Author Archives: Matthew Smith

Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino may be Arctic Monkeys’ biggest gamble yet

In an era where nobody’s buying albums, Arctic Monkeys have bucked the trend, but could their complacency backfire?

Back in 2005 the Sheffield band had kept to the traditional DIY ethos of handing out CDs to anyone who would take them. Soon though eager fans started uploading their tracks to indie message boards, and the band became the face of a new era – one where anybody could become Glastonbury headliners as long as they had a four track and a Myspace account.

As word spread about the internet being a revolutionary tool for new bands, the Monkeys were beating older bands at their own game at the same time.

Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not remains the fastest selling debut album by a band in the UK, and after the release of AM in 2013, they became the first band on an independent label to release five consecutive number one albums.

They survived the rise of piracy, the decline of indie rock, and then the rise of streaming. Unlike any other of their peers, however, they continued to shift albums. By almost every metric, no other band this side of the millenium comes close in terms of size to the scrawny-turned-sleek Sheffield group.

That’s why their approach to album number six comes as a surprise.

This morning the band released Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino with little fanfare. Save for a few posters and a 42 second teaser video, there was no other indication of what to expect. No singles or radio sessions; it was just released.

While the Monkeys and their label, Domino, knew that the album would not go unnoticed, by introducing a stark new style it risked alienating their traditional fanbase with no warning.

The guitars are largely out, and pianos have come in; Alex Turner is no longer mouthing off about High Green, but crooning about gentrification on the moon. Compare it to Whatever People Say I Am…, and it’s not unreasonable to think these could be separate bands entirely. 

So do fans think that it’s a way of protecting the album as a collective piece, or was a move to sell records without having to show this alienating change of sound?

We went out to ask some people whether they’d be willing to pay for an album just on the artist’s reputation alone.

Just as we found, the reaction from Arctic Monkeys fans on social media has been split.
There was a consistency that they’re decision not to release any singles was a fear of a backlash, and by saving it to the release they already had album and ticket sales in the bank.
Some fans of their earlier, more frenetic material thought the focus on lyricism and piano playing proved lacklustre.

Although there is some balance and some, including Radio 1 DJ Greg James, think that Tranquility Base showcases the strength of the band’s evolution.

Once the hype and disappointment fades, the album will probably fall somewhere between grand and gaudy.
Tranquility Base is almost infuriatingly dense. The album’s first real hook to grab onto doesn’t come until the sixth track, Four out of Five.
It requires attention unlike other Arctic Monkeys records, but Alex Turner is still the same writer. He’s still funny and clever, willing to turn a phrase from nowhere, but they’re now hidden in long, winding soliloquies.
For those who want festival anthems, this album is undoubtedly be a disappointment.
But it’s wrong to suggest this is Turner starting to coast, in many ways this is the most complicated album the band have released since Humbug.
Whether this controversial change of tact will affect their popularity in the long term remains to be seen.
But one thing is for sure; Arctic Monkeys’ silence has got everybody talking.

Body found in search for Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchison

Police Scotland have said they have found a body in the search for Scottish musician Scott Hutchison.

Hutchison, 36, went missing in on Wednesday in South Queensferry, near Edinburgh. Police said they had found a body on Thursday night at Port Edgar, and that his family had been informed, although it is yet to be formally identified.

His band, Frightened Rabbit, had been scheduled to play in London at Robert Smith’s Meltdown festival next month.

The frontman had taken to Twitter shortly before he was reported missing. “Be so good to everyone you love. It’s not a given.” He posted, before continuing, “I’m away now. Thanks.”

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Throughout his career he had been vocal about his struggles with depression. In what has been his final interview with Noisey he discussed suicide and especially the song Floating in the Forth, (which includes the line; “Am I ready to leap, is there peace beneath, the roar of the Forth Road Bridge?”). He said he found the song difficult to relearn for a recent anniversary tour of 2008’s The Midnight Organ Fight but said “It’s heartening to know that I’ve been through that, and I’m stood there performing that song, alive and feeling good about it.”

