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Music: The British Are Coming

Another aural invasion from across the pond

 by Sam Friedman
 published on Thursday, March 23, 2006

Good-looking Brits, the Arctic Monkeys think you look good on the dance floor. We think it's a shame more Americans can't write more music this fun to shake it to./issues/arts/696304
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Good-looking Brits, the Arctic Monkeys think you look good on the dance floor. We think it's a shame more Americans can't write more music this fun to shake it to.
 

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DJ William Reed leans over his decks, a bottle of Stella Artois in hand. "Listen to this," he commands over the Rogue Bar's grainy PA system. Immediately, the frantic punk rhythm of U.K. rock phenomenon, Arctic Monkeys, reverberates around the venue.

Joining a packed dance floor, the impish Reed dances like a madman to debut hit single "I Bet You Look Good On the Dancefloor," stopping only to rearrange the record needle to "When the Sun Goes Down," another hit from the British post-punk quartet.

Reed doesn't usually play the same band twice, but this Saturday in late February is special. Reed's night, Shake!, is hosting the U.S album release party for Arctic Monkeys' debut record, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, and the club is packed.

But the Arctic Monkeys are not the only British band being played in clubs around the Valley. Shake!, recently named Phoenix's "Best Dance Night" by The Arizona Republic, and other dance parties like Hot Pink, Filthy Gorgeous and Panic! have built their popularity around a new breed of British post-punkers, who dominate their weekly sets.

The likes of Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand, The Futureheads, Razorlight, Nine Black Alps and The Kaiser Chiefs have all made a significant impact in the U.S, leading many critics to hail them the newest installment of "British Invasion."

"A really solid U.K. band arrives every month at the moment," says Reed. "I suppose it's something to do with musical roots, all the bands seem to complement and work off each other."

The notion of a "British Invasion" in rock music is nothing new; in fact, it originates from 1964 when The Beatles first conquered America.

The phrase was repeated early in the 1980s when the punk movement, spearheaded by bands like the Sex Pistols and The Clash, crashed onto the American scene, and again in the mid 1990s with the arrival of Britpop.

In the last decade, however, British bands have found it increasingly hard to crack the American market. This culminated in May 2002 when for the first time since 1963, there was not one British artist in the U.S. singles charts.

But the nationwide success of bands like Franz Ferdinand, with a self-titled debut album that sold over a million copies in the U.S, has reinvigorated the idea of "anglo cool."

According to Dave Siefert, also known as DJ Dirty Dave at Hot Pink, one of the main reasons for the most recent British invasion is that homegrown bands lack the same quality.

"There's certainly an amazing British rock movement right now, but Americans are embracing it mainly because there's nothing of the same quality happening here," he says. "That explains why we're seeing so many people DJing rock 'n' roll in the U.S. rather than playing live."

One of the bands Siefert mentions is Bloc Party, a British art-rock outfit whose debut album, "Silent Alarm," was greeted with critical praise on both sides of the Atlantic, but who largely remained an underground phenomenon in the U.S.

Siefert thinks this might change after the band plays an eagerly-anticipated gig in Tempe on April 27 at the Marquee Theatre.

Stephen Lemons, author of the "Inferno" nightlife column for The New Times, has a slightly different take on America's rock scene.

He says the U.S. is currently going through a nationwide "rock revival," and the latest British Invasion only represents one part of this.

"If you look nationally, you see rock making a comeback with 20-somethings all around the country," he says.

Steve Wiley, co-owner of campus-based music store Hoodlums, agrees.

"I think there's still a backlash against the boy-band crap of the late 1990s, people today want to hear real musicians," he says.

But Wiley says he and his staff are skeptical of hype surrounding bands like Arctic Monkeys.

"The stuff coming from the UK is of real quality, but we joke here about how the media keeps telling us bands like the Arctic Monkeys are going to 'save rock n roll.' I mean the album has sold really well -- it's been in our top ten ever since it was released -- but that's because it's a good album, not because people are telling us to like it."

Reach the reporter at sam.friedman@asu.edu.



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