Although the young members of British band Bloc Party grew up in a world of Oasis and Blur Brit-pop, their mix of angular post-rock and new-wave pop was more akin to the likes of obscure 1970s frantic experimental rock groups like Gang of Four and Wire. Even though Rolling Stone's Jolie Lash called Bloc Party "London's favorite post-punk revivalists," from the start the multi-racial band set out to create diverse music that evolved beyond any genre tag. "I really want to propose that Bloc Party is a post-modern band," lead singer Kele Okereke told Pitchfork Media's Jamin Warren. "We're not afraid to take from anywhere. There's too much rock that relies on fetishism or nostalgia for the old ways. That's a real enemy to music. It needs to be constantly looking forward." The band's debut album sold over one million copies and topped the UK charts.
Frontman and guitarist Kele Okereke was born in Nigeria but grew up in East London, England. When Okereke met fellow music fan and guitarist Russell Lissack at a music festival, they bonded over their mutual musical influences and decided to form a band. The pair found bassist Gordon Moakes through the classifieds and went through a number of drummers when officially forming around 1998, at the time calling themselves Union. In 2003 the band put out a demo and changed their name from Union to Bloc Party. After going through some eight drummers, the newly-named rock band finally landed with drummer Matt Tong.
In an interview with Greg Kot in the Chicago Tribune, Okereke explained the band's new musical ethos. Describing the mellow and moody British music scene around 2003, Bloc Party wanted to do something different, something that actually got people to dance and think. "These acoustic-rock bands like Travis and Turin Brakes were basically rehashing Radiohead's OK Computer template, watering it down," Okereke said. "It was almost a dare to make something dramatic, rousing and moving to counteract that."
Bloc Party's demo got into the hands of the Scottish band Franz Ferdinand, who invited the new band to play Domino Recording Company's tenth anniversary party in the fall of 2003. At the start of the following year, Bloc Party released a small handful of singles, including "She's Hearing Voices," on Trash Aesthetics. The band's music spread via internet blogs and music websites, and the band was soon signed to independent labels Dim Mak Records in the United States and Wichita in the United Kingdom. In the summer of 2004 Dim Mak released Bloc Party's self-titled EP (which included some of their previously released singles), which quickly caught worldwide attention. Waiting for the "Next Franz Ferdinand," many fans and critics thought Bloc Party was just that band; although U.S. radio never showed as much interest as did stations abroad.
Tired with the guitar bands dominating the radio, Okereke was inspired to do more instrumentally and be more creative with the production of their full-length debut album. "I still think the sonic potential of the guitar is unlimited," Okereke told Kot. "Most guitarists are completely obsessed with filling their space with sound, and they overplay. We're into giving each other space. At the same time, we hate that neat, orderly approach of one guy strumming along while the other guy plays a lead." Silent Alarm was released in early 2005 to critical acclaim. While some fans expected the same jittery danceable rock that other bands were capitalizing on, Bloc Party offered up a more subtle and chic approach. "The group created a frantic, futuristic sound of its own," Brian Hiatt wrote in Rolling Stone of the million-selling album. The well-known British music magazine NME named the debut their Album of the Year, and the record stayed on the UK album charts for 69 weeks. The album's success prompted the release of Silent Alarm Remixed later in the year. The record included songs from Silent Alarm, remixed by artists such as Ladytron, M83 and Death from Above 1979.
With the success of Silent Alarm and the even larger success of danceable and new-wave inspired music by the likes of Franz Ferdinand of The Killers, Bloc Party was more than ready to make their sophomore album into something completely different. Okereke told Lash just before they began recording, "We want to get more texture into what we do, and not have it just like a rock record." By May of 2006 the band was recording with famed rock producer Jacknife Lee. Tracks were laid down at Grouse Lodge Recording Studios in the countryside of Ireland, a far cry from the noise and hustle of London. "There's a lot of urgency on that first record, in the intensity of the way we're playing, the way I'm singing," Okereke explained to Rolling Stone's Brian Orloff. "Everything's quite furious-sounding, and a lot of that was due to being twenty and having lots of questions, lots of energy and not really knowing how to focus it. Now I'm at a very different stage with my life. There's still aggression, I guess, and intensity—but it's a very different kind."
Bloc Party's new focus came to fruition in 2007 when Vice Records, via major label Atlantic, released A Weekend in the City. The album entered at number two on the UK charts and number 12 on the Billboard 200, with 48,000 copies sold in its first week. Similar to Silent Alarm, the new record contained a handful of songs with understated political tones. "I wanted to capture the feeling of a city with lots of different stories, with everyone walking around and trapped in their own concerns," Okereke explained to Spin's Kyle Anderson about the theme for their second album. "We wanted to try to capture this idea of a living, breathing city, and not have it be clouded by one person's view."
For the Record …
Members include: Russell Lissack, guitar; Gordon Moakes, bass, vocals; Kele Okereke, lead vocals, guitar; Matt Tong, drums.
Group formed in London, England, c. 2003; released Bloc Party, Wichita/Dim Mak, 2004; released debut full length Silent Alarm, Vice Records, 2005; Silent Alarm Remixed, Vice, 2005; A Weekend in the City, Vice/Atlantic, 2007.
Addresses: Record company-Atlantic Records, 3400 West Olive Ave., Burbank, CA 91505; Vice Records, 97 N. 10th St., Ste. 202, Brooklyn, NY 11211. Website-Bloc Party Official Website: http://www.blocparty.com.
"It wasn't too much of a vision," Okereke explained to The Star's Ben Rayner, of the fresh electronically enhanced songs. "It was just important to me that the songs, that the album, felt cohesive, that the album had a start, a middle and an end—that thematically the whole thing tied in." Anderson noted that A Weekend in the City was "a dark, widescreen epic that relies less on fidgety punk funk than on Okereke's precise, anguished storytelling—more 1984 than Gang of Four."
Just after the release of their sophomore disc, Bloc Party was already forming ideas for their next album. As their ages and tastes change, each new album appears to reflect where Bloc Party is—and is going. "For the third record it'll be an even further push in a different direction," Okereke explained Entertainment Weekly. "We really enjoy the challenge of pushing ourselves into places we shouldn't be going, and that isn't going to stop."
Bloc Party, Dim Mak/Wichita, 2004.
Silent Alarm, Vice Records, 2005.
Silent Alarm Remixed, Vice Records, 2005.
A Weekend in the City, Vice/Atlantic, 2007.
Chicago Tribune, March 25, 2005.
The Star, March 22, 2007.
"Bloc Party Get Experimental," Rolling Stone,http://www.rollingstone.com/news/story/9368362/bloc_party_get_experimental (August 5, 2007).
Bloc Party Official Website, http://www.blocparty.com (August 5, 2007).
"Interview: Bloc Party," Pitchfork Media,http://www.pitchforkmedia.com/article/feature/31329-interview-bloc-party (August 5, 2007).
"New Bloc Party All Grown-Up," Rolling Stone,http://www.rollingstone.com/news/story/10278207/new_bloc_party_all_grownup (August 5, 2007).
"Party On," Entertainment Weekly,http://www.ew.com/article/0,,20012484,00.html (August 5, 2007).
"The Second Coming: Bloc Party," Spin,http://www.spin.com/features/magazine/2007/01/0702_blocparty (August 5, 2007).
V2 Official Website, http://gb.v2music.com/site/actbio.asp?ID=101 (August 5, 2007).