Rowdy, chaotic and always unpredictable, the BandLab NME Awards is always the most rock’n’roll awards ceremony in the game, but returning to the O2 Academy Brixton after taking a pandemic-enforced hiatus last year, it also feels special to be back together again. After a rocky period for the music that saw live music venues bolted shut, nightclubs put on pause, and artists, crews, and the entire industry plunged into a two-year long period of immense uncertainty, the site of music’s finest pouring into the building feels like a welcome return.
Whether it’s the sight of Chvrches’ Lauren Mayberry belting along to Sam Fender’s opening performance of ‘Seventeen Going Under’, Aisling Bea threatening to enjoy a night of passion with her coveted NME award, or drag legend Bimini bursting onto stage in glam attire to yell “Fuck the Tories” (“so sexy you make me wanna overthrow the Government,” they added elsewhere) god, it feels especially great to be back after some time away.
It’s something that artists pay testament to time and time again throughout the night. Early on, Liam Gallagher dedicated his Music Moment of the Year award to NHS key workers, sending a message to guest presenter and punk icon Brix Smith since he was sick. With Music Venues Trust – who worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to keep independent venues afloat – in the house tonight as charity partners, artists constantly pay tribute to how tough the last two years have proven. “The world is a massive fire at the moment,” is how CHVRCHES put it, collecting their award, “so it’s nice to just think about tunes.”
The Cure frontman Robert Smith, meanwhile, shares his support for the people of Ukraine; performing alongside Chvrches with the country’s flag tied around his guitar. While awarding the incredibly talented Little Simz with her hugely deserved award for Best Solo Act From The UK, London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan takes a moment to celebrate the return of live music, while putting forward a call to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to step up.
Summing things up, Little Simz herself also had an important message to leave the room with. “There’s a lot going on in the world right now,” she said. “And I would really just hope for us to love on each other, to be there for each other, to support each other, and do the best that we can, because so many people don’t have that right now”.
At the end of the night, as Bring Me The Horizon perform, frontman Oli Sykes pauses to reflect on the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. “If Kyiv does not survive, international peace as we know it will not survive,” he says, before pointing to the Ukrainian flag on Jordan Fish’s drum skin. Sykes dedicates the track ‘Throne’ to the people of Ukraine and described the show as “full of influential people” whom he encourages “use their voice every single day until this crisis is over”.
So, yes, while the booze might be flowing and the pizza might be getting gradually chilly, for many artists tonight is also a platform to draw attention to much, much more.