The Steel City gets overlooked as a city of importance compared to many in the UK. London, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Dublin and Glasgow are celebrated more than Sheffield and it seems a bit unfair. We’ve always produced quality, our steel was the best in the world, our beer is and our music scene has had defining moments for generations.
Over the decades our musicians have impacted the sound of pop culture from Def Leppard’s stadium rock anthems in the 1970’s to the electro shift in the 80’s thanks to the Human League. Pulp’s arty take on guitar music coined a different direction for Brit Pop in the 90’s. These bands weren’t the only ones in the city, they were just the ones who broke through to the mainstream but underneath the genre leaders was a vibrant scene that made life up north not so grim.
Music scenes come-and-go. After the heady days of Brit Pop, there was a lull in guitar music as dance music and raves became the phenomena and again, Sheffield offered a helping hand with influential club nights at Gatecrasher. Whilst this was offering an outlet for many, there was a new group of boys in bands, inspired by The Strokes, The White Stripes, Kings of Leon and The Libertines.
Sheffield Steel City isn’t a pretentious city, it’s not overly cool or try hard and the bands who were bringing indie back looked more like they’d come straight from a pluming job or they were off to a football match, but they weren’t ‘lads’. A new scene was forming, The Leadmill, The Boardwalk, The Fuzz Club, The Harley, The Fez Club all played an important role in this new sound that was spearheaded by Milburn who were more influenced by Oasis than The Strokes.
After a couple of years of gigging throughout Sheffield Milburn weren’t the only one picking up guitars in Sheffield. There was 1984, The Dodgems, Little Man Tate, The Long Blondes and of course, High Green’s finest, Arctic Monkeys. This quartet, friends with Milburn nailed their sound relatively quickly. Their first gig took place at The Grapes in the Steel City in June 2003 where they covered Hotel Yorba by The White Stripes.
Over the following 18 months they built up a fan base through gigging, supporting the likes of The Ordinary Boys and Tom Vek but their fans didn’t exclusively come from the Steel City. This was a unique time in music where the internet was building music scenes on web forums. Arctic Monkeys often get labelled the first band of the internet but it was actually The Libertines who took advantage of breaking the fourth wall and using forums to interact with fans. It wasn’t just a platform to do this though, it gave likeminded people to talk to each other, make friends and share music. Arctic Monkeys gave out demos at their gigs and fans uploaded and shared these songs on forums such as the libertines.org and MySpace. It was a natural and authentic move that took the media and the band by surprise.
At the time the NME was the indie kid bible and they started taking notice in early 2005. The band were selling out The Boardwalk (whilst working on the bar), with a crowd singing their songs, word-for-word without any official release. By the end of the year the Arctic Monkeys had become the hottest band in the country, they had number one singles, sell out tours and so much hype that helped elevate the whole Sheffield music scene. Bands like Milburn, who had been around much longer than the Monkeys were benefitting.
Whatever People Say I Am was released in January 2006 and it remains the fastest selling debut album of all time in the UK. 12 years on and the band haven’t looked back, their sound has evolved as they have grown from teenagers to global rock stars. This Friday (11th May), the band release their sixth album Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. This is the long-await follow-up to the flawless AM (released in 2013) and expectations are high. People always say that following up a successful debut is the hardest but there wasn’t any signs of that when they released Favourite Worst Nightmare.
The bands forthcoming arena tour (including 4 nights at the Sheffield Arena) sold out immediately. There’s going to be ‘pop-up shops’ this weekend across the world (including Barkers Pool in the city centre) and a petition for Alex to shave of his beard (it does look a bit daft). After 5 consistently good albums and 5 years since the highly regarded AM, is this going to be the difficult sixth album or will they put the Steel City back on the map?