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  • Writer's pictureGavin Griffiths

Are awards ceremonies relevant?

On Friday, May 26th, the OVO Arena, Wembley, will play host to the largest rock music awards ceremony, ever held on UK soil, as The Heavy Music Awards, rolls into its seventh successive year. But what IS it? Sure, we’re all familiar with the likes of the Kerrang! Awards, and the Metal Hammer Golden Gods, but they are niche to their own readership audiences and media outlets, however established they may have become over the years in alternative scenes.

The Heavy Music Awards, however, finds its nominees shortlisted by a panel of around a thousand industry specialists, having closely looked at the best of the best from the previous calendar year, with the winners ultimately being decided by the voting public. Essentially rock and metal’s very own Mercury Prize, if you will. Today we’re going to be looking at not only The Heavy Music Awards, but comparing it to other awards like the aforementioned magazines, and the likes of The Grammy’s, as we ask the open question; does the alternative music scene REALLY NEED or benefit from this sort of, red carpet rigmarole? Let’s look at the pros and cons, without turning it into more of a red-carpet massacre (And I’m not talking about Duran Duran).

Let’s start with the UK mainstream itself and, what constitutes AS the leading mainstream alternative, if that makes sense, while we look at those K! Awards, and the Golden Gods. The two primary printed/online sources for rock and metal news and exclusives in the UK, Kerrang! and Metal Hammer, as publications and brands at least, lead the way in terms of exposure for underground and sub-genre-specific artists. Naturally, given their size and reach, they have their own annual awards bashes, which to some, are considered quite lucrative and are a measure of success, HOWEVER, while mostly voted for by their readers, there are key things to remember.

First of all, whether it’s Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, even Rock Sound, NME or Terrorizer for example, they all have (Or had) different core reader demographics, and different teams that run editing, write reviews and do interviews, and they tend to pander, or gravitate towards certain styles. There are and always will be crossovers due to popularity, of course, but essentially, different magazines would have different cover stars, exclusives, genre’s prioritised, all of that gubbins. What does this have to do with any awards? Well having a more genre specific focus will naturally have readers, who prefer certain styles, who have more specific tastes, lean towards your narrative overall as a percentage, so, let’s say a Kerrang! reader gets into Greenday or, Fall Out Boy because they are more than likely going to be published there, they aren’t necessarily going to care for say, Rotting Christ or Meshuggah, who are more than likely to be in Metal Hammer etc. Am I saying you can’t appreciate or enjoy both? Absolutely not, but overall, as a percentage, these are different demographics.

When it comes to the awards themselves then, there will naturally be a level of favouritism, as those cover stars and main feature artists are going to resonate more with that reader base, and the publishers who are getting the exclusives, will be looking to keep certain bands sweet. Readers are going to lean more towards what’s been put in front of them on a more regular basis, through familiarity and bias, and so you’ll find the likes of Twenty-One Pilots etc, winning more Kerrang! Awards than Golden Gods, for example. Again, as a percentage. This in itself, leans further into a more specific topic of conversation around gatekeeping, and metal elitism, but that’s another debate for another time, though you get the idea. Regardless of how many Twenty-One Pilots fans exists, typically, Metal Hammer readers are not voting for them.

Let’s move on to the Mercury Prize. We already covered the 2022 awards several months ago, and while we looked for positives, we were left ultimately disappointed or, at the very least disheartened with the representation. Ironically, The Mercury Prize does from within itself, state that, metal as a genre isn’t generally included as a rule, because it allows it to maintain It's outsider status and alternative charm. To a casual that might make sense, you know, you do you, let metal be metal and be its own thing, but it defeats the object of the very idea, of the Mercury Prize.

If an album is that good, and warrants a nod, don’t discriminate, because let's be honest here, a spot of metal would have woken up last year's awards. Talk about dull! But in all seriousness, rock and metal artists, might appear shouty and screamy to the overall public, who swear by rinse and repeat radio stations that loop the same pop drivel 24/7, or even recently, I’ve noticed a lot of youngsters, locally at least from my own experience, getting into grime and underground rap. I’m showing my age here, but as a typical valley’s boy born in the 80’s, we’ve never had an ethnic community, or a local rap culture, so this only highlights the power of trends, promotion and mainstream exposure. Stormzy, KSI and the like, are doing brilliantly for themselves, and kids are taking notice, but do rock and alternative sub-genres get the same fair exposure on daytime radio? Do they fuck. So really, even IF The Mercury Prize included metal etc, would it make a difference, because it’s not really given a fair shout.

