The BandLab NME Awards 2022: the wildest night in music

Sam Fender getting lairy! Hosts Daisy May Cooper and Lady Leshurr letting loose! Here’s the story of the show The Cure’s Robert Smith christened an “unusual, vibey event”

Daisy May Cooper, co-hosting with Lady Leshurr, summed it up best when she enthused: “Tonight you are in the very best place on the planet for a music fan.” The BandLab NME Awards returned to O2 Academy Brixton stronger than ever on Wednesday March 2, as the music glitterati congregated to cut loose. Self-restraint was not on the guestlist.

The iconic finger-raised winner’s statuette sums the ethos of the night up perfectly: it makes the BRITs look as predictable and sober as a parochial church fete in comparison, with an array of boundary-pushing, world-exclusive special performances from Sam Fender, FKA Twigs, CHVRCHES and The Cure’s Robert Smith, BERWYN and Rina Sawayama, and Griff and Sigrid and closers Bring Me The Horizon.

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Where else could you witness the pinch-yourself spectre of former NME Godlike Genius Robert Smith descend from the goth-clouds to perform his exhilarating collaboration with CHVRCHES, ‘How Not to Drown’, for the first time ever, as well as see them both sing The Cure’s stone-cold classic ‘Just Like Heaven’?

At what other ceremony could you glimpse Sam Fender enthusiastically doing the ‘Cha Cha Slide’ with TikTok trainspotter Francis Bourgeois, who warned of looming tube strikes onstage and said he’d been craftily circumventing industrial action by using his scooter instead. Or children’s TV presenters Dick and Dom hanging out backstage with Foals (while indulging in the kind of behaviour that suggests they’ve been lowering prices of nearby da bungalows for years)?

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BandLab NME Awards on the cover. Photography by Zoe McConnell

Presenting Yannis Philippakis and co with their Best Music Video Award for ‘Wake Me Up’, Dick and Dom were stoned by calls for them to bellow their catchphrase, ‘BOGIES!’. They played coy, demuring: ‘That was 20 years ago…’. But as more battle-cries echoed around the Academy, they finally gave into nature and unleashed a guttural cry: “BOGIES!!!” It was surely the biggest early ’00s comeback since indie sleaze.

Yes: a surreality kicked in during the night that Robert Smith christens an “unusual, vibey event” and which Taylor Swift once decreed “the craziest awards show I’ve ever been to”.

By the time Fontaines D.C. – making good on their Best Band In The World acceptance speech pledge to “party like Number 10 tonight!” – were raucously belting out traditional Irish tune ‘The Auld Triangle’ with This Way Up actor Aisling Bea, it somehow seemed perfectly, erm, normal. For those who weren’t there – or for the stars who were and can’t remember what happened as they marinate in Berocca and shame – here’s how the night of chaos and camaraderie unfolded.

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Credit: Zoe McConnell for NME

Sam Fender opened the night with a stunning ‘Seventeen Going Under’

The BandLab NME Awards took a break in 2021 due to – raise your lateral flow tests in the air and wave ’em like you just don’t care – The Awfulness, but if anyone could resolutely signal that business had resumed, it’s Sam Fender. He roared through ‘Seventeen Going Under’, in front of video screens flashing up the song’s evocative lyrics, as the crowd sang along deafeningly to the iron-clad ‘oh-oh-oh-oh-ohhhh’s. Indie bonus point: CHVRCHES’ Lauren Mayberry got stuck in from the tables too.

It’s fair to say that the indie golden-boy had a cracking night: he won two of the six awards he was nominated for – with ‘Seventeen Going Under’ taking home the Best Album In The World accolade and also scooping the Best Album By A UK Artist honour, while he also made an unlikely BFF in the form of TikTok trainspotter Francis Bourgeois, who choo-choo-chose to impress him by doing handstands in the Winners’ Room.

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And locomotive-lovers weren’t the only ones to feel Fender’s love: accepting his gong for Best Album by a UK Artist, he addressed fellow winners Fontaines D.C. by promising: “I’m gonna come and neck on with the fuckin’ lot of ya.”

