Discussion: The Say Award – 'It was a bit like a dream that could become a nightmare at any moment'
Automatic disqualification for beardy boo hoo boys, and other thoughts on the 2017 SAY longlist
It's Scottish Album of the Year Award time – and once again, we've assembled a crack panel of experts to discuss the longlist. Ahead lies plenty of disagreement, probing, some rejoicing and a wee bit of dancing. Our panel are: David Pollock (freelance journalist), Kirstyn Smith (List music editor), Stewart Smith (freelance journalist) and Arusa Qureshi (List content producer).
Stewart: Firstly, I'm delighted that Sacred Paws and Ela Orleans have been nominated. They stand head and shoulders above the competition and if neither of them wins there is no justice. But overall, the longlist is disappointingly male, pale and stale. There was plenty of exciting and innovative new music on the eligible albums list – Helena Celle, Alasdair Roberts, Richard Youngs, Heather Leigh & Peter Brotzmann, Anxiety, Mark Vernon – but we've ended up with your indie da's playlist.
Arusa: I agree with you Stewart, especially about the list being male, pale and stale. Where's the hip hop, grime, DJs, producers etc.? And perhaps more importantly for me, I think (I may be wrong) that there's only one person of colour on the list. When I see lists like this it confirms for me how much the creative industries in Scotland are lacking in diversity. And for anyone that dares to use the age-old argument 'well, there weren't any decent people of colour this year', it's not their job to make themselves known, it's ours to find them! And if there really aren't enough people of colour in the Scottish music industry, isn't that something that the Scottish Music Industry Association should be actively trying to combat?
Fair enough that the public will vote for acts like Frightened Rabbit because they are popular and there's nothing wrong with that. But how do we ensure that lesser-known acts aren't left out of the mix? If you're an underground act and you take a look at the longlist from the past few years, you might think that you have no chance. But maybe there needs to be some effort going towards changing that mindset? Or if that's not possible, maybe there needs to be a new category especially for those up-and-coming acts?
Kirstyn: Arusa's point about a category specifically for those up-and-coming artists is an interesting one: should there be two awards? One for up-and-comers and one for better known acts? It would be hard to categorise who counts as 'up-and-comers', but I'm thinking along the lines of the Edinburgh Comedy Awards at the Fringe.
Stewart: I like the idea of an upcoming category. Perhaps even extend it so you've got a few different genre categories. Then you could pick an overall winner – although it's important we don't just have a repeat of the Grammys where BAME artists win best urban but lose out on the main prize. To be honest, I find awards a bit icky as a rule, but at least if you have different categories you shine the light on a wider range of acts and make it less winner-takes-all.
Arusa: As far as people I would have liked to have seen on the longlist, I'd choose 6th Borough Project, Asthmatic Astronaut, Jay Rolex and MC Almond Milk, Law Holt and Lord of the Isles. I'm not saying that these artists would necessarily go on to win but I think they would add some variation to the list.
Kirstyn: For me, Ela Orleans' The Circles of Upper and Lower Hell highlights the difference between her album and the rest of the good albums on the list – the importance of not being a passive listen. It's very hard to forget you're listening to it; while other albums on the list faded into the background, it was impossible to ignore EO. As well as the consistent wee jarring moments that reminded me to think about the album, the whole thing builds to a crescendo and a resolution, it's the aural equivalent of a story. It was a bit like a dream that could become a nightmare at any moment.
Dave: I'm in complete agreement about Sacred Paws and Ela Orleans being the best records on the list and each just as deserving of the win. But why shouldn't Honeyblood be contenders because they use guitars or Frightened Rabbit be there because they're popular? For every discussion like this, another media outlet is having one about how this is all music for snobs and they've never heard of half the names, guaranteed.
Stewart: Frabbit shouldn't be contenders cos they're bloody awful. Automatic disqualification for beardy boo hoo boys. I'm sure you're right that there will be media outlets saying this is music for snobs and they've never heard of half the names. But quite frankly, fuck them. This is a publicly funded project and it shouldn't be pandering to the philistinism and triviality of the tabloid press.
Arusa: I think (and hope) Ela Orleans will take it but I'd also be happy if Konx-om-Pax won. After three awesome years of Anna Meredith, Kathryn Joseph and Young Fathers, I really hope it doesn't go in a boring direction. I agree with your description of The Circles of Upper and Lower Hell, Kirstyn. It's an interesting and intense album and it really stands out in my opinion.
David: I think quite simply, I want my favourite albums on the list to win because they sound nothing like what you might imagine when you hear someone mention 'Scottish music'. But they ARE Scottish music. Great music in its own right plus expectations pleasantly confounded.
Stewart: Sacred Paws and Ela Orleans are my favourites by a long chalk. Sacred Paws are a huge blast of queer DIY pop joy. They use African influences in a way that doesn't feel appropriative or pastiche, and the dynamic between Rachel and Eilidh is so great. At the end of the day, they make me dance!
The SAY shortlist is announced on Thu 15 Jun, and the winner is revealed on Wed 28 Jun.