A Former Teenage Fangirl Reflects on 7+ Years of Arctic Monkeys Fandom

Arctic Monkeys weren’t quite full-fledged rock stars in 2011; in the Suck it and See era, they were still seeking fame, rapidly evolving from acne-clad British teens to California-based, Elvis-inspired rock ‘n’ rollers. Though many die-hards consider Humbug (2009) to be Arctic Monkeys’ most expertly crafted record, the LP left fans somewhat confused, in that it strayed from the hyper-energetic guitar rock of their early work that had earned them stardom. But Suck it and See was a redemption for some critics. They were the darlings of British publications like NME, but in the United States, they were still playing mid-sized clubs, despite a growing army of teenage fans on tumblr. I was one of them.

I was sixteen at the time of their Suck it and See tour, which hit Fort Lauderdale’s Revolution Live in October 2011. Arriving at the venue at about half past noon, I sat outside on the hot Florida pavement until the doors opened seven hours later. Earlier that day, NME staged an Arctic Monkeys photo shoot by some abandoned train tracks on the highway; across from the perfectly desolate landscape are mini-golf courses and go-kart tracks, which of course, are not pictured. Every time I drove on that highway, I remembered Arctic Monkeys’ presence.

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photo by Dean Chalkley for NME

After the Sheffield-bred four piece finally delivered a well-rehearsed and fine-tuned set, I waited outside in a thunderstorm for two hours, hoping to catch a glimpse of Alex Turner. My parents, thankfully willing to deal with my manic obsession, waited in the bar next door.

Revolution Live is more glamorous than the dirty pubs in Miami like Churchill’s, yet it’s nothing compared to the venues that Arctic Monkeys’ stadium-sized sound seemed to desire. Fans like me knew the anatomy of these venues. We shared information on tumblr – how the Arctic Monkeys tour bus was large and white with blacked out windows, and how usually, Alex Turner and Matt Helders would come outside to greet fans in the early afternoon. Sometimes, you could be lucky enough to get invited inside for soundcheck. On tumblr, we found camaraderie with other fans who were just as crazed as us. We bonded over our unique love, travelling to meet each other “IRL.” We saw through Arctic Monkeys’ leather-clad rock star act and remembered their roots as awkward teenagers just like us, yet we still worshiped these men like Gods.

On tumblr, I met two girls a bit older than me named Ronit and Margaret, who waited in the torrential downpour with me. They offered me my first cigarettes, which I declined, worried that I would immediately get addicted, or worse, that my parents would find out. As Ronit and Margaret sparked up, cupping their hands around their cigarettes to avoid the wind and rain, I noticed how cool they looked. They looked like the kind of girls who belonged here. I wanted to belong. I wouldn’t realize until years later that the people who listened to rock music all shared the simple desire to belong. At the time, I belonged more than I knew.

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Arctic Monkeys fans in 2011; photo by Dean Chalkley for NME

We waited together, huddled under a concrete overhang in the storm. Ronit and Margaret left around 1 AM, because Ronit’s dad wouldn’t wait any longer to pick her up. I was a good kid who did nothing wrong, who was too afraid to even smoke a cigarette with the cool girls from the internet, so my parents were more lenient with me. This was a once-in-a-lifetime night. I never stayed out late. I earned it.

Soon after Ronit and Margaret went home, Alex Turner sauntered out of the back door of the venue with a tall, leggy blonde woman. I became startlingly aware of my youth, my insignificance; I was a sixteen-year-old girl whose biggest stress in the world was perfecting my score on the SAT.  I wanted to run after Alex, to take a picture with him to put on my tumblr, to tell him how his lyrics inspired me to be a writer. I was frozen, watching him cross the street in the rain with this beautiful model. They stepped into a stretch limo and drove away. This was Arctic Monkeys in 2011: leather-clad, cigarette-smoking, and motorcycle-riding. This was when Alex Turner’s hair was coiffed (not his best phase). Moreover, I wondered what the value of any of this would be – to run after Alex Turner in the early morning when he clearly didn’t want to be bothered. I started to see rock stars as people, though they are so far from ordinary, even in their most ordinary moments.

