In the late 1990s, the world of mainstream pop was dominated by teen-pop groups like the Backstreet Boys and N∗Sync, as well as hip-hop and R&B. Come the new millennium, however, rock and roll seemed to start kicking back, bolstered by the newfound success of bands like the White Stripes and the Strokes. Soon, rock was again a viable source of entertainment for mainstream music fans, and bands outfitted with guitars and drum sets started taking the crown back from groups with choreographed dance moves and songs intended for a pre-teen audience. One of the surprise successes of this era was a Scottish band of four well-dressed songsmiths known as Franz Ferdinand. Armed with razor-sharp hooks, danceable rhythms, and a flippant style and flair that hearkened back to the days of the Beatles, the boys stormed the world's airwaves with bombastic tracks like "Take Me Out" and "Darts of Pleasure" (from their self-titled debut), ushering in a slew of post-punk inspired groups destined to prove that, once and for all, rock was indeed not dead.
Though the trajectory of Franz Ferdinand into the public eye seemed to come out of nowhere, the members of the band—vocalist/guitarist Alex Kapranos, guitarist/vocalist Nick McCarthy, drummer Paul Thomson, and bassist Bob Hardy—paid their dues working odd jobs and playing in other Glaswegian bands, before some of them even met one another. Thomson was the drummer for art-rock combo Yummy Fur, who bore a slight resemblance to bands like the Fall and Wire. Headed by John McKeown, Yummy Fur started in 1992, and released numerous albums, including Night Club and Sexy World. Thomson joined in 1997, and appeared on the bands last three albums. After Sexy World was released, Kapranos, then going by the name Alex Huntley, joined the band on bass, later switching to guitar before the bands' demise. Before his appearance in Yummy Fur, Kapranos was a member of Scottish bands the Amphetameanies, Quinn, and The Karelia (a.k.a. The Blisters), and also contributed to the recordings of the band Urusei Yatsura. Though Kapranos' bands reached varied amounts of success in Glasgow, he really made a name for himself as a bartender at The 13th Note, and as a promoter at The Kazoo Club and the 99p Club. Booking the first gigs by Glaswegian bands like the Delgados and Mogwai, Kapranos was an integral part of the emerging Glasgow scene.
Following the breakup of Yummy Fur, the only future member of Franz Ferdinand to pursue any kind of musical success was Thomson, who formed the electro-punk band Pro Forma, singing and playing drums, in 2000. But Thomson's time in that band was fleeting—they released one album with Thomson in the band—when his old friend Kapranos contacted him about a new project intended to make "songs girls can dance to" with his new friend Nick McCarthy and school chum Bob Hardy.
According to the band's official biography, Kapranos first met McCarthy at a mutual friends house. McCarthy, somewhat of a renowned thief from Munich, was spotted stealing some of Kapranos vodka, resulting in near fisticuffs. Before a fight could truly break out, Kapranos asked McCarthy—an accomplished pianist and double bass player in school—if he played the drums. McCarthy lied and said yes. Hardy was convinced by Kapranos to take up the bass, even though his interests lied more in the realms of art. Hardy told People Magazine, "I was in art school, and Alex and I worked as chefs together. I'd never played an instrument." After drafting Thomson to play guitar, after the drummer sold his kit due to the rising popularity of drum machines in modern Scottish bands, the lineup for the band was complete … to a degree.
After initial practices at McCarthy's house, he and Thomson decided to switch instruments, as Thomson was a much more proficient drummer. So it was in 2001 that Franz Ferdinand—named after former Archduke of Austria—formed with a solidified instrumental lineup. Soon, the band was contacted by students at the Glasgow School of Art to play their first gig in a house to about 80 people.
After their initial show, the band decided to keep pursuing unconventional places to play, eventually moving into an old jail house they dubbed the Chateau to practice, host parties, play gigs, and even live. "We just wanted a place where we could play, put on art shows, and screen films, and we knew there were places that were abandoned and free," Kapranos told Interview Magazine in 2004. Eventually the police caught on to the activities going down at the Chateau, and the band had to look elsewhere for places to play. Kapranos said, "The arrangement we had with the owner was that as long as we didn't draw too much attention to ourselves, we were okay. We did exactly what we were told not to do." After this setback, they started gigging at places like Flourish Studios, and Stereo, the first official "pub" that the band performed at.
For the Record …
Members include Bob Hardy, bass; Alex Kapranos (born Alex Huntley), vocals, guitar; Nick McCarthy, guitar; Paul Thomson, drums.
