And at first, I believed in an ironic choice. A messed-up idea from the vastness of the internet. Reddit, the 9Gag Army, Reconquista Internet or Dogs on Acid took over the awards and won with hundreds of thousands of extra votes. Almost as a protest action; but not quite. Let’s look at the facts: Desire is the best track in the world and Andy C the god of gods! But maybe there is a little more to the story…
The presentation of the Drum&BassArena Awards 2018.
To celebrate the ten-year tradition, a lot has changed at the Drum&BassArena Awards. There is no public audience at the award ceremony—at least not physically. Everyone now sits in the “Front Row Seat” (digital host at 00:01:52) and watches via the digital livestream. This is unfortunately a bit sad. Because those who have awarded the prize are missing: the crowd. And no crowd, no vibes. Rather, the award acts like a small family; a private club. The stage has also become smaller and exudes much less Hollywood than before. An award ceremony at eye level is in principle not a bad idea, but it takes away the shine and inhibits the mood itself when combined with a lacking audience.
In addition, the co-moderation of the MCs Jenna G. and Pavan was cut and replaced by a mix of presenter and digital host. The ceremony in 2017 was marked by the banter between Jenna and Pavan. The interaction between two characters creates a dynamic; while one is talking, the other makes annotating noises. While one loses the thread, the other one takes over. There was no room for this in this years’ awards; this time Jenna stood alone on stage. At intervals, the programme switched over to the newly-introduced digital host, who appears via video insertion in an animated studio. These pre-recorded clips make any kind of dynamic rapport between moderator and digital host an impossibility.
A digital host in and of itself is an exciting innovation. He supplies the audience with background information, reflects the jury as a jury member and provides a bit of meta-information. Therefore, it makes sense to separate him and place him in a virtually neutral digital space. However, when the same digital host also interviews the winners and sits—surprisingly analog—backstage with them, it’s all a bit inconsistent and jarring.
Either the interviews should take place in the aforementioned digital space, or by a person other than the digital host, as the interviews remain one of the biggest assets. In the interviews, the viewer gets up close and personal miles closer than on stage, has a glimpse behind the scenes and is treated to a host of banter. You could say that the dynamics between winner and interviewer are those that are missing from the moderation. However, these segments end up being much too short to fill the space between having two co-moderators and one moderator and one digital host.
Due to the lack of audience, the smaller stage and the rigid system of moderator and digital host, this year’s award lacks a certain nonchalance. Unglued, winner of the best remix, summed it up at the beginning of his acceptance speech: “It’s very civilized in here, is not it? I think everyone should have some more beers and stop being so well behaved!”, Now we come to the award systems biggest problem.
Desire is not the best track in the world—and Drum & Bass Arena knows that, too.
The Problem… The Audience-Award
Awards voted for by the audience are a good idea at their core. Democratic and transparent, winners are chosen by those who matter: The audience. No backroom meetings of a jury, no compartmentalized lobbyism. Actually, just the thing a great democrat has always wished for, to quote the words of a Bavarian monarch at the largest sports club in the world.
But the masses are wrong. Or, to put it mildly, the masses can only reflect what is already popular. In a public vote no consideration of other values takes place; there is no over-arching curiosity that recognises true milestones. That is, from those tracks that may not have been bought or heard, to the degree of the latest crowd pleaser. Of course, individual voters also consider other factors, but these are lost in the mass. If you ask anyone what is their favourite record, you will get the most popular record, on average, as an answer. That’s not tragic, because even the most popular record should be appreciated – but then you should call it that.
Unfortunately, Drum&BassArena gives each category the title »best«. What do they mean by that? Best composition, best sound design or best-selling?
I miss the diversity at the awards. This becomes clear when you look at the winners of the past ten years. Where are Rawtekk or Technical Itch? Where are Critical, Eatbrain, or even any label other than Ram or Hospital Records? Much of what has shaped the genre over the last decade cannot be found among the winners of the Drum&BassArena Awards. The fact that Let It Roll, as the biggest D&B festival, once again scores the most votes, is no surprise. The same names every year and hardly a new revelation. It remains a celebration of the celebrated. And although Drum&BassArena never tires of emphasising, that the awards are a prize from all of us, these awards do not feel like my awards.