Frightened Rabbit, which also featured Scott’s brother Grant on drums, are regarded as one of Scotland’s most influential indie bands, with a 15-year long career.

Hutchison’s frank and open lyricism had formed a loyal, connected fanbase. In one past interview he said he had heard from a fan who said “Floating In The Forth had helped her recovery in the aftermath of her failed suicide attempt” and a couple “who had one of my lyrics engraved inside their wedding rings.” He said “these are the things that make this worth it.”

Some one also posted a letter that he wrote to a fan who had been struggling with depression.

As Frightened Rabbit expanded to a five-piece, they also worked with The National’s Aaron Dessner on 2016’s Painting of a Panic Attack. The album became the second of their discography to make the UK Top 20.

This year Hutchison had also released work with Mastersystem, a supergroup with members of Editors and Minor Victories.

Scottish musician KT Tunstall wrote: “Much love to Scott Hutchison’s family, friends, bandmates in @FRabbits and fans. Very sad news.

“As a society, I hope we learn how to provide far more for those suffering mental health issues. Any one of us could need that support at any time”

Should Pride be a party or a protest?

Just weeks before the London Pride march, organisers of Sheffield Pride have come under fire after describing their event as a “march of celebration, not protest”.

In an email to participants, then widely circulated across social media, organisers said that banners and placards would have to be viewed by the Parade Manager prior to the event, and ‘offensive’ signs would not be allowed on the march. 

It’s the vague sentiment of ‘offensive’ followed by a note that the event is “a march of celebration not protest” that has angered many, who believe the event should continue from its inherently political roots.

Luke Renwick, the president of Sheffield Hallam Student Union, noted on social media the organisers had also banned political groups from joining the march – although this has now been removed from their website. 

Organisers initially defended their policy, with event manager Darren Hopkinson telling BBC Sheffield: “We understand there is a protest element but the main priority for our event is to celebrate”. 

Later, they released a statement saying that “we got it wrong”, and they were acting on “criticism we received after last years’ parade and event”.

But ahead of a summer of Pride events it has rekindled a debate about whether Pride has lost its purpose. 

Pride in London, the organisers of the event in the capital, have repeatedly fended off criticism of associations with big corporations. They argue that it’s a necessary measure to fund the event that has to pay increasing costs to the council and police. 

Last year, human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell wrote for The Guardian that “Pride has been dumbed down. For many people, it is now mostly a gigantic street party. Big corporations see it as a PR opportunity to fete LGBT consumers. The ideals of LGBT equality are barely visible.”

This attitude has led to a string of fringe events growing, most notably UK Black Pride, where politics and social change remains at the forefront. In February, Stonewall announced they’d be pulling out of London’s biggest event to instead divert their resources to UK Black Pride instead.

Despite the criticism, more than 25,000 people will attend London’s Pride march on July 7, and it remains the biggest event of its kind.

But questions remain about whether the LGBT+ community expect better from London – be it the Mayor’s office, Westminster Council or Pride in London – when hate crime has increased by 78% in the last five years (via Stonewall).


So you’ve got a new council, but what do they do now?

Whether your council has changed party or not, there’ll be new councillors across London today preparing to step into office for the first time. Here’s what powers they’ll have.

Bins, not Brussels

Despite the talk of national issues swinging the vote, Councillors have little say on the major issues and work independently of the MP elected in a General Election.

Those voted in on Thursday will be focused on the local issues in their city or borough, rather than policymaking.

What kind of councils are there, and what are their roles?

Not all councils are created equally, mostly down to the size of the area and population.

County councils have the most power, with the ability to make decisions about education, transport, planning, fire services and social care.

For Londoners (and similarly in other metropolitan areas), each borough elects a council who can make decisions on roads, social housing, waste collection, education and social services.

