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'F**k Boris Johnson!': Irish band pipped to Mercury as rapper takes aim at PM at awards show

Fontaines DC lost out to Dave who won the 2019 Mercury Prize.

Irish rockers Fontaines DC at the event in London
Irish rockers Fontaines DC at the event in London
Image: Ian West/PA Images

ANGST-FILLED RAPPER Dave scooped up Britain’s coveted Mercury Prize last night in a politically-charged London finale that included an expletive shouted from stage at Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

A new wave of 12 rebellious voices vied for the 2019 edition of British or Irish album of the year.

Rage against injustice coursed through the lyrics and spilled into interviews and few expressed those frustrations more explicitly than Slowthai, a 24-year-old rapper from small-town England – and the bookies’ early favourite.

“Fuck Boris Johnson!” he screamed as he took the stage, stripped to his waist, a mask of the UK leader in his hand.

“Fuck everything!”

slowthai-mercury-prize Slowthai with a mock head of Boris Johnson Source: BBC

But Dave, a 21-year-old South London rapper whose album Psychodrama is a full-frontal assault on institutional racism, softly asked his mom to join him on stage after holding up the winning statuette.

“I did not expect this,” he admitted, his left hand draping his mother’s shoulder.

Dave’s two siblings have served time in prison and he devoted his award to one of them, Christophe, who “inspired this album”.

“This is your story that we told, even though you can’t be here,” Dave said.

Source: BBC Music/YouTube

Going green

Created in 1992 as an alternative to the more mainstream Brit Awards, the Mercury Prize’s past winners have included PJ Harvey, Pulp and Skepta.

The list defines the two leading musical nations’ shift from indie rock to Britpop to, more recently, grime and its dark, in-your-face hiphop style.

“Tell us we used to be barbaric, we had actual queens. Black is watchin’ child soldiers gettin’ killed by other children,” Dave hypnotically chants in the hit track Black.

“The blacker the berry the sweeter the juice. A kid dies, the blacker the killer, the sweeter the news.”

Dave first made headlines when Canadian superstar Drake remixed his 2016 single Wanna Know.

Adding another political twist, the Oxford rock band Foals wore Extinction Rebellion stickers and shared their support for the climate activists, led by the Swedish teen Greta Thunberg.

“Everyone can kind of unite over the environmental issues,” Foals guitarist Jimmy Smith said.

Female voices

This year’s list of contenders included punk rockers – a throwback to Britain’s last era of political tumult under the late prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

The politically-charged punks Idles’ Joys as an Act of Resistance made The Times newspaper recall “a gang of skinheads in 1981″.

The Irish punks Fontaines DC came up with Dogrel, an album bemoaning the gentrification of Dublin and – in their eyes – demise of its city centre.

Female voices were represented by the likes of Anna Calvi, a queer singer-songwriter whose Hunter explores gender issues – and more.

“People recognise that your queerness is a big part of the energy you create. But it’s not the only thing,” she said upon the album’s release.

Cate Le Bon, who mixes pop with folk on Reward, has won rave reviews and follows a year-long time out in which she studied furniture making.

The judges wrote that this year’s award “celebrates both the striking diversity of British and Irish music-makers and their shared purpose in exploring issues of identity and belonging at a time of division and disagreement”.

- © AFP 2019

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