Mercury Surprize

explores the surprising nature of this year’s Mercury Prize winner, Benjamin Clementine and observes why his debut record, At Least for Now encapsulates the true essence of the award

Photo of Benjamin Clementine 2

You didn’t see it coming, I didn’t see it coming, the bookies certainly didn’t see it coming, but it most certainly happened. As soon as the nominations for the annual Mercury Music Prize were announced, every wannabe muso far and wide was tapping their own ‘unique’ perspective into their own ‘unique’ blog thinking they had sussed who would walk away with the prestigious accolade. Big boy names included Jamie xx, Wolf Alice (for some reason…) and Florence and the Machine whilst some of the more unknown choices included C Duncan, Eska and SOAK. Although despite most music fans and critics squabbling over whether Aphex Twin was still relevant (he most certainly is) and if Slaves could pull off a punk prize victory, Benjamin Clementine lurked in the nominee background, ready to shock and surprise those who were glued to the overt politics of the competition.

Clementine observes his environment and past, capturing them softly before releasing them as a razor-sharp whole subject

Benjamin Clementine is a British/French songwriter and poet who bleeds humanity. Growing up in Edmonton and effectively being homeless by the time he was 16, Clementine moved to Paris and made his way busking and playing small gigs for little money before being picked up by an agent who discovered him singing on the streets he would regularly sleep on. His debut, At Least for Now, hums and swells through west-end musical-esque piano ballads sprinkled with delicate strings and dark, longing lyrics drawn from his own complicated history giving the listener an honest taste of raw contemporary soul. As well as this, the record howls and thumps in defiance with Clementine’s voice launching itself upwards in announcement and resilience seen especially in tracks such as ‘London’ and ‘Adios’. All in all, it’s a cracking record. Clementine observes his environment and past, capturing them softly before releasing them as a razor-sharp whole subject that not only defines the unstable and confused society we live in but also his own persistent and bold personality that has created such a work. This though, is not the sole reason he won the Mercury Prize.

The Mercury Prize is an award like no other as it is one that identifies and understands struggle.

Since it’s 1992 incarnation leading Primal Scream’s Screamadelica to swarm the British music scene, the Mercury Prize has become a titan in the British music sphere famed for taking tiny and arguably unknown artists and throwing them through the windshield of the musical British mainstream. Like managerial positions in your local Tesco Express, the Mercury Prize is a springboard. Looking back in recent memory, winning artists such as James Blake (2013), Alt-J (2012) and The xx (2010) have all made their way onto your Dad’s iPod Touch and the Mercury Prize is the reason behind that. Unlike other competitions and awards (cough… the Brits) the Mercury Prize actively seeks out records and artists that aren’t happily frolicking through the BBC Radio 1 playlist, but are grinding away and looking to better themselves and their art.

The Mercury Prize is an award like no other as it is one that identifies and understands struggle. It is aware of the ivory tower of British music and actively defies its consumerist, elitist and nepotistic values in finding acts that have experienced struggle and have created something that goes far beyond the artistic norm of mainstream music. In finding these artists, celebrating them and deservingly raising them up into the limelight, the Mercury Prize helps add different and interesting flavours to the mainstream, allowing listeners from all musical backgrounds to expand their musical horizons beyond that Tame Impala song they heard on the Blackberry advert. The Mercury Prize understands, and that’s something rare in music awards.

Just like countless of previous Mercury Prize winners, Benjamin Clementine encapsulates this spirit of the prize. Clementine has built himself up from struggle, he’s patiently crafted his work into something that not only speaks for himself but also for the insecure world we live in, and most of all Clementine has shown that persistence, heart and sheer, unadulterated talent will always be recognised. Clementine’s At Least for Now portrays this creative and resilient spirit the Mercury Prize has always valued itself on and that is the reason why he is the true, deserving winner of such an accolade.

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