Polaris Music Prize 2016

It was the 11th annual Polaris Music Prize Gala this past Monday September 19th. A prize based on similar award events in other countries such as the UK’s Mercury Prize, Scandinavia’s Nordic Music Prize and the Choice Music Prize in Ireland.

What makes the Polaris prize special is it’s based solely on artistic merit; sales, popularity, style, genre etc have no bearing on the award, well at least they aren’t supposed to influence the decision-making (you never know what really goes on in jurors heads).

As a born and bred Vancouverite the fact that the Polaris Gala is ALWAYS in Toronto makes me a little sad. The current state of the Canadian Music Industry is completely centered around Toronto & Montreal. However, a lot of journalists and friends do travel in from all over Canada to attend and this year 40% of the nominees were from Vancouver (a definite hometown proud moment). What makes me the happiest this year though, is that 70% of the acts are women or are bands with women in them. By 2016 this shouldn’t even be a topic of conversation but when you play a show like I did last week, where out of 4 bands and 17 people on stage I was the only human who identified as female, it’s still something we need to talk about, sadly. So right on Polaris for being balanced in the gender and geography this year.

If you’ve been in the Canadian music world for as long as I have (circa 1998) going to a gala like the Polaris is like a giant family reunion. I kept saying if they dropped a bomb on the building there basically wouldn’t be a music industry in Canada, anymore, as we know it. I like to look at the evening as a chance to catch up with old friends from across the country and enjoy some music nerd chat.

The award show is held at the Carlu a big ballroom with a balcony and an even bigger hallway (where the real party was, more on that later).

The first band on is Black Mountain, who instead of playing the typical two songs, only perform one song. This made me and a couple fellow audience members quite puzzled. Typically each group performs 2 songs, so why did Black Mountain only play one? Speaking to the band and some other Polaris experts afterwards I was informed it’s not the number of songs you get rather that you get 8 minutes on stage, Black Mountain chose to play one epic long song, “Mothers of the Sun”, a good start to the night while everyone’s attention spans are full and not been influenced by alcohol.

Other musical highlights included, Jessy Lanza, who managed to get a few of the corporate sponsors out of their cushy seats to dance along to her early-Madonna meets bedroom sampler pop tunes. I really enjoyed her record, she performed “Never Enough” and “It Means I Love You” accompanied by a drummer / back up singer. The other stand out performance goes to US Girls who performed “Sororal Feelings” acappella over three back up singers snapping their fingers, she glowed onstage looking very Bowie-esque. Grimes and Kaytranada were both in attendance but did not perform. Pup were on tour in Europe but sent their parents instead (how cute!)

Another cool new thing this year was instead of journalists introducing the bands on stage, this year they had a prerecord message from a celebrity super fan. Iggy Pop endorsed US Girls (they’ve toured together and he’s played her on his radio show). Iggy had the best quote of the night, saying “If Meg stole your car and crashed it, a year later you’d look back and think I was part of something.”

Dev Hynes (aka Blood Orange, Test-Icicles, Lightspeed Champion) endorsed Carly Rae Jepson; Boyd Devereaux, a hockey player endorsed Black Mountain. It was all quite fun. Even child actor Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things endorsed Pup (he acts in the band’s video for “Guilt Trip”).

But the real action of the evening is out in the giant hallway beside the venue, chefs whip up smores and other treats, there’s a few bars but most of the attendees stand out here and gossip, getting quite drunk. By the end of the night there’s a DJ and people are tearing up the carpet dancing to 80s classics. After a couple hours the crowd dwindled, some went to the Drake, some to other bars, some home to sleep but the group I was with ended up going to sing karaoke in a private booth on Yonge St. I have since lost my voice. What a way to end an amazing night celebrating music by singing your heart out til the wee hours….

Oh wait, I suppose you want to know the winner? Well the award and $50,000 went to Kaytranada for his album 99.9%. Congrats dude!

*photos by Kate Killet

Mar Sellars
Radio host and music PR person. Mar also plays bass, promotes monthly gigs, manages Partner and spends most of her time working for the record label Hand Drawn Dracula. Her past includes BBC, touring Germany 7 times, CBC radio personality and lots of writing for music blogs. She’s lived in Vancouver, London and Berlin but now very happy to call Toronto her permanent home. Her two favourite things in the world are music festivals and waterparks.
Mar Sellars

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