On the 15th Anniversary of Silent Alarm, in an unusual time in history, we’re looking back on what made this album so monumental and why it’s managed to still fill people with a buzz all these years later.
There are some albums that just capture and define an era. The music is sometimes so powerful that it creates neuropathic pathways, taking you back to a time, a place and all feelings and emotions linked to those moments. Bloc Party’s 2005 debut Silent Alarm engulfed our stereos and IPods in a rapid movement and paved the way for so much of the music and artists that followed. From the opening riff in Like Eating Glass it captured audiences and gave us the impression these guys weren’t here to f*ck around.
It’s one of those albums you cast your mind back to, to think where you were when you first heard it. It’s soundtracked so many parts of my life and as I sit in my study, in lockdown, thinking about this album, I can’t help but get nostalgic for the magic of those mid 2000s. It was an era where music was transitioning between hard copy and digital, Bush and Blair headed the western world, Emo was a thing and Myspace was where the kids were at. There was a freedom, an ease of movement, connection and buzz - all things that I’m certainly longing for in our ‘new normal’.
Formed by frontman Kele Okereke and guitarist Russell Lissack, Bloc Party were just four scrawny Essex kids, living in London and wanting to make music with a randomness to it. They set out to create a technicolour album that had depth but incidentally became the epitome of indie rock and shaped the guitar driven dance wave that quickly followed.
While people described them as this post punk revival they didn’t see themselves further from that label. They were into post rock, underground American music - inspired by artists like Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. They weren't looking for grey, pale and skinny’ they were looking for body, space and life.
In an interview with Gemma Pike on the J files in 2018, Kele detailed the making of the album and the six weeks spent in Copenhagen with producer Paul Epworth. While they were young and fresh, they were determined to stick to their guns, staying true to their music integrity because really they had nothing to lose. They had released the Banquet EP which was picking up, but still, they were 4 guys from the UK with this ‘Post Punk’ stamp trying to carve out a space for the music they wanted to make. While there were head butt moments with Epworth, Kele talked about the gang mentality of the project and their eventual coming to agreement to release, what turned out to be, an era defining piece.
Bloc Party (Credit: Marley Kate)
Straight out of the gate, there was a sense of something big with Silent Alarm. Over 13 songs and 58 minutes they take us into this journey where time doesn’t exist - it crosses generations and space. It was this raw debut so full of energy and a youthful truth. It balanced dance beats (Helicopter) with melancholic moments (So Here We Are), camaraderie (Positive Tension) and political statements (Price of Gas). As someone growing up in Australia, their music took me straight to a cold UK setting, similar to something pictured in the defying show of the same time, Skins. It was big drums, a killer voice and stadium filling tunes with a rugged up winter feel filling me with a fight.
Hit singles like Helicopter and Banquet were head banging sing along tunes from start to finish. You can’t help but belt out ‘cause I’m on fire’ as Kele screeches into the midway point of Banquet, that tide turning from youth to adult ‘ turning away from the light, becoming adult,
turning into my soul’.
Kele’s lyrics and delivery throughout the album is poetic but relatable. There’s the turmoils of growing up, that youthful angst, relationship discoveries, love, the ups and downs of being young and naive and finding your voice. Then there’s those moments reflecting on what was happening around them, discovering how the world works and trying to come to terms with that.
In an interview with Pitchfork in 2005 Kele talked about his influences for the album, witnessing western teenage selfishness and teens feeling and acting like they are the centre of the universe. He was right, it was a time of indulgence, but it also felt like we were connected on these levels through music, through art, through the changing nature of our surroundings. The Pioneers spoke to this, while teens think they’re the first to do anything, those paving the way, what’s true is that there’s always others before and after ‘We will not be the last’ .
What I find, giving into the nostalgia, is that in retrospect we were ok. Sure it seemed like the world was ending some days - but really it got worse. While teens currently may be more tuned into climate change and political activism there’s a whole plugged in generation of Iphone babies and selfie enthusiasts out there who are just as self obsessed, now with the platforms to share more readily at the click of a button. Where blogs, Tumblr and Myspace defined the online movement of the mid 2000s, our entire lives moved online and people got lonely and less connected while being more plugged in. Take the last few months - the anxiety, the removal of physical connection, it’s been a ride and a half and we’re not even in the thick of what’s to come.
The end of the album takes a turn into understanding these anxieties and facing the facts ‘Stop being so laissez faire, we’re all scared of the future’ (Plans). Plans is this realisation that time and freedom isn’t forever so live in the moment ‘wake up sleepy head, it’s happening without you’ and embrace the ease while you can ‘so kiss me before it all gets complicated’.
As a self diagnosed romanticist and angsty teen, This Modern Love spoke to me the most then. Not that I had one great love, but it spoke to all those with feelings of passion and desire for something or someone. It was a song of hope and longing, trying to make something work regardless of the pain it causes.
Silent Alarm will forever and a day stay on the shelf for my favorite albums of all time. Sure, I may have slightly more rose tinted sunglasses on while I look back on my youth and all the possibilities ahead while I sit in my ‘home office’ writing about this while our borders are all shut, economies are collapsing and people are dying in the hundreds of thousands. But what I think I’m really getting at is the impact music had at that time. This album made me feel like I was part of something bigger. The music culture of the time made you feel like you were part of a club, this youth revolt, a band of kids who wanted to have fun, be heard, get creative and make shit. It should be remembered as a turning point in time that changed many lives, mine included. It broke out - filled our heads and our hearts with fire. This album is not something to sit in silence. Turn it up, play it loud, sing along and smile from ear to ear. Get lost in it’s magic.