My parents soon fetched me from the venue, upset with me for waiting alone after the other tumblr girls left. We walked towards the parking lot. My dad suddenly stopped me in my tracks, pointing at a tall man in a leather jacket.

“That’s one of your monkey guys, right?” my dad asked. I started to tell him it couldn’t be them – that I saw Alex Turner drive away in a limo, but then I turned around. My dad was right. It was Jamie Cook, margarita in hand. In my memory, he’s smoking a cigarette, but I don’t think he actually was – I think I just remember it this way because he was so intimidating to me, a real life rock star, a rock star whose music “changed my life.”

I asked Jamie Cook to sign my album, and we took a horrible photo on my dad’s Blackberry. I dropped my sharpie multiple times, nervous to be in his presence. I knew then that even if rock stars were regular people under all that leather, I wanted to belong in their orbit.

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Amanda and Jamie, Fort Lauderdale, 2011

I moved to Philadelphia when I was 18. While studying at the University of Pennsylvania, I became an amateur music journalist. I worked my way up through local blogs, eventually maneuvering my way into bigger publications, determined to begin a full-time career in music journalism. I worked in a New York City-based music PR firm, went on tour with some bands, even interviewed Tori Amos, who complimented my dress and told me I’m “going places.” I got backstage passes to photograph shows, constantly putting off my schoolwork to spend nights at Union Transfer and PhilaMOCA. I even got to photograph the Alex Turner/Miles Kane side project The Last Shadow Puppets a few years ago.

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Alex Turner performing with The Last Shadow Puppets. April 10, 2016. Photo by Amanda Silberling.

My story isn’t special. So many of us love this band – their awkward hair choices aside – but that’s what makes our collective story meaningful. So many of us can say that our love for this band “changed our lives.” Rock music gave us a sense of identity in a time in life when we felt like we didn’t matter.

I think about the mom in Almost Famous, who claims rock music is satanic, inspiring children to do wrong. And maybe it’s true. I still don’t smoke cigarettes ­– I narrowly avoided that vice – but it was around the time I fell in love with bands like Arctic Monkeys and The Strokes that I realized that there was more to life than my SAT score.

Rock music was a way for us to break out of our insecurities. We grew up and became better versions of ourselves, confident and passionate, emboldened by records like Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006). Bands like Arctic Monkeys gave us something to love as teenage girls, a time when it seemed impossible to love ourselves.

*                                  *                                  *

Today, I wake up early to go to Penn’s Student Health Service. I’m injected with five vaccines: rabies, tetanus, typhoid, hepatitis, and Japanese encephalitis. I’m moving to Laos next month. It’s also the morning that Arctic Monkeys’ first album in five years, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, is released. A friend from tumblr who I’d lost touch with texts to ask if I’ve heard the album. I tell her not to spoil anything for me – I’m waiting until I have a chance to really sit down with it, which I can’t do while I’m getting prodded with needles at the health center. Spoiling an album isn’t quite like spoiling a movie, of course, though she knows what I mean. Listening to new music by your favorite band is nothing to take lightly.

After my appointment (and still before I listen to the album), I take graduation photos for my freshman hallmate Regina. We’re sentimental about when we met freshman year (think: the AM era). We joke about when a pipe in my historic quad dorm burst, flooding the room with hot water. My dorm was damaged beyond repair, destroying the walls and everything on it, including my Jamie Cook-signed copy of Suck it and See.

As I listen to Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino for the first time, I can’t tell you whether it’s good or not – maybe this is why I got rejected from that Pitchfork internship. When it comes down to it, I’m really not a great music critic. I struggle to describe the way music sounds. Writing reviews feels like pulling teeth. I’ve realized that what I love about music is the experience. I need to be present, surrounded by people who foster the same irrational passion for these songs as I do.

What I can tell you about the new Arctic Monkeys album, though, is that it feels like a destination. On a literal note, it’s a concept album about a hotel, a place to go and escape monotony – Take it easy for a little while / Come and stay with us / Four stars out of five.

