neat line. No wonder that by the time you read this, they’ll already be proper chart stars. The likes of Kaiser Chiefs might make great tunes to throw yourself around an indie disco to, but Arctic Monkeys are something else entirely – they’re a band you can believe in.
Want proof? Check the scenes at London’s Astoria, where the band have arrived for the fourth sold-out date of their UK tour. It’s a gig that’s been upgraded due to demand. Twice. Outside, tickets are changing hands for over £100. When NME hands our spare ticket to a fan she looks like she might burst into tears.
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“They mean everything,” gabbles Tom, 16, as he queues up. “You can feel the love in the room! Everyone’s together! Everyone’s united! Everyone knows all the words!”
Before he can finish we’re grabbed by Alicia, 16, and her gang of Monkeys fanatics.
“Alex Turner is the best lyricist since Morrissey! He tells the truth, about getting chucked out of clubs and prostitutes. Who else talks about that?”
And the gig itself? A blur of crowd-surfing, singalongs and mass pogoing right to the back of the venue. People are taking pictures with their phones, just to prove to their grandkids that they were at that gig. It’s something the band have gotten used to – ever since their first show at The Grapes in Sheffield saw people going berserk from the off. It pains us to do this lads, but Arctic Monkeys are – deep breath – The Next Big Thing…
“I like to think we’re more than just the next hype band,” reasons Alex Turner in his Sheffield rehearsal space a few days earlier. “We were striking a nerve and having a fair bit of success before all that started. So the hype’s not just hype – it’s chasing something that’s actually real.”
Did you ever guess things would work out like this?
“Obviously you can never really expect it on this scale, but…” He breaks into a cheeky grin: “I think we always knew we were alright, like.”
What’s been your favourite ‘fucking-hell-this-is-getting-weird’ moment?
Alex: “Noel [Gallagher] were talking about us on radio. That was weird, that he even knew who we were. He said, ‘I’m not having that name for starters!’ We were pissing ourselves! That’s what everyone says. But when that many people slag you off, you have to stick with it, don’t you?”
So why have you struck a nerve?
Andy [Nicholson, bass]: “Good-lookin’ bass player.”
Matt [Helders, drums]: “Good sense of humour!”
The story of Arctic Monkeys forming isn’t a simple one. It is, in fact, a very simple one. They met at school, became mates and realised that being in a band beat being bored. The lads fret that this story isn’t sexy enough, but they’re wrong. All the best British bands – from The Beatles to Oasis – formed through firm friendships.
“I always feel we’re disappointing people when they ask about how we got together,” laughs Alex, “especially because everyone’s always like, ‘I can really tell there’s a lot of pain in your words.’ Sorry, but it’s not like that.”
Jamie ‘Cookie’ Cook [guitar]: “Someone asked us once if we were outcasts at school and I were like, ‘No, we had loads of mates!’ We’re not like these American bands whining on about being bullied. They’re all 25 now anyway – get over it!”
You don’t need a history of eating disorders or a habit of scratching ‘Richey’ into your arm with a rusty compass to realise why Arctic Monkeys are special. You just need to have grown up through the ’90s and realised that being young’s not always that sweet. You don’t always get with the good-looking girls (‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’). There’s always a bigger brute with a Vauxhall Nova waiting to pinch your girlfriend (‘Bigger Boys And Stolen Sweethearts’).
And there’s not much glamour in getting your head shoed-in on a Saturday night (‘A Certain Romance’). While Alex Kapranos busies himself namechecking Aleksandr Rodchenko, Arctic Monkeys write songs for you and me. For the people who’ve grown up in towns where “there’s only music so that there’s new ringtones”. For people who aren’t from New York City. They’re a band who tell you about your life. A band who won’t, as one wise man once noted, give you any fake tales of San Francisco.
“Most bands these days probably just write lyrics because they sound good without thinking,” says Alex. “But I don’t want to be a band like Kaiser Chiefs. I think if we’re next year’s Kaiser Chiefs, we’ll quit!”
What type of frontman are you?
“I like to think I walk the tightrope between Mike Skinner and Jarvis Cocker…”
Because the songs are all about real life?
“They’re all from real experience. Except for the early demos, which were a load of bollocks. But I worked in a venue which gave me the inspiration for ‘Fake Tales Of San Francisco’. And songs like ‘When The Sun Goes Down’ are first-hand from living in Sheffield.”
You see prostitutes on the streets a lot, then?
Alex: “Oh aye, you do round here. We had a practice room down the road and you’d see them all the time. That line about ‘subtle propositions’ is about when Andy got accosted on his way there. She said, ‘That guitar bag looks heavy!’”
