The Mercury Music Prize passed with little fanfare this week. The relative lack of big name nominees (Plan B the exception rather than the rule) meant that beyond the realms of the NME, Q and other similar publications, there was less interest than normal.
This year was far from a bumper year for music, though the prize was criticised across the board for the insular nature of the nominees. Rather than reflecting a broad spectrum of British and Irish music (there were no Irish nominees), the judges seemed to want to recognise the best in British indie and alternative.
Sitting alongside eventual (and deserving) winners Alt-J were indie darlings the Maccabees, Michael Kiwanuka, Field Music, Richard Hawley and Django Django, while Ben Howard and Plan B the only three to trouble the daytime airwaves too often.
It was reassuring to see Alt-J win the prize, their inventive debut An Awesome Wave is a worthy successor to PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake as the recipient of the prize.
The nature of the prize is a much discussed one, questioning the lack of classical, jazz, folk and pop acts in many incarnations, while the regularity of an outside bet emerging on top has brought questions to the fore as to whether the judges are wholly sincere in their final decisions. This has come to the fore a number of times, such as M People winning in 1994 ahead of Paul Weller, Blur, Pulp and the Prodigy, Gomez beating the Verve and Massive Attack in 1998 and Speech Debelle winning in 2008 ahead of Florence & the Machine, Friendly Fires and Kasabian, not to mention the travesty of 1997 when Roni Size/Reprazent won out ahead of the Spice Girls Radiohead’s OK Computer.
This year’s event was the twentieth incarnation of an award show that still seems to be looking for a genuine identity. Having moved venue and shuffled the format slightly, the criticisms and irrelevance remain the same. A symbolic gesture that the recipients were most certainly pleased to receive, blink and the interest will have peaked. Roll forward a few years and will Alt-J sit in the same bracket as the xx, Arctic Monkeys or Speech Debelle?