Arcade Fire is a Canadian indie rock band based in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, consisting of husband and wife Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, along with Win's brother Will Butler, Richard Reed Parry, Tim Kingsbury and Jeremy Gara. The band's current touring line-up also includes former core member Sarah Neufeld, frequent collaborator Owen Pallett, and two additional percussionists, Diol Edmond and Tiwill Duprate.
Founded in 2001 by friends and classmates Win Butler and Josh Deu, the band came to prominence in 2004 with the release of their critically acclaimed debut album Funeral, and has won numerous awards, including the 2011 Grammy for Album of the Year (they hold the distinction of being the only musical group to have won their first and only Grammy in that category), the 2011 Juno Award for Album of the Year, and the 2011 Brit Award for Best International Album for their third studio album, The Suburbs, released in 2010 to critical acclaim and commercial success. In earlier years, they won the 2008 Meteor Music Award for Best International Album and the 2008 Juno Award for Alternative Album of the Year for their second studio album, Neon Bible. They also received nominations for the Best Alternative Music Album Grammy for all three of their studio albums. The band's work has also been named three times as a shortlist nominee for the Polaris Music Prize: in 2007 for Neon Bible, in 2011 for The Suburbs and in 2014 for Reflektor, winning the award for The Suburbs. In 2013, Arcade Fire released their fourth album, Reflektor, and scored the feature film Her, for which band member William Butler, along with Owen Pallett were nominated for Best Original Score at the 86th Academy Awards.
The band plays guitar, drums, bass guitar, piano, violin, viola, cello, double bass, xylophone, glockenspiel, keyboard, synthesizer, French horn, accordion, harp, mandolin, and hurdy-gurdy, and take most of these instruments on tour; the multi-instrumentalist band members switch duties throughout shows.
2001–03: Formation and early work
Win Butler and Josh Deu originally founded Arcade Fire in Montreal around 2001, having first met at Phillips Exeter Academy as high school students. Both attended Concordia University where their musical ideas began to develop and the first incarnation of the band was born. The duo began rehearsing their material at McGill University where they met Régine Chassagne, a music student whom they asked to join them. Deu recalls 'Win and I played guitar. Everyone played guitar. We had no music to show her, but she ended up saying yes to joining us, and I don’t know why. Maybe there was a little spark with Win'. The trio recorded a set of demos and began performing live in the second half of 2001. At that time, the band consisted of future husband and wife Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, singer and guitarist Josh Deu, multi-instrumentalist Tim Kyle (later of Wild Light), bassist Alan Lavian (later of Les Angles Morts, Crystal Clyffs, and AIDS Wolf), guitarist/drummer Dane Mills (later of Crackpot), and multi-instrumentalist Brendan Reed (later of Les Angles Morts and founding member of Clues), who lived with Butler and Chassagne in Montreal's Mile End neighbourhood at the time and was a collaborator with them on song-writing and arrangement (2001–2003).
The initial Montreal structure of the band began to dissolve in the summer of 2002, when they travelled to Butler's family farm in Maine to record their self-titled EP. Tension between Butler and bassist Myles Broscoe led the latter to exit the band following the recording session. Richard Reed Parry, who had been enlisted to help the band record, began to collaborate with them during the sessions and would go on to join the band shortly afterwards. Around the same time, Joshua Deu left the band to continue his studies; he continued to collaborate on the visual aspects of the band. In the winter of 2003, the band celebrated the release of its EP with a show at Montreal's Casa del Popolo. Before a crowd packed beyond capacity, the band's set ended (in the middle of an encore) with an argument between Butler and Reed, who quit the band on-stage. Mills told gathered friends in the crowd immediately thereafter that he considered the band to have broken up, as such resigning from the band as well. Following the on-stage implosion, Butler's brother William Butler (subject of the early Arcade Fire song "William Pierce Butler") and Tim Kingsbury were brought in to replace Reed and Mills so that the band could continue, and they set out to promote the self-titled EP. The eponymous release (often referred to by fans as the Us Kids Know EP) was sold at early shows. After the band achieved fame, the EP was subsequently remastered and given a full release.
The promise shown by the new band in its early live shows allowed them to land a record contract with the independent record label, Merge Records, before the end of its first year together.
When asked about the rumour that the band's name refers to a fire in an arcade, Win Butler replied: "It's not a rumour, it's based on a story that someone told me. It's not an actual event, but one that I took to be real. I would say that it's probably something that the kid made up, but at the time I believed him."
