July 11, 2008


Rise of the Vampire Weekend: How a preppy New York rock band made it big with no album and a boost from the blogosphere. (Fred Goodman Jul 11 2008, Conde Nast: Portfolio)

Much of the credit for Vampire Weekend's success goes to the music: a brainy, preppy, tongue-in-cheek take on Afro-pop that has drawn comparisons to Paul Simon and Talking Heads. But the band's continuing popularity—its self-titled album on XL Recordings has passed the 300,000 mark in the U.S. (no mean feat in a shrinking CD market); it is currently the No. 2 album on iTunes; and Vampire Weekend will appear at Europe's major summer music festivals and shows in Japan and Australia—is the result of making wily use of the old and new. In a reversal of sorts, the band's following was established in the blogosphere and made the jump to the mainstream record industry.

In early 2006, four Columbia University students started Vampire Weekend, playing college parties and recording a no-budget, three-song EP. Singer-guitarist Ezra Koenig sent one track, "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa," to one of his favorite music blogs, Benn Loxo du Taccu, which focuses on African pop music. Blogger Matt Yanchyshyn liked the tune enough to post it in October 2006 along with a nice notice. Whether it was the record itself or the notion that a New York band was being touted on an African music board, bloggers at bigger alternative rock sites like Stereogum and Music for Robots jumped on the band, and "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" became a popular online track.

"Vampire Weekend was revered by the blogosphere very early on—and most bloggers by and large are educated and more affluent," says Matt Wishnow, founder of the online independent music retailer, Insound.com. "People responded to them being worldly."

Not wanting to be left behind, mainstream media seconded the band's hip cachet. Late Show With David Letterman showcased Vampire Weekend in February; Saturday Night Live followed in March. A raft of general-interest magazines, from New York to GQ to Teen Vogue, profiled the group. "I was surprised by the fashion and lifestyle magazines," Wishnow says. Adds a source close to the band: "MTV definitely wanted to be part of their story. They were very aware of them."

That kind of response piqued interest in the record industry. Traditionally, record companies signed bands, then marketed them by trying to influence and co-opt gatekeepers like radio programmers and music journalists, but bloggers have proved to be elusive targets.

"I don't know if this is advice for bands, but it's definitely advice for labels," says Wishnow, who points out that many of Vampire Weekend's earliest champions, including the young A&R executive who signed them to XL Recordings, were working in New York, probably moving in the same circles. "If they want to refine their online eyes and ears, they have to ask, 'What do bloggers want to see when they hold up a mirror?"

Gorman Thomas?


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Posted by Orrin Judd at July 11, 2008 3:20 PM

My new favorite band!!

Posted by: Twn at July 12, 2008 11:24 AM
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