Arctic Monkeys at 16: how a bunch of lads from High Green changed the music industry forever

The Arctic Monkeys have sold millions of records and travelled the world on tour – but how did the band get from small pubs in Sheffield to the Grammys?

By Sarah Wilson
Monday, 10 June, 2019, 11:34
The Arctic Monkeys playing at the 2018 TRNSMT festival in Glasgow. Credit: Andy Buchanan/Getty Images

On the evening of 13th June 2003, Tony Blair was Prime Minister, Evanescence were at number one in the charts, and a group of around 40 punters in Sheffield were - unwittingly - about to witness the first ever gig played by the Arctic Monkeys; a band who would go on to make one of the best-selling debut albums in British history and redefine indie music forever.

Though it has gone down in music history and many (more than is possible) claim to have been there, that first gig at The Grapes Pub on Trippet Lane was nothing particularly special.

The Grapes Pub in Sheffield, where the Arctic Monkeys played their first ever gig.

Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner claims to only have taken the gig “just to get to the end of the night and pull the bird that I fancied that I’d got to come down,” but the event turned out to launch a stratospheric music career for the young lads from Sheffield.

Sheffield roots

All five members of the Arctic Monkeys come from High Green, and in textbook style, met and formed the band while they were all still at Stocksbridge High School.

Naturally, they weren’t the first famous musicians to get their start in the Steel City; Def Leppard, The Human League and Pulp also began their careers in Sheffield.

Alex Turner at the 2019 Lollapalooza festival in Buenos Aires. Photo: Santiago Bluguermann/Getty Images

The band started out by rehearsing at Yellow Arch Studios in Neepsend, and recorded demos at 2fly studios, gigging around Sheffield all the while.

These demos were then passed out at the gigs they played - a move that would prove instrumental to their success.

The rise of the internet

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The formation of The Arctic Monkeys coincided with the growing popularity of online social networks; MySpace in particular.

This made them one of the first ever bands to come to the attention of the public via the internet rather than through traditional promotion; a model that changed the music industry forever.

The CDs that the band handed out at gigs were burned by fans, and an online following quickly grew. This first set of demos was titled Beneath the Boardwalk, a name inspired by the now-closed Boardwalk nightclub in Sheffield.

The Arctic Monkeys’ online following meant that by the time they were signed by Domino records in June 2005 - two years after their first gig - they were already immensely popular, especially in their home town.

Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not

Because of the online buzz around the band, the Arctic Monkeys’ first album, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, became the fastest-selling debut album in UK chart history when it was released in 2006.

Part of the band’s popularity stemmed from their down-to-earth lyrics and style. While frontman Alex Turner was often compared to Sheffield-born Jarvis Cocker, who also often sang in a Yorkshire accent, the Arctic Monkeys weren’t singing about politics but the minutiae of ordinary life - getting kicked out of clubs, fancying girls and going to rubbish parties.

This formula carried the band from success to success, and in the ensuing years since Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, they’ve released five further albums, won seven Brit awards, been nominated for five Grammy Awards and won the Mercury Prize.

The legacy of the Arctic Monkeys

The Arctic Monkeys’ sound has inspired hundreds of copy-cat bands and young hopefuls practicing in basements since their formation. Today, it’s difficult to go on any indie club night up north and avoid hearing one of their infectiously catchy tracks.

Though in recent years fans have complained of a departure from their original, down-to-earth style the band remain proud of their Yorkshire roots, with frontman Alex Turner known to frequently begin gigs with the introduction: “We’re Arctic Monkeys and we’re from High Green Sheffield!”