Friday, 13 September 2013

The Pluto Awards 2013

It’s times like this I miss pluto. An oxymoronic satellite of rock and ice that, let’s face it, no one could, and still don’t, give two trans-Neptunian shits about. It wasn’t the largest or the most widely recognized planet but it was a damn good, nay great, ending to the ever popular pneumonic device (MyVeryEasyMethodJustSpeedsUpNamingPlanets. Impressive, I know). Point is, Pluto was the underdog, the up-and-comer and more importantly, the alternative planet. And now it’s gone. Stripped of it’s relevance and cast out into the vapid crevasses of our universe.
Stretching this symbolism let’s say, impartially, that Pluto is a music award. Given to those albums which may not have reached the peaks of steady commercial profit but should be recognized for their sensibility and, ultimately, their proficiency as memorable and stand-out records. The Pluto Awards is what I’d call them. The Mercury awards I would not.

Started in 1992 as a two-fingered salute to the always entertaining but gracefully corporate BRITs. The Mercury Prize award was set up to commemorate the more alternative music successes of the year. In a historical context there is sound logic to be found. The musical flatlands of the early 90s was a pretty exciting / dire time (delete as appropriate). Bratty Boy/Girl bands dominated the charts, electronic music had gone from catchy synth-pop to industrial pop-punk and the emergence of Brit-pop was well under way (Again, I’m not speculating to whether these are good or respectively bad things). The Mercury Prize, has admittedly, had some incredibly deserving winners. Take Primal Scream’s cult record Screamedlica for example or Portishead’s Dummy, both great releases which probably didn’t get the unwavering attention they deserved at the time. Now let’s jump ahead to 2013, 21 years later. In that time I was born, grew up and got a reasonable handle of the English language in order to say this. The Mercury Prize doesn’t make sense to me anymore.

My issue with this years prize lies within a simple mantra. The prize shouldn’t be nominated or awarded to any album that could have won a BRIT, it defeats the purpose. Artists like Jon Hopkins, Savages and Villages all deserve a nomination for a Pluto Award.
Although a fantastic album which I’ve been infatuated over for the past 3 moon cycles AM doesn’t deserve a Mercury, but will probably get one. It’s the product from a band who’ve been on the mainstream radar since 2006 and have been congratulated accordingly. Is it fair that this band who although perform and write ‘alternative’ music be given a sticker on their album for the best underground record of the year, absolutely not. I do take on board that being awarded a mercury can lead to future commercial success, a lot of people buy into that notion and I do not resent them for it; I’m just happy they still buy physical music.

It’s easy to attack NME, and that’s why I’m going to do it. One, because you didn’t reply to my email about work experience so fuck you very much for that and Two, your trends carry an unnecessary weight in the public’s mind. A pattern I’ve noticed in the past years of Mercurys gone by is that the NME (and music journalism generally) is the leading authority on what is and what isn’t worth listening to, and this ultimately reflects on the shortlists. As hypocritical as it is for me to say, and apologies in advance, what one indoor-hat wearing hippie thinks about a record has no bearing on it’s actual worth as a piece of music. So imagine my surprise when I see Rudimental, a band the critics have been raving on about since 2012, in the final basket for a chance for mercury to be bestowed upon them despite having reaching the austere heights at the tippity top of the UK chart. The same could be said for the likes of Jake Bugg and even Foals to an extent. Is it just me or is this not really a genuine celebration of UK independent music?

I don’t hate the Mercury Prize nor do I hold any grudge against the BRITs. It’s refreshing to see music culture celebrated on prime-time telly once a year until the rest of us crawl back into the dark recesses of our twitter feeds and Pitchfork forums. What I do feel, however, is that the Mercury has lost it’s way. Maybe it’s too far into development that to abort this baby BRIT would be too traumatic for the wonderful British public and their ever growing fondness to seeing Radio 1 DJs read names off cards. Nevertheless fair reader, there is still hope. The Pluto Awards 2014 will be held in my garage this time next year, get your tickets in advance to avoid disappointment. It’s going to be a good one.

UPDATE: My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields has spoken out against the Mercury Prize for not considering MBV, their first album in 22 years, due to it’s release without the aid of a commercial label. An alternative music award that disregards independent releases, case and point ladies and gentlemen. 

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