“It’s always better on holiday / that’s why we only work when we need the money”
It was a brief moment. Unspecified in time. It must have been sometime around 2005. The author remembers a small basement club in a bigger East German city. It was one of the rare ‘indie’ nights that occurred on a regular basis. Probably the only one in town. The DJs spinning records, CD’s more accurately. It was all the songs that mattered. Past, present and future. MAXIMO PARK and THE STROKES were mandatory, same goes for the good ol’ SMITHS. They might have been playing hot new stuff like ARCADE FIRE from Canada and some British dark wave rockers called EDITORS. There was about 10 to 20 people maximum on the small dancefloor. And although it was sticky and sweaty, you could clearly sense the spark in the eyes of each and every attendee, and the pure enjoyment of singing these songs. “Burn down the Disco” … a few weeks later the number of people on the dance floor increased, going up to 40 or 50. One year later getting into the club became harder when you didn’t show up early enough. Two years later, the KAISER CHIEFS sang Ruby, Ruby, Ruuuuby and the party moved on to the slick student clubs. Like said before, it was a brief moment. And FRANZ FERDINAND was one main reason for it.
These days the critically acclaimed self-titled debut of FRANZ FERDINAND celebrates its tenth anniversary. Being universally praised as one of the seminal records of the 2000s (we still got no proper name for that decade, have we?) it sold 3,6 Million copies, bringing the band a certain amount of fame. It’s identified as one of the ignition moments of the ‘indie movement.’ Of course, you can claim that there’ve been other bands before who enjoyed more mainstream, commercial success. Obviously the THE STROKES happened three years prior, as did their British colleagues THE LIBERTINES. Even an act like Canadian band HOT HOT HEAT (has anyone heard from them lately?) released records in the same vein. But FRANZ FERDINAND were different. They combined the rough garage rock spirit with a stiff-upper-lip attitude, catchy radio-friendly melodies and danceable beats with an on-point-production. And the band itself came with a great sense for fashion, style and visual aesthetics. Punk rockers straight from the art college – what’s there not to like?
“This fire is out of control / we’re gonna burn this city…”
FRANZ FERDINAND might not have been the first, but they were the first who effectively brought this recipe to a wider audience. Eleven tracks that literally won’t fuck with you. The gentle opening of Jacqueline soon turned into a wild monster after a few seconds in. Take Me Out is one of THE great rock classics of the 00’s, thanks to its pumping, almost-machine-like beat. All the five singles were big hits. The Dark of the Matineé’s melody is just too irresistible, same goes for the groove of This Fire that also comes with a chorus that instantly burned itself inside your head. Michael was aural wildfire and Darts of Pleasure as well. Including the famous German lines “Ich heiße Superfantastisch, ich trinke Schampus mit Lachsfisch” – always one of the highlights in this small basement club back then. Seriously, of all the languages they could have chosen – German? Too arty and awesome.
It’s the compact character of the FRANZ FERDINAND debut that made it work. Eleven songs, hardly forty minutes, four guys and basic instrumentation. Rock’n’Roll in its purest form, on point. To understand what followed this initial crossover success, you have to understand the time when it happened and the demand that created it, starting with bands like THE VINES, THE HIVES or THE WHITE STRIPES. The charts were dominated by bubblegum-pop, hip-hop and R&B. FRANZ FERDINAND was part of the counter movement. Rock music didn’t really come up with an effective idea after the decline of grunge. Nu Metal on the American side was … well, debatably good. By the time LIMP BIZKIT hit their peak, the whole idea went pop. Same goes for Britpop after its high times in the mid 90s. The once so fresh alternative became a big and clumsy monster. OASIS‘ egos and cocaine orders were bigger than there ideas, BLUR already parted ways more or less. And nothing against the tender counter-movement of COLDPLAY, TRAVIS and Co. – but you could hardly call that rock music.
“Words of love and words so leisured / Words are poisoned darts of pleasure”
While the garage rock movement was already in full swing FRANZ FERDINAND managed to do something their predecessors weren’t really capable of. They brought style, intelligence and a certain amount of pop elegance into the equation. A bit like the Britpop heroes of the 90s did before. And something that was already en vogue in the 80s. THE SMITHS – out of the sudden – became the new holy gods again, resulting also partly in MORRISSEY‘s triumphant comeback from 2004. Everything exploded from 2004 through 2007. Following FRANZ FERDINAND in their sharp suits came other heroes that managed to take the idea on different levels. Some brought humour into the idea (KAISER CHIEFS, ART BRUT); others took a sophisticated turn (MAXIMO PARK) while some got political (BLOC PARTY). And while some still kept the street spirit in the beginning (ARCTIC MONKEYS), others already head into a more glamour-based direction (THE KILLERS). It was a colourful range of artists, the spirit of innovation and a new concept was in the air. Just in time for the decline of the old music industry. Who doesn’t remember the ARCTIC MONKEYS making the best selling debut in British history in 2006 after being discovered via MySpace. Yes, THAT MySpace…
As stated previously, it was a brief moment in time. That basement party series could easily work as a metaphor for the bigger picture. As always – once something worked – the industry flooded the market with tons of new bands. Soon they got tired of just using drums, guitars and bass and the keyboard found its way back into the genre. And so did pop. In the end the dividing lines vanished. Indie, once just a short form for ‘independent’ and a certain spirit for musical distribution, became a brand. A brand soon pretty much everybody used to explain their bands. Indie-folk, Indie-pop, Indie-tronic – what once was a serious alternative became a mainstream marketing machine. It means we’re celebrating that anniversary with a certain amount of disillusion. We might tend to forget that the next FRANZ FERDINAND might be out there. Somewhere in the underground. It’s sill existing, far ways from the major label funded bands that are sold to you as ‘cool indie rock’. The old recipe might be gone for good, along with a lot of these bands, but history will repeat itself. Maybe not with guitars, maybe with another spirit. But whenever there’s something that needs to get burned down there’ll always be a spark and a fire. We sincerely hope you’ll be at the right spot when it’s happening.