Pop band goes to No 1 by clicking with fans online
By Richard Alleyne and Andrew Perry
One of the first bands in Britain fully to harness the power of the internet to build a huge following exploded on to the charts yesterday, grabbing the number one spot with their first single.
Traditionally, bands have been forced to use radio play and record company marketing to create a buzz around their music but the Arctic Monkeys, a Sheffield-based guitar band, built up a committed following of young fans well before being noticed by the music industry.
Arctic Monkeys are tipped as ‘The next big thing’
While established record companies struggled with internet piracy, the band used the net by allowing young music lovers to swap their songs free, creating a huge underground fan base.
By the time they had signed with a record label and released their first single I Bet You Look Good On the Dancefloor last week they were already tipped as the "next big thing".
The hype was translated into sales when the band beat the Sugarbabes and McFly to the top spot.
The amazing success of the single followed a sell-out tour that included headlining at the 2,000-capacity Astoria Theatre in London.
Tickets were changing hands for as much as £100 on eBay and outside the venue. Even Sean Bean, the actor, had heard of their growing fame and turned out to see the band from his native city.
When they began to play their high-energy brand of post-punky guitar pop, the entire audience seemed not only to know the words, but to be screaming along in unison, as they danced enthusiastically to every song.
This whole experience, even the more cynical industry insiders present had to agree, was something new. How had all this happened without them?
The answer lay on the internet, where the band, who are barely into their twenties, have made available two dozen or more songs as MP3 files on their website. Through touring the country, mainly in the North, the band have created their own following and encouraged their fans to distribute their songs via file-sharing sites for nothing. Thus far, there have been no publishing royalties at stake.
In the months ahead, we shall no doubt be reading plenty more about the Arctic Monkeys. They have now signed to the indie label Domino, the same label as Franz Ferdinand, and are poised to be the biggest new act of 2006.
However, their extraordinary rise is but the most prominent evidence to date of a fast-growing culture emerging in British pop, which is using the internet, as well as text messaging and other recent technology, to bypass the accepted channels established by the music industry and create its own scene, and its own excitement.
"There is a massive online community out there," says Laurence Bell, the owner of Domino. "They are constantly exchanging tracks, passing it on, raving about it - check this out, go to this gig.
"They are bypassing traditional marketing routes, and the mainstream media, which is what major record companies have a grasp of and a hold on. Nobody's telling them to do it; that's the key. Basically, these kids are making the decisions."
Such happenings as the Arctic Monkeys and a rising number of bands springing surprise performances, known as "gorilla gigs" satisfy a certain requirement among cutting-edge British audiences for concerts to be DIY and slightly beyond the boundaries.
It is a great tradition stretching back to the days of John Lennon-organised love-ins, and Pink Floyd's "Eighteen-Hour Technicolour Dream", and to the Seventies punk bands who promoted tours by word-of-mouth in defiance of the local councils who were trying to ban them; and to the early raves, whose expectant attenders would gather clandestinely in service stations around the M25 to be directed to the party's secret location.
Pete Doherty, both with the Libertines and Babyshambles, is the patron saint of this spur-of-the-moment pursuit.
Several years ago, the Libertines would alert their most devoted followers by text message to gigs, which, once or twice, took place in Doherty's front room. Although these appearances are plainly intended as fun, with the vague possibility of press coverage thereafter, their popularity represents a vote of no confidence in how today's music industry brings bands to the public in such a systematic manner. The industry, which is dominated by huge, increasingly American-focused corporations, now hoovers up underground acts almost as quickly as they appear, enslaving them to a harsh schedule of endless touring and recording. Informed music fans are fully aware of this process, and can easily detect the gradual disappearance of the twinkle in their favourite band's eyes.
For both performer and punter, the chaos of this uniquely British response - the hastily arranged soirée - is an antidote to all that, and each side clearly enjoys the mutual proximity it affords. The bands get to play in front of the people who care enough about their music to log on to their website and the fans get to feel "inside-track" with the band.
"I have never had such a laugh in my life," said Declan, 19, outside the Arctic Monkeys' Astoria show, sweat still dripping from his chin. "Part of what makes the Monkeys special is that they have not been hyped, like James Blunt or whoever. They are "ours". It's like we're beating the system together."
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