I intentionally avoided reading any articles about Arctic Monkeys in the months leading up to their sixth album release; I wanted to hear the album without a press release lingering in my subconscious. Given that Arctic Monkeys didn’t release a single to promote the album, this press blackout seemed like what the Monkeys wanted.

Upon my first few listens to the album, I imagine the Hotel & Casino to exist in an undefined place: it could be a Southwestern Desert as well as it could be an Asian capitalist megacity. Despite clues from song titles like “Science Fiction,” I don’t know until I read the album’s Pitchfork review that the Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is supposed to exist on the moon, though this newly charted territory is getting gentrified, as Turner notes in “Four Out Of Five.”

Laos may as well be the moon to me. I never dreamed of moving to Laos – just moving somewhere far away, no matter where it may be. Yet the way Turner imagines this intergalactic resort seems to criticize those with an impulsive desire to escape. I fear that soon, I might realize what a bad idea this is.

In “Star Treatment,” Turner opens the album: I just wanted to be one of the Strokes/now look at the mess you made. In an interview with NME, the now-thirty-two-year-old musician explains, “The first thing that line does is make me think about then and how much time seems to have suddenly passed.”

I, too, think about how much time has passed – how I have changed since 2013, when the band’s fifth album AM came out, and I would drive around Boca Raton, Florida in a beat-up Honda, fantasizing about what would happen if I kept driving without stopping. These dreams were sometimes literal, in which I would drive into a brick wall near my high school and crash. Other times, I would drive north for as long as I could, until I inevitably ran out of gas money and got stranded somewhere in North/Central Florida. It’s no wonder why South Florida feels so suffocating – the weather never changes, and you must drive about thirteen hours to cross state lines. A place that seems like paradise becomes imprisoning. And for Alex Turner, it appears that the paradise of rock stardom isn’t as interesting as it used to be.

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Alex Turner performing with The Last Shadow Puppets. April 10, 2016. Photo by Amanda Silberling.

When I left South Florida for Philadelphia in 2014, I was naïve enough to believe that geography is what makes us feel trapped, and that a change of scenery would free me of all of my anxieties. And sure, Philadelphia has felt freeing, morphing itself into the first home I’ve ever chosen for myself. But four years and one new Arctic Monkeys album later, as I move to the other side of the world, I know that I cannot rely on the distance and glorification of Southeast Asia to make me feel that I am where I need to be. As Alex Turner shows us, even the fictional Tranquility Base on the moon is still plagued with earthly trials and vices like gentrification, monotony, and gambling. Our goal is not to escape, but to learn something that makes us feel that we belong.

I don’t know how my life will change when I move to Laos, but I know, at least, what album I will listen to on my flight across the world.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

NEWS ROUNDUP: A Shake Up in Streaming & More

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Tidal press conference, 2015. Courtesy of Time.

A Shake Up in Streaming & More

By Jasmine Williams

A Reckoning?

Last week #MuteRKelly gained speed as Time’s Up’s women of color added their support and yesterday the movement got a boost from a Spotify. While the streaming giant did not cut all ties with Kelly, Spotify did announce that they will remove the alleged sexual abuser from all playlists and other suggested conduct so he will no longer be actively promoted on the platform although his discography will still remain and be searchable. The move comes as the result of Spotify’s new rule pertaining to artists accused of misconduct or of having songs with objectionable lyrics. Spotify tapped consultants from the Southern Poverty Law Center, The Anti-Defamation League, GLAAD, and other advocacy groups to create their “hate content and hateful conduct” policy which addresses “hate speech” in music and states that “when an artist or creator does something that is especially harmful or hateful (for example, violence against children and sexual violence), it may affect the ways we work with or support that artist or creator.” In response to Spotify’s action, R. Kelly’s team accused the company of engaging in an “attempted public lynching.” His PR team’s use of the historically-loaded phrase in defense of the “I Believe I Can Fly” singer has sparked a separate controversy.

Spotify’s new policy is making waves in the industry and has many wondering what other musicians will be affected. Perhaps Chris Brown and Young Lo? Let the censorship debate begin!

