Alt-J performing at the 2018 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival
|Also known as||∆|
|Origin||Leeds, England, United Kingdom|
Alt-J (stylised as alt-J) are an English indie rock band formed in 2007 in Leeds, by Joe Newman (guitar/lead vocals), Thom Sonny Green (drums), Gus Unger-Hamilton (keyboards/vocals) and Gwil Sainsbury (guitar/bass). Their debut album An Awesome Wave was released in May 2012 in Europe, and in September 2012 in the United States, and won the 2012 British Mercury Prize. Sainsbury left the band in early 2014. Their second album, This Is All Yours, was released on 22 September 2014 and went straight to UK number one. As a replacement for Sainsbury, Cameron Knight became a supporting member for alt-J's live shows, playing guitar, bass and sampler. In 2017, the band released their third studio album, Relaxer, and are currently playing as a trio.
The band's symbol is the capital Greek letter delta, Δ, which is used in many technical fields to indicate a change or difference. The use of Δ is based on the key sequence used to generate it on an Apple Mac computer: Alt+J. The cover art of the band's debut album An Awesome Wave shows an overhead view of the largest river delta in the world, where the Ganges River meets the Bay of Bengal in Bangladesh. alt-J were previously known as "Daljit Dhaliwal" and then "Films", but were later forced to change to "alt-J" because an American band called "The Films" already existed.
2007–10: Formation and early years
alt-J (∆) were formed when Gwil Sainsbury (guitar/bass), Joe Newman (guitar/lead vocals), Gus Unger-Hamilton (keyboards/vocals) and Thom Sonny Green (drums) met at Leeds University in 2007. Unger-Hamilton (younger brother of Ferdy, head of A&R for Polydor Records) studied English, the other three Fine Art. According to Newman, "I basically went to art school to start a band."
In their second year of studies, Newman showed Sainsbury some of his own songs and the pair began recording on GarageBand in their hall rooms with Sainsbury acting as producer. The band's sound arose from living in student halls, where noise had to be kept to a minimum, so that they were unable to use bass guitars or bass drums.
2011–12: An Awesome Wave and touring
After graduating, the band moved to Cambridge where they spent several months working on their music before signing a deal with Infectious Music in December 2011. Their self-titled 4-track demo EP, ∆, was recorded with producer Charlie Andrew in London and featured the tracks "Breezeblocks", "Hand-Made", "Matilda", and "Tessellate". A 7" single containing "Bloodflood" and "Tessellate" was released by Loud and Quiet in October 2011. Their first 2012 release for Infectious Music was the triangle-shaped 10" "Matilda"/"Fitzpleasure". It was followed by "Breezeblocks" which preceded their first album. An Awesome Wave was also produced by Charlie Andrew and compiled at Iguana Studios, Brixton, where the band recorded tracks during the studio's spare time. Their debut album was released on 28 May 2012 in the UK, Europe, and Australia, and on 18 September 2012 in North America via Canvasback Music. The album received largely favourable reviews and was described as a "captivating blend of insatiable grooves and profound poignancy".
alt-J supported Wild Beasts in April 2012 and played a minor headlining tour around the United Kingdom and Ireland in October of that year. The band have featured regularly on summer festivals, including Latitude, Bestival, Reading and Leeds, T in the Park, Green Man, Pukkelpop, and Lowlands. They also did concert tour in the United States in December 2012 and performed at the Laneway Festival tour in Australia. In November 2012 the band were announced as the winners of the Mercury Prize for their album. Besides the prize-money, the band saw an increase in their profile resulting in An Awesome Wave reaching 13 in the UK album chart. The band would later describe the event as "life-changing, there was a sense of [being] imposters, that the band had somehow got this far without not being a real band, we’re just guys from Leeds who muddled through it and magicked a Mercury award".
2013–2016: Departure of Sainsbury and This Is All Yours
Gwil Sainsbury left alt-J as of 13 January 2014. It was announced on Twitter that he had decided to leave, but the band would continue, stating that they remained friends. In early June 2014, alt-J announced a 2014 tour to take place in North America over October and November. The 23-day tour started in Vancouver, B.C. on 14 October and ended in Washington, D.C. on 19 November. On 9 June 2014, they announced their second album This Is All Yours, that was released on 22 September 2014. This Is All Yours went straight to Number 1 on the UK's Official Albums Chart. alt-J headlined the September 2015 edition of Boston Calling Music Festival.
On 3 March 2017 alt-J began teasing their third studio album on their social media accounts with an audio clip captioned "00110011 01110111 01110111" (Binary code for "3ww"). Stereogum reported later that day that the band's third album would be titled Relaxer and was scheduled for release on 2 June 2017. On 6 March 2017 alt-J released "3WW," which features lead singer Ellie Rowsell of Wolf Alice, as a digital single and announced dates for the Relaxer Tour in support of the album. Three weeks later, on 29 March, they released "In Cold Blood," the second single from Relaxer. In anticipation of their third album, the band released an online video game, whose soundtrack was their single "3WW," as well as announcing in May 2017 that they would be playing a five-date UK tour at seaside venues, starting on 4 September 2017.
On 24 May 2017 alt-J released "Adeline," the third single from Relaxer. The album was released shortly afterwards, on 2 June 2017, to generally favourable reviews. "Deadcrush," the fourth single from the album, was released on 12 July and was featured as a soundtrack in the popular FIFA 18 game. Fifth single "Pleader" arrived on 15 September 2017. Several tracks from Relaxer have since been remixed by a diverse array of artists.
Relaxer was nominated for the 2017 Mercury Prize. The band previously won the prize in 2012 for their debut album An Awesome Wave.
In popular culture
Their song "Every Other Freckle" was featured on the Netflix show Lovesick, in the season 1 episode "Cressida".
In 2019, their songs "Breezeblocks" and "In Cold Blood" were featured on the Netflix series Daybreak, episodes 5 and 10 respectively.
In 2020, their song "Left Hand Free" was featured in the Netflix series Outer Banks, episode 1.
Alt-J has been commended for their post-modern lyricism in their songs that highlight historic events and pop-culture subjects. The song "Taro" is written in reference to Gerda Taro and her role as a war photographer during the Spanish Civil War as well as her relationship to Robert Capa. The song describes the details of Capa's death ("A violent wrench grips mass / Rips light, tears limbs like rags") and imagines Taro's complementary emotions. The visuals in the music video are taken from Godfrey Reggio's experimental film Powaqqatsi.
"Matilda" is a reference to Natalie Portman's character in the film Léon: The Professional. "Fitzpleasure" is the retelling of Hubert Selby Jr.'s short story "Tralala," published in Last Exit to Brooklyn. The story follows a prostitute named Tralala who dies after being gang-raped and raped with a broom, as in the lyrics "dead in the middle / of a c-o-double-m-o-n" and "in your snatch fits pleasure / broom shaped pleasure."
Awards and nominations
In 2012, alt-J's debut album won the British Mercury Prize. alt-J were also nominated for three Brit Awards (British Breakthrough Act, British Album of the Year and British Group of the Year). An Awesome Wave was announced as BBC Radio 6 Music Album of the Year 2012. Three of the tracks from this album gained entry into the Australian 2012 Triple J Hottest 100, with "Something Good" at number 81, "Tessellate" at number 64, and "Breezeblocks" coming third overall. In 2013, An Awesome Wave won Album of the year at the Ivor Novello Awards. This Is All Yours received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Alternative Music Album at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards, and for IMPALA's European Independent Album of the Year Award.
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- online video game
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