Funeral was released in September 2004 in Canada and February 2005 in Great Britain. The title of the debut album referred to the deaths of several relatives of band members during its recording. These events created a somber atmosphere that influenced songs such as "Une année sans lumière" ("A Year Without Light"), "In the Backseat", and "Haïti", Chassagne's elegy to her lost homeland.
The album was critically and commercially acclaimed. It appeared on many top ten album lists for 2004 and 2005 (due to delayed international releases), with Pitchfork, Filter, No Ripcord, and The MTV2 2005 Review crowning it the album of the year. NME named Funeral second in their list of 2005's best albums. NME also named "Rebellion (Lies)" the second best track. By November 2005, Funeral had gone gold in both Canada and the UK, and sold over half a million copies worldwide, a very large number for an independent release with minimal television or radio exposure. The album became Merge Records' first in the Billboard 200 chart and the label's biggest selling album to date, surpassing Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.
The band booked small clubs for their 2004 tour, but growing interest forced many venue changes, far beyond the band's expectations, and the tour continued into mid-2005 throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, the SummerSonic Festival in Japan, and the Hillside Festival in Guelph. Taking much of the summer of 2005 off, the band made key festival appearances at the Halifax Pop Explosion, Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, the Sasquatch! Music Festival, Lollapalooza, Vegoose Festival, Reading and Leeds Festival in the UK, Electric Picnic in Ireland and the Lowlands Festival in the Netherlands.
Arcade Fire was featured on the April 4, 2005 cover of Time's Canadian edition. On May 1, 2005, the band performed at the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival. In May 2005, the band signed a short-term publishing contract with EMI for Funeral, and in June the band released a new single, "Cold Wind", on Six Feet Under, Vol. 2: Everything Ends. The BBC used the track "Wake Up" on an advertisement for their autumn 2005 season, and the tracks "Rebellion (Lies)" and "Neighborhood No. 1 (Tunnels)" (See Neighborhood 1 (Tunnels)) on adverts in January 2006. On September 9, 2005, the band appeared on the British/U.S. television special "Fashion Rocks", on which David Bowie joined them for "Wake Up". This recording, as well as recordings of the band's collaboration on Bowie's "Life on Mars" and "Five Years," were made available on the iTunes Music Store in a virtual live EP. The same trip to New York City took them to the Late Show with David Letterman and a concert in Central Park. The Central Park show featured a surprise appearance by Bowie. On September 11, 2005, Arcade Fire appeared on the long-running BBC music series Top of the Pops, performing "Rebellion (Lies)". The band also performed to a TV audience in Paris for Canal+, and the show was later screened on the British television's Channel 4. The band scored two number one songs on MTV2 (UK) NME Chart Show, with "Neighborhood No. 3 (Power Out)" and a three-week run with "Wake Up". This success followed Rough Trade Records's last-minute decision to release "Wake Up" only on 7" vinyl.
"Wake Up" was played immediately before the Irish rock group U2 started their concerts on their 2005–06 Vertigo Tour; Arcade Fire subsequently opened three shows for that tour, and at the third in Montreal, Canada, appeared on stage during U2's encore to join in a cover of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart". Additionally, The Dan Patrick Show, a daily national sports talk show in the U.S., plays the song as a lead-out every Friday to signify the end of their show. The song was also heard numerous times during the Super Bowl telecast on February 5, 2010.
Funeral and the single "Cold Wind" were nominated for Grammys in the Best Alternative Rock Album and Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media categories (Six Feet Under, Vol. 2: Everything Ends), respectively. On April 2, 2006, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Arcade Fire received the Juno Award for Songwriters Of The Year for three songs from Funeral: "Wake Up", "Rebellion (Lies)", and "Neighborhood No. 3 (Power Out)". The band was nominated for three BRIT Awards: Best International Group, Best International Album, and Best International Breakthrough Act.
Arcade Fire made an appearance on the BBC show Later with Jools Holland on May 12, 2005, performing "Power Out" and "Rebellion (Lies)". On December 27, 2005, Funeral was ranked No. 1 on MTV2's "50 Greatest Albums of the Year" in the United Kingdom. On October 22, 2007, Funeral was ranked No. 8 in Bob Mersereau's book The Top 100 Canadian Albums. In late 2009, Pitchfork Media ranked the album No. 2 in their list of the top 200 albums of the 2000s.
2006–10: Neon Bible
During the downtime between Funeral and the beginning of recording sessions for Neon Bible, the band purchased a defunct church in the small Quebec town of Farnham, approximately 70 kilometres (43 mi) southeast of Montreal, and spent the early part of 2006 converting it into a recording studio.
