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Global Warming Threatens Arctic Monkeys

albinomonkey_228×279.jpgThe Arctic Monkeys’ reworked version of “Dancing Shoes” with a ridiculously catchy Cuban rhythm, featured on last fall’s Rhythms del Mundo compilation, first seems noteworthy simply for its goofy exuberance. A YouTube video, which borrows a classic Bollywood dance sequence, makes the song even more relentlessly silly. But beneath the surface humor is a desperate plea for help, revealing the Arctic Monkeys’ struggle for survival in an increasingly inhospitable climate.



arcticmonkeys-grp1-1005.jpgSadly, the Arctic Monkeys’ plight is representative of a huge, and until now, underreported problem: the threat climate change poses to the world’s music supply. This six-part essay reports on the impending musical catastrophe and the global efforts, spearheaded by international celebrity and unofficial “fifth Monkey” Al Gore, to bring about a saner and more musically balanced future.


Holiday in the Sun

Between 1971 and 2000, July high temperatures in the Arctic Monkeys’ hometown of Sheffield, England averaged a moderate 67.1 degrees Fahrenheit. Monkeys members fear a rise of several degrees could induce a complacency that would thwart their ability to turn aging Buzzcocks and Libertines riffs into snappy pop songs. It’s hardly a coincidence that the Arctic Monkeys’ new album is titled Favorite Worst Nightmare. “This is serious, man,” remarked lead singer Alex Turner. “Take away that distinctly British chill, and before you know it, we’d be crooning bloody Cliff Richard songs on ‘Top of the Pops’ for me bloody mum and auntie.”

lillyrex1203_468×384.jpgBritish musicians fear that warming trends threaten the supply of angst, guilt and irony, the three pillars of British musical expression, and arguably of all Anglo-Saxon culture. MySpace ska-pop princess Lily Allen announced she is canceling a spring break in Ibiza and touring by dogsled in Lapland instead. Allen, who asked “sun is in the sky, oh why?” on last year’s prescient “LDN,” wants a secure place for her music. “The reindeer are a bit daft, but I feel safe here,” she said, sipping Absolut vodka in Sweden’s Jukkasjarvi Ice Hotel, 200 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle.

The direst warnings came from Radiohead’s Thom Yorke. “Look, I’m not trying to get all Bono on you about global warming,” he said, “but I think we may already have reached the tipping point. You know that old Pink Floyd concert movie filmed at Pompeii, where the lads are so out of it that they sing a 23-minute song about an albatross and babble incoherently about wanting pie with no crust? Well, that would be Radiohead in a warmer world. If you thought Kid A was already full of little blips and burps, you haven’t seen anything yet.”

Here Come the Warm Jets

2.jpgFor generations, Britons who felt the heat could turn to Scandinavia, which has served as a reliable source of Abba, chilly air, dark winters, and depressing Bergman movies. But now even Scandinavian musicians are caught in the crossfire of global warming. How much longer, they wonder, will Sweden’s Hives have the energy to stylishly ape the Nuggets catalogue of retro-garage rock? How long will it be before the power-pop ice sculptures of Swedish compatriots Peter, Bjorn and John, on display in this year’s Writer’s Block, will melt into a puddle of self-indulgence? And how much time does Denmark’s Mew have to spread the blissed-out grandeur of And the Glass Handed Kites before it turns to warmed-over prog rock? The answer, they say, is blowing in the wind off the North Sea, and it’s getting warmer all the time.

bjorkswan.jpg The threat to northern ways of life is perhaps most evident in tiny Iceland, which already stands to lose its number one export commodity, arty eccentricity. Last year, ambient rockers Sigur Ros relocated to northern Greenland, where they will have to vie for space with speculators. This year, as previously black-clad, chain-smoking regulars at Reykjavik cafes start to appear in pastel-colored halter-tops asking for wine spritzers, Iceland’s cultural boosters fear the worst. “I’m afraid we have started to think the unthinkable,” said Thor Lars Gudmundsdottirmottarfukkar, Icelandic minister of musical culture. “We think the warming trend is starting to reach Bjork herself. She’ll always be a diva, but only under ideal climatic conditions will you get things like dead swan dresses and the swooping, swooning noises of Vespertine. If you want to see her future, think Celine in Vegas belting out the theme to Titanic, and we know how that boat sinks, right?”

