Arctic Monkeys are an internet age band with a cross-generational appeal

Paxo may have been playing it for laughs, but Alex Turner is every bit as significant a figure in contemporary culture as any Booker-winning novelist or concert pianist

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"I spit nothing but the truth." It's not often someone makes a statement like that on Newsnight and we believe it. But Alex Turner is not your average Newsnight obfuscator or persuader. He's not got something to hide, and he's not trying to spin reality. He's a pop star from Sheffield with slick hair and a quiff, and he was accorded a slot on the new, user-friendly Newsnight - witness the inspired closing sequence of Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks - because he's the biggest thing in British music right now.

Paxo may have been playing it for laughs, but Turner is every bit as significant a figure in contemporary culture as any Booker-winning novelist or concert pianist. The lead singer and creative force of the Arctic Monkeys, Turner oozes intelligence from every pore. His songs are often lyrically challenging and musically complex, but have a driving beat and a powerful narrative that makes them utterly compelling.

Risible though it sounded, it is not completely beyond the realms of possibility that Gordon Brown actually listened to, and enjoyed, the Arctic Monkeys. He was only a bit older than I am now when he said that the band's music "really wakes you up in the morning", and the Arctic Monkeys definitely get to my soul. I wasn't the oldest - or squarest - person at the Roundhouse on Monday night when the band played a flawless, high-energy set as part of the iTunes festival, and the fact they are worthy of an airing on Newsnight (added to their performance as part of the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics) is further proof that the Arctic Monkeys are a cross-generational phenomenon.

Turner says that their Olympic appearance turned the band, who started life sharing their songs over the internet, into "something else", and, while they now live in LA, they retain a homely, old-fashioned appeal. Turner told Newsnight that, when he returns home, his mum still does his washing, and his songs have a flavour of everyday life in a commonplace setting. They are urbane and urban. They are a four-piece pop band in the grand tradition making a huge success in a modern music world where the old paradigm has been dismantled.

It's not about platinum records any longer, and the iTunes Festival is a very clear manifestation of that shift. For 30 nights at the Roundhouse, the biggest performers in the world play for free. Lady Gaga has already appeared, and Elton John, the Kings of Leon and Justin Timberlake are among other stellar talents on the schedule. The tickets are free, too, to iTunes subscribers on a first-come basis and the gigs are streamed live around the world. It is a huge promotional vehicle that drives fans to download in their millions, and is further evidence of the hegemony enjoyed by Apple in today's music industry.

In his Newsnight interview, Turner was asked whether he lamented the decline of the old certainties in his world. "Sometimes, you wish it was like the Seventies," he replied, "because you could have a plane and a beer belly and it was all right. But now you have to go to the gym." There goes a man who, for sure, speaks nothing but the truth.

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