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Bloc Party performing live in 2015. From Left to Right: Okereke, Bartle, Lissack, Harris
Bloc Party are an English rock band, composed of Kele Okereke (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, keyboards, sampler), Russell Lissack (lead guitar, keyboards), Justin Harris (bass guitar, keyboards, saxophones, backing vocals) and Louise Bartle (drums, percussion). Former members Matt Tong and Gordon Moakes left the band in 2013 and 2015 respectively. Their brand of music, whilst rooted in rock, retains elements of other genres such as electronica and house music. The band was formed at the 1999 Reading Festival by Okereke and Lissack. They went through a variety of names before settling on Bloc Party in 2003. Moakes joined the band after answering an advert in NME magazine, while Tong was picked via an audition. Bloc Party got their break by giving BBC Radio 1 DJ Steve Lamacq and Franz Ferdinand's lead singer, Alex Kapranos, a copy of their demo "She's Hearing Voices".
In February 2005, the band released their debut album Silent Alarm. It was critically acclaimed and was named Indie Album of the Year at the 2006 PLUG Awards and NME Album of the year which both honour indie music. That year, the record was also certified platinum in Britain. The band built on this success in 2007 with the release of their second studio album, A Weekend in the City, which reached a peak of number two in the UK Albums Chart and number twelve in the Billboard 200. In August 2008, Bloc Party released their third studio record, Intimacy which entered the UK Albums Chart at number eight and number eighteen on the Billboard 200. The band went on a hiatus in October 2009 to focus on side projects. They reunited in September 2011, and shortly thereafter released their fourth album, Four, which entered the UK Albums Chart at number three. In 2013, Bloc Party released their third EP titled The Nextwave Sessions in August; the band then began an indefinite hiatus to continue with their respective side projects. The band's fifth studio album, Hymns, the first to involve Harris and Bartle, was released on 29 January 2016. Bloc Party have sold over 3 million albums worldwide.
Formation and rising popularity (1999–2004)
Russell Lissack and Kele Okereke first met in 1998 in London. Lissack had attended Bancroft's School, while Okereke attended Ilford County High School, then Trinity Catholic High School, Woodford Green for sixth form. They bumped into each other again in 1999 at Reading Festival and decided to form a band. Bassist Gordon Moakes joined after answering an advert in NME, and drummer Matt Tong joined after an audition. After going through a variety of names, such as Union, The Angel Range, and Diet, the band settled on Bloc Party in September 2003, a play on block party. The band has said that the name was not intended to be an allusion to the Soviet Bloc or the Canadian political party Bloc Québécois. However, Moakes said on the group's official Internet forum that it was more a merging of the eastern "Blocs" and the western "parties", in the political sense. He also notes that the name was not explicitly driven by politics, but rather it "looked, sounded, seemed fine so we went with it."
In November 2003, Bloc Party had their track "The Marshals Are Dead" featured on a compilation CD called The New Cross released by Angular Recording Corporation. They then released their debut single "She's Hearing Voices" on the then fledgling record label Trash Aesthetics. Also in 2003 Bloc Party personally mailed Steve Aoki a 7-inch of the track “She’s Hearing Voices” and signed to Dim Mak shortly thereafter. Dim Mak teamed up with VICE, a subsidiary of Atlantic Records, and entered a major label deal for the first time. Dim Mak and Atlantic later released Bloc Party’s critically acclaimed and commercially successful Silent Alarm in 2005. The band got their break after Okereke went to a Franz Ferdinand concert in 2003, and gave a copy of "She's Hearing Voices" to both lead singer Alex Kapranos and BBC Radio 1 DJ Steve Lamacq. Lamacq subsequently played the song on his radio show, labelling the track "genius", and invited them to record a live session for the show. The buzz generated off the back of the single led to another release, "Banquet/Staying Fat", this time through Moshi Moshi Records, and to the eventual signing with independent label Wichita Recordings in April 2004.
Silent Alarm (2004–2006)
Bloc Party's debut album, Silent Alarm, was released in February 2005 and was met with universal critical acclaim. It was voted 'Album of the Year' for 2005 by NME, and reached number 3 on the UK Albums Chart before being certified platinum. The first single from the album, "So Here We Are/Positive Tension", made the top 5 on the UK Top 40 chart. Further singles "Banquet" (which reached number 13 in NME's 'Top 50 Singles of 2005'), "Helicopter", and "Pioneers", whilst failing to repeat this success, still managed to reach the UK top 20. The animated video for "Pioneers," made by the Shoreditch-based Minivegas design agency, was top of the NME video charts for four weeks. NME tagged them as "art-rock" at that time but the band felt it was too limited.