Uniquely for London, as the city also elect a London assembly some of the bigger decisions for the city, are decided through City Hall and by working with the Mayor, Sadiq Khan.

How is the council made up?

Each London council is divided into 21 wards, and there are three councillors elected for each one. The party with the largest share of seats and councillors will be able to appoint a leader, who oversee the process.

Who gets a mayor?

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Following the push for Scottish independence there has been a new focus on the devolution across the UK. This has lead to Mayors being appointed in larger regions for the first, such as South Yorkshire and Manchester. Dan Jarvis today won the first election in the region but, unlike Andy Burnham in Manchester and Khan in London, he will be able to carry on as a Member of Parliament.

In London there are also Mayors for four boroughs (Hackney, Lewisham, Newham and Tower Hamlets). This is instead of picking a council leader from the largest party in the council.

An elected mayor has more individual responsibility and are able to appoint a cross-party cabinet. While only four out of 32 boroughs opt for elected mayors, supporters of the system believe that it makes the council more accountable.

How much do councillors get paid?

As it’s not a full-time role, most councillors do not get a salary, but are offered compensation for their time and any expenses. The costs of each councillors vary, some will claim a couple of thousand of pounds, while others have been compensated over £20,000 according to the BBC.

You can find more specific details about London councillors on their government website.  

Council Elections 2018: What we know

Despite major scandals including anti-semitism, the Grenfell fire and Windrush, the status quo appears to have  prevailed in the local council elections.

Watch live news updates here.

Here’s a rundown of how everything stands at lunch time on Friday.

Who are the winners and losers?

The Conservative will be breathing a sigh of relief, rather than celebrating but they’ll be able to spin this as an endorsement of Theresa May’s leadership. They lost Trafford but won back Barnet.

It’s Barnet that proves to be a worrying moment for Labour. They were only one seat shy of overall control, but the Conservative gained enough seats to take control and with an early report of a 70% turnout it looks as if though Labour’s internal anti-semitism row damaged their chances.

Labour won seats and lost control of one council, so a mixed return. Jeremy Corbyn is already spinning this as a night that proves his party has more stable support than predicted after a couple of scandals and they are “ready for a general election whenever it comes”.

Jess Phillips, the MP for Birmingham Yardley who has been a notable critic of Jeremy Corbyn, wasted no time turning to Twitter to declare the night a “failure”.

UKIP are undoubtedly the party that comes out of the election with the biggest problems. They’ve lost 96 council seats so far and on the back of poor results in last year’s General Election and it could spell a return to the fringes.

If there are any winners on the night, then it will be the Liberal Democrats. Whether it’s disillusionment with Labour and the Tories or a symbolic vote in regards to Brexit, they’ve managed to gain 40 councillors, including taking control of Richmond-upon-Thames from the Conservatives.

If the Conservatives lost seats, why is this seen as a good night for them?

They may have feared a Labour surge in the same way as happened during the General Election, but it failed to materialise.

While the results of the council elections won’t affect many of the national issues, there’s no doubt of Theresa May’s supporters seeing this as confirmation that the country still backs her.

What’s the picture in London?

The only councils to change hands in London are Richmond-upon-Thames and Barnet, both that seem in response to the national issues.

Richmond saw a huge swing to give control to the Lib Dems, potentially in response to their pro-European stance. The Conservatives lost 27 seats, Labour lost two, while the Lib Dems took 25 to take control, and the Green picked up four.


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London as it currently stands (Source:

Labour lost five seats in Barnet – one of their key targets – to hand Conservatives overall control. Campaigners claim that the anti-semitism row has plagued the party.

Elsewhere, Labour did see a swing in the city and made small gains but in Wandsworth and Kensington and Chelsea, key areas they targeted aggressively, they will consider the night a failure.

What are the commentators saying?

Owen Jones, who has been around the country campaigning for Labour, is adamant that this is was not the bad night the media is portraying for the party. Instead the party had just overpromised ahead of the vote, while the Tories’ low expectations meant they can easily claim a victory.