The first track officially released from Neon Bible was "Intervention" in December 2006 on iTunes. Proceeds from this release were dedicated to Partners in Health. An error resulted in a second song, "Black Wave/Bad Vibrations", appearing on iTunes for a short time. The album was leaked to peer-to-peer networks on January 26, 2007, and was officially released March 5, 2007 in the UK and March 6 in North America. Neon Bible premiered at number 1 on the Canadian Albums Chart and the Irish Album Charts, and number 2 on the U.S. Billboard Top 200 charts and the UK Top 40 Album Chart for the week of March 12, 2007. The album was also number 1 on the Rock and Indie album charts. The first proper single, "Black Mirror", reached the No. 1 spot on CBC Radio 3's R3-30 chart for five consecutive weeks, from March 22 to April 19, 2007, and was the first single by any band ever to spend more than two weeks atop the chart. The album gained much critical acclaim (even being mooted as a strong contender for album of the year), and because of its success saw the band proclaimed the most exciting act on the earth by British music magazine Q. Paste voted it one of the five best albums of 2007. Trouser Press writer Jason Reeher ranked Neon Bible "among the best indie rock recordings of all time."
Arcade Fire made their first appearance on Saturday Night Live on February 24, 2007 (Episode 618), performing "Intervention" and "Keep the Car Running". Owen Pallett was not present as he was recording for his solo project. During the performance, one of Win Butler's guitar strings broke, prompting him to rip the strings from his acoustic guitar and smash it on the floor until it shattered. On this guitar, "sak vide pa kanpe" was written in duct tape across the front. A Haitian proverb meaning "An empty sack cannot stand up" in Creole, this may have been a reference to the extreme poverty of Haiti, the country of origin of Régine Chassagne.
On July 10, 2007, Neon Bible was named to the shortlist for the 2007 Polaris Music Prize. Patrick Watson was announced as the winner at a gala ceremony on September 24, 2007. However, due to the band's preference not to participate in compilation albums, they were the only nominee not to have a track on the Polaris promotional compilation 2007 Polaris Music Prize. Some media initially reported that the Polaris committee had snubbed the band by excluding them, leading the band and the committee to issue a joint press release confirming that the band chose not to have a track included on the album.
The Neon Bible tour continued into September 2007 with 25+ dates scheduled in North America and Europe through mid-November. In Paris the band did a Take-Away Show video session shot by Vincent Moon. The band toured Australia and New Zealand for the first time in early 2008 as part of the 2008 Big Day Out festival. On October 14, 2007, Win Butler and Régine Chassagne made a surprise guest appearance at a Bruce Springsteen show in Ottawa, playing "State Trooper" and "Keep the Car Running". The band committed to give Partners in Health $1.00, £1.00, or €1.00 of every ticket sold on its 2008 European and North American tours.
Arcade Fire further helped PIH, when it recorded "Lenin" on Red Hot Organization's latest album, Dark Was the Night. Sales from DWTN generated over $850,000 in money donated to AIDS related charities—$300,000 of which was given to PIH on Arcade Fire's behalf.
In February 2008, Win Butler announced on the band's journal that the Neon Bible tour had come to an end, after one year of touring and a total of 122 shows (including 33 festivals) in 75 cities and 19 countries.
Win Butler has been a vocal supporter of Barack Obama since the end of the New Hampshire Primary. Arcade Fire performed two free concerts for Obama in Cleveland and Nelsonville, Ohio on March 2, 2008 and March 3, 2008 before the state's March 4 primary. The band, with Superchunk, performed another two free concerts for Obama on May 1 in Greensboro, North Carolina, and on May 2 in Carrboro, North Carolina before the state's May 6 primary. On January 21, 2009, Arcade Fire and Jay-Z were the musical guests at the Obama Campaign Staff Ball at the DC Armory, at Obama's request. Butler thanked President Obama for his stated intent to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, and repeatedly thanked the Obama staffers for their work during the election.
The band was rumored to be working with producer Markus Dravs on the soundtrack for the Richard Kelly film The Box. Win Butler denied the claims, but stated that he and Owen Pallett "may do an instrumental piece or two" for the film.
In December 2008, Pitchfork reported the band set up the website miroir-noir.com to foreshadow the release of a concert film with the same title, reporting, "Miroir Noir will feature live footage from the Neon Bible tour." The upcoming film was directed by Vincent Morisset. It was made available to pre-order on December 15, 2008 with the digital version available to download immediately, and the DVD shipping March 31, 2009.
