Arctic Monkeys’ drummer Matt Helders is somewhat of an enigma. Not only is he an unbelievable musician, the key to Arctic Monkeys’ constant success, he also, well, kind of just fell into drumming. He left school at sixteen in 2002 and went to Barnsley College. He enrolled because “everyone else did”, and when he got there, he “cheated” his way onto the music course by learning one song on the piano.
That summer, he also started to play the drums. After receiving a thousand pounds in a bond from his grandparents, he visited his brother in the Cayman Islands for a month, and upon his return to Blighty, with the remainder of the cash, he bought himself his first drum kit. “Turns out it was a good investment” he would later remark, which must be up there as a contender for the understatement of the century.
The funny thing is, he only bought a drum kit, like with the way he enrolled at college, as a means of hanging out with his mates. The other three members had already got their guitars, so it fell to him to be the drummer — “if I wanted to be in the band it was drums only”. The irony is that it was “very inconvenient” for Helders to buy the drums because there was no room for them at his parents’ house, meaning he could only practice when the others did: “It was a slow start. I just didn’t want to be left out.” As we know, the rest was history. After a year, the band that we now know as Arctic Monkeys would play the first of many shows.
Initially, Helders was influenced by the rap of the time such as Eminem and Dr. Dre: “We were rap fans at school more than now … it still influences us in some ways; like for me, it’s the drummin’. The groove element, like foon-keh music.”
However, Helders and the band soon became inspired by the new wave of guitar music that was sweeping the globe. The Strokes, The Hives and The Vines shifted their gaze. He said: “Musically, it was a transitional time from being at school listening to rap (Eminem and Dr Dre) to getting into guitars. There was a danger there, for me, of getting into Limp Bizkit. All the kids that were into rap got into that, especially as I was into skateboarding. I don’t know how I narrowly escaped that but I got into The Strokes, The Hives and The Vines instead. I could be in a very different band right now.”
Furthermore, he would be inspired to push himself and develop as a drummer by another band. The same band who would end up having a massive impact on Arctic Monkeys around the close of the noughties: “The one thing that changed me the most was seeing Queens of the Stone Age live at a festival … as soon as they came off I was like – ‘Fuck, I need to start hitting harder.'”
In what would be an unbelievable twist of fate, Josh Homme, frontman of QOTSA, produced Arctic Monkeys’ third album, Humbug. Weirder still, Helders played the drums alongside QOTSA’s Homme and Dean Fertita on Iggy Pop’s smash, Post Pop Depression in 2016.
It is a testament to his skill as a drummer, and instantly recognizable style that he has had the opportunity to play with his idols, and achieved a gargantuan amount of success with his childhood friends – becoming British cultural icons along the way. Good thing he bought that drum kit then.
Join us, as we list five Arctic Monkeys songs that show all facets of his style and prove Matt Helders is a genius.
5 genius Matt Helders moments:
‘Library Pictures’ – Suck It and See 2011
This one seems to be divisive amongst Arctic Monkeys fans. It is a classic taste of sonic marmite; you love it or hate it. It comes from 2011’s Suck It and See, an album equally as polarising. However, the song is the perfect reflection of Helders’ drumming proficiency.
The song doesn’t stick around in one section for more than thirty seconds, and its varied rhythms and dynamics are dictated and managed by Helders with utter precision. It features his characteristic floor tom rolls that build up the tension then releases it when the song jumps into that off-kilter, Josh Homme inspired riff. Furthermore, the band have opened with the song countless times, perhaps as it is such a great warm-up for Helders.
‘Brianstorm’ – Favourite Worst Nightmare 2007
While there is a famous mythos surrounding this classic, in terms of Helders’ drumming, it is second to none. As the opening track on the band’s sophomore album, the song marked a statement of intent and moved the band into a more frenetic realm. Taking off from where ‘The View from the Afternoon’ left on their debut, Helders shows his “thundering” class.
The song’s iconic stature can largely be attributed to Helders. It is widely known for its intricate and rapid drum track. He moves between blasting toms and tight hi-hats, and it feels like a more bass-driven beat, possibly stemming from his rap influences. It is also 20bpm faster than ‘The View from the Afternoon’. It is also considered to be one of the best drum tracks of the millennium, as well as being a hard track for other drummers to learn. Consequently, it is featured on Guitar Hero 5.
‘The View from the Afternoon’ – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not 2006
This is the song that stamped Helders’ imprint on the earth. It is a favourite of Arctic Monkeys fans, and it is not hard to hear why. The first song on their debut album, the track is the direct forefather of ‘Brianstorm’. It features Helders’ trademark high energy, and in particular, his rapid 16th note drum grooves — front and centre in both this track and its successor.
He also shows his technical understanding of the drum kit and rhythm, as between that thunderous intro and outro, he blasts through varying hi-hat patterns, driving the song along at breakneck speed.
Helders’ drumming genius is more than present here, and the song marked the start of a career that would resonate with fans in ways that contemporaries could only dream of. Furthermore, in the music video, the target on the unknown drummers snare perfectly captures Helders’ hard-hitting, groovy precision. Watch the video below showing all elements of his drumming, truly showing his genius.
‘R U Mine?’ – AM 2013
There is not much to say about this entry other than representing the band and Helders reaching their peak. This tune is coloured by a signature Helders groove and that thunderous sound.
‘R U Mine?’ also shows that he has managed to create a personal style that is creative and effective. The drumming here is really him maturing and reaching the echelons of his heroes.
‘Pretty Visitors’ – Humbug 2009
The ninth song from Arctic Monkeys’ departure Humbug, is a vital piece of the band’s history and in Helders’ journey as a drummer. The muscular, Josh Homme inspired riffs and haunting; more experimental music is backed by his rapid, enigmatic drums that carry Turner’s fast-spoken lyrics.
The song is a fan favourite and represents Helders perfecting his trademark sound, augmented by the sinister feel of the song. Showing its stature, it is a fan favourite and a mainstay of their live performances. Helders often tinkers with his grooves live, again showing his prowess.
To say that the band owe a lot to Josh Homme is perhaps doing the QOTSA leader a disservice, and on this entry, and Humbug, he captures Helders’ raw energy perfectly.