That sentiment was echoed by Matt Zarb-Cousin, Corbyn’s former spokesman

The Evening Standard say that Labour has been “humbled”

Dan Hodges of the Mail on Sunday took a less subtle approach

Deleting Facebook won’t work. Is it time to accept the price of free services?

In the wake of news emerging about Facebook allowing third parties to harvest data from the platform, a movement of people deleting their accounts is growing. #DeleteFacebook has gained traction across other social media platforms, in large part thanks to high profile users such as Steve Wozniak, Elon Musk and even Cher closing their accounts.  

And while these acts of protests have continued to bring bad press, but it’s unlikely it will cause any lasting damage to the company – even Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower on Cambridge Analytica’s data, has said that a boycott won’t be the answer.

And with Facebook reaching a valuation of over $500billion last year but user growth slowing, should it be surprising that from a money-making point of view at least – users have become the product?

As Sam Wolfson wrote for Vice last year, Facebook’s embrace of ads and brands led to those in charge almost losing sight of what Facebook’s actual purpose was. “The problem with the new Facebook is that there is simply not enough meaningful content being generated by users to fill the gap left by brands and publishers,” he wrote; “Most of us stopped handing over our real selves to Facebook a while ago, and let publishers take over.”

That’s reflected with user statistics. The Information found that in 2016 there was a 21% drop-off in user posts, and when speaking to people who have decided to abandon Facebook, that lack of real communication with other people keeps coming up.

With more than a billion active users, the company won’t be worried about a sudden exodus, but it does suggest people are falling out of love with Facebook. That’s what WNOL found when we asked users if the recent news had affected their usage.

For a couple of people they had become disillusioned with social media in general, and would rather communicate directly rather than through networks that are often more “insincere.”

While for others, the recent news proved to be a wake-up call. David, a content marketer, said that checking Facebook had just “become a habit”, and “the exceptionally lax data policies were a nice wake up to reassess what it actually provides. Which for me isn’t a whole lot.”

It goes beyond just Facebook. Google, for example, offers a range of tools including free cloud storage, and an office suite that for many can replace expensive alternatives. In return though, Google are able track your purchases, internet history and location all tied to your account.

A Twitter thread from Dylan Curran, an online privacy consultant, details just how much apps are able to track on its users if they are given permission.

Google want all this info so they can put it all together to create targeted ads which are more accurate for each user. As they are personalised, they’re more likely to be successful, so advertisers are willing to pay more for.

Here’s how to find out just how much data Facebook, Google and Twitter have stored on you;

With user experience catering more for advertisers than actual users, WNOL tried to gauge a response from users to see whether recent news has made them reconsider their relationship with the internet’s giants – or whether their data is a fair price to pay for free services.

Overall we found that there was an acceptance that this is how companies fund the service, even if it was with some reluctance. Matt, a 21-year old retail worker, told me that he felt “uncomfortable” with the revelations, but added that it doesn’t change that it’s “still necessary to use Google and Facebook,” adding that he thinks “they need to be more open about the data and how they’re collecting it.”

While there was also some apathy to the news, Minnie, a student, told me “I’m not bothered about it, I didn’t even know it was happening” and suggested that as long it hasn’t affected her, it’s not worth much concern. Gabriel echoed the view, saying that “when you sign up you should accept that you don’t have control over that data and you should be responsible with what you share.”

Both from the reaction to users we spoke with, and a general consensus from commentators, is that we know that these companies are collecting information but clueless to what that data actually is, and how it has been collected.

And with Mark Zuckerberg being called to speak before congress in the US, with other Facebook executives ordered to speak in front of the UK parliament, it seems likely there will be some legislative measures to move towards greater transparency.

But in the long term Facebook remains the largest social networking site by hundreds of millions of users and Facebook Inc., has acquired more than 50 companies, ranging from Whatsapp and Instagram, to virtual reality giants Oculus.