Across the Atlantic, traditionally chilly Montreal is alarmed at a similar thaw. The city became known as an alternative-rock outpost once warming trends overtook Seattle, but locals are now starting to ask disturbing questions. Wolf Parade is already facing a loss of critical habitat. Most ominously, the new Arcade Fire album, Neon Bible, shares its name with a novel by the late New Orleans author John Kennedy Toole, and several of its songs sound like they could have been recorded on the Gulf Coast or the Jersey Shore. “It’s over,” a longtime devotee privately confided. “The climate here can no longer sustain big-band anthems with string sections and glockenspiels. By this time next year, these guys are going to be wearing Lynyrd Skynyrd belt buckles.”

The Sun Sessions

elvis_presley.jpg “Let’s not kid ourselves. The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world climate change doesn’t exist,” said Keyser Soze, head of the European Union’s special task force on musiclimatology. Soze, a German national who is said to have come from Turkey, is equally familiar with warm and cold regions. He authored the 2006 United Nations-sponsored report, Music, Climate Change, and Global Security, which showed the depth of scientific consensus on music’s relationship to climate change.

The report also revealed that it’s not simply warm weather, but also too much exposure to warm-weather music, that may destabilize the world’s future. In response, the European Union instituted a “cap and trade” program to assist member nations in containing warm-weather music. Caps limit each country’s total amount of warm-weather music, but participants may trade these allowances.

The European Union’s restricted music includes almost the entire output of Central and South America, except for a few Peruvian mountain bands that play at farmers’ markets. It also covers Africa, the Pacific Islands, and Central Asia, as well as the complete discography of James Brown, George Clinton, Django Reinhardt and the Hot Club of France, and even the Beach Boys. The songs on the regulated list are remarkably wide-ranging, including:

jamesbrown.jpg
• “Too Darn Hot” by Cole Porter, as performed by Ella Fitzgerald
• “Red Hot” by Billy Lee Riley
• “White Light/ White Heat” by the Velvet Underground
• “(Love is Like a) Heat Wave” by Martha and the Vandellas
• “Long Hot Summer” by the Style Council
• “Hot Hot Hot” by Arrow
• “96 Degrees in the Shade” by Third World
• “Sunny Afternoon” by the Kinks
• “Hot in Heerre” by Nelly
• “I’ll Melt with You” by Modern English

3580955392.jpgEuropean officials also strictly limited circulation of the new duet by Beyonce and Shakira, “Beautiful Liar.” Soze explained that “even though the song itself doesn’t directly express warm-weather themes, our panel of international experts just found them too hot.”

The European cap-and-trade system is far from foolproof. So far, it’s had difficulty preventing enterprising individuals from obtaining restricted music from countries with lax controls. “Take Sweden’s Jens Lekman,” said Soze. “Listen to his first hit, ‘Maple Leaves,’ and you can tell that he must have found a copy of Jonathan Richman’s 1983 song ‘That Summer Feeling’, probably somewhere in China. We’ll get him eventually, but it takes forever to look through all the possible back channels.”

One of the most controversial parts of the European program allows those who might otherwise exceed the warm-weather music caps to purchase “offsets” of cold-weather music. For example, the Inuit choir from Greenland who appeared with Bjork in her 2001 Royal Opera House performance seems poised to make potential millions of Euros in offset purchases. More inexplicably, rappers Ice Cube, Ice T, and even Vanilla Ice stand to make windfall profits from the offset program unless it is carefully policed.

The Sweet Escape

0007671.jpgA handful of skeptics scoff at the scientific consensus supporting prompt efforts to limit anthropogenic music emissions. While most recognize that some climate change is real, they argue this change could even be beneficial for some countries’ music. They point out that British rockers have borrowed from warm-weather music ever since Keith Richards discovered Delta bluesmen and Brian Jones stumbled on the Master Musicians of Jajouka. It seems undeniable that much of the world’s great musical output —whether it’s the gonzo fiddling of Romania’s Taraf de Haidouks, the sensual tropicalia of Brazil’s Caetano Veloso, the guitar-heavy rai of Algeria’s Rachid Taha, or the Cuban-influenced dance rhythms of Senegal’s Orchestra Baobab—comes from areas that get very warm. So what’s the harm, the skeptics wonder, of merely rolling the dice and seeing what happens when Nigerian Afrobeat shows up in southern Germany and Portuguese Fado becomes all the rage in London?

