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ImageSo … sigh … it’s Mercury Music Prize day. But what’s this riding over the horizon and trying it’s darndest to wrench our collective attentions away from its cozy comfortableness? Lo and behold it’s The Dead Albatross Prize – a rather smart alternative to TMMP which seems, in it’s first year, to be doing exactly what we’ve forever all hoped TMMP would do! Read on for why we feel TMMP is redundant and for an explanation as to why TDAP should replace it. 

The Mercury Music Prize eh? What can we say? As I began this piece I was listening to a feature on Radio 4’s Today program about the TMMP, proof, twere it needed, that it’s reached into every corner of society. As you might have expected they were talking about the possibility of David Bowie winning it and amusingly, a few minutes after they ran this feature they ran another about Chaz and Dave! The Mercury Music Prize b2b with Chaz and Dave. Read into that what you will…

So yeah, The Mercury prize has unquestionably gate-crashed every smug and cozy “conformity” party in the land with its oh so safe (wherefore the “token” folk and jazz releases of yore that, say what you will, at least guaranteed two albums that a lot of people hadn’t heard before?) short list. A short list of which our John said in an article titled “Oh No! It’s The Mercury Music Prize Short List” last year:

“… it’s so Islington dinner party, so careful, so metropolitan media friendly and bares little relation to all the fantastic music that has been released in the last year.”

I’ve got to honest, personally I’ve always been torn between writing a piece damning the whole fandango and keeping quiet, bearing in mind the old “oxygen of publicity” argument which basically equates to the “any publicity is good publicity” argument. Even a negative article just ends up raising awareness and creating publicity about the damn thing. I’ve always leant towards not giving it the oxygen of publicity in the past. Indeed, I’ve been known to regularly rip off Linda Smith’s (RIP) excellent barbed aside of “I wouldn’t even give it the oxygen of oxygen if I had a chance” when talking about it.

Of course, Louder Than War aren’t the only organ of “the music press” damning the “safe” and “cosiness” of the shortlist, but it surprised me to see an article on page three of The Observer on Sunday with the title:

“Mercury prize judges under fire for ‘safe’ shortlist and lack of transparency”.

So perhaps even the aforementioned “Islington dinner party” set will be shifting a tad uneasily in their seats as they sit down to watch the prize on tv tonight, wondering whether or not to fire up Twitter and live comment on it. Or perhaps they’ll take a lead from that Observer article and they’ll tweet that we need “…more openness about the identity of judges and the process by which both shortlist and winner are chosen” and that it’s “too commercial, backward-looking, safe and ethnically cosy.”

The above are all perfectly good arguments against the prize, but perhaps the judges themselves should be forgiven because they can only choose between albums that ACTUALLY ENTER.

An artist needs to a) think they have a chance of winning and b) go through the rigmarole of entering for their album to be set in front of the judges. Not only that, but it’s a surprisingly little known fact that to enter the Mercury Prize you have to shell out big bucks. Big bucks if you’re a smaller, more niche act anyway; y’know, one that experience of the damn thing (and that a glance at previous years shortlists) will tell you means you don’t stand a cat in hells chance of winning – especially if you aren’t on a major label or a minted independent. On the right you can see a screen grab of the 2009 entry form. As you can see the straight up cost was of £195.50 back then, plus a shed load of CDs and videos. Basically we were looking at in excess of £1000 – and that was four years ago!

Then of course there’s the “My Bloody Valentine” argument against the prize. To be eligible to enter it your album must have been carried by Amazon or iTunes, something that, understandably, didn’t leave a good taste in Kevin Shields mouth as it meant his band’s brilliant album M B V didn’t qualify. Indeed, it led to him accusing the organisers of “banning” his album – and in the light of the facts that seems like a totally appropriate charge to make.

So why break my silence now? Well, basically, to highlight an alternative. And by alternative I don’t just mean an article on a website saying “here’s what we thought should have been chosen for the prize” (because lets be honest, that’s lame in the extreme innit as it’s a blatant attempt to grab hits off the back of the prize that they mostly admit has little merit). And anyway, such features just tend to include albums that in a few weeks time will be repeated in end of year lists. YAWN. Plus of course it’s the “oxygen of publicity” argument in action – they do more damage in turning attention onto the prize than they do good drawing attention to the albums in their list. Usually – there are notable exceptions like The Quietus’ Jovian Bow Shock Award of course. Basically though such things bear little weight and just suggest “cozying up together with” the actual prize.

So, this new prize is titled The Dead Albatross Music Prize (and subtitled “a new alternative to the mercury music prize”). It’s been set up by DJ Paul Ackroyd, he of The Kamikaze show and Reel Rebels Radio fame (as well as being a former DJ on Dandelion Radio). What lends the prize weight is that he’s teamed up with:

“…an expert panel of 20 music fiends from up and down the Isles, made up of DJs, radio hosts, listeners, bloggers, records shops, and journalists – A select group of folk who know a good noise when they hear one. “

So it’s not just one person or website deciding a winner. Paul, and those with him on the panel, believe that:

“The Mercurys are no longer fulfilling their requirement to represent a diverse and creative selection of British and Irish music within their nominations.”

