Why the Polaris Prize still matters

Godspeed You! Black Emperor shuns the 2013 Polaris Music Prize: très punk rock

Another Polaris Prize gala has come and gone, littering the internet with snippy squabbles and pithy accolades. Maybe you heard already? Godspeed You! Black Emperor won the 2013 Polaris Music Prize for the year’s best Canadian album.

Even better, the Montreal group pulled a Marlon Brando on us all, letting someone else collect the honours on their behalf before shunning the limelight, and the cash, completely.

Read the band’s statement on winning the prize HERE.

Très punk rock, giving $30,000 to Quebec music programs for prisoners. Mondo kudos.

It’s an important statement for a lot of reasons. Musically, Godspeed… is an anarchic compendium of string drone and art dredged from the maws of the apocalypse. The first time I heard them was in 1998, after the release of their album F♯ A♯ ∞. The music was dense and thick, something to wade through and think about it. Suffice to say, back then I appreciated the sentiments more than the sounds.

Two decades later and those sentiments seem even more pronounced than ever.

Incidentally, my personal tastes for this band have warmed considerably since I was a dopey punk rock-addled teenager. However, Godspeed’s… response is probably 99.9% more punk than any of the Epitaph-esque pablum I listened to back in the day, so there you go. And some of the reactions the band have garnered are priceless. Of course, in true internet fashion, many are worthless.

However, certain negative thoughts on the Polaris notwithstanding, the award and the build-up to the gala are still a wholly interesting tool for Canadian music.

It brings attention to the obscure, those bands who have the same fiery snippets of talent and songwriting prowess but will never be given the chance to shun $30,000. These are the groups that I tend to find a lot more interesting than the bands that typically end up on the final Polaris short list.

Here’s how it works.

The Polaris Jury consists of over 200 members from local and national media, who submit a ballot indicating their top five albums of the year. The results form the Polaris Prize Long List and, after a second round of voting, the Polaris Prize Short List. An 11-member Grand Jury convenes at the Polaris Awards gala, where the winner is determined.

It’s a fun process, but what’s understated is that a whole lot of music gets listened to. Shared via internet discussion forums, it’s a virtual scene where those who blow the trumpet of their own scenes and tastes get to wave their arms wildly in the air and scream “listen to this!” And I’ve discovered quite a few gems this way.

Saskatchewan has some good people representing on the Polaris jury. And we’ve managed to get some good albums noticed by our peers across Canada. But ultimately the end goal of the prize isn’t solely to champion the unheard. It’s to award artistic merit. So why can’t it be both?

Concurrently, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, our country’s most current punk export, likely wasn’t on the forefront of your average Canadian music lover’s mind until this morning. And I imagine quite a few of those people will be listening to that band in the next few days. So there you go.

– Featured photo from Flickr user “NRK P3” – Creative Commons.