A re-recorded version of the band's song "Wake Up" from their 2004 debut album, Funeral, has been used for the trailer of the Spike Jonze film Where the Wild Things Are, which was released on October 2009. The song "Wake Up" has also become popular on sports radio talk shows in the U.S. In 2009, two nationally syndicated shows—The Dan Patrick Show and The Petros and Money Show—frequently used the song as "bumper" music. The National Football League featured this recording in commercials throughout the broadcast of the 2010 Super Bowl. The band donated the proceeds from licensing the song to the NFL to the charity Partners In Health.
2010–12: The Suburbs
On May 27, 2010 it was announced that a new double-sided 12" single would be released the same day, with the full album, called The Suburbs, to be released on August 2 in the UK and on August 3 in the U.S. and Canada thanks to Merge Records. The album is produced by Markus Dravs, who worked on previous album, 2007's Neon Bible and was engineered by Marcus Paquin, who has also previously worked with the band. A track-by-track review ahead of The Suburbs release by The Quietus website said, "The progression is similar to the one William Blake takes us through in Songs of Innocence and of Experience that suggests forward momentum and maturity." The album was released with eight different covers.
The first show announced was Oxegen 2010 which took place in Ireland in July. The band announced that they would play songs from the new album in their headline performance at the Reading and Leeds Festivals in August 2010, with Win Butler noting "We're really looking forward to playing the new songs live... [it's] like an inventor emerging from his basement after a year's work."
In July 2010, Arcade Fire announced they would be broadcasting their August 5 concert at Madison Square Garden live via YouTube. They later announced the video would be directed by Terry Gilliam. The Suburbs was released worldwide at the start of August 2010 to extensive critical acclaim comparable to Funeral and Neon Bible. During the 2010 tour Arcade Fire gave a tribute to Jay Reatard performing the cover of "Oh, It's Such a Shame." Win Butler confessed to Zane Lowe that the band wanted Jay Reatard to support the band on this tour, but he died. The Suburbs went on to debut at number one in the U.S. (on the Billboard 200), selling 156,000 units in its first week. It was also number one in the UK and Canada.
In August 2010, Arcade Fire and Google released an interactive music video, written and directed by Chris Milk and produced by B-Reel, which allows the viewer to enter the address where they grew up and the video is then "geopersonalised". This video utilizes the band's song "We Used to Wait" from The Suburbs, and showcases capabilities of HTML5 and Google's Chrome browser. On November 13, 2010, Arcade Fire made their second appearance on Saturday Night Live, performing "We Used to Wait" and "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)".
In a nod to the Butlers' maternal grandfather, Alvino Rey, who was an amateur radio operator, the logo used by the band from this time was a variation of that used by the American Radio Relay League. Also, when playing the single "We Used to Wait" live, the background video screen features a radio exchange between Rey and a Canadian operator having Call Sign VE3YV. The video also features many other amateur radio artifacts.
Arcade Fire performed at the 53rd Grammy Awards in February 2011. The band was nominated for Grammy Awards in three categories: Album of the Year, Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, and Best Alternative Music Album (for The Suburbs). Out of the three nominations, they won the award for Album of the Year.
At the 2011 BRIT Awards, The Suburbs won Best International Album, and Arcade Fire won the Award for Best International Group.
In March 2011, Arcade Fire was honored at the Juno Awards of 2011. They won Group of the Year and Songwriter of the Year for "Ready to Start", "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)", and "We Used to Wait", all off The Suburbs. The Suburbs also won Album of the Year and Alternative Album of the Year.
On April 19, 2011 it was announced that Arcade Fire will release a deluxe edition of their album The Suburbs featuring the short film Scenes from the Suburbs, by director Spike Jonze, as well as two new tracks, "Culture War" and "Speaking in Tongues" featuring David Byrne. Scenes from the Suburbs, which debuted at the Berlin International Film Festival 2011, has a running time of 30 minutes. The film screened at the SXSW Film Festival 2011 and saw its online premiere on MUBI on June 27, 2011. Writing for the Canadian Press, Nick Patch called the film "a sci-fi puzzler that seems to blend the paranoia of Terry Gilliam films with the nostalgia of classic Steven Spielberg flicks."
On June 16, the album was named as a longlisted nominee (one of 40) for the 2011 Polaris Music Prize. On July 6, the album was named as a shortlisted (one of 10) nominee for the 2011 award. On September 20, 2011, they were awarded the Polaris Prize.
On May 19, 2012 Arcade Fire (minus members Will and Tim) made their third appearance on Saturday Night Live, playing as a backup band for musical guest and host Mick Jagger. The band played "The Last Time" with Jagger, and participated in Kristen Wiig's farewell skit, playing "She's a Rainbow" into "Ruby Tuesday". The band wore carrés rouges (red squares) to show support for the 2012 Quebec student protests.