After the lockdown, there was a sense of musicians joyously making up for lost time and it felt cathartic that songs written during that period were receiving their due. Liam Gallagher dedicated his Music Moment of the Year Award to NHS key workers, sending the message through presenter and The Fall legend Brix Smith, as he had to pull out due to illness. Natalie Imbruglia, there to present Lorde with Best Song In The World for ‘Solar Power’, was introduced by May Cooper as having once won an NME Award for Top Pop Personality You’d Most Like As Your Doctor. Perhaps she could pop round Liam’s with a trusty stethoscope and some grapes?

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Credit: Zoe McConnell for NME

Griff and Sigrid stunned by debuting ‘Head On Fire’ – one of a host of NME exclusives

As much as anything, tonight was about allowing newer talent to shine. As she picked up her prize for Best Collaboration with Sigrid for the pop perfection of ‘Head On Fire’, Griff commented: “I just want to say that I love this collaboration because there’s a lot of comparison for pop girls and in music; I love the idea that we can get together and do this.” Debuting the song live for the first time, she and Griff (the latter also received NME’s prestigious Radar Award which celebrates the best emerging act currently making waves in the scene) were a picture of empowerment and solidarity, and deliver an effortlessly blockbuster performance.

Of course, it’s entirely fitting that the BandLab NME Awards 2022 are the place where they choose to unleash the track, as their admiration for each other had played out in interviews with us for years.

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Credit: Zoe McConnell for NME

There was actual Heaven from Robert Smith and CHVRCHES

But alongside rising talent were bona fide icons. It wasn’t just the first time that The Cure legend Robert Smith and Glasgow electro-titans CHVRCHES have performed together: they only met in person the day before the awards during rehearsals – full-stop. ‘How Not To Drown’ – their imperious, virtually recorded team-up and a standout from the Scottish band’s triumphant 2021 album ‘Screen Violence’ – won the award for Best Song By A UK Artist, and singer Lauren Mayberry reflected: “The world is a massive fire at the moment so it’s nice to just think about tunes.”

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She and the band took to the stage together to kick things off with propulsive ‘Screen Violence’ opener ‘Asking For A Friend’, before being joined by Smith for ‘How Not To Drown’, as Brixton erupted into deserved genuflection. Even Drag Race alumnus Bimini Bon-Boulash headbanged appreciatively, while Fontaines D.C.’s Grian Chatten’s smile was even wider than usual.

Earlier in the night, Mayberry told NME the band were looking forward to hanging out with kindred spirit Smith: “When we did this song together it was all by email, and we’ve done a couple of Zoom calls and stuff, but today is the first day we’re gonna get the pints in after the performance…. He is the coolest. He’s just been so generous and kind to us. There’s a lot of problematic older men in music and he’s not one of them.”

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Credit: Zoe McConnell for NME

Mayberry later added the possibility for another future collaboration is there. “Maybe after a few beers tonight we’ll push for more…” she joked. Their special closing number together, a version of The Cure’s 1987 track ‘Just Like Heaven’, was so transcendent that Smith later told NME that he “wanted to keep going” with the show, before spilling the beans about two next Cure albums he’s working on.

He exclusively revealed the title of one of them: ‘Songs Of The Lost World’, explaining: “Well, the first Cure album is relentless doom and gloom. It’s the doomiest thing that we’ve ever done. The second one is upbeat, and my [solo] one won’t be out until next year.”

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Mumcore ruled at the BandLab NME Awards

They say that three’s a trend, and mumcore ruled at BandLab NME Awards. When Romford-raised rapper BERWYN won the Best New Act From The UK Supported By Music Venue Trust, he brought his mother up to the podium, following in the familial footsteps of Little Simz, who rocked up with her mum at the 2020 NME Awards.

“I didn’t prepare a speech, so I’m going to let my mum talk,” he joked, adding, “She’s scared!” before he proudly unfurled a Trinidad and Tobago flag paying tribute to his country of birth. His plus-one made sense when he performed a moving version of ‘Answers’, which included the lyric: “Momma madе a boy and now that boy is a star”, as he liquidised the boozy venue into a hushed reverence, making good on his earlier pledge that we could expect “stillness and emotion” from his performance, as joyous tears formed in his eyes.

