Arctic Monkeys have an air of calmness around them. If you look into the eyes of frontman Alex Turner, it’s like looking into an ocean of tranquility. Not relaxed, necessarily, just unagitated. It seems to define how the band has been conducting its career for almost 20 years now, releasing seven studio albums, averaging at about one every three years, in times when some managers, labels and marketers, driven by streaming economics, encourage clients to release constantly. None of their work sounds even remotely alike, which only a few bands can pull off without losing old fans. And they don’t overplay markets when touring the world, fully aware that more – a lot more – tickets could be sold. You can do all of the above when you know you’re just that good. From their songwriting to their live performance, it is all delivered with a complete sense of a steadfast identity.
Arctic Monkey’s impressive rise to global stardom has many facets and milestone moments to it, but manager Ian McAndrew, CEO of Wildlife Entertainment, boils it down to three. He first saw them perform at a small pub in Sheffield, England, supporting the night’s headliner, Tom Vek. They had built a real hype in the north of England by that point, it must have been around 2004. “They obviously showed promise. I remember, after that first concert, recommending that we put the band in the studio to record some of these early songs they were performing live. And those early recordings became their first album,” McAndrew recalled.
Prior to releasing their seminal 2006 debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, however, they decided to put out demo versions of “Fake Tales of San Francisco” and “From the Ritz to the Rubble” on an AA-sided 7-inch dubbed Five Minutes With Arctic Monkeys.
McAndrew remembered, “We’d agreed to press 1,000 copies on vinyl. Next door to my office here in London is a small, independent record distributor. I asked them whether they would distribute them. We gave them 1,000 records on Monday; on Tuesday they came back to say, ‘They’re all sold out, we need 1,000 more.’ Of course, we didn’t have 1,000 more. But just a simple exercise like that made it very clear that there was this really fervent demand for the band and their music. It was obviously evidenced when you went to their shows, all over the country: there was a really passionate audience that knew the words to all the songs. It was the words as much as anything else that they became attached to, the words and sentiment of those songs, which fans could relate to.”
From there, “it accelerated very quickly,” he continued, “maybe within six months from that first concert, they were starting to sell tickets all over the place. It was quite a rapid ascent.” Pollstar’s first Boxoffice report for Arctic Monkeys is from an Oct. 14, 2005, show at the O2 ABC Glasgow in Scotland, selling all 1,200 tickets for a $17,394 gross. Their first North American concert report came in a month later: 556 tickets at the sold-out Lee’s Palace in Toronto, grossing $4,761. They released their debut album shortly after, followed by UK and U.S. runs. On March 15, 2006, they sold out 1,300 tickets at The Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles, for a $19,500 gross. That same month, Arctic Monkeys played Metro/Smart Bar in Chicago; Spectrum De Montreal in Canada; 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C.; all 1,000-plus cap, all sold out. When they returned to Glasgow that following April, they had moved up to the 2,460-cap O2 Academy, and sold it out (2,460 tickets, $70,523 gross). Arctic Monkeys was doing similar numbers in Europe and Australia, and even the odd show in Japan, playing major festivals and simply becoming a worldwide phenomenon.
McAndrew remembers that era well. “You suddenly started getting interest and proposals from people all over the world wanting to invite the band to come to their country, their city, their town. It was great that the music not only meant something to all these young fans all over the UK, but it began to mean something important to people in other parts of the world. There was this intense energy around Arctic Monkeys; it was so palpable, you couldn’t deny it. Their first songs going to No. 1, ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor,’ ‘When the Sun Goes Down’ – it was almost improbable to think that something significant wouldn’t happen from that.”
The second wave of energy came in the form of 2013’s AM, Arctic Monkeys fifth, and to date most successful, album and particularly around the release of its second single, “Do I Wanna Know?.” “That song,” McAndrews recalled, “particularly in America, but all around the world, really caught on. It was one of those songs, which just seemed to be everywhere, on the radio, in the charts, it just became this growing thing. The album was very much propelled by that song and others, ‘R U Mine?’ ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?.’ That’s when radio in America very much got on board.”
In terms of live, Arctic Monkey’s North American success story was facilitated by WME agent Robby Fraser, who began working with the group in 2012, prior to the release of AM. He noticed “there was a pattern of rooms that they were playing and I wanted to break free of that pattern and try something different. I was trying to push them into the next-sized rooms without overexposing them. It was a mixture of 2,500- to 3,000-capacity venues and a couple of arenas in L.A. and New York. The ultimate goal was to turn this band into an arena band across the country, without taking steps they weren’t ready to take.” The North American AM campaign peaked in summer 2014, with a sold-out show at Staples Center (now Crypto.com Arena).
Matt Helders, Arctic Monkey founding member and drummer, recalled “I always remember playing a show in Boston or somewhere – not a big venue, a club. Our booking agent, Robby Fraser, was at the show, and I remember him saying that we were going to put Madison Square Garden on sale. We just thought it was crazy, because we were playing this little club. Obviously, these people are good at what they do, and can see where it’s gonna go, and [Robby] knew that this would work out. But we were like, there’s no way we can play Madison Square Garden next year. But we did, and once we started selling out big shows like that, even if it was still only in the big cities, it was a big moment for us. Things like that were tangible results.”
Helders was referring to the Sept. 17, 2013 show at Boston’s Paradise Rock Club, selling out 933 tickets for a $34,988 gross. The year after, on Feb. 8, 2014, Arctic Monkeys sold out the Garden (14,262 tickets; $634,775). One thing that stands out when going to the band’s box office history is the fact they don’t tend to overplay. “It’s about creating scarcity in the marketplace; it’s about making sure that each market is an event when they come to town,” Fraser explained, adding, “When you look at the touring we did off Tranquillity [Base Hotel & Casino, Arctic Monkey’s sixth album, released in 2018], it was significantly less than the AM record, a very short cycle. They toured the entire world in less than a year. Each territory got one short run, and that was it. Ian, right from the gate, told me that he wasn’t going to do a bunch of touring on this record. He wanted to save it for a much bigger run of dates with the following album, which is now The Car.”
