Björk at the AIM Awards (photo by Santiago Felipe).
Pacemakers of the independent music sector gathered at London’s Roundhouse for the annual Independent Music Awards.
Since its inception in 2011, AIM Awards 2023, run by the Association of Independent Music (AIM), has encouraged the industry by bestowing the prize on labels and artists. This year’s ceremony at Roundhouse welcomed nominees of different calibres. Up-and-coming musicians rubbed their shoulders with bigger acts such as Ezra Collective. The presence of Icelandic singer Björk, the most lauded signee of One Little Independent, added to this semi-corporate ceremony with the tables and catering a somewhat quirky touch. After being announced as a winner in the Best Live Performer category, the artist went on stage in her calla lily-clad dress. With the flower placed at the front and its pistil trembling vigorously as she moved, Björk reminded the audience that as much as nature, independent music can be an unrestrained force. “I feel like a teen”, the singer says, placing a paper with notes in front of her. “Most of my live team is here tonight. Obviously I couldn’t do it without them. I’m grateful to them for helping me with tours that are functionally impossible. No one ever even tried to do that before”. The artist whose Cornucopia shows had been cancelled on native soil due to mysterious production issues was visibly emotional about being awarded. The technically challenging tour was preceded by what Björk called a “fight” but even the pictures on her official site prove that the effort and struggles were certainly worth it.
Although diversity is highlighted as a key feature of the award, more than half of the winners are London-based rap artists such as Avelino (Best Independent Album), Shygirl (UK Independent Breakthrough), Laughta (One to Watch) and ENNY (Best Independent EP / Mixtape). The fact that 2023 is the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, commemorated during the ceremony with a retrospective video clip, doesn’t quite justify such a genre-specific focus. There is certainly an anti-racist stance with one of the nominations praising Black Lives In Music founder Charisse Oyediwura as Diversity Champion Winner.
Other nominations, however, were less template-driven. Hospital Records, which won in the Best Independent Label category, has maintained cutting-edge status on the drum and bass scene for nearly thirty years. The list of other nominees included house music label Defected Records, soul-oriented Forever Living Originals as well as all-inclusive One Little Independent and Transgressive. Interestingly, the nomination was curated in association with Deezer whose recent deal with Universal caused a stir among independent labels.
With its specific socio-cultural framework, the AIM award doesn’t seem to reflect the state of independent music on the whole. Yet, the facets it showed this year are certainly part of the volumetric picture. It would be great if next editions had more genre-related diversity and featured nominees from, perhaps, less established yet influential cultural institutions. Labels such as Fire, Sonic Cathedral, and Memphis Industries, to name just a few. It would be also great to see more nominations, e.g. reissue of the year. Independence in music, as in all other spheres of life, has no place for agenda-setting strategy.