The most exciting things are the Newcomer categories, where at last new names pop up ranging through the broad spectrum of the genre, as well as the question when will Andy C finally relinquish his crown as DJ of the year?!
If you want to develop the genre, you shouldn’t point the spotlight on those artists who already live on stage.
And of course—it’s a balancing act. On the one hand, an award wants to recognise milestones. On the other hand, it should also generate attention. Because without spectators and sponsors there is; no award. And if you want to attract as much attention as possible, why not let everyone vote, share, like, and use the already popular winners as advertising figures? This is one of the reasons why the Drum&BassArena Awards are so popular. However, if you want to promote innovation and develop the genre, you shouldn’t point the spotlight on those artists who already live on stage.
Drum&BassArena knows about the dilemma.
If we take a closer look at the current presentation of the awards, it becomes clear that Drum&BassArena also wrestles with their public voted awards show. The digital host itself, is a concession to the missing depths of the winner’s catalogue. He not only contributes additional background information, but also relativises the winners, repeatedly, and emphasises how close the second and third placed came to claiming the throne. That’s the way that the digital host explains what the awards are about at the beginning of the show:
Our tenth annual Awards is a total switch up. This year we are taking a much deeper dive into the whole Awards process. Because it’s not just about the winners. This is about the vintage year that we’ve had in Drum&Bass and everybody who has taken part to make it happen.digital Host (00:00:19)
Even potential criticism gets diverted by the hosts directly through pre-emptive justification of the winners:
(…) you might not agree with the winners. That’s the beauty of personal taste. But you have to admit, that the awards represent an entire cross section and a massive junk of the scene.digital Host (00:01:23)
And that’s true. The awards reflect the condensed opinion of so many junglists, like no other award. But even the digital host comes to the conclusion that the masses do not always reach the best verdicts:
There’s been a travesty. I admit I’m a bit annoyed about and that is there is a massive album, that wasn’t nominated then, it didn’t even come in the nominations: Blocks and Eshers Album. That has been my favorite Album for a very long time.digital host (00:38:33)
With that and the digital host itself, the awards prove to not just celebrate the disputed winners. And when the moderator explains what the great thing about the jury prizes Hall of Fame and Critics Choice is—namely the consideration of consistent quality distanced from the mainstream—then it becomes clear that Drum&BassArena and its audience don’t always share the same middle ground:
[…] the Critics’ Choice Award is voted for by a panel of about 50 bloggers, journalists and writers from around the world. Nerds like me. The idea being that if you are in this lucky position then you do your best to check the entire scene and not just focus on one particular sound. And because you’re checking the whole scene, you’ve got a completely different perspective on who deserves an awards but might be overlooked by the public vote. We’re talking about artists, who work tirelessly behind the scenes and really make things happen but never shouts or brags or boasts about it.digital Host (00:43:05)
That’s why I propose:
1. an Audience Award
2. a Jury Award
The Drum&BassArena Awards should run on a two-track system: 1. An Audience Award and 2. A Jury Award. So, there would be two winners for each category. The jury should be publicly known and consist of a diverse, multi-national mix of producers, DJs, MCs, event organizers, music historians, musicologists, journalists, and listeners. By awarding an audience and a jury prize, the jury is not put under pressure to promote popular candidates just to suit the masses.
And a jury award would not completely change the concept of the awards; already there are jury curated categories such as the Critics’ Choice and Hall of Fame. Hence, this would only have to be expanded and made more transparent (for example with a simple clarification text on the website).
Also worth considering would be to move away from the year-by-year view; many musical pieces develop a different response as time goes on. So to introduce additional categories, would really spice things up. In addition, I could imagine announcing several jury prize winners a year—if it is truly appropriate.
Thus, the Drum&BassArena Awards could not only generate at least as much attention as before, but also reward consistent quality, distanced from the mainstream. This would allow the awards to capture a broader spectrum of the current Drum&Bass climate and provide us with a glimpse into the future of the genre. Making changes like this could really make the Drum&BassArena Awards my awards.
Translation by Joshua Robinson.