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Wednesday, September 11, 2013 

Another in the yearly series of Mercury prize whinges.

I'm probably just getting forgetful in my old age, but I genuinely thought I hadn't even bothered to comment on the nominations for last year's Mercury. With 2012 likely to go down as one of the worst years in recent memory for mainstream popular music, it seemed as though the judges decided not to bother either. We don't of course know which albums were actually submitted for consideration, as it remains the increasingly absurd case that record companies have to pay for their nominees to be considered, but the exclusion of Rustie's debut, if submitted, was unforgivable. Alt-J won, perhaps because their record was the polar opposite to the victor the previous year, PJ Harvey's Let England Shake. Where her record was impassioned and urgent, Alt-J's An Awesome Wave jangled inconsequentially. As well as the Mercury, they received an accolade of an entirely different order: they were on the "mix tape" our down with the kids prime minister gave to Obama as an example of great British music.

Having completely ignored UK bass last year, the panel of judges could hardly do the same this time with everyone declaring this the year that disco, house and something approximate to UK garage have returned to the fore, and they duly haven't. So what have they plumped for? Did they go truly leftfield (by their standards) and nominate Andy Stott's Luxury Problems?  Maybe Mala in Cuba, if that wasn't left out of last year's list as it came out right on the eve of the nominations?  Or how about Dasaflex by Dusk and Blackdown?

Of course not.  They chose Rudimental and Disclosure.  Disclosure's inclusion was probably inevitable, considering how the media seemingly decided that despite their music being a facsimile of the bass trends of the last few years they were the ones who should take all the accolades, but Rudimental?  Really?  They make DJ Fresh's chart-topping efforts, and he was at least once upon a time a part of drum and bass legends Bad Company, sound positively subversive.  There isn't anything Rudimental have done that others within the actual D&B world haven't a million times before, and they've always been ignored.  With Disclosure you can't deny they've been a success story, it's the why they have that's more interesting.  Why them when there are literally dozens of other producers putting out far superior music in the same vein?

The answer, obviously enough, is that it's money and all that goes with it, the marketing, the PR, the creation of hype that still makes the difference.  More perplexing still is why the likes of Pitchfork and the Graun have both fallen for it, despite both usually being more cynical and informed about where the scene has been heading.

One positive that can be taken is that the Mercury is clearly entering what ought to be a existential crisis.  When news reports make clear the way that record companies have to be pay for their artists to be included, and how an album has to have had a physical release also, it's surely time that the playing field is levelled if the award is going to retain any credibility.  It's ridiculous that the award can be sponsored by Barclays and yet the deal apparently doesn't cover the relatively slight expenses that would be incurred were the entry conditions either dropped or lessened.  It's also deeply revealing that the chair of judges is the same as it was when the prize was launched in 92, especially when the entire panel changes every year for the literary world's equivalent, the Booker.

Again, we can't know whether or not they were entered, but it seems bizarre that These New Puritans again missed out, as they did with their previous album Hidden, as has also this time Bat for Lashes.  Albums by Jake Bugg and Foals have though made the list, when Holy Fire is by far Foals' weakest and Jake Bugg is damned with the faint praise that he's the "old person's young singer".  Small mercies are that Bumford and Sons haven't made their list, nor Bastille or Tom Odell, the latter of whom might just make a certain end of year round-up.  It is though yet another conservative list, which while preferable to Speech Debelle emerging the victor, simply renders the award increasingly irrelevant.  It's a shame when with a bit more radicalism on the part of the judges, it could rival the aforementioned Booker for both credibility and impact.

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