In other pay-for-play streaming news, Tidal has been accused of faking millions of plays in an effort to make it look like Beyoncé’s Lemonade and Kanye West’s Life of Pablo were streamed more than they actually were. Norwegian paper, Dagens Nærengsliv obtained a hard drive with Tidal data reports that showed many users streaming the albums a suspiciously large number of times in one day.

Based on the obtained information, each of Tidal’s claimed three million subscribers would have had to play West’s Life of Pablo eighty-three times. Knowles and West both have business stakes in Tidal. Nærengsliv contacted one Beyoncé fan who was in Tidal’s records as having streamed Lemonade fifteen times in one day. She verified their suspicions of fabricated plays, saying “I love Beyoncé — but 11 hours? No.”

In traditional radio, it is illegal to pay DJs and promotors to play certain songs but streaming platforms still exist in a legal grey area – labels and artists can purchase slots on playlists. Perhaps the accusations against Tidal will lead to a change in the way all streaming services conduct business. Watch out Discover Weekly – they’re coming for you!

In a separate report, Tidal has also been accused of inflating their number of subscribers.

That New New

Arctic Monkeys head up the big releases of the week with their new studio album. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is the British band’s first full-length in five years. Arctic Monkeys refrained from dropping any singles ahead of the album’s release so the sound is completely new to fans.

Christina Aguilera released the second single off of her upcoming album Liberation. “Twice” sees the singer return to form with soaring vocals and personal lyrics. Christina heads on tour this fall; she’ll play two dates at Radio City in October.

French duo Justice are also back with a new release. They just announced the date for their upcoming live album, Woman Worldwide, out August 24 via Ed Banger.

Sigur Rós dropped a mixtape of “endless” ambient music this week. Liminal is an hour-long collaboration between Jónsi, Alex Somers, and Paul Corley.

End Notes

  • NYC fans of Superchunk  and The Breeders are about to get reacquainted with the seasoned musicians. Both bands play free shows in Prospect Park. Start the season off with Superchunk on June 20th, close it out with The Breeders on August 11th.
  • Random couple alert – Grimes and Elon Musk showed up at the Met Ball together on Monday night. Grimes wore a Tesla choker to the exclusive event. The next day Musk tweeted that his favorite Grimes songs are “Flesh without Blood” and “Kill V Maim.”
  • Legendary hip-hop label Loud Records is coming back. Founder Steve Rifkind is starting it up again, this time with Sony and RED. The trio is debuting a brand new sound for Loud’s rebirth! Just kidding – one of Loud’ first projects will be a remake of an iconic release. They’re bringing back Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) but this time contemporary hip-hop artists will play the characters of the classic LP.


An introduction to me and the music I love

Before I start describing to you my impression of the past year in music and what I’m looking forward to in the coming months (a succinct way to give you a glimpse into what you, our reader, can expect from me), I’ll tell you a wee bit about myself.

I was born and raised in a small Midwesterntown like so many other Brooklyn transplants. My parents placed my hands onthe keys of a piano at the age of three, and the bow of a cello in my fingersat the age of nine. I’d like to think that music is in my blood, but I knowbetter—for instance, that the early influence of Handel’s “Water Music” inshaping my perception of the world, or the memory of watching,atop shoulders, my dad play reggae at a local summertime concert, has more todo with my love for music than what my blood may contain. Still, I get afunny feeling in my heart when I hear certain songs, as if something mightbe waking up…

Though I never became aspectacular musician, by anyone’s standard, I still play occasionally. Moreimportantly, however, I learned in playing music for my whole life, to keepopen ears to whatever might waft through the airwaves. Subsequently, music hasbecome sine qua non to the diversity of my experience in the world, especiallyas a young city dweller. Without live music (even if the sound sucks, or thevenue is sub par), without the excitement of anticipating the newest album fromone of my current favorites, and without the joy of stumbling upon someundiscovered new treasure of a band (or DJ, or subway busker for that matter),life would just sparkle so much less vibrantly. New York would be such a drag.

