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BBC Music welcomes return of Mercury Music Prize as 2015 shortlist is announced

Jeff Smith

Head of Music, Radio 2 and 6Music

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Next year sees the Mercury Prize mark a quarter century of celebrating the best albums by UK and Irish artists. Clearly much has changed in the music industry since 1992.  I was there at that first nominations launch so personally I think it's great that BBC Music has been able to support this important cultural prize on into its next quarter century.

That first year the controversial choice – oh, and they're always controversial - was Primal Scream and their now classic work ‘Screamadelica’. After that first quite alternative winner and with Suede in 1993, 1994's M People win was seen as very mainstream, very major label – though of course that was followed by Portishead's 'Dummy' and Pulp's 'Different Class' and many others.

That's the other great thing about the Mercurys, the range, the breadth of popular music that UK artists create every year and yes the argument, the debate, what’s in, what’s not in. Even in a modern world of streaming music and cherry picking tracks from albums to download, it’s great to discuss and disagree about music.

This year you can see a wide range of music reflected particularly if you want to dig into the albums and listen to the full works (if you don't, I've curated a best of playlist for all you cherry pickers). 

There are no traditional folk or jazz albums this year but perhaps that signifies how contemporary popular music artists in this country are integrating styles from other genres like jazz and folk into their works. I see much of this year’s list as a selection of artists’ works challenging categorisation and integrating musical styles from a range of other genres.

You can probably hear this most profoundly in Eska’s self titled album and there’s a jazz lilt to albums by Benjamin ClementineAt Least For Now’ and even Aphex Twin’s ‘Syro’.

Ghostpoet is nominated again as he continues to deliver strong bodies of work which challenge hip hop and rap convention and also incorporate other musical styles in his latest work ‘Shedding Skin’.

Pop is represented but again it's not from the straight down the middle pop stream but rather from the alternative rock perspective of Wolf Alice with ‘My Love Is Cool’.

Of course electronic and dance music has continued to have major chart and airplay success but the Mercury Prize takes a different slant on electronic music with Jamie XX’s ‘In Colour’ and of course the heritage of that music with the Aphex Twin album.

The new breed of singer songwriter, also difficult to easily categorise is represented by the youthful Irish musician Soak’s ‘Before We Forgot How To Dream’ with her folk influences , and the classically influenced C Duncan’s ‘Architect’.

Outside of the “uncategorisable” guitar rock is still fighting to come back and that's represented by the exciting work of Slaves on ‘Are You Satisfied’.

Finally, in terms of more well know names both Roisin Murphy with ‘Hairless Toys’ and Gaz Coombe’s with ‘Matador’ move from artists in bands to solo creators of substantial works and are also marked, and this country’s success internationally with crossover left field pop is celebrated by the inclusion of Florence and The Machine’s ‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful’.  

Over the next few weeks across 6 Music, Radio 1 and Radio 2 and culminating in a special day of music across our music stations, plus a BBC Four TV show featuring the announcement of the winner, I hope you’ll enjoy this sample of the range, and wonder at the power of continued British creativity in popular music. All of the artists featured have been supported across the BBC in the last year but after we’ve celebrated this year then let’s look forward to at least another 25 years of the Mercury Prize and the concept of a musical body of work called "the album".

Jeff Smith is Head of Music BBC Radio 2 and 6 Music.

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