The Mercury Prize provides a few telling insights into British culture.
First, the Brits can and do bet on everything. Moments after the announcement of this year’s nominees, there was a very public betting line on the frontrunners. Can you imagine if the front page of the Times did the same for the Oscars? Get your bets in for the marital duel, ladies and gentlemen! Will you take Avatar at 2 to 1 or The Hurt Locker at 10 to 1?
The second insight we can glean from these awards is that the British also manage to put a corporate logo on everything. For reasons my marketing mind can’t quite fathom, it’s the Barclaycard Mercury Awards. What would we think if it were the General Motors Grammy’s?
The third (and only musically-related) insight is that the UK still cares a lot– almost defiantly so– about music that’s still outside of the mainstream. Even though this year’s nominees are being decried as a conservative step back into the mainstream, even these skew toward Pitchfork and away from The Top 40. Last year’s Mercury Prize Winner, Speech Debelle (who? exactly.) never cracked the top 65 in sales.
This year’s frontrunners are the xx and Dizzee Rascal. Both have graced the pages of this blog (here and here), both are outstanding, and both are running 4-1 odds.
Dizzee Rascal, in the running to be the first two-time winner of the prize, continues his swaggering, tongue-twisting wordplay on his aptly named album Tongue-n-Cheek. And, on tracks like this, he blends in some other musical influences to keep his party trick worthy flow fresh.
As you might imagine from the prominent Siouxsie and the Bashees t-shirt worn by one of the members, the xx takes a decidedly different and more chilled-out tact. Here’s a track off of their debut Continue reading →
Day 6: a song that reminds me of someplace. And today, that place is Austin, Texas. And, whenever anyone ever thinks about Austin, clearly the first image that comes to mind is a grime rapper from East London.
SXSW is nirvana with nice weather for any music fan (not that a generic nirvana has bad weather but I’m just saying). Every year, just as tens of thousands of UT students ship out for spring break, that many (and then some) fans and employees of all things music ship into town. Every electrical outlet in the metro area plays host to a live act of every imaginable genre and level of fame. And the city becomes a non-stop live music party. It’s awesome.
It was 1am during one of the SXSW fests that I was able to attend… 2004, I think. My buddy Scotty and I had already filled out a pretty complete day and night of music. Similar to my reaction to an all-you-can-eat buffet, I’ve approached every SXSW with a very American (is it?) attitude of: well, I’ve got my do-everything ticket, now I’m obligated to do everything!
Even after a pretty aggressive day, here was one more act: a rapper from London who had used his absurdly adept rapid-fire flow to seize the Mercury Prize (see also: last night’s post). It was his first visit to America (see also: last night’s post), and given his obscurity had been relegated to the late night slot on a sand volleyball court/patch outside of a bar on the outskirts of town. Despite the late hour and the relative remoteness of the locale, we decided to give it a go.
If you took Eminem at his prime, dirtied up his beats, and made him almost-unitelligably British, you’d get Dizzee. But the machine gun delivery that sounds fast on the album takes on a did-he-just-do-that virtuoso vibe when he plays live. And that night, it was transcendent. Here’s “Fix Up, Look Sharp”: his biggest party anthem. Do me a favor: sign on at the beginning to give it 3-5 listens. At the first (not unlike folks like The Streets), you’re likely to shy away from the accent and the primitive beats. But, inexplicably, after a listen or two, you’ll begin to give into it for reasons you can’t quite pin down. My advice: put the pins away. Just enjoy the fresh sounds, and tack another artist onto your uptempo repertoire.
Sorry again for all of the YouTube vids. The Mac is on flight delay at LaGuardia; real tunes to follow tomorrow.