What you can expect from me, with that said, is straightforward descriptive musings about the things that move me, namely good music (and sometimes not so good music too). If what you want though, is pretentious self-impressed sounding pseudo-journalism, then, well, I can direct you toward a few good music blogs for that too. Oh, and I have a degree in International Economics…So you may get a few tangential rants here and there about the security of oil supplies pumped throughout the Caucasus and Middle East, blah blah blah…

Anyway please read-on and (hopefully) enjoy a few personal highlights from the past year in music along with forthcoming shows and albums that I’m anticipating will be amazing. Organized categorically of course–because who doesn’t love lists?

Best new band of 2011: Beacon

My favorite newbie from 2011 is by far the band Beacon, whom I discovered at the Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival thanks to my friend Jakub, who runs the label Moodgadget, to which they are signed. Comprised of Thomas Mullarney and Jacob Gossett, Beacon sounds like an amalgam of what I consider to be the best elements of R&B and electronic, respectively, with mellow, synthy keys, smooth falsetto vocals and layers upon layers of textured beats. Before you check out their newest EP, No Body–a luscious soundscape of tunes about life and love–, listen to their cover of “The Rip”, by Portishead. You can find it Here. And if you like it, check them out live on February 4th with Tycho, at Music Hall. Ms. Rhoades and I would love to see you there.

The album of 2011 I was most surprised I like: Suck It and See

When I heard the first song off the album Suck It and See, I thought to myself “I really like this. It must be some sort of new wave I don’t know of…Yeah, definitely from the 80’s…Is it House Of Love? Hmmm…No…”. I then glanced over the album cover, nearly falling off my chair in surprise, to find that it was the irascible gang of drunken, juvenile Brits themselves: The Arctic Monkeys.  They seem to have inexorably matured about ten years since, say, Favourite Worst Nightmare in 2007 (we all remember “Fluorescent Adolescent’s” jabby opening chorus line “you used to get it in your fishnets/ now you only get it in your nightdress”). And I like what they’ve become: still raucous, but a bit less self-pitying and a bit more circumspect, both sonically and emotionally (if the two can even be disentangled when it comes to music). Self-possession really does suit them, for instance in the “Black Treacle” lyric “now I’m out of place, and I’m not getting any wiser/ I feel like the Sundance Kid behind a synthesizer”. It sounds like a conundrum I’ve found myself in too, these days. And bravo, Arctic Monkeys, for being all the more perspicacious in actually admitting to it.

Best girl anthem of 2011 that feels like a throwback: “Sadness Is A Blessing”

Lykke Li’s “Sadness Is A Blessing”, from Wounded Rhymes pretty much sums up my teenage years. And I’m sure had she been around in the 90’s, I would have most certainly been dressing and acting just like her. The opening chords are an immediate reference to all the 60’s girl groups whom I love, with a catchy I-IV-V key progression. Then comes Lykke’s raspy, unapologetic plea to some heartbreaker out there, to come back to her, in spite of her . Alas to no avail, she resolves herself to the infinite sorrow that awaits her in his absence. It’s a  beautifully haunting song that seems to capture every decade of pop since the 50’s. It shows that women creating incredible music about how much it sucks to be love-sick is a motif that transcends space and time.

Best Album of 2011 by a girl-led band, that can even begin to compete with Body Talk by Robyn: Ritual Union, Little Dragon

All of those who know me know that I would cross the street to tell a stranger how much I love Robyn. Body Talk may actually be one of my favorite albums of all time. With that said, when I heard Ritual Union–the newest  from Little Dragon, I was pretty damn excited to have found what I consider to be a futuristic iteration of everything I like about everything Robyn’s ever done. Whew. Ok, enough hyperbole for you? Yeah, me too. Anyway, Ritual Union is an album full of pulsating dance beats featuring heavy snare, combined with smooth synthetic bass lines and of course, Yukimi Nagano’s beautiful, sultry voice. And while I don’t have it on repeat or anything, it’s perfect to play at the end of the night, when all your dinner guests have had a bit too much to drink, and some of them want to get stoned at sit on the couch while others just really need to have a freaky dance party .