“We’ve always had that attitude about [touring],” said Helders. “There’s so many things we could have done, and maybe sometimes should have done, but it’s a way to protect our enthusiasm. There certainly were times when I feel that maybe we’ve done too many dates. And by the end of it, you’re exhausted. You’ve got to try and keep enjoying it, so it can be the best version of the show. This is my personal opinion. The band, in general, likes how it has been done, underplaying a little bit in certain places. You could go to every state in America, every major city, and make a lot of money, and play to all these people, but it might not be the best version of us in that sense. A lot of people get burnt out doing this, and stop enjoying it.”
There are practical considerations as well, according to McAndrew, “We only have a certain amount of time and we’ve got to be selective about where we use that time. I’m always impressed by artists going on three-year world tours, and I recognize why they do that: the world’s a big place, and there’s lots of people to play to. With Arctic Monkeys, because we’ve been busy making music during this whole [20-year] period, we couldn’t go on tour three years at a time. You’ve got to limit your touring periods to usually 12 months or so, sometimes less. You can’t afford to spend 20 weeks in the market, you’re gonna have to make decisions about where you go, and, unfortunately, that will mean that you don’t get to go to certain places, you’ll have to delay visiting them until next time.”
Since August 2022, Arctic Monkeys have been touring the world again, releasing their seventh studio album, The Car, in October 2022, and playing their first fully-fledged UK stadium run through June 2023, which was “quite an overwhelming experience, but in a good way,” according to Helders. “It was obviously the biggest tour we’ve ever done. We’ve known about it for a long time, it was always looming around the corner. So, when it eventually came, it felt like a celebration. Because we’d been on tour a little bit already, we were in the flow of playing, and playing well. So, yeah, I had a lot of fun doing that.” And he added, “It definitely changes how you think about the show. Maybe not as much for me as an individual, in the back, playing drums; I have more time to look around and think about how big and crazy it is. But, as a band, I think we definitely thought about what the show would look and sound like in a place like that. We had to adapt a little bit. On paper, it may be hard to imagine us as a stadium band, but I suppose that’s where we are now.”
The final North American leg of “The Car Tour,” which will primarily hit arenas, and include multiples at Kia Forum (2), Forest Hills (2), and Red Rocks (2) kicks off this weekend (Aug. 25) with two nights at The Armory in Minneapolis. It will conclude with two nights at Mexico City’s massive, 65K-cap Foro Sol stadium Oct. 6-7. It doesn’t take a fortune teller to foresee that Arctic Monkeys will sell out both nights, just like last time they visited in 2019 (64,467 tickets, $3,427,273 gross). “Already, we’re at around 60,000 a night. To go in this time, and have a second night, and do that kind of businesses is just a terrific validation of the band at this time in their career,” says McAndrew, who was reminded of the third milestone moment in Arctic Monkeys’ career: “One thing that really [stands out], not just on our U.S. run, but across all the touring so far, is just how young the audience now is. We’ve got this new generation of Arctic Monkeys fans that have discovered the group, whether through older brothers, sisters, parents. They’ve found the band, they’re digging deep into their catalogue of music on all platforms and channels. And what’s amazed all of us the most, and that’s really been the big story as far as I’m concerned, about this whole tour, is recognizing that when the guys get on stage and look out there, there is this young, new audience that obviously wasn’t there in 2004, 2005, when I was first encountering the group. Those fans weren’t [even born] at the time those records were first released, and they have come along and discovered the group. That’s what’s really exciting and extraordinary: how the music has become generational and is being passed on. I am very aware that we’re going to be playing to fans in America that have never seen the group before. And that probably accounts for why we’ve sold the tickets that we have, and are playing in the rooms that we are.”
WME’s Fraser concurred from personal experience, “My two daughters both became Arctic Monkeys fans during the pandemic, they know every record by heart by now.” The agent recalled a clip of Miley Cyrus covering “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” during her 2014 “MTV Unplugged” episode, which went viral on TikTok. “I watched my own daughters discover the entire discography of the band, based on a couple of songs they heard on the internet.”
The upcoming North American dates mark a full circle moment if ever there was one. Said Fraser, “Ian was always very clear the next thing was to make them an arena band across the country. We wanted to take the 25 biggest markets, go into arenas, and plant that stake in the ground and say, ‘This is who we’re going to be from this point forward.’ No more customizing the size of the venues by market – it’s time now, this band is ready, the record is still growing, it’s time to solidify them as a bona fide arena act.” The tour got pushed back three times for reasons well-known. “But even as this plan was sitting in place, the band continued to grow,” he said. “We protected the run by adding seconds and thirds into cities. What happened with this tour wasn’t a surprise, but it was still a phenomenal event to watch it go on sale and see how quickly it sold. There’s so much more meat on the bone with this band, they could definitely play another 20 markets on each cycle. Right now, that’s not in the plan. We’ll wait for another time to keep going.”
Helders says the U.S. “always had a special place for us. I live here full-time now, but I still experience the novelty of America, and how varied it is, going across this country. … each day is completely different to the next, it’s a different atmosphere, different people. That part of it never gets old.” He added, “We can relax a bit more, and have a bit more fun with what we play and how we play it. Which is not to say that touring the UK is not fun, because that’s got its own special place for us, and always will. But we always felt like we snuck into America under the radar. Like we were just having fun, and all of a sudden became popular.”