Where Do Arctic Monkeys Fit Into Britain's Many Regional Scenes?
For geography-impaired Americans, being able to differentiate between this British city and that British borough is always a dicey proposition — especially if one of them isn't London. I mean, there's just so much de-industrialization everywhere. And curry shops. Makes it hard to know your Leeds from your Leicester.
The fact is, most of us can't make a reliable distinction until after the British city in question has launched a world-famous music scene. Liverpool is the Beatles city. Manchester is where Liam learned to hit Noel with a tambourine. And so on.
By Liverpudlian standards, the city of Sheffield doesn't really register on Americans' municipal radar, but it might someday. Known to rock fans as the ancestral home of Def Leppard and Joe Cocker, Sheffield — a once-mighty steel producer anchored in northern England's Yorkshire region — has also become a regular post-punk-revival mecca, launching such acts as Arctic Monkeys (currently touring North America in support of their U.K. chart-topping Humbug disc) and Kaiser Chiefs (one of the best live bands on the planet).
That being said, here's a chance to brush up on your British music-based geography. Sans London. We all know about London.
Birmingham: Industrial origins aside, their Birmingham isn't much like our Birmingham. Firstly, the "Brummies" don't care much for church bombings. Secondly, they launched a ton of classic heavy metal acts, from Judas Priest to Black Sabbath to Magnum. They even chipped in a couple of the dudes from Led Zeppelin. For this reason, the West Midlands metropolis is sometimes called "the birthplace of heavy metal." It's also called England's Second City — but unlike our Second City, Birmingham hasn't given birth to a commercially significant act since the 1980s (Duran Duran, UB40).
Manchester: In the 1880s, this restless northwest borough exported textiles. In the 1980s, it shipped out some of rock music's richest, most iconoclastic art (Joy Division, The Smiths, Inspiral Carpets, Happy Mondays, Stone Roses) and the modern rave culture as we know it (later depicted in filmmaker Michael Winterbottom's riotous portrait of the "Madchester" era, 24 Hour Party People). And now? Well, soccer hooliganism is a regional passion, obviously, but the city is still waiting for its first 21st-century "movement."
Liverpool: When your first trick is the world's greatest rock band, a lackluster encore is pretty much a fait accompli. Which isn't to say that the post-Beatles output of this seaside mega-hamlet is anything to kick out of bed (Echo and the Bunnymen, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Atomic Kitten). It just doesn't come close to the prestige of the city's fabled "Merseybeat" era, which moved Allan Ginsberg to declare Liverpool "the center of consciousness of the human universe."
Leeds: Industry towns like Leeds don't typically spit dozens of chain-moving music acts — at least when the "industry" in question is government. Just look at Washington, D.C. Still, the largest city in Yorkshire has contributed some noteworthy bands over the years, including '80s degenerate-rock legends Soft Cell and current New Rave bad boys Hadouken! — who are playing Coachella this weekend.
Leiceister: Overshadowed by nearby Birmingham, this West Midlands city has yet to christen a true rock world-beater, but has ponied up some nice acts over the past decade, including the Brit Award-winning space rock quartet Kasabian ("Fire").
Sheffield: A fertile incubator for '80s New Wave acts (Human League, ABC, Heaven 17) and '90s electronica talent (Wasp Records), Sheffield has proved adaptable and discretely prolific as an urban music hub. The emergence of new-again post-punk acts like Arctic Monkeys and Kaiser Chiefs inspired one British wag to declare the dawn of a "New Yorkshire" musical movement. And people are buying it: The most recent SxSW music festival featured a "Yorkshire showcase" with One Night Only, Grammatics, Slow Club, The Crookes, and Middleman. Liverpool, Shmiverpool.
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