Angry music generation vies for UK's Mercury Prize

London (AFP) –


From angst-filled rapper Slowthai to the frenetic punks Idles, a new wave of rebellious voices take the stage in London on Thursday to vie for the coveted Mercury Prize.

Reflecting a jaded era in which Britain is cutting ties with Europe and economic worries weigh, the crown of best UK or Irish musician will be worn by a very displeased king or queen.

"We're in a time where everything's become stagnant and no one speaks for the people," Slowthai, a 24-year-old from small-town England -- and the bookies' heavy favourite -- told the BBC last week.

"I just got fed up and wanted to say the truth."

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

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

"I'm a product, yeah, they made me / I wear chains like my granddad did in slavery," Slowthai spits out, a scowl on his face, in the video to the album's title track.

Of Caribbean heritage, Slowthai insists that he has nothing against Britain per se, but that he mostly saw poverty growing up -- and his friends popping in and out of jail.

"All we had was each other," he told Vice magazine in March.

"And the (Brexit) referendum took that away from us" by pitting families against each other.

- 'Don't cry, drink up' -

The other favourites among the 12 finalists include Dave, a 21-year-old South London rapper whose album "Psychodrama" is a full-frontal attack on institutional racism.

"The blacker the berry the sweeter the juice. A kid dies, the blacker the killer, the sweeter the news," he melodically chants in the track "Black".

The politically-charged punks Idles' "Joys as an Act of Resistance" made The Times newspaper recalled "a gang of skinheads in 1981".

"Man up / Sit down / Chin up / Pipe down / Socks up / Don't cry / Drink up / Don't whine / Grow some balls, he said / Grow some," they shout in "Samaritans".

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 are 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 review and follows a year-long time out in which she studied furniture making.

The bookies are also keeping an eye on Little Simz, an actress and rapper from North London whose "Grey Area" album is her third.

Among the long-shots: the eclectic Black Midi ("Schlagenheim"), the jazz ensemble Seed Ensemble ("Driftglass"), and mixed-genre The 1975 ("Brief Enquiry Into Online Relationships").

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".