Could it be the beginning of a new upward trend?
Vicky Greer
15:06 9th March 2021

On Friday, the announcement came in that Brighton metalcore band Architects’ new album had reached Number 1 in the UK Album Charts. Most of the time, such a heavy album making it to the top of the UK mainstream album charts might seem like a fluke, and the commercial success of For Those That Wish To Exist even came as a genuine surprise to the band themselves. But it’s another example of a growing trend in the UK album charts – guitar-driven albums from alternative bands have been dominating the top ten all throughout 2021. Architects have joined the club of bands whose releases have gone to Number 1 this year: You Me At Six, Foo Fighters, Mogwai and Bring Me The Horizon, who re-entered with their EP Post Human: Survival Horror.

This is Architects’ very first Number 1 album in the main charts; indeed, it was the first of their albums to break the top ten. The week before, the same thing happened to Scottish prog-rock band Mogwai, who scored their first Number 1 album with As The Love Continues: their first in the 25 years since they released their first song. Frontman Stuart Braithwaite expressed his surprise at the achievement, telling The Big Issue that “bands like us don’t normally get to number one”.

It came partially as a result of the #Mogwai4Number1 campaign that surged throughout Twitter that week, led by fans of the band and picked up by fellow musicians included Tim Burgess and The Cure’s Robert Smith – even actor Elijah Wood got in on the campaign. Following on from the good news, Braithwaite tweeted “Ok, I’ll start. #maximopark4number1”, prompting a new campaign for the pop rock band and their album Nature Always Wins - who were narrowly beaten by Architects for the coveted spot.

If we look at the same period of time in 2020, we see a very different list of artists. The only rock bands to hit Number 1 by this time last year were Green Day with Father of All… and Blossoms with pop-tinged indie record Foolish Loving Spaces. The rest of the Number 1 albums came from more familiar pop names like Lewis Capaldi, Justin Bieber and BTS. Throughout the rest of the year, there are only a handful of guitar bands appearing on the list.

Of course, the charts aren’t the only thing to change over the course of the year. The Covid-19 pandemic has had a massive effect on alternative music scenes, devastating the live music industry and changing the way that music is released. This has in turn changed the way that fans interact with their favourite bands. Freelance culture journalist Ali has been watching this trend closely.

“Without gigs, fans of alternative music are looking for other ways to support their favourite artists or feel involved in the community,” he says of these online campaigns. The pandemic has opened the conversation around income in the music industry. With greater awareness of how much touring and merchandise means to artists’ careers, fans are working harder to find the best ways to directly support their favourite musicians. A big part of this is buying music instead of streaming.

I also spoke to Ben, a rock and metal fan who has noticed the changing success of rock and pop albums. “When it comes to the charts, rock and alternative are much more flash-in-the-pan, as opposed to pop artists who just float in there”. This trend was particularly visible last year with Lewis Capaldi and Dua Lipa staying at Number 1 for four weeks each, while rock bands had only one week in the top spot.

If the Official Charts was a points system, then physical album sales are worth much, much more than streams. “This leaves the door wide open for bands to inspire their core fanbase to pull together to try and achieve a Number 1” Ali adds. Fans who are usually involved in the live music scene are more likely to invest in recorded music to support their favourite bands.

Ali has been invested in these campaigns as a sign of support for the music industry. “I’ve been caught up in a couple of chart battles […] I have multiple copies of Sports Team’s Deep Down Happy and Creeper’s Sex, Death & The Infinite Void to prove it”. These records represent some of the biggest chart battles of last year, with Sports Team coming in second to Lady Gaga’s Chromatica and Creeper finding themselves up against Taylor Swift’s surprise album folklore in the summer.

The trend has the potential to continue, but it isn’t guaranteed. The success of campaigns like #Mogwai4Number1 will naturally encourage other fans to campaign for new rock albums. However, the rules of The Official Charts aren’t set in stone. The rules have been changed several times over the last 20 years to incorporate digital downloads and later streaming. Ali thinks this might not work in the favour of smaller bands, believing that streaming could be given higher priority in the weighting if big artists like Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift continue to have near-misses.

In a time where bands are struggling and venues are in danger of shutting down, Ali says that if fans of bands like Architects and Mogwai have the chance to “take on the mainstream”, they’ll go for it. There’s a real sense of joy in the alternative music community when we see our favourite albums get the recognition we feel that they deserve. The sense of community that existed at gigs now exists when independent venues back their favourite local artists and when fans use social media to support their favourite band. While we don’t have that sense of elation when the lights go down at a concert, The Official Charts show that rock music fans are banding together with more determination than ever before.

Photo: Press