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Alex Turner is the greatest Arctic Monkey, right? Well, perhaps – he’s the band’s ludicrously talented lead songwriter, and a man who knows his way around a mean quiff (though his facial hair is perhaps a little more questionable). But he’s not the coolest Monkey – oh no. That honour falls to drummer and cheeky winker Matt Helders, whose massive contribution to the band is perhaps not always fully acknowledged. Readers, with new Monkeys album ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’ set to descend upon us on May 11, and as we bask in that sultry teaser-trailer, let’s celebrate him.
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If Helders and Turner didn’t happen to meet at school in Sheffield when they were just seven years old, we wouldn’t have the thunderous drum roll that kicks off their still-vital 2006 debut album ‘What People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’ or the crisp, hip-hop inspired percussion that punctuates their slinky, seductive 2013 single ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’ And what kind of world would that be? Not one I’d like to live in – no siree.
Even beyond his exceptional, distinctive drumming style, though, Helders is the coolest Monkey. The best-dressed, the most charming in interviews, the one with the most intriguing pastime – he’s a keen amateur photographer, more of which later – and Turner’s certified right-hand man. Guitarist and bassist Jamie Cook and Nick O’Malley rarely get roped in to interviews, but Helders is always up for the craic. In fact, he used Arctic Monkeys’ first-ever NME profile, way back in the halcyon days of 2005, to slag off Ricky Wilson from the Kaiser Chiefs. What larks! There’s an old joke about people in Helders’ line of work that goes, “What does a drummer use as contraception? Their personality!”, but this one’s chill as fuck.
Helders also seems like the most down-to-earth Monkey. There’s a good Pitchfork video that sees Helders and Turner take on the website’s ‘Under/Over game’ – musicians must decide whether random concepts are under or overrated – and it speaks volumes about their dynamic. Turner’s doing that weird quasi-American accent he adopted around 2013, but Helders sounds like he’s just having a chat down the Dog and Duck in Sheffield. There’s an amazing bit where he takes the mickey out of people who are defined by their facial hair: “Have one if you want one, but don’t let that be your thing. Have something else about – maybe you know a magic trick.” It’s delivered with such impeccable timing that even Turner breaks character to laugh.
And then there’s his burgeoning hobby as a photographer. If you’re not already following @cautioushorse on Instagram and enjoy arty, cropped snaps of deserts and cacti, then – oh boy! are you in for an absolute treat, because he’s got ‘em by the bucketload. The musician knows his stuff, too, captioning the photos with details of the fancy camera kit he’s used to capture them. We’re still waiting for an Arctic Monkeys album cover that uses of his images, though. Your move, Helders.
Turner is the idiosyncratic genius, the other two are… the other two, but Helders is the beating heart of the Arctic Monkeys, the everydude you want to be mates with, whose beautiful Italian wedding you’d like to be invited to, whose dandyish suits you’d like to lightly take the piss out of. Can you imagine how wild Turner would be without his mate to keep him grounded? So, as we patiently await the release of ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, let’s raise a glass to your friend and mine, Matt Helders, the coolest Monkey of them all.