Arcade Fire recorded a song for The Hunger Games soundtrack (The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond), called "Abraham's Daughter". The song is featured in the movie's end credits. The soundtrack was released on March 20, 2012, debuting at number one on the Billboard 200. It sold more than 175,000 copies in its first week according to Nielsen SoundScan. It's the first theatrical film soundtrack to top the chart since Michael Jackson's "This Is It" debuted at No. 1 on the list. It is also only the 16th soundtrack to debut at No. 1 in the history of the Billboard 200 chart (those soundtracks include film, television, and straight-to-video efforts).
Arcade Fire also contributed to the movie's original score, The Hunger Games: Original Motion Picture Score. The group composed the grand, fascistic-inspired, ominous Panem national anthem, entitled "Horn of Plenty", an important and signature leitmotif appearing throughout the film. “We were interested in making music that would be more integral in the movie, just as a mental exercise,” Butler, who co-wrote the song with Chassagne, explained. “And there’s an anthem that runs throughout the books, the national anthem of the fascist Capitol. So as a thought experiment, we tried to write what that might sound like. It’s like the Capitol’s idea of itself, basically.” He further added that "it's not a pop song or anything. More of an anthem that could be playing at a big sporting event like the [Hunger] Games. So we did a structure for that, and then James Newton Howard made a movie-score version of it that happens in several places in the film.” Arcade Fire's Panem national anthem has received strong reviews. According to Spin Mobile, "'Horn of Plenty' sounds both exactly like Arcade Fire and exactly like a futuristic anthem."
Arcade Fire and Mercury Records confirmed that they would release a fourth album in late 2013. In December 2012, the band's manager Scott Rodger confirmed that Arcade Fire was in the studio working with James Murphy, former frontman of LCD Soundsystem. The official Arcade Fire pre-order website sets the release date on October 28, 2013. The band announced on January 18, 2013 that they were selling the church they had been using as a studio due to a collapsed roof. Throughout 2013, the band worked on the album in several different recording studios - including Murphy's DFA Records studio in New York. On June 22, 2013, Rolling Stone reported that new material from the album would be released on September 9, 2013.
On July 12, the band announced via a reply on Twitter that their new album will be released on October 29.
Arcade Fire has also been confirmed to be scoring Spike Jonze's science-fiction romance Her. Speculation emerged in August that the album would be named Reflektor after images began circulating of street art using the name. These images were collected on an Instagram account and later uploads noted the date of September 9 and time of 9 P.M. Arcade Fire confirmed their connection to the campaign with a billboard put up in New York City on August 26, 2013. A week later, the band released a 15-second music clip on Spotify titled "9pm 9/9" under the album name Reflektor.
English rock musician David Bowie contributed to backing vocals on the title song, "Reflektor" after praising the song's quality in fall 2013.
Arcade Fire have recorded a version of the 1980 hit single "Games Without Frontiers" for the Peter Gabriel tribute album And I'll Scratch Yours, which was released in September 2013.
Arcade Fire were the musical guest on the 39th season premiere of Saturday Night Live on September 28, 2013. The episode drew six million viewers. They also appeared in a half hour special on NBC, Arcade Fire in Here Comes the Night Time, that aired immediately after SNL. The special featured cameo appearances by Ben Stiller, Bono, Bill Hader, Zach Galifianakis, Rainn Wilson, Aziz Ansari, Eric Wareheim, and Michael Cera. The concert footage was filmed at the band's surprise September 9 appearance at Montreal's Club Salsathèque.
Arcade Fire performed live at the YouTube Music Awards on November 3, 2013. The performance featured an experimental "live video" directed by Her writer and director Spike Jonze, and actress Greta Gerwig. The band is currently nominated for a Satellite Award for Best Original Score for Her. They were also nominated for a Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Music Score. The band headlined the 2014 Glastonbury Festival on June 27.
Richard Reed Parry admits the 'bigness' of the band, and their level of success, is something the band is in the process of trying to be comfortable with, and "a thing we have to adapt to."
At the 2014 Juno Awards, Reflektor won Album of the Year and Alternative Album of the Year. The album is also a shortlisted nominee for the 2014 Polaris Music Prize.
- Funeral (2004)
- Neon Bible (2007)
- The Suburbs (2010)
- Reflektor (2013)
- Funeral Tour (2003–2005)
- Neon Bible Tour (2007–2008)
- The Suburbs Tour (2010–2011)
- The Reflektors Mini Tour (2013)
- Reflektor Tour (2014)
- List of awards and nominations received by Arcade Fire
- Canadian rock
- Official website
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Image from Discogs