With all that said then, and if we’re looking at artists having a fair shout, The Heavy Awards must naturally be the place to be, for any UK or international rock and metal artist to be recognised? Yes and no. Yes, it champions heavy, underground and alternative rock acts...yes it allows them a less biased platform that isn’t promoted by one single magazine or organisation, and yes in that same vein it means there’s less of a pigeonholed audience, as it’s a blanket vote for alternative fans across the UK, instead of primarily one set of magazine readers. BUT, how valuable are the awards?

This year, Scotland’s Vukovi make history by being the first artist to be nominated for five separate categories in one year. You must think, Vukovi have to be the dog's bollocks and the next big thing in British rock music? They’ve just over a quarter of a million monthly listeners on Spotify, and not one of their releases, be it single or album, has spent ANY time in the Official UK Charts Top 75, let alone the broadcast Top 40. To the average Joe, they are like, whokovi? But you look at Beyonce, at Adele, at Billie Eilish etc, they get nominated multiple times and sweep the floor at The Grammy’s and are regarded as pop industry powerhouses. Are Vukovi going to be looked upon with same level of respect? Of course, they aren’t, because sadly, nobody really cares about rock.

Look don’t get me wrong, everybody, and I mean everybody, loves a pat on the back, a well done, a congratulations. An award for personal achievement, is always something to be proud of, and to be nominated and celebrated, (Hell, I’ve been nominated for a Cardiff Music Award!) but however open The Heavy Awards are to public voting, it’s still a niche award, for niche bands in niche genre’s, who while honestly appreciating the accolade, will never truly reap the awards of a Grammy, or the like, as the overall exposure isn’t there.

This isn’t me calling the awards pointless, not by any means, these artists deserve to be recognised for their talent, their commitment, for their vision, for their creativity and for their individuality. Whichever awards any particular artist wins here at the upcoming Heavy Awards, I’m sure that, they earned it in the eyes of the public. Sure, some bands have bigger fan bases than others, and that’s purely semantics at play, but overall, without being cynical, they are there on true merit. Sadly however, until overall public perception changes in the mainstream, these awards will never truthfully amount to much other than brief moments of pride. Daniel P. Carter has his Radio 1 Rock Show, there’s Total Rock Radio, Kerrang! Radio, and some other stuff you can find, or wait for in terms of weekly programming, but unless the BBC and other broadcasters start playing more alternative music on a daily basis, instead of peddling the same old shit like Sam Smith, or Harry Styles, or whoever, that DON’T NEED the airplay, personally these awards are an over eagerly mortgaged future, as however popular you are here one year, means sadly little overall.

The team and I at Riff Yard genuinely wish all 2023 nominees the best, we truly do, and we want you all to succeed, make money, thrive, keep venues alive and keep alternative music fresh and exciting. Without you we wouldn’t be here, however, in the grand scheme of things, it’s about time attitudes changed. We have so many talented singers, musicians, artists and songwriters in alternative music, that mainstream shuns.

Are we expecting Lorna Shore or Cradle Of Filth on breakfast time radio? No, we’re realistic, but what’s stopping stations slipping alternative bands (And I don’t mean the odd indie or pop-punk band) into their daily playlists? Nothing. Until alternative artists truly get consistent representation, (Not when the likes of Slipknot sneak a brief number one), awards ceremonies and genres of this nature will always sadly be looked down upon by the masses as noisy and bothersome. Merthyr Rocks festival, which is, sorry WAS local to me, was cancelled by local fuckwits complaining about noise pollution one day a year, but they are happy to have Donny Osmond and Madness play just as loudly in the same park? Alternative music is still, surprisingly vastly under-represented, and the biggest award of them all, will hopefully someday go to the person that changes that. Until then, horns up...and enjoy what you can.

We wish you all the best of luck, as you’ve all contributed some spectacular music, or put on incredible shows over the past year, and whoever wins is deserving, though, you’re all winners in our eyes. Maybe one day we’ll see you in the Riff Yard.

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