The Domino effect

With Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand in its stable, Laurence Bell's record label has become the home of the British rock renaissance. John Robinson reports

When it seems the fortunes of British rock are on the rise, there are several places you can look to test the theory. You can, of course, listen to the records and hear the regional accents. One can examine the chart placings, and read the triumphalism of the music press. If you want to know if what you're experiencing is a genuine phenomenon, though, then you must turn your attention to the evening news.

This, certainly, is where the Arctic Monkeys received the most recent confirmation of their rapid and significant rise. Off the back of enormous sales figures for the Sheffield band's debut album - one of the fastest-selling debut albums in chart history - the band's achievements were no longer strictly a music story, but, as was the case when John Humphrys solemnly announced that Blur and Oasis were releasing singles on the same day, a news story.

Rather further behind the headlines, though, it's worth remembering that this is also the story of a record company with a remarkable recent hit rate. Ten years ago, its owner was filled with enormous goodwill to all men when the Folk Implosion's song Natural One crept into the upper reaches of the US singles chart. In the last two years, however, with Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand, Laurence Bell's Domino records has become responsible for the career of two of the country's biggest bands.

It's a remarkable achievement, but in an industry as savagely caricatured as the music business, Domino's successes stand out all the better as an example of a kind of particularly honourable fandom. At the label's inception, Domino specialised in low-budget (or "lo-fi") recordings from American bands such as Sebadoh, Palace, and later Pavement, who won a more selective, critical acclaim. Since then, the roster has brought remarkably different stuff - Four Tet, Third Eye Foundation, Clinic - but all have born the Domino stamp. Some bosses have a nose for a hit single. Bell's rather more valuable commodity is an often-stated recommendation: he has "good ears".

Evidently, if you trust them, commercially speaking, the world may come around to your way of hearing. It may be ironic that a label that was once in diametric opposition to Britpop has since signed bands that have done more than any other to boost the cause of the current British rock renaissance. But although times have changed, at Domino there still appears to be the same benign spirit at work.

An 2003 interview reveals just how simply this manifests itself. asked Bell who he was signing next. "We've just signed a band called Franz Ferdinand," he said. "They've got great songs and they're very colourful and fresh, so I've got high hopes for them."

It's as simple as that, evidently.


John Robinson

The GuardianTramp

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