That means any hint of Zuckerberg’s empire collapsing have been greatly exaggerated. He may be embarrassed by the past month, but he remains largely unscathed. And he’ll Like that.

Why have this year’s festival lineups caused so much controversy?

In winter months festival announcements serve as a glimmer of summer, that a weekend watching bands in the sun may not be too far away. But this year’s announcements have been met with an intense level of scrutiny over genre, gender and headliner deja vu. Here are the key questions the big festivals have thrown up.

While we’re focusing on the biggest festivals, to understand whether there’s a split between different markets, the festivals we’re looking at are; All Points East, Latitude, Reading and Leeds, TRNSMT, Lovebox, Wireless, British Summer Time, Bestival, and Parklife.

Where are the women?

The biggest talking point recently when it comes to festival season is that there’s not enough female representation on line-ups. While 60% of festival goers being women, if any of those want to see female representation on stage they may need struggle. 

There are promising signs for the future, as the newest festival on our list, All Points East (APE), offers three headlining artists featuring female performers – with headliners LCD Soundsystem, The XX and Bjork.

Bestival is typically strong as well with representation, with London Grammar and M.I.A announced to top the bill in Dorset. The festival’s booker, Rob Da Bank, told the BBC that this was an important part of organising the festival, “”We counted it up two weeks ago and almost a quarter of our acts are female – which I know is nowhere near the 50 [per cent] it should be but it’s more than a lot of other festivals.”

However it is a typically dismal affair from the traditional big festivals however. Reading and Leeds will have no female representation despite having four headliners, and TRNSMT – the replacement for T in the Park – have announced six different headliners but without a single female featuring amongst, and only five acts featuring women have been confirmed to play at the festival at all so far.

From the data available, the nine festivals we’re primarily looking at, there are 31 headline slots with just seven acts featuring women involved. If you want to narrow it down to all-female acts, that goes down to just three.

The discussion gained traction after famous stars such as Lily Allen shared a poster of Wireless’ line-up without men.

Here are edits we made to show the contrast for some of the most controversial line-ups. (the bottom of the Parklike poster features collectives that are yet to announce their DJs, so could still be all-male).







What’s being done for the future?

Festival organisers have been aware of the criticism, 45 festivals around the world to commit to booking a 50/50 split of male and female artists by 2022. In the UK none of the larger festivals have signed up (most likely because it’s impractical to promise anything with hundreds of slots to fill), but if attitudes begin to change you’d suspect they’d follow in time.

The UK festivals that have pledged for equal representation include; Liverpool Sound City, The Great Escape, Kendal Calling and Bluedot. The full list can be found here.

Is indie/rock in decline?

Across the traditional indie and rock festivals, or festivals that cater to a similar audience (Reading/Leeds, TRNSMT, Latitude, APE and Bestival), there does seem to be a move away from traditional guitar bands.

There’s no foolproof definition of genres, but apart from TRNSMT, there’s definitely an embrace of pop music. Reading and Leeds will argue that Panic! At The Disco and Fall Out Boy both constitute being traditional headliners for the festival, but alongside Kendrick Lamar (both genre and popularity-wise) it seems a world away from popular recent headliners Arctic Monkeys, Foo Fighters and Metallica.

If anything, The Killers and Alt-J, who are headlining Latitude – also organised by Festival Republic – seem like a more natural fit for R&L, even if both bands are past their commercial peak.

Bestival has always flirted with indie, but aside from London Grammar’s headline slot it seems Rob Da Bank has gone for more alternative names such as Grace Jones, rather than typically huge ones.

Meanwhile the new festival All Points East goes for a more traditional indie line-up with LCD Soundsystem, The XX and Bjork, posturing itself to fans of 00’s indie, but refusing to go down the rock route – possibly a sign that there’s just not the interest to start a major festival for that audience in 2018.

If you are keen for guitar music, there has been a steady rise in popularity of smaller festivals which indie-rock heavy line-ups. Kendal Calling, Truck Festival and Victorious all feature similar headliners for fans already nostalgic for 00’s indie.