Group formed in Scotland, 2001; signed with Domino Recording Co., 2003; released first single, "Darts of Pleasure," 2003; second single, "Take Me Out" was a big hit, 2004; released debut album Franz Ferdinand, 2004; released You Could Have It So Much Better, 2005.
Awards: Mercury Music Prize, 2005; Brit Awards, Best British Rock Act and Best British Group, 2005; NME Awards, Best Album and Best Single, 2005.
Addresses: Record company—Domino Recording Co., P.O. Box 47039, London SW18 1WD, United Kingdom, website: http://www.dominorecordco.com. Booking—Little Big Man, 155 Ave. of the Americas, 6th Fl., New York, NY 10013, phone: (646) 336-8520, website: http://www.littlebigman.com. Website—Franz Ferdinand Official Website: http://www.franzferdinand.co.uk.
Luckily, the band happened upon another abandoned building, this time an old courthouse, and decided to recreate the Chateau experience, again hosting parties, gigs, art exhibitions, and the like for anybody who was daring enough to participate. The police, however, shut them down again. It was then that the band decided to venture outside of Glasgow's confines, and started gigging in London, where they met Laurence Bell, who headed up Domino Records—a label that released records by the likes of Elliott Smith, Clinic, and Sebadoh in the United Kingdom.
After a few years of gigging around Scotland and England, Franz Ferdinand signed with Domino Records in June of 2003. In September of that year, the band released their first single for the label, "Darts of Pleasure," and immediately a buzz started circulating in the British press, most notably from the influential magazine NME. The buzz soon followed across the pond, as bands like the Strokes started heralding Franz Ferdinand in interviews. In November, a 5-track version of the "Darts of Pleasure" single was released in America. Though the success was a bit sudden, the band never really seemed uncomfortable being in the spotlight, even if their confidence sometimes swayed. Looking back on their beginning aspirations, Kapranos told Esquire, "There's a difference between expectations and aspirations. I remember when we wanted to be the best pop group in the world, like David Bowie, the Beatles, or the Clash. And then at the same time, you're thinking, 'If we sell 500 copies of our single, that would be fantastic!'"
But it seemed that the "Darts of Pleasure" single was just a warning shot, as it was Franz Ferdinand's next single, "Take Me Out," that catapulted them into the public eye. Once released in January of 2004, the buzz had reached its breaking point in the United Kingdom and America, as the band started showing up in the pages of magazines everywhere. There was no doubt that a full-length album was a mere step behind, and in February of 2004, Franz Ferdinand was released on Domino Records in the United Kingdom. The NME said, "this is an album as much about preening and posing as passion, that'll have you poring over the lyrics for an age. The fear that they couldn't match their first two singles has proved unfounded. They've done it. With style, wit and, well, great posture."
A bidding war began in the United States, with Epic Records finally winning out, releasing Franz Ferdinand in the States later that year. It was then that hipsters and passive music fans alike started paying great attention to the band, bolstered by the success of their video for "Take Me Out," which received massive airplay on MTV. The band then hit the road, touring constantly throughout 2004, alongside the Rapture, the Von Bondies, and fellow Scots Sons and Daughters. Their infectious Gang of Four-meets-Television new-wave guitar-centric dance tracks helped them achieve a Gold Record in the United States, an MTV Video Music Award nomination, and various other accolades.
The band continued touring in 2005, hitting the road with the likes of Pretty Girls Make Graves. Somehow, the band found time to write and record another album, releasing You Could Have It So Much Better on Epic/Domino in October of that year. Slightly differently stylistically, the band still delivered their catchy brand of danceable pop, including the glammy first single "Do You Want To." But still, the changes were noticeable, as Interview stated, "This sophomore effort from Franz Ferdinand isn't so much a follow-up to their 2004 serftitled debut as it is the payoff. The group's herky-jerky nods to the Clash and the Specials are still there as they spastically bounce through propulsive tracks like 'The Fallen,' 'You're the Reason I'm Leaving,' and 'Do You Want To,' with singer Alex Kapranos' surly croon leading the procession. But elsewhere they venture into more unexpected territory with a patently twisted joie de vivre: 'Walk Away,' for example, evokes early R.E.M.; 'Fade Together' is an evil campfire ballad that would cause Nick Cave to raise an eyebrow; and 'Eleanor' sounds like an outtake from the Beatles' White Album (1968). It's rousing, rollicking, and ridiculously good." Kapranos told Newsweek in October of 2005, "I think we have a huge Zeppelin thing going on," says Kapranos, apparently in earnest. "When we were recording this record, we kept thinking, 'Does this sound too much like 'Kashmir'?' That's the best thing that happens in music—when in your head you're doing something that sounds like someone else, but it sounds totally different when it comes out."