“You might as well sell postcards of a hanging,” said Soze. “We’ve never said that warm-weather music is bad,” he noted, emphasizing “music from warm regions, like the sun itself, is essential to life as we know it.” But what’s missing from the skeptics’ view is the delicate balance needed to sustain the world’s musical ecosystems. “The skeptics get all starry-eyed about growing tropical influence in a warmer world, but more often than not, you end up with Jimmy Buffett, wasting away in Margaritaville.”

soundofmusicjpg.jpggwen1.jpgEven worse, according to Soze, is that the skeptics ignore the fragile interplay between coastal and mountain regions in a changing climate. “Don’t just ignore the problem unless you like the idea of drunken oompah bands in lederhosen topping the international charts,” Soze said. “Much of the world’s distinctive music is coastal. Start flooding the coasts, and all around the world, we’ll be listening to the sort of music farmers play to lure their goats, sheep, yaks and oxen.” This also appears to have been the point of Gwen Stefani’s much-misunderstood, Neptunes-produced 2006 single, “Wind It Up,” widely dismissed as a gimmicky goof for its yodeling homage to “The Lonely Goatherd” from The Sound of Music. Stefani, the quintessential coastal-dwelling club diva, was ahead of the curve in recognizing that due to the current warming trends, we may rapidly become a world full of lonely goatherds.

When Doves Cry

goreglobe.jpgThe United States, which remains the number one producer of potentially harmful music emissions, remains largely opposed to the sorts of mandatory programs to contain musical heat that are now standard practice in Europe. But Al Gore, the Arctic Monkeys’ spiritual leader, is hoping to change that shortsighted stance. Despite a busy schedule that this year has already found him accepting an Oscar, the Nobel Peace Prize, honorary knighthood, honorary sainthood, and Customer of the Week honors at the Georgetown Starbucks, he took time out for a town hall meeting in Nashville, Tennessee designed to promote a new book he co-authored with his wife Tipper, Music in the Balance. Joined by Manchester, England’s Doves, who performed a tearful version of “Sky Starts Falling” to open the meeting, the Gores premiered their new nine-hour slide show, which director James Cameron proudly announced would make Al the “King of the World.”

tipper.jpgprince.jpgBasking in her husband’s newfound popularity, Tipper Gore, a former drummer, announced in Nashville that she is reviving her controversial watchdog group, the PMRC, which has now been rechristened the Parents Mobilized for a Responsible Climate. She announced a deal struck with major record labels and online music suppliers to provide voluntary warning labels identifying warm-weather music. Recalling that the late Frank Zappa had once branded her a “cultural terrorist,” Tipper Gore said she had been misunderstood. “I don’t believe in censorship. This is all about balance and responsibility,” she said. “People who called me a prude when I got on Prince’s case about songs like ‘Darling Nikki’ don’t realize that I was really thinking about environmental sustainability. I actually enjoy much of Prince’s music, but the fact remains that he was making music far too overheated to stay in balance in Minnesota. I mean, the place is filled with Norwegian Lutherans who like to go ice fishing and say ‘okey dokey’. Enough is enough.”

The Road to Bakersfield

minutemen.jpgThese days, it’s hard to doubt the Gores’ sincerity as they yearn for a less overheated, more musically balanced world. But the Gores’ concern also reflects another tough political reality. Fellow Democrats, who have struggled to stay competitive with the Republicans in Presidential elections, fear the consequences of climate-induced musical realignments. A top aide, who requested not to be named until Bob Woodward passes away, recalled that historically, California’s coast has been able to sustain an almost ideally balanced musical climate where soul, blues and country can coexist with beat poetry, free jazz and cutting-edge rock from psychedelic to punk. A generation ago, San Pedro’s Minutemen were even able to nod to all of these influences at once.

buck.jpgBut the future is another story. The same aide warns that if a warmer world floods California’s coastline as much as predicted, “Bakersfield will be, for all intents and purposes, the cultural capital of California.” Noting the passing of Buck Owens and the departure of Merle Haggard long ago for the snowy Mount Shasta region, the aide added, “It won’t be the Bakersfield you want to remember, either. We’re talking about NASCAR fans with enormous Ford F-350 pickup trucks. They worship the water Toby Keith walks on. They buy beer for their horses. If we lose the coast, California turns Red State in a heartbeat, and nobody will be left to stop it but a few descendants of Basque sheepherders.”

In late April 2007, the Arctic Monkeys, Lily Allen, the Arcade Fire and Bjork will once again face the heat. These climate-challenged acts will all perform at the Coachella Festival in scorchingly hot Indio, California. It may be their last chance to avert their worst nightmares, and California’s last chance as well.

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One Comment
  1. shacker permalink

    Is it any coincidence Radiohead’s speaker cabinets say “Pink Floyd London” across them in big white letters? Grapevine is that Radiohead actually inherited / purchased them from Floyd. Either that or Yorke is trying to give the critics what they want.

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