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Credit: Zoe McConnell for NME

BERWYN’s wasn’t the only mamma in the building: Jessie Ware brought hers, Lennie (Ware Senior was particularly excited about catching up with Sam Fender), as their joint podcast Table Manners won Best Podcast. And Mabel presented her ma, none other than Neneh Cherry, with the Icon Award. “I’m wondering how I can bribe my family with this,” said Cherry. “Like, ‘Don’t fuck with me – I’m an icon! Do the bloody washing up, girl’.” Which is a novel way of getting out of chores.

Rina Sawayama blew the roof off with ‘XS’

For some acts, winning the award prompted a trip down memory lane. Filmmaker Edgar Wright, winner of Best Music Film for The Sparks Brothers, thanked NME for making him a Sparks fan. Rina Sawayama was anointed Best Live Act Supported By Grolsch, a full-circle moment for her as she remembered posting an ad at the back of NME trying to recruit bandmates when she was 15. The genre-fluid superstar was met with a justified uproarious response as she delivered the arena-worthy pure pop spectacle of standout single ‘XS’ in a riot of choreographed backing dancers, as her friend and Dirty Hit labelmate Matty Healy of The 1975 looked on from the tables.

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FKA Twigs became the youngest ever NME Godlike Genius Award winner

NME may be celebrating its 70th anniversary this month, but this was a youthful night: 22-year-old Holly Humberstone’s Best Mixtape win for ‘The Walls Are Way Too Thin’ and Halsey’s Innovation Award pointed to the future, with the latter accepting via pre-recorded message and commenting: “I’m so fucking bummed I can’t be there celebrating with you guys in person, but since I can’t be, every single person in the audience has to do a shot.”

And, of course, FKA Twigs joined the divine lineage of the likes of Blondie and The Clash to become the youngest ever NME Godlike Genius Award winner at 34. “I am so proud to be the first Black female artist to have been honoured, still baby-faced, and inspired as hell,” she said in a pre-event statement. “Here’s to the next decade of making art and music.”
Accepting the statuette from her friend, Soul II Soul’s Jazzie B, she remembered colliding with previous Godlike Genius winner Noel Gallagher (frankly, there should be a WhatsApp group for them all), who had his Resting Unimpressed Face on.

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“I was out drinking the other day and I was in a bar and Noel Gallagher was there so I was quite starstruck,” she recalled. “I went up to him and said I was receiving the same award as him and he was quite sweet but quite iconically unimpressed with me. I could tell that he’d had a couple drinks and he didn’t really care. I asked him about his music and asked what he was up to at the moment and his face lit up and he started talking about the amazing music he was making and how he was so inspired and how all he wants to do is write songs from the moment he wakes up to the moment he goes to bed.

“It’s a godlike strength to carry on throughout difficult times… The hardest thing to do is to keep going and I feel so grateful to know people like Jazzie, who I know stayed up all night music.” She then gestured to another icon at the tables: “And people like Boy George, who do the exact same, staying up all night making art and music… That’s what I’m doing and I’m just so grateful that there’s a space for me here. Thank you for the support, be safe and let’s just be kind to each other.”

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Credit: Zoe McConnell for NME

Twigs underscored her deity status with a blistering, typically forward-thinking, surprise performance of ‘Meta Angel’ (featuring snippets of ‘Tears In The Club’), dressed as a silver alien butterfly and accompanied by masked backing dancers. Even Noel would be impressed.

There was politics aplenty

While K-Poppers Tomorrow X Together scooped Hero Of The Year, Jacob Rees-Mogg – who recently told parliament he doesn’t read NME, quelle horreur! – won Villain Of The Year, joining a glittertwatti that includes previous recipients such as Piers Morgan. Sadly, Mogg didn’t turn up to collect his prize, so we were deprived of the opportunity of seeing him lose his monocle while crowd-surfing to Bring Me.