Where are the new headliners?

One criticism of major festivals is a reluctance to bring new artists through and give them headline slots. This year this has improved, though, out of the 31 headline slots in our research, 14 are filled with acts who had not topped a major festival bill before this year (some acts, such as Liam Gallagher have been counted twice, for both TRNSMT and Parklife appearances as this will be his first year as a headliner).

In 2017, the comparable number was 12 new acts making their way to headline status (with Glastonbury replacing All Points East in the comparison).

Is this increase a good sign or should we approach with caution?

One thing this doesn’t account for is the size of the acts coming through. For example, The 1975 headlined Latitude in 2017 and seem on course to use that as a step to bigger slots at Reading and Glastonbury, while Solange takes up the same slot at Latitude this year, but it’s likely to be one of her only major festival slots.

So it is encouraging that fewer bands are on festival rotation every year, but it’s unlikely the majority of them will become stadium-sized acts that headline Glastonbury, for example.

Who keeps headlining festivals?

Festivals have largely dug themselves into a hole when it comes to festival headliners. By relying on the same handful of stadium-sized acts, booking anyone smaller seems like a risk so they often have to return.

Here are the acts that have dominated the top of the bill at the UK’s three biggest festivals, Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds and T in the Park (until 2016). 

They all also suffered from the same trends, here shows that out of the last 15 years of these festivals, all three were dominated by the same acts. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, every member of each band is a white man.

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Always Ascending: Franz Ferdinand return as a band reborn

While to outsiders Franz Ferdinand may be inextricably connected to the UK’s decade of post-punk revivalism, Alex Kapranos is still fighting against the notion; “I was part of the underground for a long time in Glasgow, where I was working myself to death for absolutely no reward.”

While many of the other bands associated with the 00’s were plucky young bands who got a guitar after hearing Is This It for the first time, the frontman is keen to stress his was not an overnight success story; “Franz started in my third decade of making music, so I don’t see us as being associated in my head with a decade.” And unlike many of his peers, who were became burned out; “We didn’t just make one record and stop – it’s a continued piece of work.”

That’s what makes Always Ascending such a pointed name for their fifth album. It seems unlikely the latest singles with match the success of Take Me Out or Do You Wanna, but that doesn’t discourage Kapranos. If anything, that chance to try new avenues is more exciting than that anyway.

“While you can tell this new record is Franz Ferdinand, it also sounds massively different from our second, third or fourth records.” He takes a pause; “Maybe that’s the secret. You’ve got to be unashamed of who you are, but equally unafraid of going somewhere completely new and embracing it.”

During our conversation that sense of enjoyment during the recording process keeps returning. After I ask whether he actively thinks about the reaction to this new sound while writing and recording the album, he tells me that from him writing “is actually a very selfish thing in a way, you’re writing to give yourself a buzz and that feels really great.”

He does concede, however, that in the past he was preoccupied with looking at album reviews once the record was out in the world. This time, however he tells me he’s been “psychologically very strong” and has avoided reading any reviews. He laughs and says that it’s got to the stage where he’ll interrupt friends who ask about reviews.

True to his word, he does the same to me once I say he’d probably be very happy with the reception. “The thing is, I felt good making the record. I put everything in to it, and we came up with something pretty original.” He already sounds nostalgic about the album, despite it being released just four days before we speak, “My memories of the record are really, really good and just having a good social time to laugh with my pals and that’s how I want to remember it, not through the filter of somebody else’s reaction.”

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Given the five-year gap between albums, it feels pre-emptive to start discussing album number six but there is a palpable lift around the band – from everyone in the press, to fans, to the band themselves. Will we have to wait until 2023 before we speak again about a new album? “I hope not,” Kapranos laughs, “the band feels really great at the moment. I love being back, I’m literally counting down the hours because I’m desperate to get on stage.”