The band received positive reviews from critics in the United States and they toured there heavily in the 18 months that followed the release of Silent Alarm. In early 2006, they finished their tour with sold out shows in Los Angeles, Miami and Berkeley. The album went on to sell more than 350,000 copies in North America and over a million worldwide. After this success, the established electronic group, The Chemical Brothers, soon collaborated with Okereke for "Believe", a track on their Push the Button album. An album of remixes of tracks from Silent Alarm had also been released at the end of August 2005 in the UK. This remix album, entitled Silent Alarm Remixed, retained the album's original track list and includes remixes from the likes of Ladytron, M83, Death from Above 1979, Four Tet, and Mogwai.
During July 2005, Bloc Party recorded two new tracks with Silent Alarm producer Paul Epworth. The songs were released as a single with a B-side, titled "Two More Years", to coincide with the band's October 2005 UK tour. The tour was also accompanied by a re-issue of Silent Alarm, which included "Two More Years" and former single "Little Thoughts" as bonus tracks. A remix of "Banquet" by The Streets, as well as a music video for the song, were included in the "Two More Years" single. Bloc Party also contributed the track "The Present" to the Help!: A Day in the Life compilation, the profits of which benefited the War Child charity.
A Weekend in the City (2006–2008)
Bloc Party's second album, A Weekend in the City, was produced by Garret "Jacknife" Lee. It was released in February 2007, although it was leaked in November 2006. It became available for download on the UK iTunes Store before the physical release, and reached the number 2 spot on the UK Albums Chart. The album also reached number 2 on the Australian and Belgian charts, and debuted at number 12 in the Billboard 200, with 48,000 copies sold. The first single, "The Prayer", was released on 29 January, and became the band's highest charting single in the British Top 40, reaching number 4. In the buildup to the release of the album, BBC Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe aired a live set by the band from Maida Vale studios on 30 January 2007, featuring a mix of old and new songs. On 1 February 2007, A Weekend in the City was made available to listen to for free through Bloc Party's official MySpace page.
The next single, "I Still Remember", was Bloc Party's highest charting American single, peaking at number 24 on the Modern Rock Chart. The band released their third single, "Hunting for Witches", with an accompanying video clip in August 2007. The single became their only ARIA Chart entry, peaking at number 20. In October 2007, it was announced that Bloc Party would release a new single, "Flux", on 13 November—ahead of their end of year gigs. The electronic song, also produced by Jacknife Lee, was very different from previous singles released by the band.
The band's first gig following the release of A Weekend in the City was on 5 February 2007, in Reading, and was broadcast live on BBC 6 Music. On 20 May 2007, Bloc Party headlined on the In New Music We Trust stage at the BBC Radio 1 Big Weekend in Preston. They also performed at the UK leg of Live Earth on 7 July 2007 at Wembley Stadium. Furthermore, the band played sets at T in the Park and Oxegen 07 that same weekend, as well as Glastonbury and the Reading and Leeds Festivals later in 2007. Bloc Party announced a tour of Australia and New Zealand in August 2007, which would include a special appearance at the Splendour in the Grass Festival on 5 August. On 17 September 2007, they recorded a set for the PBS show Austin City Limits a day after playing at the Austin City Limits Music Festival. On 27 October, the band performed a set at London's The Roundhouse with the Exmoor Singers, a London-based choir, as part of the BBC Electric Proms. The set included songs from both Silent Alarm and A Weekend in the City along with the first British live performance of "Flux".
"Mercury" was released as the first single from Bloc Party's third album in August 2008. Again produced by Jacknife Lee and Paul Epworth, Intimacy was rush-released later that month, with the album available to download 3 days after an announcement in August 2008. Later in the month the band played second on the bill at the Reading and Leeds Festivals before headlining the Hydro Connect Music Festival in Argyll, Scotland.
During the autumn of 2008, the band went on a short tour of North America, which included an appearance at the Virgin Festival in Toronto, as well as the band's first ever American college show at Syracuse University. They made their live return to the UK on 30 September 2008 with a special gig in London as part of Q Awards: The Gigs. They also played the Glasgow date of MTV2's and Topman's "Gonzo on Tour" on 19 October 2008. A follow-up single, "Talons" was released in October 2008. The song was not part of the pre-order album, but did feature on the full album CD release and was made freely available to people who already purchased the download-only album. An album of remixes of all tracks on Intimacy, Intimacy Remixed, was released in May 2009. The band undertook their first UK tour since December 2007 in October 2009, dubbing it "Bloctober".
