Published in Billboard Magazine
“I haven’t ever seen this sort of impact for a new band,” HMV U.K. & Ireland head of music Phil Penman says.
The comment from Britain’s leading music merchant aptly sums up the buzz surrounding Arctic Monkeys, arguably the hottest-tipped British rock band for 2006.
The Jan. 23 U.K. release of the Sheffield, England-based rock act’s album debut “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not” is flying off the shelves.
Sales chart compiler the Official U.K. Charts Co. confirms that sales of the album were “in excess of 100,000 units” by mid-day Jan. 24.
At press time, HMV suggested that Arctic Monkeys’ country-wide first-week sales could exceed 350,000 units, based on the chain’s own sales and OCC data. That would make it the fastest-selling debut album in U.K. chart history, ahead of reality TV show-spawned pop act Hear’Say’s “Popstars” (Polydor, 2001), which the OCC says sold 306,631 units in its first week.
In the space of a few months in 2005, the four 19-year-olds in Arctic Monkeys rose from being an unsigned outfit with a dedicated fan base to a U.K. singles chart-topper receiving widespread critical praise and attention from the mainstream press. On Jan. 11, the band earned industry recognition in the form of a Brit Award nomination.
Domino Records founder Laurence Bell confirms that pre-release shipments topped 350,000 units. That will immediately earn the band platinum certification.
The album streeted a week earlier than originally planned, Bell says, because “it was so hot that there was no point sitting on it.” He adds, “It certainly wasn’t because of Internet piracy. The success of the band already has proved that the Internet is nothing to be scared of.”
HMV’s Penman says pre-orders for its 200 stores alone are the highest for any rock debut since Oasis’ “Definitely Maybe” in 1994. The album has logged the most pre-orders on HMV’s Web site for a debut act since the site began in 1997.
The group’s quick rise at home was built on its glowing live reputation, which swiftly spread in the north of England. The act’s buzz has risen to a roar, so much so that the Arctic Monkeys declined Billboard’s interview requests. Its U.S. publicist cited fear of overexposure.
At early gigs, the band distributed CD-Rs of demos, which some supporters posted online to share as digital files. “The fans were instigating the movement of the music,” Bell says.
Although Bell calls it a “word-of-mouth” phenomenon, “word of Internet” is more appropriate. “I’m not sure there’s anything we can compare it to,” he says.
In the United States, the album will street Feb. 21 on Domino’s American affiliate through a new deal with Alternative Distribution Alliance. Retailers in America are well-aware of the hype, but no one is ready to call the Arctic Monkeys a sure thing.
“That’s a really good record, and it has good potential,” says Terry Currier, who runs Music Millennium in Portland, Ore. “It could turn into a Bloc Party kind of sales story, but nothing is guaranteed these days. That being said, it’s a great record, and we need more great records.” 2005 newcomer Bloc Party’s “Silent Alarm” has sold 226,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Domino GM Kris Gillespie, who heads the label’s U.S. operation, says the main objective in America has been to keep the hype to a minimum. “We’ve been trying to keep a lid on it so it could play out naturally,” he says. “The road is littered with bands who were huge in the U.K. and were supposed to do well in the States.”
While Domino licensed Franz Ferdinand to Epic in the United States, the label has thus far decided to hold onto Arctic Monkeys. “It’s a case-by-case basis with what’s best for the band,” Gillespie says. “We’re still thinking about [what] we’re going to do for the States, whether or not we’d join forces with someone. Right now, we’re putting it out on [our] own, but we’re always open to ideas.”
AROUND THE WORLD
In Europe, the title is rolling out the same day as the U.K. release through a string of separate distribution deals.
Domino head of international Mirelle Davis says the record has shipped more than 50,000 units ahead of its release in Japan, where it is worked through independent label Hostess. EMI will release the album in Australia and New Zealand in mid-February on license from Domino.
In support of the album, the band has completed promotional dates and performances in key territories, including the United States and Japan. “I think people get tired of hearing about ‘the latest big thing from England,’ and I think that’s a terrible weight for a young band to carry,” Bell says. “To come in early and play before the record [is released] is a good thing. It dispels a lot of things.”
Domino executives moved quickly to add Arctic Monkeys to the London-based indie label’s roster. Within a week of seeing the group perform in spring 2005, Bell won the intense competition to sign the band to a worldwide recording deal.
“We were pursuing them but got beaten,” says Michel Lambot, co-CEO of Brussels-based independent label group Play It Again Sam. But all was not lost for Lambot: PIAS distributes Domino in the United Kingdom via its affiliate Vital and also handles the label in France and Spain.
With the group’s debut single, “I Bet That You Look Good on the Dancefloor,” and its follow-up, “When the Sun Goes Down,” both hitting No. 1, British retailers expect sustained sales. “They have a great opportunity to sell throughout the year,” Penman says.
The influential weekly music magazine NME’s reviewer section gave “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not” 10 marks out of 10, and the group has subsequently received a clutch of noms for the Feb. 23 NME Awards, including best group. “Right now, the NME has made them the coolest band in the country, which is a brilliant, ringing endorsement,” says EMI Music Publishing U.K. senior VP/director of A&R Mike Smith, who signed the band to a worldwide publishing deal.
Lambot says the appeal stems from frontman Alex Turner, who he describes as “an obvious star. He’s so young yet he’s understood so much about how this business works, and on top he writes great songs.”
Smith adds, “There’s a dreadful paucity of good lyricists in music today, and he is by far and away the most impressive I’ve seen. He . . . hits the nail on the head in terms of where British culture is right now in a way no one else does.”
Furthermore, Lambot is confident about the band’s international potential. He says that with Domino, Arctic Monkeys is signed to a label that has “proven with Franz Ferdinand that they can develop Brit pop acts beyond British borders.”
The band will begin an extensive run of U.K. and European dates Jan. 31 in Nottingham, England. American audiences will have a chance to see Arctic Monkeys in March, including a performance at the South by Southwest Music and Media Conference in Austin. Gigs will follow in Japan in April.