‘X Factor for people who have a future’, was held at Hammersmith Apollo on the 15th of September. All the nominees had a pre-show performance, presented by BBC 6 radio presenter Shaun Keaveny. Followed by the live broadcast, presented by Lauren Laverne, where the shortlisted acts were whittled down to 6.
Bat for Lashes
The night started with a performance from Bat For Lashes. “Always the bridesmaid never the bride” as presenter Shaun Keaveny commented, it was Natasha Khan’s third nomination for the Mercury Music prize for her album The Bride. Commemorating the event with a shocking pink wedding veil and a floor long shimmering silver gown Khan sang ‘Sunday Love’. Her mellow falsetto chorus accompanied by hypnotic cascading synth chilled out the audience at the oven-like Hammersmith Apollo.
The revolving stage completed its cycle to reveal ANOHNI’s visually unconventional surrogate singer, who was covered from head to toe in blood red and black body paint. A profound and political performance, ‘Drone Bomb Me’ was a haunting portrayal of a dispirited individual calling for death from a drone. ANOHNI, formerly known as Antony Hegarty from Antony and the Johnsons won the Mercury Music prize back in 2005 with the album I Am a Bird Now.
Michael C. Hall, known for his starring role in tv show Dexter, performed David Bowie’s Lazarus. Working with Bowie on the musical Lazarus before his death, Michael C Hall, sang convincingly in Bowie’s unmistakable style. Respectfully dressed down in black, he was backed by a full band with backing singers and horns section, while the large monitors showed the Lazarus video where Bowie sings from a hospital bed. The special performance was a powerful reminder of the transcendental quality of Bowie’s musical presence. David Bowie is the first musician to be posthumously nominated for the Mercury Music prize for his album Blackstar.
Next was the 1975 with their eighties poptastic song ‘Love Me’. With an irresistibly familiar guitar intro, in an obvious homage to Prince’s Kiss, The 1975’s performance of ‘Love me’ was one of the most exciting performances of the night that revived some of the rock and roll cockiness and controversy that made 90’s awards shows so memorable (Jarvis Cocker mooning the audience during Michael Jackson’s performance of ‘Earth Song’ at the Brit awards 20 years ago comes to mind). Matthew Healy, who at times seemed to be suffering from electrocution, passionately threw his modest weight about the stage as he pranced like a poltergeist, and leapt upon a lavishly laid table in the audience before gulping down the guest’s champagne with full showman’s swagger. Nominated for the album I Like It When You Sleep For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It, The 1975 are the first act to be shortlisted to the final 6 through public vote, in an new initiative from the Mercury Music prize.
The Comet Is Coming
A cosmic cacophony of psychedelic beats, sax and arcade sound effects The Comet Is Coming’s impressive performance of their track ‘Space Carnival’ lived up to its title. Jazz-like order out of electronic chaos and auditory confusion was achieved with style before an abrupt ending to rapturous applause from the audience. Up and coming Hackney trio The Comet Is Coming were nominated for their album Channel the Spirits.
Seamlessly leading on from the sax, Kano, trumpeted by his own brass band, arrived onstage to a hero’s welcome. One of the two Grime acts nominated this year, Kano’s performance of ‘3 Wheel-Ups’ from his nominated album Made in the Manor was a success - energetic, punchy and euphoric. Proving his relentless talent once again, Kano received a standing ovation from the utterly enraptured audience.
Michael Kwanuka’s performance was a return to peaceful, soulful, calm. A melodious mantra repeated throughout his song 'Love & Hate', from his nominated album of the same name. Donning a velvet blazer, shirt and tie, he gave a truly impassioned performance, showing a strong emotional connection to the words. His lead guitarist, whose big hair rivals Sideshow Bob's mop, was the co-star of the show with a phenomenal solo.
UK Grime artist Skepta (Joseph Junior Adenuga) from Tottenham proved himself with his presentation of the instantly catchy track ‘Shutdown’. In another political performance, Skepta rapped against an aesthetically assertive backdrop of anti-war and race-equality messages, lyrics ‘Sittin' at the front, it's like Rosa Parks. Trust me, you don't wanna see me get dark’ seemed just as apt as "Fashion Week, and its shutdown, Went to the show sitting in the front row In the black tracksuit and it's shutdown" on the eve of London Fashion Week. His humble approach was heartwarming as he exclaimed ‘made it to the Mercury’s!’ Off the back of a string of festival dates and growing popularity, Skepta, backed by fellow Grime artist Kano, was the deserving winner of the Mercury Prize.
London post-punk band headed by French singer Jehnny Beth, Savages performed song ‘T.I.W.Y.G’ from their nominated album Adore Life that was recorded in between London and Paris. The reverberating angrily sung line ‘this is what you get when you mess with love’ echoed out against the band’s resolutely full punk noise. Jehnny Beth cut a striking figure with slicked back dark hair, slender black outfit and red soled Louboutin heels as she strutted onstage. Matt Healy from The 1975, particularly seemed to enjoy the performance as he stood hooting from the audience.
Kingston born Jamie Woon’s performance of his track ‘Sharpness’ was anything but sharp, instead warm round smooth sounds resounded from the stage. Woon successfully showcased his unique brand of soul & sample from his Mercury nominated album Studio Time.
Laura Mvula had to play her song twice as there was an audio problem on the first take, not that anyone in the Apollo noticed. They were dazzled by her stage presence as she glided through 'Phenomenal Woman' with finesse and passion.
Radiohead couldn't make it in person for their fourth nomination, which makes them the most nominated act in its history. They didn't won the other times so maybe they're just tired of going home empty handed. Nevertheless, this intimate session recorded especially for the Mercury Prize was a special moment conveying just why they're one of the greatest bands of all time.