One More Chance and hiatus (2009–2011)
In July 2009, Okereke stated that the band did not have a current recording contract and had no obligation or pressure to release a new album in the foreseeable future; he went on to suggest that the release of a fourth album was on an indefinite timescale. A new single, "One More Chance", was released in August 2009. The song did not appear on Intimacy and was produced by Jacknife Lee. After this, the group went on a hiatus, with the members unsure as to whether they would carry on.
During this period of hiatus Lissack revived his project Pin Me Down and joined the live line-up of Irish rock-band Ash as guitarist and synthesiser player on their touring for the A–Z Series. Moakes formed the group Young Legionnaire with Paul Mullen, vocalist & guitarist of The Automatic, and William Bowerman, drummer for La Roux, releasing a single, "Colossus" in August 2010. Okereke released a solo album, The Boxer, in June 2010. Produced by Hudson Mohawke and XXXChange, its release was preceded by the single "Tenderoni". Rumours throughout 2011 suggested Okereke had left the group to focus on solo work, though these were denied by other band members.
Four and The Nextwave Sessions (2011–2013)
Bloc Party started writing material for a fourth album in 2011, but decided not to play live. In the meantime Okereke finished an EP titled The Hunter. The group stated they intended to release a new album in 2012. In May 2012, Bloc Party announced Four, which was released on 20 August 2012, after being made available to stream in its entirety for over a week preceding release. The album was recorded with Alex Newport, who had previously worked with At The Drive In and The Mars Volta, in New York City. Bloc Party released "Octopus" that July and later released another single entitled "Day Four". The band released "Kettling" on 12 November 2012, followed by "Truth" on 25 February 2013. Four peaked at number three on the UK Albums Chart and at number 36 on the Billboard 200.
The band debuted new material during their 2013 North American tour, including "Children of the Future" at Rams Head Live!, "Ratchet" at The Pageant, "Montreal" at the Ogden Theatre and "X-cutioner's Song" at Mr. Smalls Theater in Pittsburgh. Lissack later confirmed the band's plans to release a new EP in "northern hemisphere summer". He told Marc Zanotti of Australian website MusicFeeds that the new material was "not like a continuation of the record we've just made, it's a completely separate thing [...] the next step; the next progression". "French Exit" was given its debut live performance at Crystal Ballroom on 24 May. Some of the new material would feature on The Nextwave Sessions, an EP announced on 25 June and for release on 12 August via Frenchkiss Records.
Hiatus and line-up changes (2013–2015)
During the summer tour of 2013, drummer Matt Tong left the band. Lissack told a Canadian newspaper, the National Post that the band were planning to take an indefinite hiatus following their appearance at the Latitude Festival on 19 July. In October 2013, Kele assembled a DJ Mix for !K7's Tapes mix series, released under the Bloc Party name. In September 2014, Okereke stated that Bloc Party were working on a fifth album. In March 2015, bassist Gordon Moakes tweeted he had parted ways with Bloc Party. Following the departure of their former members, Okereke and Lissack started to work on new songs on their own in late 2014.
Bloc Party unveiled their new line-up at two intimate gigs in the Los Angeles area (19 August 2015 at The Glass House in Pomona and 20 August 2015 at The Roxy in Los Angeles). Following these performances, Bloc Party also subheadlined FYF Fest in Los Angeles on 22 August 2015. At these shows, the band confirmed that they've finished recording their next album. The shows marked the live debut for new bassist Justin Harris of the Portland, Oregon, indie rock outfit Menomena, who had previously opened several Bloc Party U.S. tour dates in April 2009; and Louise Bartle, who was accidentally announced a month earlier as Bloc Party's drummer by instrument manufacturer Natal Drums in a since-deleted tweet, leading to fan speculation regarding her membership that was ultimately proved correct.[better source needed] These shows also included the first performances of two new songs called "Eden" and "Exes" according to the setlist.
In a performance at Maida Vale, Bloc Party gave "The Good News" its live debut; hours later, "The Love Within" was featured as "Hottest Record in the World" by Annie Mac on BBC Radio 1. Okereke revealed the band's upcoming fifth album is set to be titled Hymns. The album's release was later confirmed on social media as 29 January 2016.
Later in 2016, the band released the standalone single 'Stunt Queen' to mark their performance at the Hollywood Bowl, which Okereke claimed was a "significant milestone" for the band. It marks some of the first new material that featured Justin and Louise as co-writers.
March 2018 saw the band announce a series of shows touring their 'Silent Alarm' album which would be played in full. Due to the success of this short tour, Bloc Party announced further dates in 2019 again playing tracks from the whole of their debut.
