CANADIAN BAND PROFILE: ARCADE FIRE
One of Canada’s true alternative music success stories, Arcade Fire have become something of a global phenomenon in the decade following the launch of their debut record, Funeral. The success didn’t come overnight, though, with the band taking a prototypical shape in 2001, and having roots that go far deeper, and can be traced back to the Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.
It was there that Win Butler first met Josh Deu, with the pair growing closer after graduation, and ultimately ending up in Montreal at the same time, with Due studying at Concordia and Butler at McGill. The pair would work together and alone on various music related projects before deciding to collaborate full time, resulting in the birth of the earliest form of Arcade Fire. The two quickly became three when music student Régine Chassagne, who would later marry Butler, joined and the band began recording its earliest material while playing the Montreal circuit with further additions Tim Kyle, Myles Broscoe, Dane Mills and Brendan Reed.
That lineup didn’t last for too long, however, and following the recording sessions for the band’s debut EP, the self- titled Arcade Fire, Broscoe and Butler’s differences proved to be irreconcilable, with the former leaving the band to be replaced by Richard Reed Parry. The upheaval continued, with founding member Deu leaving to focus on his studies, before an onstage bust- up between Butler and Reed in 2003 at a show celebrating the launch of the Arcade Fire EP, which also resulted in the immediate resignation of Mills, almost brought a premature end to the band. Fate had other plans for Arcade Fire, though, and the remaining members supplemented their now threadbare lineup with the additions of Wim’s brother William and Tim Kingsbury, ensuring that the promotional activities for the EP could continue ( relatively) uninterrupted. That proved to be the catalyst for the band’s future success, with those live performances catching the eye of Merge Records and landing them a record deal. From that point onwards, the band never looked back. Arcade Fire’s first full- length recording, Funeral, launched across Canada in September 2014, before hitting the UK in early 2005, making a huge impression on dedicated followers of the indie scene in both countries. As a debut, Funeral was flawless. It introduced fans to the unique sound of the band and delivered some of their most enduring tracks to date. Overseas, Arcade Fire became staples at major music festivals, with one performance, which I was fortunate enough to catch at Electric Picnic in Ireland, earning the kind of rave reviews normally reserved only for the upper echelon of musical royalty. From such disjointed beginnings, everything had fallen into place perfectly for the band, and it surfed a wave of the perfect mix of indie cool and musical accomplishment, quickly making them the darlings of the scene across the world. The band’s second album, Neon Bible, suffered the all- too- common fate of being leaked online well ahead of its scheduled release date of March 2007, something made painfully ironic by Butler’s comments early in the band’s career that he didn’t see the proliferation of illegal MP3 sharing as damaging for the industry, instead claiming that it was simply a way to sort the wheat from the chaff before
making a purchase. The leak didn’t hurt the album’s fortunes, though, and it went on the claim the number 1 spot domestically, as well as number 2 in both the Billboard Top 200 and UK Top 40 Album charts. Q Magazine in the UK even went so far as to call the band “the most exciting act on earth” on the back of Neon Bible. In total, Arcade Fire performed a gruelling 122 shows in 19 countries on the album’s promotional tour, selling out more often than not, and a live DVD, Miroir Noir, was released in 2009, weeks after the band were invited to the to perform for the President of the United States at the Obama Campaign Staff Ball. The band’s third album, The Suburbs, launched in August 2010, and while not a great departure for the band sonically, it was nevertheless deservedly well received by the music press earning multiple album of the year awards, with many more top 10 placings - not bad for the notoriously difficult third album. One thing The Suburbs did do for the band, however, was show a new found maturity and comfort in their sound, something that’ll have surprised some listeners, while singles like Ready to Start and We Used to Wait quickly became staples on alternative and mainstream radio alike. The band’s most recent offering, Reflektor, launched in 2013, signalled a markedly different sound in places, with the album’s title track, and it’s follow- up Afterlife, showcasing a far more electronic and dance floor- friendly sounding Arcade Fire anything before them - perhaps due to the fact that James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem fame served as the record’s co- producer. Despite being a huge success for the band, Reflektor didn’t convince everyone, with some of the opinion that it was perhaps a step too far towards the self indulgent for the band. For my money, it’s easily their best piece of work to date, but it’s easy to see why some found it not to their liking given the band’s past efforts. Now cemented as one of the biggest names in global alternative music, Reflektor made it clear that Arcade Fire is an act with a lot still in the tank, and if they can continue to grow and mature their sound as they have been, taking time between albums to take stock of their direction, there’s no reason why we can’t look forward to several more decades of material from one of the most eclectic, energetic and unique acts the Canadian music scene has produced in years.