Underground Music Awards 2009

author PP date 17/06/09

Underground Music Awards '09, the first of its kind held in Denmark, started as a Bachelor project in university for the Siamese Fighting Fish vocalist Mirza Radonjica and eight others from Roskilde University, but overwhelming support from media and the different Danish music scenes alike quickly ensured that the project developed into a full-scale awards show culminating in a grand finale at Pumpehuset, Copenhagen on June 13th. Over 400 bands and artists signed up for a chance to be nominated into the final five (or six in some genres) and an invite to the final awards ceremony. Any critics who might have thought that the various music scenes in Denmark aren't as active as elsewhere in the world were thus silenced by the sheer amount of talent in every genre.

The initial selection process was done by the people behind UMA, who chose around 15-20 bands from each genre who would then be passed on to the various music critics and industry experts in respective genres. Myself and TL participated for the metal panel (though in all seriousness we should've been a part of the rock panel as well considering our credentials), and among a few other individuals helped to diminish the group of bands into a final five or six nominees. This process took place over a couple of weeks, after which each expert panel received a list of all nominees to vote on. While this approach guarantees a certain amount of diversity and open-mindedness in some genres, I have a hard time imagining a pop or electronica referee is able to give any sort of fair and objective judgment on metal (and in some cases rock) bands, just like I was having major trouble in choosing who to vote on as the winner of the hip hop category. Maybe next year it'll be different, but then again, you could argue that it's a part of the UMA charm as ewll.

Setting

Upon arrival to Pumpehuset, already at doors you could tell that this was way bigger than any of us had expected. The national television was present asking for the crowd's thoughts about the event. There was a red carpet leading to the door outside of Pumpehuset, and an MTV-styled interview wall-set up near the doors as well. The venue itself was even more vibrant with metalheads, pop queens and electro ravers all under the same roof. I don't know about you but I'd call that an intriguing mix even at an Enter Shikari concert in the UK. Inside the venue you found three giant white screens, one towards the right of the stage, and the other two on opposing walls, ensuring that no matter where you were standing, you'd be able to see the nominee names and winners. Some crazy dancers were positioned up near the left side-screen, moving along to the background music (that varied between pop and Slayer, seriously) for entertainment purposes before the show itself started.

Prior to the event you could read on the UMA website that they were trying to make the awards show stand out from regular awards shows. They weren't kidding. Danish comedian Dan Andersen fired off a couple of jokes in between each genre, but that isn't extraordinary. More interestingly, each nominated band was projected on the three screens where you'd see both a mix of their music videos/live music and a short video introduction by the artists, where it seemed like each band had just been told "tell us about yourselves" and otherwise had freedom to express what they wanted on the video. But what I liked the most about the whole thing was the way the winners were announced: we saw the dancer-girls come on stage with a huge banner that pronounced the pop winners, a magician first showing us an empty box where seconds later a grown woman would pop out with the electronica winner banner, and four topless males run on stage with the name of the metal winners spray-painted on their chests. All this helped to spice up the ceremony with some light-hearted humour, and I think that's what made the difference and put people in a good mood. All winning bands were also allowed to play two songs live instead of just playing the winning music from CD like is usually the case at awards show, which was pretty cool, but the fact that 24 bands had to bring all equipment other than drum kits to Copenhagen in the hopes of winning was kind of time-consuming in the end. After all, it takes some time to set up your gear as quickly as possible after winning and you have literally no warning before the announcement. I quite like this approach though, as it really brings the scene together (I'll write more about that later), so here's an idea: perhaps we could have a few more comedians filling the 20 minutes or so that each band took to set up where people were just sitting around waiting for something to happen?

Winners

Genre: Pop

Nominees: Artificial Brothers, Munich, Anders Thrane, The Norman Conquest, C'Est Tout Martine, Non+

Winner: Non+

First genre in question was pop. Winners were obviously the groovy semi-electronic outfit Non+ as you can see above, but in all seriousness, bands like The Norman Conquest and Munich both sounded great. Why exactly these ROCK bands chose to compete in the pop category is a bit of a mystery to me, because I have no idea how they thought they'd be able to stand against a pure pop act like Non+ who even have one of their songs in a mobile phone commercial. I don't fault Non+ for winning as they were quite high up on my (rock biased) list as well, but in all honesty watching a pop band bob about gently on stage was never going to be particularly interesting. Pop just isn't made for a live environment.

