Most music award shows are about everything but the music. They’ve got bad banter between celebrity presenters, brief clips of videos, camera sweeps of the famous people in the crowd, and finally, wedged between it all, a three-minute performance from one of the nominees. But the third annual Plug Awards, at Webster Hall last Thursday, nearly turned the awards part into a mere fleeting informality, and placed the emphasis on music. Lots and lots of music.
This meant that for a person who doesn’t generally like indie rock and indie hip-hop, this would be a long night indeed. I just barely missed Celebration, whom bloggers Matthew Perpetua of Fluxblog and the Brooklyn Vegan both gave thumbs up. Instead, I was held captive against my will by something called Cage. But the energy and hooks of the Perceptionists’ Mr. Lif and Akrobatik saved my night. . Also performing were DJ James F*$cking Friedman, Beans, and Emiliana Torrini, not to mention headliners the National, who reminded me of Coldplay with teeth. Singer Matt Berninger, a more spastic version of Chris Martin, kept having epileptic seizures, but that turned out to be his stage shtick. Just between me and you, I kinda liked them.
As for the presenters, well, you probably wouldn’t have recognized any of them, either. It didn’t help that the host, comedian Aziz Ansari, didn’t enunciate their names well. They nearly all sported the look favored by college professors and indie rockers—beards, messy hair, corduroy jackets with velvet elbow patches, and black horn-rimmed eyeglasses. Each time a presenter came up, the photographers in the pit sounded like a bunch of owls. “Who? Whoooo? Who?” When the dude with the big hair from TV on the Radio (Kyp Malone) arrived onstage, I nearly fainted because finally I recognized someone! (The Voice‘s own Nick Sylvester was a presenter, but I was only able to spot him because he wore a red hat.) The bigger artists being honored, like those two guys you indie types consider heartthrobs, Conor Oberst (a/k/a Bright Eyes) and Sufjan Stevens (otherwise known as Pasty McDreamy and Less-Pasty McDreamy), unfortunately weren’t on hand.
The categories and winners are more relevant to what certain discerning music lovers are listening to than anything at the Grammy’s, save maybe Kanye. At the Plug Awards, Bright Eyes (Artist of the Year), Bloc Party (Indie Rock Album of the Year), Stevens (Male Album of the Year), and Arcade Fire (Live Act of the Year) reigned supreme, instead of bozos like Mariah and Fall Out Boy. And categories like Music Website (myspace.com), College/Non-Commercial Radio Station ( KEXP, Seattle), and Music Festival ( Coachella) honored mediums that by now have more musical impact than MTV.
Earlier in the day, I went to Indie Night School—which, though it was daytime, still felt like nighttime since we were all sitting in the dark, except for some swirling red lights. INS, a smart idea run by Tom Sean, is a series of panels featuring representatives from independent press, labels, and clubs. This one, “Start the Presses: Getting Your Music Reviewed,” featured Flavorpill’s Sascha Lewis, Daily Candy’s Jeralyn Gerba, Gothamist’s Jake Dobkin, and Fluxbog’s Perpetua dishing on how to get their websites to mention your band. I was surprised by the na the savvy-seeming crowd displayed. (“What are the big independent PR companies?” “What are the hot clubs?”) Among the panelists’ advice: Don’t send the whole CD, just a link to a track (Dobkin); send swag (Sascha); don’t send swag (Perpetua); MySpace is better than a press kit (Gerba); record labels resonate more than publicity companies (all), but don’t sign to a major label, because the panelists are all trying to get off their promo lists. After you’ve done all this, you can get nominated for a Plug Award. Hopefully, when you win and you show up to accept the honors, we’ll be able to recognize you.