All hail the NME Awards, the boozy rock bash as enduring as a gold middle finger

After two years away, the BandLab NME Awards 2022 will descend on the O2 Academy Brixton in London this Wednesday (March 2)

There are moments, when Netflix tries to push us Emily In Paris or anyone says the words “Brexit benefits”, when we’d happily watch the world burn. Thankfully, our annual festival of catharsis for such dark thoughts returns this week. The BandLab NME Awards 2022, where order goes to die, chaos reigns and it’s considered fair game to try to demolish Coldplay’s table.

Stepping through the throng of industry movers, cutting-edge stars and mates of Bez swarming the foyer of Brixton Academy each March, you surrender yourself to the abyss, never knowing what horrors and delights you’ll witness, where you’ll wake up or what you’ll have stolen from which member of Glass Animals.

Unlike the Mercurys, no-one is here to stroke their chin in appreciation. Unlike The BRIT Aards, no-one’s got their eye on a four-digit percentage increase in streaming traffic if they pick up a gong. All of these punks – and whatever genre they work in, everyone at the NME Awards has passed at least grade-one punk – are here to celebrate music’s thriving present and intoxicating future and bask in the swagger, passion and attitude that inspired them in the first place.

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Pop stars let their hair down and slum it at the bottom of a bottle with rock’n’roll royalty. Grime and rock acts forge fellowships of rebellion across the cultural divide, sealed in blood, brandy and the world’s biggest annual order of delivery pizza. And wide-eyed, struggling indie bands get their first sip of a free cocktail, and suddenly think they’re Keith Moon.

The key word here is ‘unpredictability’. Witness Oli Sykes of Bring Me The Horizon leaping onto Coldplay’s table mid-song in 2016, or Ryan Jarman deciding that the most appropriate way to celebrate Kaiser Chiefs winning the 2006 Best Live Band award would be to throw himself onto their table, impale himself on the stem of a wine glass and get rushed to hospital.

Ryan, the Volodymyr Zelenskiy of indie rock, would rather die hoisted aloft by rock’n’roll than live on his back in front of a recuperative Pointless, of course. He got himself stitched up, came right back and drank himself back into hospital the very same night. Likewise perennial Best Live Band winners Muse, who unexpectedly re-appeared at the afterparty in 2000 after the private plane they’d hired to get them from the awards to a gig in Europe caught fire during take-off. Nothing could take the edge off a near death experience, it seems, better than a free Carling with Fearne Cotton.

Rules, also, are for fules. “They asked us to play three songs,” 2011’s Godlike Genius Dave Grohl declared as Foo Fighters launched into their closing set. “Fuck that! We’re gonna do two hours.” And that’s exactly what they did, piling through their then-new album ‘Wasting Light’ while the crowd went wild and this writer, tasked with writing up the closing slot, watched his chances of making it to an aftershow before dawn slip inexorably away to the tune of a 15-minute ‘Learn To Fly’.

And if anybody told Mark E. Smith that he had to actually walk up the stairs to the stage to collect his Godlike Genius award from Eddie Izzard in 1998 rather than loiter around at the bottom, or Black Rebel Motorcycle Club drummer Nick Jago that it was customary for his seven-minute acceptance speech for the 2003 Best Video award to have some words in it, they’d both clearly disregarded the advice.

In my decades of NME Awards, I’ve seen Mark from Ash try to pole-vault over the tables using a stack of chairs. Dev Hynes turn up as Darth Vader, with Chewbacca as his plus one. Hosts Reeves and Mortimer present Oasis with all four of their 1996 Awards at once in a plastic bag and Taylor Swift turn up in half a jacket. And we need this kind of drunken, ridiculous, carefree exuberance now more than ever.

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Don’t call it a comeback; it’s a rebirth. Over the past few months, after the toughest years of our cultural lifetimes, we’ve been gently easing ourselves back into familiar patterns and becoming re-accustomed with some sort of musical ‘normal’ – gigs, festival announcements, refreshing for hours to get ripped off by major ticketing websites. Now, the BandLab NME Awards 2022 are set to fire up the chaos engine at the core of alternative culture once more and prove that the next generation of stars are as unstoppable as any before; that music has survived the pandemic with its spirit unbroken.

Taylor Swift at the NME Awards in 2020. Credit: Dean Chalkley / NME

This year’s ceremony isn’t just about getting the Brixton branch of Pizza Express back on its feet: it’s about celebrating the enduring essence of rock’n’roll, across all of its many and varied genres. If there is to be a new Roaring Twenties, they start here, and if there is an ‘other side’, we’ll see you on it.

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