He also cites many of the reasons alluded to above as to why the time was right for a proper alternative, one that I believe the whole of The Music Press should all get behind.

So why is Paul doing this when it kind of copies the original prize? Simple – Paul feels the actual idea behind the prize is great, namely by dint of it being:

“…a load of albums covering a wide range of genres, thrust into the public’s consciousness.”

Paul also acknowledges that by doing TDAP he isn’t intending to infer that there aren’t some good albums in the Mercury prize:

“… far from it. But for what the Mercurys purport to represent, they fall dangerously short of the mark.”

“Dead Albatross step up, your time is now…”

So why name it the Dead Albatross Prize? Those of you who are on the ball will already know – back in 2001 Gorillaz requested that their eponymous debut album be withdrawn from the nomination shortlist, with vocalist and songwriter Damon Albarn saying that winning the award would be:

“…like carrying a dead albatross round your neck for eternity”.

I’m guessing 2009 winner Speech Debelle would concur!

Of all the arguments against the prize though the one Paul finds most “frightening” is that each album needs to have been released via a major distribution route and to have been available digitally through amazon or iTunes, inevitably automatically disqualifying many entrants:

“…yet this is where the young talent we have to offer so frequently lies.”

The inclusion criteria for TDAP on the other hand is simple, namely that you have to have released an album within the specified time period, the same time frame as the Mercury Prize itself. And that’s it.

We don’t care what format you are releasing your album on, we don’t need your money to be able to decide if it’s any good or not, and we certainly don’t feel the need to tailor our shortlist to make it ‘safe’ enough for a bank to want to fund our ventures. We are simply trying to create a bit of publicity and excitement about quality British and Irish music, some coverage to a heap of albums that seriously deserve a wider audience, and to generally give a fairer snapshot of the sounds British and Irish artists are capable of creating.

Genre wise the twenty strong shortlist echoes our end of year chart in being incredibly wide, although perhaps unlike ours the genres in TDAP aren’t so clear cut because:

:…many of these selections are hard to categorise in any single genre and it feels important to pay particular attention to those who blur the lines and keep pushing musical boundaries…

Genres covered include: folk, house, krautrock, bass, field recordings, indie, metal, electronica, glam rock, shoegaze, neo- classical, glitch, jazz fusion, soundtracks, collage, electro, world, experimental, techno, and everything in between.

So, with no further ado here is the shortlist:

  • Andy Stott – Luxury Problems [Modern Love]
  • Broadcast – Berberian Sound Studio [Warp]
  • Chris Watson – In St Cuthbert’s Time [Touch]
  • Divorce – Divorce [Night School]
  • Ela Orleans – Tumult In Clouds [Clan Destine]
  • Factory Floor – Factory Floor [DFA]
  • Fairhorns – Doki Doki Run [Invada]
  • Hacker Farm – UHF [Exotic Pylon]
  • Hookworms – Pearl Mystic [Gringo]
  • Lee Gamble – Dutch Tvashar Plumes [Pan]
  • My Bloody Valentine – m b v [Self-released]
  • Owiny Sigoma Band – Power Punch [Brownswood]
  • Poppy Ackroyd – Escapement [Denovali]
  • Rhodri Davies – Wound Response [Alt.Vinyl]
  • Serafina Steer – The Moths Are Real [Stolen]
  • The Cyclist – Bones In Motion [Leaving]
  • The Focus Group – Elektrik Karousel [Ghost Box]
  • The Heliocentrics – 13 Degrees Of Reality [Now-Again]
  • Trus’me – Treat Me Right [Prime Numbers]
  • Walton – Beyond [Hyperdub]

The prize will be running at exactly the same time as The Mercurys on Reels Rebel Radio, taking to the airwaves at 8pm and running till 11. You may feel free to watch Channel 4 with the sound turned down while listening to The Dead Albatross Prize if you wish.

The radio show will appear on Mixcloud the very next day so go here and follow kamikaze to get details about it.

Visit the prize’s excellent website for more details about it and for in-depth words about each selection and the genesis of the prize. You can also follow The Dead Albatross Prize on Twitter (use the hashtag #deadalbatross) and on Facebook.

The prize will become an annual thing from now on. And, to leave the last words to Paul:

We are committed to this cause, and will do all in our power to help promote the best music Britain and Ireland has to offer, for this, and for many years to come.

Amen to that.

All words Guy Manchester. More words by Guy can be read here. He tweets as @guid0man & uses Tumblr.

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Guy is a former full time member of the Louder Than War editorial team, who's since moved on to pastures new. Music's been a large part of his life since he first stumbled across Peel on his tranny as a fifteen year old. His whole approach to music was learnt from Peel in fact, which includes having as inclusive a taste in music as possible. Guy devotes most of his time looking for new music & although he's been known to say "the only good music is new music" he pretty much accepts this is bollocks. Favourite band The Minutemen.

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