The group Alt-J won the U.K.’s 2012 Barclaycard Mercury Prize last night, beating acts such as Plan B and Jessie Ware.
The shortlist for the year’s best British or Irish album again omitted commercially successful names such as Kate Bush, Coldplay, Emeli Sande and Florence & the Machine in favor of newer or less-well-known musicians.
The award pits different genres against one another, ranging from folk and jazz to hard rock and classical. The winner receives 20,000 pounds ($32,250), although the boost from album sales can be worth much more.
This year’s shortlist of 12 was one of the most obscure in the prize’s 20-year history. The result was announced at a ceremony and dinner for record company executives and journalists at the Roundhouse in Camden, London.
Alt-J, which won for “An Awesome Wave,” makes electronic music such as the single “Breezeblocks.” Ben Drew, better known as Plan B, has an album soundtracking his film “Ill Manors” about urban crime and unrest. Jessie Ware was praised by the judges in a statement for her “album of sensuous and emotive pop.”
Among acts not included: singer-songwriter Lettie, Paul Weller, Carter Tutti Void, Hot Chip, the Horrors, Dexys and Bombay Bicycle Club. This year again, there were no classical albums on the shortlist.
P.J. Harvey won last year’s prize, beating other artists including Adele, Elbow and Anna Calvi. The 12 shortlisted albums in 2011 sold an additional 400,000 copies between the list being announced in July last year and the ceremony, the U.K. Official Charts Co. said in an e-mail.
The Mercury focuses on musical quality and doesn’t take into account sales, media profile or live performances, according to a statement by the judges. Commercial acts such as Adele, Amy Winehouse and Robbie Williams have often lost out to cutting-edge performers such as Harvey.
In 2010, London band the xx triumphed with its debut CD of understated indie rock. Its new album wasn’t on the 2012 list. There were surprise winners in 2009 (Speech Debelle), 2008 (Elbow) and 2007 (Klaxons).
Blur and Pulp were beaten by the so-hip-it-hurts M People in 1994, Robbie Williams by too-cool-for-school Gomez in 1998. Both victors faltered after. The mercurial award is often seen as an albatross that also finished off Roni Size & Reprazent, Speech Debelle and Talvin Singh.
The Mercury organizers have faced calls for more openness about the judging (the panel is made up of musicians, executives and writers whose names aren’t disclosed), selection process and financial involvement of record companies. The prize was first established by the British Phonographic Industry in 1992.
Shortlist (with final betting odds from William Hill Plc): Alt-J -- “An Awesome Wave” (6-5) WINNER Richard Hawley -- “Standing at the Sky’s Edge” (4-1) Jessie Ware -- “Devotion” (6-1) Django Django -- “Django Django” (7-1) Plan B -- “Ill Manors” (8-1) Maccabees -- “Given to the Wild” (12-1) Ben Howard -- “Every Kingdom” (14-1) Field Music -- “Plumb” (16-1) Michael Kiwanuka -- “Home Again” (16-1) Lianne La Havas -- “Is Your Love Big Enough?” (20-1) Sam Lee -- “Ground Of Its Own” (20-1) Roller Trio -- “Roller Trio” (33-1)
(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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