Polaris Music Prize 2013 Recap
The spotlight shined on Canada last night in Toronto at the 2013 Polaris Music Prize, a gala which celebrates the best in Canadian music across all genres. METZ took the same stage as Metric (note that though their names are similar, their sounds are not,) Feist showed up without her trademark bangs, and the night’s big winner didn’t manage to make it.
When last year’s winner, Feist, announced Godspeed You! Black Emperor at the end of the night as the winner for their 2012 release, Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!, the crowd erupted in applause. But there was no one to hold up the traditional over-sized check. In true Godspeed fashion, the band had chosen not to attend the gala and, in fact, has since publicly questioned its relevance to independent Canadian music altogether. (You can read their official statement about the award below.)
“Godspeed chose not to be here tonight,” music journalist Jessica Hopper said, who spoke for the band earlier in the night in lieu of a standard performance. “This shows what kind of a career you can have when you just say ‘no.’”
Despite the band’s absence, the rest of the three-and-a-half hour event was a thrilling run through the country’s diverse music culture, with eight of the 10 artists who were shortlisted in attendance to perform highlights from their acclaimed albums. The only other absence was Tegan & Sara, who were nominated for this year’s Heartthrob but had to miss due to touring conflicts.
After an introduction from Braids’ Raphaelle Standell-Preston, Purity Ring kicked off the night with their throbbing synths and elaborately lit set, performing “Obedear” and “Fineshrine” from last year’s Shrines. Singer-songwriter Zaki Ibrahim soon followed with some fiercely robotic dance moves and a genre-defying sound of her own.
The event was hosted by Canadian musicians Shad and Kathleen Edwards, who entertained the crowd with their costume changes (including a gender-bending Miley Cyrus/Robin Thicke VMA recreation) as well as their potty mouths. Edwards asked that every time she cursed, audience members donate coins to a “swear jar” that would be donated to the MusicWorks charity, and she made it her goal to give them plenty of opportunities to give.
Other highlights from the night included an emotive performance by experimental saxophonist Colin Stetson, an insane explosion of hardcore punk by METZ and a looping folk-rock show by husband-and-wife duo Whitehorse, who were introduced by fellow Canadian musician Sarah McLachlan.
The prize was decided by a grand jury of 11 music critics, who debated the nominees in a private panel over the course of the event. Each of the shortlisted artists, who were chosen by a jury of 200 music journalists, critics and enthusiasts earlier in the summer, received $2,000 for their nomination, with Godspeed taking home $30,000 for their win.
“This is a very monumental winner that we’ve announced,” said Steve Jordan, founder and director of the Polaris Music Prize, in a press conference after the event. “The discussion that was happening around Godspeed was very deep amongst our jury members. There was a deep embrace of it from people from a lot of different musical backgrounds.”
Ian Ilavsky, co-founder of Constellation Records, accepted the award on the band’s behalf and announced that they plan to donate the money from the prize to a charity that gives instruments to inmates in Montreal prisons.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor now joins a category of winners that includes Arcade Fire, Feist, Fucked Up and Caribou, among others. Read their official statement about the award and check out the entire shortlist of nominees below.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor Statement
A FEW WORDS REGARDING THIS POLARIS PRIZE THING
hello kanada. hello kanadian music-writers.
thanks for the nomination thanks for the prize- it feels nice to be acknowledged by the Troubled Motherland when we so often feel orphaned here. and much respect for all y’all who write about local bands, who blow that horn loudly- because that trumpeting is crucial and necessary and important.
and much respect to the freelancers especially, because freelancing is a hard fucking gig, and almost all of us are freelancers now, right? falling and scrambling and hustling through these difficult times?
so yes, we are grateful, and yes we are humble and we are shy to complain when we’ve been acknowledged thusly – BUT HOLY SHIT AND HOLY COW – we’ve been plowing our field on the margins of weird culture for almost 20 years now, and “this scene is pretty cool but what it really fucking needs is an awards show” is not a thought that’s ever crossed our minds.
3 quick bullet-points that almost anybody could agree on maybe=
-holding a gala during a time of austerity and normalized decline is a weird thing to do.
-organizing a gala just so musicians can compete against each other for a novelty-sized cheque doesn’t serve the cause of righteous music at all.
-asking the toyota motor company to help cover the tab for that gala, during a summer where the melting northern ice caps are live-streaming on the internet, IS FUCKING INSANE, and comes across as tone-deaf to the current horrifying malaise.
these are hard times for everybody. and musicians’ blues are pretty low on the list of things in need of urgent correction BUT AND BUT if the point of this prize and party is acknowledging music-labor performed in the name of something other than quick money, well then maybe the next celebration should happen in a cruddier hall, without the corporate banners and culture overlords. and maybe a party thusly is long overdue- it would be truly nice to enjoy that hang, somewhere sometime where the point wasn’t just lazy money patting itself on the back.
give the money to the kids let ‘em put on their own goddamn parties, give the money to the olds and let them try to write opuses in spite of, but let the muchmusic videostars fight it out in the inconsequential middle, without gov’t. culture-money in their pockets.
us we’re gonna use the money to try to set up a program so that prisoners in quebec have musical instruments if they need them
amen and amen.
apologies for being such bores,
we love you so much / our country is fucked,
godspeed you! black emperor
2013 Polaris Prize Shortlist
Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
A Tribe Called Red, Nation II Nation
Zaki Ibrahim, Every Opposite
Purity Ring, Shrines
Colin Stetson, New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light
Tegan and Sara, Heartthrob
Whitehorse, The Fate of the World Depends on This Kiss
Young Galaxy, Ultramarine
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