What Does Karkwa’s Polaris Prize Win Mean for the Canadian Underground Music Scene?

by thiszine

BY JOHN COLEMAN

Polaris Prize season is always exciting for Canadian music journalists. The hype around the heftily weighted $20,000 purse acknowledging the best independent album of the year takes on a feverish holiday feel. This year, after a summer of waiting since the longlist was announced on June 17, and the shortlist on July 7, music nerds were getting antsy. For months, record biz insiders, journalists and music fans were making their predictions known all over social networks. Leading up to the special day, September 20, people were wishing each other a “Happy Polaris Prize Day” on Twitter and Facebook.

Now it’s all said and done and, I am pleased to announce, the winner of the 2010 Polaris Prize is Montreal indie rock group Karkwa for their record Les Chemins De Verre. The band has been around since 2003 and have released four albums on Audiogram Records.

Much like the hype preceding Polaris day, after the winner is announced there is always strong reaction from media and music listeners alike. Last fall I was happier than a punk with a bottle of malt liquor when I heard one of my favourite bands, Fucked Up, won for their record The Chemistry Of Common Life. But after the Toronto hardcore-turned-experimental troupe took home the oversized cheque, reaction ensued, and critics unleashed. People couldn’t believe that a curse-named punk band could beat out more radio friendly underground music. “For heaven’s sake,” mainstream snobbies protested, “Metric was up for the award – and Fucked Up won?!”

This year, it’s much of the same jealousy fired at Karkwa. I guess it is tradition for people to lash out, usually in defence of the bands that don’t need twenty grand. Mostly I’ve seen people angry about popular bands like Tegan and Sarah and Broken Social Scene being sidelined by the judges in lieu of an underdog. I confess, I haven’t heard Les Chemins De Verre entirely, yet, but from what I’ve Youtubed I like. I applaud Karkwa for proving Edge102 radio and MuchMusic aren’t the be all, end all to what’s hip in Canada.

However, I wonder why some well-known underground bands were left out this year. Although one of my favourites, The Sadies, made the shortlist (much to my surprise), I think some other Canadian albums should at least have been considered, like Bison BC’s Dark Ages, which I heard back in March and immediately declared the best Canadian album of 2010. I also would have nominated Fuck The Facts Unnamed EP, which to your next door neighbour sounds like the heaviest metal of all time but is really one of the smartest, genius punk/grind records ever.

I’ve kept quiet on my thoughts because, frankly, I know it will be a while before a heavier bands take the Polaris. For some reason hardcore and metal are too out of reach for vogue listeners. This is why it still amazes me that Fucked Up won last year. If the judges heard any of their music prior to Chemistry, I’m sure they would have barfed in disgust and declined them any right to acknowledgment in the arts scene.

2 Responses to “What Does Karkwa’s Polaris Prize Win Mean for the Canadian Underground Music Scene?”

  1. Here is my interview with one of the members when I was at Pop Montreal

    http://photogmusic.com/?page_id=9714

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