Genre: Metal

Nominees: Diamond Drive, Fiji, Vira, Trusted Few, She Is Malignant

Winner: Vira

Next up we had metal. Since we had just seen pop and electronica/alternative genres were still coming up, I think it was a fair choice putting metal early in the show instead of placing it last. This way UMA could ensure that a bunch of people who otherwise would never even think of watching a metal show would be exposed to a genre they most likely have a shitload of preconceptions about. Thumbs up for the approach, and I'm sure a whole bunch of people were left with at least some impression considering winners Vira are probably the heaviest band of the bunch. That's probably why the band spent the first few minutes on stage thanking people for giving metal a chance, and talking about the melodies, energy, emotions and passions in the genre despite its heaviness. Another thumbs up has to go for the metal scene as well who had shown up in large numbers, mostly manifesting in a Slagelse constellation around Trusted Few towards the left of the stage, who gave loud cheers to every single nominee on the list.

Genre: Alternative

Nominees: Among Relatives, Vilhelm, Annemarie Zimakoff, CallmeKat, Atoi

Winner: CallmeKat

Before the announcement of the alternative winners, I was 100% certain that Among Relatives would breeze by all other contestants as total winners, considering they are the band/artist with far most potential in the genre. I was absolutely blown away by their songs on Myspace, which is why I fail to understand how anyone could pick CallmeKat over those guys as the winners. Sure, she has a good voice, but her songs are easily forgettable - just like her live show. Justice was not served in this genre, and I think TL will sign under that. Rest of the bands never stood a chance.

Genre: Electronica

Nominees: Farven Fornem, Eumig Og Chinon, Natten, Honey Lobell, Mislyd

Winner: Eumig Og Chinon

Electronica is an interesting genre in that there isn't really anyone who hates it. Perhaps it's in basic human nature to instinctively move along to beats and cool sound effects? Needless to say, winners Eumig Og Chinon had perhaps the most interesting live show despite only featuring two dudes with headphones and electronics boards on stage. From where I could see, the whole room was moving along to the music, and when you achieve that - no matter what the genre - you're doing something right.

Genre: Hip-Hop

Nominees: Ham Den Lange, Lady Smita, M.I.L.O, Odense Assholes, OrlaXL, Supra

Winner: Ham Den Lange

Hip-Hop is probably the one genre that falls completely outside of anything we'd even consider covering on this website. That's also why I won't pretend like I know something about it, but lets just say that the artist that I selected as #1 on my list won the whole genre. Is that luck or just me being awesome? You decide.

Genre: Rock

Nominees: The Defectors, Mr. Sanguine, Bel Espirit, Highway Child, Art Arena

Winner: Highway Child

I guess it makes sense that Highway Child won, it was a contest between them and Art Arena in this genre. That Bel Espirit or Mr Sanguine were even among the nominees is a bit of a blasphemy considering Wrong Side Of Vegas (among others) didn't even make it to final five. Someone should have a serious chat with the expert panel members for this genre. Nonetheless, Highway Child was easily the most 'rock' band in the traditional sense, an uncompromising attitude, a love for huge solos and showing off (think Guns N Roses live show), and an overall rowdy rock attitude to their display. They've previously been receiving much hype from the mainstream press here in Denmark, so maybe they'll make it big. Me? I think they're fairly good without being something special, though their live show was entertaining in the same way as Wolfmother's was in Roskilde '06: so unpredictable.

Overall Impression

Despite a few drawbacks and things that could've been improved here and there, I don't think there's anyone who could've gone home tonight with a negative impression of the event, especially if you went to the after party at Stengade 30. Having the whole scene together for a full evening is wonderful, and because there were so many different, vibrant personalities present, there wasn't a moment you wouldn't have been talking to someone or just generally having fun. I've been told that the organizers didn't lose money, so that only means that the support from the scene does exist for arrangements like these. I hope more behind-the-scenes people take UMA'09 as an encouragement for setting up more stuff like this.

I'd like to throw in a couple of things for next year's ceremony (if there will be one): first off, the expert panels need some clear instructions. There were many genres where it felt like the experts misunderstood the point of the ceremony and simply voted for the extremes in each genre: Vira was the most metal of the nominees, Non+ most pop, Highway Child most rock, and in at least one case it felt like the people who voted didn't go for quality because of this. I know it's just an opinion, but still. Furthermore, I don't think bands should be allowed to select which genre they are competing in, because a couple of bands were definitely in the wrong genres: The Norman Conquest, Munich could've easily been in rock instead of pop. The same goes for Among Relatives in Alternative, and I'm sure the other alternative/electronica/pop bands could've been in any of the three genres depending on who you're asking. While it probably wouldn't make sense that a band who considers themselves a pop band is throw into the metal list, there were a few bands who definitely would've stood a better chance in another genre.

But these are just minor details. After all, UMA '09 was the debut year for the ceremony. Lets hope it won't be the last.

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