Bloc Party's musical style has been described as indie rock, post-punk revival, post-Britpop, alternative rock, art punk, art rock, dance-rock, and alternative dance. Bloc Party's brand of guitar rock draws on influences such as The Chemical Brothers, Pixies, Joy Division, Sonic Youth and The Smiths. Okereke has also stated that Mogwai's album Mogwai Young Team changed his life by being his musical "year zero". Okereke also cites Suede as a major influence, he says Dog Man Star was the first record he fell in love with. Particular parallels were made between Bloc Party and Gang of Four upon their arrival on the music scene, yet the band were "mildly infuriated" at such references, claiming they had never "particularly liked" Gang of Four. To achieve their unique style, numerous delay and other effects pedals are implemented. During the recording of second album A Weekend in the City, the band suggested it would contain "some truly R&B styled beats, a song where [Tong] and [Moakes] play drums simultaneously [with] both eggshell-thin fragility and trouser-flapping hugeness", as opposed to their typical sound. The style has been compared to and inspired by such bands as Radiohead, U2, Depeche Mode, and Björk. Some of the most noticeable changes between debut Silent Alarm and A Weekend in the City are that the songs became more layered and less raw due to inclusion of string arrangements.
With the release of "Flux", Bloc Party's style became even more diverse with the inclusion of electronic music. "Mercury" saw Bloc Party distance themselves even further from the traditional guitar band set-up by experimenting with dark electronic sounds and a brass section inspired by Siouxsie and the Banshees. The band's third album Intimacy also features synths, processed drum beats and loops, vocal manipulation, and choral arrangements. Even though the album was influenced by electronic music, the band still had not lost their feel for guitar music. For example, in an interview, Okereke said that the band was starting to miss their more traditional sound, and confirmed that may have been the way fourth album was headed. However, Tong contradicted this, stating: "There's every chance we might go back to more orthodox arrangements or things that resemble a traditional band but I don't think we'll ever write songs like we did on Silent Alarm again." A 2009 Vice Records mix lists the following songs Bloc Party are influenced by: Eagle Boston's "Wild Wild Ost", Pylon's "Working Is No Problem", Delta 5's "Mind Your Own Business", John Foxx's "Underpass", Prince's "I Would Die 4 U" (also covered live), Sonic Youth's "Youth Against Fascism", Dinosaur Jr.'s "Freak Scene", La Roux's "Quicksand (Nightrunners Edit)", and Bruce Springsteen's "57 Channels (And Nothin' On)".
- Kele Okereke – lead vocals, rhythm guitar, sampler, electric piano (1999–present)
- Russell Lissack – lead guitar, sampler, synthesiser, programming (1999–present)
- Justin Harris – bass guitar, backing vocals, synthesiser, glockenspiel, saxophone (2015–present)
- Louise Bartle – drums, percussion, backing vocals (2015–present)
- Gordon Moakes – bass guitar, backing vocals, occasional lead vocals, keyboards, synthesiser, drums, glockenspiel (2002–2015)
- Matt Tong – drums, percussion, backing vocals (2002–2013)
- Sarah Jones - drums, percussion (2013)
Awards and nominations
Bloc Party have had several nominations from a number of different awarding bodies during their recording career. The band themselves were nominated for 'Best New Artist' at the 2005 NME Awards, and were also up for the 'Best Alternative Act' category at the 2005 MTV Europe Music Awards. In 2006, Bloc Party were nominated for another NME Award, this time in the 'Best British Band' category. They were also shortlisted for three PLUG Awards: 'New Artist of the Year' in 2005, and 'Artist of the Year' and 'Live Act of the Year' in 2006. At the 19th GLAAD Media Awards in 2008, they were nominated in the 'Music Artist' category for their work on second album A Weekend in the City.
Their debut album Silent Alarm was nominated for the 2005 Mercury Music Prize and won the NME award for 'Best Album'. It was also nominated as 'Album of the Year' at three different ceremonies: the New Pantheon Music Award (Shortlist Music Prize), the 2006 NME Awards, and the 2006 PLUG Awards, where "Helicopter" was also up for 'Best Music Video'. The record won the award for 'Best Indie Rock Album' at the 2006 PLUG Awards. At the 2008 NME Awards, "Flux" was nominated in three different categories: 'Best Track', 'Best Video' and 'Best Dancefloor Filler'.
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With the new record, he said he was inspired by a song written years ago by Siouxsie and the Banshees called Peek-a-boo. "I heard it for the first time, and it sounded like nothing else on this planet. This is just a pop song that they put out in the middle of their career that nobody knows about, but to me it sounded like the most current but most futuristic bit of guitar-pop music I've heard. I thought, that'd be cool, to make music that people might not get at the time, but in ten years' time, people would revisit it."
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