Andy: “I were like, ‘What? Do you do all sorts of things? ’Cos I’ve got an amp over there if you wanna roadie.’”
It was a couple of guitars, given to Alex and Jamie as Christmas presents, that initially spurred the band into action. Fancying a piece of the action, Andy and Matt jumped onboard. Initially Alex gabbled any old nonsense over the songs, but after a while he let the others into a secret – he was a lyrical whizzkid. Such skills came from a youth spent listening to hip-hop with his mates – from Roots Manuva to the stuff on the Rawkus Records and Lyricist Lounge compilations.
They’d also shunned Britpop’s tired white-boy playlist by getting into the likes of Curtis Mayfield and Parliament. In fact, before Jamie joined the band, armed with some choice Smiths, Oasis and QOTSA records, the band were way funkier. Jamie stopped them becoming Jamiroquai, but there’s an undeniable Roses-like groove that remains.
With the band all in one place, there was just one small task ahead: get massive. But how did it happen so fast? To put it simply, they got their music out there – handing out demos at gigs to anyone who wanted them. It wasn’t long before the demos were plastered all over the internet. The band are clearly shrewd marketing bods as well as ace musicians, right?
All: “We didn’t do that! We didn’t even have the internet!”
Alex: “Other people did all the online stuff for us. We thought rather than send our demos to record labels, let’s just give them to fans and make the gigs better.”
So when did you realise that something strange was happening?
Alex: “It were a gig at The Forum in Sheffield. People were cheering from the minute we went onstage. It were
a right good gig until this fight broke out between a load of bouncers.”
Matt: “They’d been out on some bouncers Christmas do! It were like the ultimate fighting championship. You could hear people shouting, ‘Gimme a leg up – he’s getting his teeth kicked in!’”
From this point on, Monkey Mania sprang into action. When they played The Boardwalk at the start of this year, everyone knew the words to songs that were just demos. Alex was so taken aback he burst into hysterics onstage and had to start again. An unannounced gig on a wet Monday night in Wakefield ended up being “fucking rammed” with footprints on the roof from all the crowdsurfing.
Even during these early days, the band spotted familiar faces. Fans from Aberdeen were making eight-hour drives to see them in Yorkshire; a hardcore crew from Nottingham were turning up at every show.
Matt: “The guys from Nottingham turn up with a bag of wine and a straw, so they can crowdsurf and sip at the same time!”
Are they in the, ahem, Arctic Army?
All: “No! That’s you lot stirring things up that is!”
Alex: “And it’s not Monkey Mafia either, before you get any ideas…”
It’s hardly surprising that, come May, every label in the land would have pleasured a tramp for their signature. Their first London gigs saw them turning prominent A&R men away at the door. Why invite the industry, when you’ve already got sold-out shows? After signing to Franz’s label Domino things only got hotter – with this year’s slot at the Carling Weekend: Reading And Leeds Festivals turning them into bona fide rock stars. Naturally for a bunch of northern lads, their mates couldn’t stop laughing.
All: “They take the piss out of us!”
Alex: “My mate Pete were caught the other day with an ‘Alex Turner Is God’ badge on. I thought, ‘You cheeky bastard!’. And when our mate Clarkey sees us he’ll scream, ‘Oh my God! It’s Arctic Monkeys!’ At least they let us in the Leadmill for free now.”
Is that the indie equivalent of getting the keys to the city?
Alex: “Aye, it is.”
Cookie: “We never use it, though, it’s just our fucking mates. They had 12 people turning up as guitarists from Arctic Monkeys the other week!”
Alex: “Weird thing is, it can’t get any more successful than it did on our first tour, when everyone were stagediving. It can only get bigger.”
It’s time for one last question. Arctic Monkeys have gone from underground heroes to the most talked-about band in the UK – all in the space of 12 months. So… where do you think you’ll be a year from now? Selling out Knebworth for five nights? Ending famine in Africa?
Matt: “On the scrapheap!”
Alex: “With loads more people slagging us off…”
Andy: “…and saying this new band who sound like us are loads better!”
That’s a pessimistic viewpoint…
“We’ll be the same as we’ve always been,” concludes Alex. “You just worry sometimes about other people’s perceptions changing. That’s why it’s so special that we had our followers way before people started writing about us. Because ultimately, next year will be the true test. If we’re still intact when people stop banging on about us, then we’ll know it really meant something.”
Believe the hype? Arctic Monkeys don’t need the hype.