Our annual celebration of the region’s finest musical exports – the GIT AWARD – is once again nearly upon us. This year marks the award’s fifth year of shining a light on the cream of the city’s current artists, which puts it in the territory of a “Scouse Mercury Prize”, according to the NME. The 12 acts who have been shortlisted for the 2016 award (see page opposite) range from nationally acclaimed recording artists to some lesser-known gems, showing the embarrassment of musical riches we have within our midst. Ahead of the final ceremony – set to be held at Constellations on 14th May, where the winner will be unveiled – we catch up with a few of the accolade’s national judging panel, to find out how the city’s current musical crop are perceived outside Merseyside.
As I sat down at the end of 2015 to look back at my favourite pieces of music from local artists from the previous 12 months, I was astounded at just how much excellent music had been produced. It was pretty similar the year before, and at the rate things are going so far in 2016 I’m going to have double the amount to wade through come December. I’m certainly not complaining: it’s brilliant to be swamped with such a variety of boss music, and I enjoy the white-knuckle ride of constantly chasing about just trying to keep up with the pace and volume of creativity that our musicians churn out. They’re a busy bunch round here.
By way of celebrating what has been another fine year of musical creativity on Merseyside, the 2016 edition of the GIT Award has left no stone unturned in compiling its final shortlist, its eclectic dirty dozen. These 12 nominees represent a fascinating cross-section of where our city is right now, with some pretty major players on an international level sitting comfortably alongside bright new talent whose profile hasn’t (yet) stretched beyond the bounds of the region. Take MUGSTAR and L U M E N for example: one act has just released its seventh album on Mogwai’s Rock Action Records, and one is in the embryonic stage of his career with only a handful of songs and shows to his name. But both acts fit within the overall picture, complementary to each other in the different strands they represent.
That was fun, let’s compare some of the other nominees: CLEAN CUT KID’s sticky pop rock has seen them reach a fervent audience through being BBC Radio 1 playlisted, while STEALING SHEEP and HOOTON TENNIS CLUB both received plentiful support from 6Music around their respective Heavenly Records-released albums in 2015; then you have the massive fanbases in slightly more niche areas that MIC LOWRY and DRAGGED INTO SUNLIGHT have, compared with the relatively niche followings TVAM and TRUDY have cultivated so far in a more widely supported genre. I could go on, but the point is already obvious – the GIT Award is a succinct way of reflecting and championing the broad church that is Merseyside music, with the current 12 nominees an exciting representation of that.
We can get blinded, however, by constantly looking inwards at Liverpool music, but what does it sound like from afar? It can be hard for us, immersed in a city that is clearly humming and buzzing at its nucleus, to have a handle on where we fit into the bigger national picture. Nine of the 16 judges on this year’s GIT Award are from outside of the city – including BBC 6Music’s Gideon Coe, The Unsigned Guide’s Louise Dodgson, and 4AD label chief Rich Walker – which helps to give us local judges a bit of perspective. “What I really love about Liverpool is the breadth of talent and the variety of the artists,” says journalist, blogger and Amazing Radio show host Shell Zenner, one of the national judges who has a close affinity to Merseyside. “They don’t conform to what is or isn’t cool, they write and compose from the heart and do what they feel is right. You never know what you’re going to find, but you know there will be treasures. It’s the jewel in the North West’s crown!” This sentiment is echoed by Dot Levine, Communications Manager at global video giant Vevo, who has also reprised her role as a national judge this year: “The music coming out of Liverpool has evolved, not turned its back at all, but evolved into lots of different and eclectic sounds. There is a great creative buzz in Liverpool that is fuelling the music scene, and we are hearing some very exciting music.”
Another returning judge is writer, journalist and Merseyside exile John Doran, founder of the constantly fascinating music and pop culture webzine The Quietus. His enthusiasm for the process of selecting the final 12 artists, which began in November, is infectious. “As always the voting process has introduced me to great new music including, this year, God Colony, Holy Thursday, TVAM and Tekla,” Doran says. “Looking at the GIT Awards I’ve been involved in – which is for the last four or five years, I think – I’ve become a lot more aware of Merseyside’s grime, EDM, electronica, hip hop and RnB. So I guess the award helps remind me about the diversity of music in the North West – not that I should need reminding.”
The version of Liverpool music that is packaged and exported around the world undoubtedly brings a rich seam of character and finance to the area, but is it really representative of what’s happening now? John Doran would argue that, no, the idea of regional stereotypes in the realm of art are fast becoming obsolete. “I’m wary of generalisations. I think, in very very general terms, the Celtic character, via Irish immigration, has bled into the Scouse personality to a certain degree and because of that maybe Liverpool has tended to produce warm, expansive, romantic, tuneful music with a psychedelic edge: and that’s whether it’s Mugstar, The Beatles, OMD, The Mighty Wah! or Clinic. But the second you start saying ‘All Liverpool music is like x’ then you’re going to be ignoring certain bands. For example, Dragged Into Sunlight are not warm, expansive, romantic or tuneful. They sound like they just murdered your pet dog with an axe while laughing about it.”
Regardless of who follows Loved Ones, Baltic Fleet, Forest Swords and All We Are to win the award, everyone on the shortlist – or anyone making music in Merseyside, for that matter – should hold a collective sense of pride, as the GIT Award’s diagnosis of the local scene indicates that it is in fine health.
The GIT Award final ceremony takes place at Constellations on 14th May 2016.
GIT AWARD 2016 NOMINEES
CLEAN CUT KID
The rugged, catchy pop nuggets that this quartet keep spitting out has had their show packed out by fans and record-label execs, all eager for a shot of Clean Cut Kid’s Vitamin C.
DRAGGED INTO SUNLIGHT
As far as terrifying extreme black metal goes, these four balaclava-clad noiseniks sure know how to make a racket.
HOOTON TENNIS CLUB
Close friendships and swaggering, lo-fi warmth are part of the fabric of this quartet, whose debut LP on Heavenly Recordings was one of the records of 2015.
L U M E N
L U M E N plays his quirky electronic surf pop with a smile on his face, and the effect will have you grinning from ear to ear.
These five teenage soul/RnB stars grew up around each other and they reflect this fluidity in their soulful vocal fireworks.
Drone Titans Mugstar have reached the pinnacle of their 13-year career with latest album Magnetic Seasons, which sees them flexing their cosmic muscles in ever more subtle ways.
The past 12 months have been a whirlwind for this quintet, who have really hit their stride with their own brand of moody post-punk thrumming.
The Bard of West Kirby is the kind of songwriting talent that comes around once every generation, with his most recent work raising the bar to untold heights.
Stealing Sheep took a turn towards the avant-garde with their exotica-inspired second album, Not Real, which they delivered with style and precision.
This dashing trio have been a real hit since they landed on Merseyside, combining woozy melodies with sun-flecked charm to great effect.
Fuzz, 8-bit graphics and incessant grooves make TVAM’s VHS concoctions as compelling as anything else out there today. Buckle up.
THE VRYLL SOCIETY
If liquid, soulful jams are your thing then this five-piece will transport you to a blissful realm in no time. The Vryll Society are a breath of fresh air.