Unsurprisingly, the Conservatives weren’t popular throughout the night. Bimini, presenting Mae Martin with the Best TV Series Sponsored By 19 Crimes Wine gong for Feel Good, yelled ‘Fuck the Tories’ and described co-host Adam Lambert as “so sexy you make me wanna overthrow the Government”. Elsewhere, Bob Vylan’s Bobby Vylan and Bobbie Vylan, there to bestow the Best Festival In The UK Supported By White Claw to Reading and Leeds Festival, urged people to vote out Boris Johnson.

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Credit: Zoe McConnell for NME

And on further political vibes, Ghetts found himself sat on a table with London Mayor Sadiq Khan, with whom he unveiled Little Simz as winner of Best Solo Act in the UK. Onstage to present the award, Sadiq said: “I’m trying to send a message to Boris Johnson: this is how you have a safe and lawful party.”

Ghetts also revealed he planned to spend the night haranguing Sadiq about London’s congestion charge. And Ghetts wasn’t the only one with travel action on his mind, as the Labour politician was called out onstage by Bob Vylan. When the punk duo presented the award for Best Festival In the UK, Vylan also brought attention to the tube strikes: “Sadiq Khan is in the house, you know? Sadiq, you need to sort these trains out. Do you understand? You have to keep this city moving bro because people need to get to work you understand? Come on, we’ve gotta do better.” Boos reverberated around the Academy. Oof!

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Bring Me The Horizon capped off a sensational night with a politically-charged performance

When it came to political messages however, night-cappers Bring Me The Horizon proved incendiary and impassioned. “Can we just keep the energy up?” demanded Daisy May Cooper, as the proceedings hit the final furlong. “But that doesn’t mean going into the toilets to do some sniff.” If anyone is likely to provide a welcome final shot of, err, adrenaline, it’s Bring Me The Horizon. When they last slayed the NME Awards in 2016, Oli Sykes clambered over Coldplay’s table like it was a Ninja Warrior assault course, sending their champagne spiralling into the air.

The ante was therefore duly upped, but they more than delivered with a six-song set dedicated to the plight of the people of Ukraine. With the Ukrainian flag emblazoned on Mat Nicholls’ drumkit, and subsumed in dry ice, they launched into a ferocious version of ‘Can You Feel My Heart’, before dancers in yellow hazmat suits appeared for ‘Parasite Eve’. “Fucking hell, it’s just good to be out of the house!” Sykes beamed as ‘DieE4u’ and ‘Mantra’ heroically kept up the serotonin levels, before Nova Twins joined them for ‘1×1’.

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Credit: Zoe McConnell for NME

Before set-closer ‘Throne’ bared its impressive teeth, Sykes took a moment to show his allegiance with the Ukrainian people following last week’s Russian invasion. “I guess it’s better being here in a room full of influential people: they need to use their voice every single day until this crisis is over,” he surmised to rapturous agreement. “If Kyiv does not survive, international peace will not survive.”

Earlier in the night, the Sheffield metallers won Best Band From The UK Supported By Pizza Express, noting that they’d come a long way since their debut album, 2006’s ‘Count Your Blessings’, scored two out of 10 in NME. “So, follow your dreams!” implored Sykes. The band also told us that their forthcoming four-night Malta Weekender festival, which they’ve curated, would be “like Fyre Festival but with better sandwiches.” As sales pitches go, it’s unbeatable.

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Roll on 2023!

The BandLab NME Awards 2022: a night where Lady Leshurr halted her presenting duties halfway through to fangirl over Boy George. Where you can bask in the majesty of FKA Twigs one minute and yell “Bogies!” at Foals the next. As Bring Me were performing onstage, consummate crowd-primer Lady Leshurr asked: “Who’s going to smash up their table tonight?”, before Daisy May Cooper retorted: “Dunno – I’ve clocked off now; I might just fucking do it myself.” And, given everything that happened beforehand, you wouldn’t put it past her.

Additional photography

Joseph Bishop
Andy Ford
Jennifer McCord
Eva Pentel