Darts of Pleasure (EP), Domino, 2003.
Franz Ferdinand, Domino, 2004.
You Could Have It So Much Better, Sony, 2005.
Esquire, November 2005.
Interview, April 2004; October 2005.
Newsweek, October 17, 2005.
People, October 31, 2005.
Domino Recording Co., http://www.dominorecordco.com (May 24, 2006).
"Franz Ferdinand," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (May 24, 2006).
Franz Ferdinand Official Website, http://www.franzferdinand.co.uk (May 24, 2006).
"Ferdinand Win Mercury Music Prize," BBC News, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/music/3636272.stm (May 24, 2006).
"Review: Franz Ferdinand," NME, http://www.nme.com/reviews/franz-ferdinand/7307 (May 24, 2006).
December 18, 1863
June 28, 1914
It is a sad fact that the best-remembered detail of the life of Franz Ferdinand is his death. Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the nephew of Austrian emperor Franz Josef (1830–1916) and the last heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Bosnia and Herzegovina was a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. While visiting the provincial capital of Sarajevo on official business, the archduke and his wife, Sophie, were killed by a Serbian named Gavrilo Princip (1894–1918). Princip belonged to a political group that was angered by Austro-Hun garian domination of Bosnia and Herzegovina. He felt that assassinating a high official of the empire would help Serbia's cause. Serbia was a country that wanted to unite the region— including Bosnia and Herzegovina—and gain independence from Austria-Hungary. However, the deaths of the archduke and his wife only caused the Austrian emperor to respond with angry demands and finally a declaration of war on Serbia. This declaration set off a complex chain of events that led the world into World War I. Franz and Sophie Ferdinand have been called the first casualties of that war.
An Heir by Chance
Though Franz Ferdinand was born into the royal family of the Habsburgs on December 18, 1863, in Graz, Austria, he did not grow up as the heir to the throne. During the early part of his life, he was only the third in line to rule the empire, behind the emperor's son, Archduke Rudolf, and Ferdinand's own father, Archduke Carl Ludvig. A shy child, Ferdinand was educated at home by private tutors. He was intelligent and a very strict Catholic. However, many people—including some within his own family—considered him spoiled, cold, and conceited, and he had few friends.
In 1883, Franz Ferdinand joined the army and served in various places around the empire. He advanced through the ranks from lieutenant to general in just a little more than ten years. Tragedy struck the royal family in 1889, when Archduke Rudolf, the heir to the throne, killed himself. Though the emperor had a daughter, Archduchess Elizabeth, she could not rule under the law of the empire because she was a woman. Franz Ferdinand's father was the next in line for the throne, but he died in 1896, leaving his son Franz to be the emperor's heir.
A Royal Romance
Ferdinand had just been promoted to major in the imperial army when he met a Czech woman, Sophie Chotek von Chotkowa und Wognin, at a dance in Prague in 1888. The two fell in love, and Ferdinand approached his family with his plans to marry Sophie. The royal family were not pleased with Ferdinand's choice, because, though Sophie was the Duchess of Hohenberg in her own country, the proud Habsburgs considered her little better than a commoner, certainly not good enough to marry the heir to the throne of the empire.
Ferdinand fought for his bride, and he was eventually allowed to marry Sophie. But he had to agree to several things that would limit her power within the empire. First, Sophie would never be given the title of empress, and her children would not be heirs to the throne. She would not even be allowed to sit next to her husband in his carriage or in the royal box at the opera. In spite of these humiliating requirements, Sophie and Ferdinand were happily married in 1900
and had three children. Ferdinand loved his wife very much, and with the family they created, he seemed to find a peace and happiness that he could never find elsewhere.
The Explosive Politics of the Empire
Outside his domestic life, however, Ferdinand remained unpopular, with a reputation for being arrogant and hot-tempered. Besides disliking his personality, many in the empire disagreed with his political views. One particularly controversial idea he had was called "Trialism." Under this plan, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, already considered a dual empire because it was ruled by an Austrian emperor and a Hungarian king, would have a third branch. This third branch of power would be given to the Slavic peoples of southeastern Europe who had been living under the rule of the empire. Some Slavs supported the notion of Trialism, but others, who hated Austro-Hungarian rule, were angered by it.