Best album of 2011 that almost makes me like Bob Dylan: Slave Ambient, The War On Drugs

I had heard Slave Ambient several times over the past months and didn’t think too much of it, considering all the attendant hype. However, after listening to a few of their terrific live performances on NPR’s “Sound Check”, I decided to revisit it and see if there was something I had been missing. And ok, fair enough, they’re pretty damn good. The songs do accompany arcane, poetic lyrics sung by a raspy-voiced front man, with a shit-ton of folky guitar melodies. This in and of itself makes them (to me) start to sound an awful lot like Bob Dylan tunes. I can’t really help it. And for those of you who know me know I would cross the street to tell some girl’s expensively-groomed chihuahua that I don’t like Bob Dylan.  But here’s the difference: each instrument including the vocals has reverb applied, as well as any handful of cool effects. This little aspect manages to transform each track from derivative (at best) into luscious, ambient and original. Amazing what a bit of creative thinking can do, no?

Best Album of 2011, Period: Year of Hibernation, (Youth Lagoon), tied with  Father, Son, Holy Ghost, (Girls)

So this was really, really challenging. It’s basically like having to choose your favorite kid (not that I have any, but I imagine it would be an equally difficult task ). Anyway, upon much deliberation I decided to narrow it down to two. And I challenge any music lover to try and do better than that.

Ok, so first, Youth Lagoon: Who knew that some kid making songs in his bedroom would have such a substantial impact on the world of indie rock. And what makes these songs great is not that they are innovative, as is the case with much of the incredible Garage Band-made music these days, but rather the ways in which they sound like something you’ve heard a million times but can’t quite pin down. They’re nostalgically psychedelic, but simple and quiet at the same time. Trevor Powers’ voice is thin but powerfully resonate. The melodies are pedestrian but unique. The lyrics are about a childhood we can all relate to; yet somehow his words still give me pause. Every time I listen to Year Of Hibernation, I discover something new about the songs. They will put me simultaneously in a good and bad mood. And that, my dear friends, is one illustrious feat.

It’s rare that a band’s sophomore album actually surpasses their debut, but Father, Son, Holy Ghost manages it somehow, although I’m sure there are plenty of folks out there who would disagree with me. The songs range from excruciatingly slow guitar ballads to Beatles-esque jingles, which is a wide spectrum to cover, and speaks loudly to the band’s versatility. Christopher Owens is a pretty self-aware dude (being a Children Of God escapee and all), and he wears is heart on his sleeve, evident in lyrics such as “They don’t like my boney body/ They don’t like my dirty hair/ Or the stuff that I say, or the stuff that I’m on”, from “Honey Bunny”, which is a track that perfectly encapsulates the band’s sound: upbeat classic rock ‘n roll, underpinned by dark moody intimations (think Beck’s “Sun Eyed Girl”).  And this little fact alone will keep me coming back to these songs again and again, probably forever.

Runners up: Unluck (James Blake),  Hurry Up We’re Dreaming (M83)

Well, clearly I could go on ad infinitum about  2011, but I figured I should leave the past where it belongs, and instead look toward what awaits us right around the proverbial corner. I’ll list a few albums about which I’m “stoked” (as they say in left coast vernacular), and then sign off, for now, with a lineup of shows I hope to attend. Who knows, maybe we can catch a few together…

Albums I can’t wait for:
Mark Lanegan Band, February 6

Die Antwoord, February 7

Sleigh Bells, February 21

School Of Seven Bells, February 28

Bruce Springsteen, March 5

Spiritualized, March 19

Choir of Young Believers, March 20

Where to track us down these days:

01.25 Lucinda Black Bear, Union Pool
01.31 Blouse, 285 Kent
02.02 Thurston Moore, Lincoln Center, Allen Room
02.04 Tycho, Beacon, Music Hall Of Williamsburg
02.07 Mark Lanegan Band, Bowery Ballroom
02.11 Dum Dum Girls, Maxwell’s
02.11 The Kills, Terminal 5
02.14 Lily and the Parlour Tricks, The Bowery Electric
02.25 Sharon Van Etten, Bowery Ballroom