The 1975, Chvrches, Years & Years: the Sleeperbloke is back

Is a band still a band when the frontperson takes all the heat? In 2018, the blokes-at-the-back format – as pioneered by Sleeper – is as prevalent as ever

In the 1990s, when journalists could be mean to bands without the fear of being “cancelled” by their fans on Twitter, the term Sleeperblokes was invented, to refer to those anonymous men who stand at the back of bands, inspired by Sleeper and their frontwoman Louise Wener. Incredibly, the band took it quite well and even sold Sleeperbloke T-shirts.

Now, in 2018, Sleeperblokes are everywhere. Bastille’s new single Quarter Past Midnight came out last month, but could you recognise the band if they didn’t have high-haired Dan Smith standing in front of them? Chvrches’ Iain Cook and Martin Doherty get all of seven seconds’ screen time (compared to Lauren Mayberry’s three minutes) in their recent video for Miracle. And did you know the George in AlunaGeorge is a real person? Or that Lion Babe isn’t just Jillian Hervey, but also a man called (*checks Wikipedia*) Lucas Goodman? Sometimes, members take a blissful, intentional step back into anonymity. While Years & Years frontman Olly Alexander bears his soul in interviews to promote upcoming album Palo Santo, the band’s Mikey Goldsworthy and Emre Türkmen can do the weekly shop without getting asked for a selfie down the loo-roll aisle. The 1975’s “other” members don’t even have to speak in interviews ahead of this month’s album Music for Cars. Band spokesperson Matty Healy works the press while the rest of the lads knock off early and get home in time for Hollyoaks.

Not for one second is anyone saying that Sleeperblokes aren’t essential parts of a band’s success. In many cases, it would be hard for these aforementioned frontpeople to scale the charts without the heft of the band’s established brand behind them (although The Lauren Mayberry EP feels oddly inevitable in a not-so-distant future). But the key shift is the necessity of being in a band in order to “prove” musical authenticity. It no longer exists as it once did. Instead, an artist needs an interesting story and something to say about social issues to confirm that, yes, Trump is indeed bad. Back in the days of the NME, bands used to need serious-faced members who would confirm that it really is “all about the music”. In 2018, those magazines aren’t around any more and frontpeople have stepped forward.

In the modern day, when fame is toxic and fans can hack into pop star iClouds, being an anonymous Sleeperbloke seems like the best career move. You get paid to play gigs and festivals, then slip off into the crowd looking like every other bloke queuing for a warm Tuborg. They don’t even need to do “outspoken” interviews in which they’re castrated online for holding vague opinions on feminism. Maybe the much-mocked Sleeperblokes were actually the winners this entire time.


Issy Sampson

The GuardianTramp

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