Celebrating the Polaris Prize 2015

Photographs by Sarah Rix.

After listening to all ten albums and creating a jury of my peers to also listen and rank them, Live in Limbo made a list of who they though was most deserving to win this year’s Polaris Prize. While we named Caribou’s Our Love as the best record of the ten, it was by no mean’s any easy task. In fact our nine jurors named three different albums in the top spot with Drake and Alvvays as the other two worthy records. Shockingly, seven records received a second place vote, which just goes to show how we really liked all the records. How can you not though? Who would the actual jury deem as the top of the 2015 class?

Last year the Polaris Prize was hosted by Jay Baruchel and Tanya Tagaq surprisingly won the award, punctuated by her breathtaking performance at the show. This year the show tried to take a different direction by naming children’s entertainer Fred Penner as the night’s MC. Replicating his famous Fred Penner’s Place intro by walking out from a large log on in, much to the delight of the crowd, who was old enough to grow up on his program that ran from 1985-1997. It seemed like whoever wrote his material wanted Penner to seem hip and cool, as was evident by several cracks about Drake early on in the show. The reason for the jokes about Drake is because even though he is three-time nomine, he has yet to appear at the gala, he also refuses to allow his music to appear on the Polaris Prize compilation records and lots of people just plain don’t like him.

One of the great things about the gala is other musicians introduce each nominated albums (usually past nominees) as they essentially are pleading the case for what makes it worthy to win. Owen Pallet who won the inaugural prize spoke of the virtues of Buffy Sainte-Marie and how she creates protest music that is about love not anger. Sainte-Marie wore a red and black fringe jacket that she shook as she danced along to her music, enchanting the crowd with two songs, including the self-titled song Power In the Blood.

Austra’s Katie Stelmanis introduced Braids’ nomination praising the band’s music for its female empowerment and bold themes about how society slut-shames women. Braids performance of Miniskirt, a personal highlight of mine on the year, was truly powerful. The lyrics cut like icy daggers into the way feminism and females are treated, all while having a killer dance beat. While their album as a whole lost its focus at times, this is a song for the ages with one of the best performances of the night.

When Penner was reading jokes that were clearly supposed to be ‘inside jokes’, he failed miserably to the point of telling the crowd he didn’t understand the meaning of them either. But when cracking a joke about how presenter Shad had been nominated three times already without winning and saying “why don’t you just give it to him” got a great laugh from the crowd as Shad couldn’t help but chuckle at the predicament he was in.

The easy highlight of Penner’s hosting came when he busted out his famous acoustic guitar and performed a medley of all the past winners. When he got to the year 2009, he introduced Fucked Up’s portion as “Fudle Duddled Up”. As he rounded Feist’s 2012 win, he moved on to Godspeed You! Black Emperor, paused for a moment then replayed the Feist song. Not only is Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s post-punk noise rock quite difficult to recreate, the band famously blasted the Polaris Prize after winning it and pulled their album this year from consideration making them public enemy number one in The Carlu. When Penner got to last year’s winner Tanya Tagaq, he paused again, laughed, and played Feist’s song for a third time as he was not prepared to attempt her throat singing.

After the first two performances on the night, members from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra joined in on the rest of the nominees while they played. Alvvays’ Archie, Marry Me sounded even better as the swells from a large string section added extra weight to the normally light and fluffy song. The highlight was when the TSO performed Know Yourself by Drake, without the no-show man present. It was actually reminiscent of the way BADBADNOTGOOD takes hip-hop music and turns them into jazz numbers.

A new component to the Polaris Prize is that they are essentially creating a hall of fame called the Slaight Family Polaris Heritage Prize. Albums from four different decades (the decades leading up to 2006 when the regular Polaris Prize first started up) are eligible for induction based on fan voting. Make sure you click HERE to see the nominees and vote. Voting is open until October 5th and the winner’s will be announced on the 9th.

While Caribou was not in attendance to perform, a video of I Can’t Do Without You shot during his set at Danforth Music Hall in the summer was played. It was actually a show I was at, so if you missed it, you can read my review and see my pictures HERE.

Twitter celebrity and former Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly introduced Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late album, speaking about how hip-hop is based so much on creating a location and Toronto is finally a world recognized location.

With the news that post-punk band Viet Cong were changing their name come out over the weekend, people wondering if they would use the Polaris Prize as a platform to rebrand themselves. Presenter Dan Boeckner from The Operators commended them for choosing a really bad band name, but listening to fans and media and agreeing to change it. They did not in fact announce their new name, but their performance with the TSO was incredible. The loudness of the fuzzed out guitars mixing with the impending doom strings section was a marvel to behold, adding urgency to the performance.

As the night was winding down and all the artists performed (BBNG/Ghostface Killah were a no show and Tobias Jesso Jr. while present didn’t actually perform) it was time for the moment everyone was waiting for. Would Caribou, Drake or Alvvays win like our 9 LiL jurors thought? Would rookies Jesso Jr., Braids or Castle pull off an upset win? Would Drake end the constant ridicule by being the top dog?

Normally the previous year’s winner announces the new winner, but unfortunately Tanya Tagaq couldn’t make it, so Mr. Penner did the honours. With the help of his famous Word Bird, he announced Buffy Sainte-Marie as the 2015 winner for Power in the Blood. A prize that, while goes to a deserving album may also have been awarded as a lifetime achievement prize for her years of producing such great music. Sainte-Marie is the third female to win the prize and the second Indigenous person to win after Tanya Tagaq last year. While there have been female members in Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Fucked Up! And Arcade Fire the prize itself mostly has gone to male centric projects over the course of the ten years. With three wins in four years, this tide is seemingly turning to be more recognizing of female talent. The prize still has a diversity problem with only the past two winners (both Indigenous) being people of colour, and only one French winner (Karkwa) in the past ten years. In fact the last French artist to even be nominated was Galaxie back in 2011, unless you count some of the French lyrics in Arcade Fire’s discography.

When Sainte-Marie came to the stage, and The Carlu cheering her on she made her way up to the podium to give her acceptance speech. She knew she was in rarified company as she thanked her competitors “I bought everybody’s albums and I love them all!” She also joked about how she liked this award more than other awards because “this is the only awards that give’s the artist money!” She implored the artistic community to figure out ways to support arts and sports programs at school’s as they are vital to children growing up healthy and intelligent (a much less political stance than Tagaq’s PETA F.U., and reminding people that the seal hunt is vital to Native People in the North). She also joked about why she thought this record won “the difference between Power in the Blood and my other records is this one got heard. I’m 74 and have made 20 albums. Thank you, thank you, thank you.” Sainte-Marie proved that she is ever the consummate person and a national treasure.

Fred Penner ended the night, by reminding everyone to vote in the upcoming election, and being in a room filled with liberal artists, it was obvious the intentions of his words.

While no one in our jury predicted Buffy Sainte-Marie to win, Gilles LeBlanc put her as second best, I put her in the three-slot and Mark Milner put her in fourth place. I won’t shame the people who listed her as last, as music is a subjective opinion anyways. Once again thank you to the eight other contributors to our jury, especially Gilles LeBlanc and Mike Bax. Who will win next year?

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