It may seem surprising that Ferdinand's wish to give the Slavic people a greater voice made him an enemy to Slavs who wanted independence from the empire. But to Serbian nationalists, who wanted their country to be completely independent of Austro-Hungarian rule, the archduke's idea was dangerous because limited power might make Slavic people more comfortable within the empire, and they might no longer wish to fight for independence. Serbian nationalists, represented by militant groups like the Black Hand, wanted to unite the Slavic people in an independent pan-Slavic state. The fact that Ferdinand was a major supporter of Trialism, coupled with the fact that he would one day inherit the throne of the empire, made him a target for the rage of the Serbian nationalist movement.
Murder in Sarajevo
In 1913, Ferdinand was appointed inspector general of the Austrian army. In 1914, he was invited to Sarajevo by the colonial governor, General Oscar Potiorek (1853–1933), to observe military exercises. Because the Serbs had been increasingly hostile to the empire, the Serbian prime minister, Nicola Pašiæ, sent a warning to Vienna that someone might try to assassinate the archduke if he came to Sarajevo. In spite of this, Franz and Sophie Ferdinand went to Sarajevo on June 28,1914. The date was significant for two reasons. First, it was St. Vitus Day, a religious holiday when the Serbs celebrated their resistance to the Ottoman Turks. Second, it was Ferdinand and Sophie's wedding anniversary. Many people think that the nationalistic feelings of the Serbs were especially roused on their patriotic holiday. And many also think that a major factor in Ferdinand's insistence on going to Sarajevo was his affection for Sophie. Outside of Vienna, she could ride in the car beside him and receive all the attention and ceremony that she was denied at home.
As the archduke and his wife drove down a well-publicized parade route in an open car; seven assassins waited in the crowd, each armed with a pistol and cyanide, a poison they could use to commit suicide if they were caught. One of the assassins threw a bomb at the car, but it missed the target and blew up under the car behind it, injuring several people. Amazingly, Ferdinand and Sophie arrived safely at city hall and listened to a flattering speech by the mayor before deciding to go back by a fast and direct route to avoid more trouble. Unfortunately, those in charge did not tell the archduke's driver about the route change. He made a wrong turn and was forced to back up into an alley to turn around. Most of the assassins, including nineteen-year-old Gavrilo Princip, had given up and left when the bomb missed its mark. However, when the car slowed to back into the narrow alley, Princip found himself only a few feet from the archduke, the uniformed symbol of the hated Austro-Hungarian rulers. Princip raised his gun and fired two shots, killing Ferdinand and Sophie. He later said that he had intended his second bullet for Potiorek and was sorry he had killed Sophie.
For More Information
Brook-Shepherd, Gordon. Archduke of Sarajevo: The Romance and Tragedy of Franz Ferdinand of Austria. Boston: Little, Brown, 1984.
Cassels, Lavender. The Archduke and the Assassin. New York: Stein and Day, 1984.
Pauli, Hertha Ernestine. The Secret of Sarajevo: The Story of Franz Ferdinand and Sophie. New York: AppletonCentury, 1965.
DeVoss, David. "Searching for Gavrilo Princip." Smithsonian, August 2000, 42–46.
From Mayerling to Sarajevo. Produced by Eugene Tuchener and directed by Max Ophuls, 1997. Videocassette.
"The Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand." [Online] http://www.k12.nf.ca/randomisland/ww1/franz.htm (accessed April 2001).
"Franz Ferdinand." [Online] http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/FWWarchduke.htm (accessed April 2001).
The Changing Judgments of History
Who is the hero of this story, and who is the villain? History does not provide a clear answer.
After the assassinations of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, the Austrian government erected a monument on the spot where they were killed. A bronze plaque bearing their pictures remained there as a memorial until 1953. In that year, Josip Broz Tito (1892–1980), the leader of the young nation of Yugoslavia made up of various Slavic countries, removed the monument and opened a museum to honor Gavrilo Princip and the Young Bosnia movement, a Slavic nationalist movement. Tito led a country that had recently liberated itself from German Nazi occupation during World War II, and he wanted to elevate early Slavic nationalists like Princip to the status of heroes. The place where Princip stood to fire the fatal shots was marked with concrete footprints.
But Princip's stature as a hero did not last. A new wave of political unrest swept through Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, resulting in the breakup and restructuring of that country; Bosnia and Herzegovina declared its independence, and in this new political climate Princip was no longer considered a hero of Slavic nationalism, but rather a terrorist. Princip's footprints were removed, and so was the museum honoring him and the Young Bosnians who attacked the archduke. Some officials want to restore the original monument to the archduke, bringing the cycle back to its beginning almost a hundred years later and proving that history, even when set in concrete, can continue to change.