Jul 22, 2009

We need a new Mercury Music Prize for people that give a crap about electronic music

There's a sumptuous scene in Danny Boyle's best movie Sunshine where a fullstop-like planet Mercury slinks past a firey, all-powerful sun.

For electronica fans, it represents a brilliant metaphor for the Mercury Music Prize: an insignificant dot backed up by a glowing past that is more distant than you think.

When the Mercury showered Primal Scream with £20,000 for such a far-out album as Screamadelica, beating U2, Simply Red and Young Disciples, it was a kick in the Brit Awards' union jack pants. That was in 1992, remember, when 20 grand was worth about a billion quid..

The kudos reverbarated through the years with Portishead and Roni Size reaching equally dizzy heights. And that's despite the Mercury trying to derail everything by choosing M People in 1994.

I'm not saying this year's list sucks. I've filed Bat For Lashes, Glasvegas or (yawn) Friendly Fires into a big box labelled "shrug", but I'm sure they deserve their success. You may well argue this in the comments section.

But where's the electronica? We've been thrown a brace of bones with Underworld (although never with the ultimate techno album band Orbital), but there's something fundamentally wrong.

In a great piece for Bleep43, Toby Frith searches for any Mercury nods for Warp Records ("the UK’s most important label") and fails. You could make a similar argument for Leaf.

Firth argues it's because electronica immerses itself in singles and live appearances, rather than albums. He's right (think of Windowlicker), but the exclusion from this year's nominations of Squarepusher's Just A Souvenir is criminal.

It's more because of the man rather than the album. The Square one (photo, above, from Bangface) became the darling of the serious press last autumn; if any electronica artist was going to be the Mercury's first true IDM nomination, it was going to be him.

Except it wasn't. Inside that little dot of a prize, there so many are guitars, guitars, guitars, there's little room for a 303. And, as non-nominated Fatboy Slim will tell you, everybody needs a 303.

Maybe we live on a different planet, in a different solar system with Aphex Twin's grinning face where the sun should be. And maybe, therefore, we need our own Music Prize that respects a wickedly neglected genre.


steve said...

All I can say to that is amen brotha.

Fat Roland said...

Who would you choose for an alternative winner, Steve?

Isaac Ashe said...

I do agree with you, Mr Roland. There should at least be a token electronica inclusion, as there always is for folk, jazz and hippety hop.
That said, a lot of the artists nominated straddle genres - have you heard The Invisible, which has definite electronic influences?
If you haven't, I recommend you do, mainly because it's a good album anyway.
But La Roux, Bat For Lashes, Kasabian, Sweet Billy No Mates, they all have a huge debt to electronica - and wasn't Burial the favourite to win last year?

Fat Roland said...

Yeah, Isaac, I tipped Burial for the win on this very site.

I think there is a proper electronica influence with people like La Roux, and it's good to hear some proper synths in the charts, but the actual artists they owe a debt to are ignored.

I didn't touch upon this in the article, but I'm staggered Autechre have been passed over.

9/10ths Full of Penguins said...

You know, on your recommendation I listened to the Squarepusher album. Now, its not my beverage of choice, but I will say it is rather striking.

And definitely more interesting than Kasabian or the Horrors...

Fat Roland said...

I made someone listen to Squarepusher. My work here is done.

*sage-like, walks out of room*

Anonymous said...

When I think of the Mercury Prize (and that isn't very often), I think of it as a dog that has been taken out into the backyard to be shot. But once the trigger has been pulled, it reveals itself to be a hell-beast that can't be killed by any human means and mauls its executioner to death. Our only defence is, as you say, an electronic Mercury Prize, but better.

Squarepusher might have been your favourite, but who would you pick as your winner Mr Roland?

Fat Roland said...

I'm not too fussed, but if you tied me up with razor wire and threatened to smother me with a disappointed bunny if I didn't give you an answer, then I would plump for the slight melacholia of Bat For Lashes. She reminds me a bit of Suzanne Vega.