There are relativley few bands still around that survived the ‘indie cull’ that occured torwards the end of the noughties, and even less left behind the legacy London-based four-piece Bloc Party did.
Their groundbreaking music is cited constantly as inspiration to a wide-range of modern artists, and both their debut album Silent Alarm and follow-up A Weekend in The City enjoy classic status.
When a seventeen year old Kele Okereke decided to form a band at Reading Festival in 1999, he never expected to achieve legendary status in the eyes of so many fans. Four albums, two hiatuses, several stylistic alterations and a significant lineup change later, Bloc Party returned this month with their upbeat new single ‘The Love Within’, along with the news that they will release their fifth album at the beginning of 2016.
Bloc Party got their first break due to a Okereke handing Radio 1 DJ Steve Lamacq a copy of their demo single ‘She’s Hearing Voices’ after a chance meeting at a Franz Ferdinand concert, with Lamacq describing the single as “genius” after playing it on his radio show in 2003. This led to the band (which at the time consisted of Okereke on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Russell Lissack on lead guitar, Gordon Moakes on bass and Matt Tong on drums) being signed to Wichita Recordings in April 2004.
The band began to achieve international recognition shortly after the release of their seminal de-but album Silent Alarm in February 2005. The album, which was latter certified platinum, reached number 3 in the UK album chart, along with spawning four top 20 singles. However, these sales distinctions mean very little when put into context; the album arguably marked the true birth of the mid-noughties indie scene in Britain, with Bloc Party regarded by critics and fans alike as the key players.
In the months following the release of Silent Alarm, Kaiser Chiefs, The Fratellis, and The Automatic all released debut albums, solidifying the fledgling scene as one which would dominate the British musical landscape for the next two years. This included the release of Whatever People Say I Am… by Arctic Monkeys and Inside In/Inside Out by The Kooks on the same day in January 2006, with the former selling over 360,000 copies in its first week.
Whilst the scene they had arguably started flourished in the UK, Bloc Party spent the start of 2006 touring the US, building up enough support to sell over 350,000 copies of their album in America. Not content to continue capitalising on the success of their debut, Okereke began writing electronic-influenced music, which was released as Bloc Party’s second album A Weekend in the City in January 2007. This change in style polarised some critics, with one review declaring that “too often, the music on A Weekend in the City is less memorable than the ambitious subject matter.” Despite this, their importance as a band was only further solidified with the release of their second album, playing sets at Glastonbury, Reading, and T in the Park in the summer of 2007.
This newfound electronic style began to distance the band from the indie scene which
they had been so integral in the creation of, with some commentators describing their new style as “art-rock”. The August 2008 release of their third album, Intimacy, saw electronic influences embraced even further in Okereke’s songwriting.
After the touring for this album, the band were released from their record contract, and thus decided to go on hiatus after their October 2009 tour. At this time, the indie scene which they had played such an important part in was all but dead; Arctic Monkeys embraced more disparate American influences on 2009’s Humbug, and The Fratellis’ announced their breakup.
Many fans believed that this hiatus would mark the end for Bloc Party; Okereke released his electro-house solo album The Boxer in the summer of 2010, showing a huge departure from the music which his band had previously recorded. In addition to this, Lissack and Moakes both formed new bands, with rumours circulating in 2011 that the band had split up for good. Had Bloc Party really ended here, it is unlikely that their legendary status would have really been noticed outside of their fanbase, as their music had arguably been declining in quality and originality since their debut.
Any fears of a breakup were quashed in May 2012, when the band announced that they would return with their first album in four years. This album, called Four, was released in August 2012, and marked a return to the urgent, indie-rock style of their debut.
However, the album did not mark any newfound stability for the band. Shortly after touring commitments had finished, drummer Tong announced that he had parted ways with the other three members. This led to their second indefinite hiatus in four years, and was regarded by many to truly be the end.
The second Bloc Party hiatus proved much less fruitful than the first – little was heard from the band other than the resignation of bassist Gordon Moakes in March of this year. However, in a series of comeback festival appearances in America in late August, the band debuted a new lineup, with Americans Justin Harris (bass) and Louise Bartle (drums) replacing the departed members.
This new look, reinvigorated Bloc Party ended this hiatus by releasing their first single together to a largely positive reception, with Rolling Stone describing it as “infectious” and NME calling it “distinctively dancey”. However, the single is causing a more mixed reception amongst fans, with one taking to Facebook to declare it “the worst f***ing song they have ever released.” Despite this, it came with the announcement that a new album would be released at the start of 2016.
So, what does the future hold for the most innovative bands to emerge from the mid-noughties indie scene? Unfortunately, their incredibly unstable past makes it hard to say – it is as likely that this will be their last album, as it is that they will make another ten.
However, it is almost a certainty that their fifth album will throw them back to the forefront of the British indie scene as key players, a position which some would argue they never lost.