With the blazing stomp of “Mothers of the Sun,” the lead-off track from IV, Vancouver’s Black Mountain kicked off a night of fantastic performances at The Carlu on Monday night for the 2016 Polaris Prize Gala.
Shortly after, the crowd was treated to a video endorsement of the record by former NHLer and Stanley Cup champ Boyd Devereaux. Each artist would enjoy the same treatment, but only one could take home the $50K cheque, and that was the Haitian-born, Montreal-raised Kaytranada and his debut full-length, 99.9%.
“For me, it’s crazy to get this award,” a beaming Kaytranada said later in the night after being handed the mic from 2015 Polaris winner Buffy Saint-Marie. “It’s really, truly, a big honour.
It’s amazing. Ceci est pour Montréal, tous mes Montréalais. Shout outs to all of y’all. I want to thank the judges and everybody for voting for me. It’s an honour man, I don’t know what to say.”
It marks the first time in Polaris’ 11-year history that the award has gone to a Black artist. And although 99.9% is an album with a multitude of different sounds dipping into a number of genres, it’s also the first time the winning record has come from the world of hip-hop and R&B. And like most years, it was a tough one, as evidenced by the artists who graced the stage before the award was presented.
Once Black Mountain stepped off the stage, Polaris founder Steve Jordan got up to thank the night’s sponsors and the people most important to the award’s existence, stopping at the end to pay tribute to Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip.
Jordan, a Kingston native, mentioned that he would attend all of the Hip’s hometown shows when he was younger, and credited them with very likely being the reason the award exists. “Without their influence, I would not have had the courage or wherewithal to do this,” Jordan said. “I consider Gord Downie a godfather of Polaris.”
While Grimes and Kaytranada were in attendance, they opted not to play, and PUP was, of course, on tour and not able to make it. But they sent along a video expressing their thanks for nomination anyway, featuring Finn Wolfhard from Stranger Things endorsing their album, The Dream Is Over.
In an allusion to his Netflix show’s Dungeons & Dragons games, Wolfhard rolled some dice to find out what the band’s fate would be. “So, you drove out to Black Mountain, and you got eaten by a combo of Grimes and Carly Rae Jepsen,” he said. The Toronto punk band had another gift up their sleeve, as they sent their parents to the gala in their stead and got them to tweet about the night using the hashtag #PUPSParentsAtPolaris.
But on to the performances. Hamilton’s Jessy Lanza brought her technicolour ‘80s-inspired electro-pop with “Never Enough” and “It Means I Love You,” with Sourpussy’s Becky Katz offering some kind words about her record Oh No.
Basia Bulat did stunning renditions of “The Garden” and “In The Name Of” from her pop-leaning fourth record Good Advice, buoyed by members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, with journalist Mary Dickie singing the praises of her record.
Then on to some soothing, feely tunes from Saskatchewan folkie Andy Shauf with “To You” and “The Magician,” with a ringing endorsement from none other than Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy.
At this point, the nominees for this year’s Slaight Heritage Prize were revealed, along with the announcement that there would now be 10 nominees per decade. That’s 40 records up to vote for, which you can do at the Polaris site. They include albums from The Band, Broken Social Scene, Joni Mitchell, Leroy Sibbles, and K-os.
Vancouver’s ballistic punk band White Lung, whose record Paradise was called “a very hot album” by actor Amber Tamblyn, offered up “Below” and “Sister.”
Then Kaytranada was endorsed by journalist Ian Steaman and we were on to the performance most in attendance had been waiting for—Carly Rae Jepsen, who did a gorgeous version of “Your Type” with members of the TSO, with Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes offering his endorsement of E•MO•TION.
There was a little extra sweetness to Jepsen’s performance if you happened to be part of the Polaris crew—apparently she brought everyone homemade cookies during her soundcheck earlier in the day.
Grimes’ Art Angels was celebrated by LNDN DRGS’ Jay Worthy, and then the last performances of the night, provided by U.S. Girls, ended things in a dramatic, incredible fashion. The band—with a glowing statement from the legendary Iggy Pop—did “Sororal Feelings” and a cover of Yoko Ono’s “Born In A Prison.”
But of course, despite an impossibly close-to-call race largely dominated by pop music or its glorious bastardizations, there could be only one winner, and Kaytranada’s vibrant, groove-laden debut deserves it. Now we can sit back and watch for what he does next.
See the rest of our photos here: