Alberto E. Rodriguez, Getty One of rock's royal families has just gotten a…
- Posted on Sep 20th 2011 9:50AM by Aaron Brophy
Indeed, the Polaris Prize, which is voted on by Canadian music critics each year and is meant to determine "the best full-length Canadian album based on artistic merit, regardless of genre, sales, or record label," has a well-earned reputation of going against the grain (see Patrick Watson beating Arcade Fire and Feist in 2007, F---ed Up beating Metric and K'naan in 2009, and Karkwa beating Broken Social Scene and Tegan and Sara in 2010 as examples).
In fact, one of the most compelling storylines leading into this year's Polaris gala was whether the grand jury would continue its anti-populist bent and diss Arcade Fire's album, 'The Suburbs,' winner of the 2011 Grammy Album of the Year, the Best International Album at the 2011 Brit Awards and the Juno Awards' 2011 Album of the Year, in favour of one of the other nine nominees.
For his part, Arcade Fire lead singer Win Butler was just as surprised as anyone that his band took the prize for their concept record about suburban ennui. That much was clear when the band was asked what they'd do with the $30,000 prize money they scored for their victory at a post-awards press conference.
"To be honest, we haven't thought about it much because we didn't expect to win," said Butler, whose band beat out records by Austra, Braids, Colin Stetson, Destroyer, Galaxie, Hey Rosetta!, Ron Sexsmith, Timber Timbre and the Weeknd
Earlier on in the evening Butler had even half-jokingly characterized his band's chances of winning as a longshot.
"I think that we we're the underdogs because we don't have an offensive name like F---ed Up or 'He Poos Clouds' [the title of the 2006's Polaris-winning album by Arcade Fire's string arranger Owen Pallett, then known as Final Fantasy]," Butler said from the stage, not-so-subtly pointing out Polaris' history of picking more avant-garde selections to win.
Even if they hadn't won, Arcade Fire still would have stood a good chance of being closely connected to the winner, though. Fellow nominees Timber Timbre and Colin Stetson each recorded their albums at Arcade Fire's Quebec studio, and the band's connections to other nominees and past Polaris winners runs deep.
"We kind of know a lot of the people here," said Butler, explaining how winning the Polaris compares to big industry awards like the Grammys, Junos, or Brits. "That's the big difference. Like, even when we went up there with [gala co-host] Damian Abraham, his band [F---ed Up] has opened for us before, we've played with Karkwa before, and Austra, and Colin, and we're on the same label as Destroyer -- so in that sense it feels less like we're in a foreign world."
If anything, the Arcade Fire were on an unofficial mission this night to remind everyone in the room that they were their peers in making "artistic" music, not "popular" music. They shouted out to bands like godspeed you! black emperor, the Unicorns, Wolf Parade and the Hidden Cameras, and even went so far as to challenge young music fans to beat them at their own game ("I just want to come back here in 10 years and just have some band make something so much better than our record or any record that's nominated tonight," said Butler at one point.)
Perhaps what they wanted to do most, though, was break down some of those indie pretensions that fueled most of the debate leading up to the event.
"Yeah, it doesn't matter if you haven't heard of a band before," said Butler, from the stage, "it can still be the best thing in the world. And also, if you have heard of a band before, it doesn't mean that it sucks."