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- Posted on Sep 22nd 2009 9:30AM by Tabassum Siddiqui
Oh, Canada. Leave it to the true north strong and free to award album of the year to a band with an unprintable name and 300-pound frontman with a penchant for smashing glasses on his forehead during performances. To the surprise of many, Toronto hardcore sextet F---ed Up took home the $20,000 Polaris Prize last night at a gala ceremony in Toronto.
The crowd of industry insiders and journalists had just finished picking their jaws up off the floor after F---ed Up frontman Damian "Pink Eyes" Abraham stripped down to his underwear and whipped a microphone cord around his head as the band capped the three-hour show (which featured all 10 nominees performing live for the first time) with a typically eardrum-shredding, eyebrow-raising performance that included guests Lullabye Arkestra lending a hand on backing vocals and previous Polaris winner Final Fantasy (Owen Pallett) on violin.
Minutes later, a clearly astonished Abraham was back onstage as last year's Polaris winner, Dan Snaith of Caribou, announced F---ed Up's 'The Chemistry of Common Life' as the winning record. It was an indelible sight as slight, bespectacled Snaith was dwarfed by the hulking Abraham, who went on to smooch gala host and CBC Radio personality Grant Lawrence on the lips as he was presented with an oversized prop cheque.
The hijinks didn't stop there -- 2007 winner Patrick Watson, who had earlier started a full-on food fight with fellow nominees, ran up on stage and doused Abraham with a bucket of ice, leading the singer to once again whip off his shirt.
"This is insane," Abraham enthused, joking that the band was frisked by security several times that day and hoped they would win to make up for the aggravation.
At a press conference following the announcement, Abraham joked that the members of F---ed Up took bets earlier that day as to who would win – they had it down to either rapper K'naan or East Coast rocker Joel Plaskett -- so the band was flabbergasted, but elated, by the result.
"You're all still in shock, too," Abraham noted dryly when a request for questions from the media was met with dead silence.
F---d Up's win may have confounded some, but the prize caps a stellar year for the band. 'The Chemistry of Common Life' met with rave reviews from the mainstream press and won the group a devoted crossover audience worldwide. Their win also makes sense in the context of the Polaris voting process: an 11-member jury of music critics is sequestered all night at the gala to debate and ultimately crown a winner from the ten shortlisted nominees. While a decidedly left-field candidate, F---ed Up's album has been hailed for its more melodic, multi-faceted bent to the aggressive hardcore sound, something most music critics can get behind.
Abraham realizes that hardcore isn't exactly everyone's cup of tea, but he hopes the band's win will help raise the genre's profile at home. "For the longest time, we thought we were on the outside of the Canadian music scene," Abraham noted. "Well, if we're outside, we just stole the biggest prize."
Abraham says F---d Up already know what they want to do with the $20,000 prize money. The band puts out an annual Christmas benefit album, and planned to devote this year's edition to raising funds and awareness about the hundreds of missing Aboriginal women in Canada. The money will allow them to fund the project themselves and donate all proceeds to the cause.
"It's not really an issue that's raised in the news, and it's kind of ridiculous that it takes a band called F---d Up to bring attention to it," Abraham told Spinner after the gala. The frontman's leftist and feminist political beliefs are well known. "But if we can do something about it, I'm very happy about that."
F---d Up's win helped undercut frequent criticism of the four-year-old Polaris Prize as a largely homogenous "indie" award, as did last night's gala itself. Each of the 10 performances underscored the diverse sounds and styles of the shortlisted nominees.
The invite-only event, held at the historic Masonic Temple building, was a showcase for the live music, which helped keep the stilted, unfunny banter of co-hosts Sarah Taylor (MuchMusic) and Grant Lawrence (CBC Radio 3) to a minimum. Highlights included Metric's stripped-down acoustic take on their pop hits; Patrick Watson and band weaving their way through the seated guests while playing with tentacle-like lights strapped to their backs; crowd favourite K'naan's energetic, emotive hip-hop anthems; and Elliott Brood getting a room full of jaded industry types to provide some percussion with tin pans and wooden spoons."I think that criticism of the Polaris is somewhat unfounded," Abraham told Spinner, "Every band that's won the Polaris has been very different. I feel great that people think that we made a record that's on par with [inaugural Polaris winner and F---d Up collaborator] Final Fantasy. And I'd love to see a hip-hop band win, or a metal band make the shortlist next year.
"The great thing about the Polaris is that it does such a good job of drawing attention to the bands. And we're really happy to be part of that."