September 13, 2013 at 11:23 am

My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields: Independent Music Is ‘Virtually Illegal’

mbv mercuryFor fans of ’90s shoegaze, and indeed guitar music in general, My Bloody Valentine is sacred. Back when CD stores still thrived, it seemed like every tenth album had a sticker on it referencing MBV, because it sold records. It’s not just a band, it’s a genre.

Fans rejoiced when My Bloody Valentine finally released mbv, their follow-up to the seminal Loveless, in part because we’d waited so long, and in part because the album was not a letdown — in fact, it’s quite good (listen below). However, it cannot win Britain’s prestigious Mercury Prize, frontman and mastermind Kevin Shields says, because the band released it independently, on its own website.

Shields’ assertion is likely to draw some ire, because he’s basically saying that his album is so amazing that it would naturally be short-listed for the Mercury Award. In other words… Is this just sour grapes about not getting nominated?

That’s likely part of the picture, but he does have a great point here. The Mercury Prize’s guidelines do in fact insist that, to be considered, bands must have “a digital and physical distribution deal in place in the UK.” And apparently, that does not include self-released albums.

The MyBloodyValentine.org domain, which might be considered its “distributor,” was registered by an Australian company through another company whose contact form doesn’t work, so we can’t ask about where the server is. However, the band’s manager (I think it’s still Vinita Rocket Girl), and presumably its webmaster, reside in the UK. Either way, the band is its own distributor, and it’s definitely based in the UK, and it’s ultimately the entity that’s distributing this album anyway — so why was it barred from the award?

“We released our record, mbv, independently,” Shields told The Guardian. “It’s interesting to learn that to be as independent as we are is … virtually illegal… It’s not a real record. Our album’s not a real album because it’s independent. The corporate-ness has got to such a point where we’ve essentially been told that we don’t exist. So, technically, that album doesn’t exist. OK? It’s not allowed to exist according to the Mercury Prize.”

Despite a 22 year hiatus, Shields and company appear quite savvy about today’s digital music landscape. In addition to releasing the album on its own website (with other stores and possibly subscription services to follow), My Bloody Valentine lured them there with a clever YouTube strategy – releasing the entire album there, for free, but at a low sound quality, and a low volume. You can hear it below.

Given that for many people (especially young ones) YouTube functions as an on-demand music service, treating it as the “free” part of a “freemium” release is quite a clever digital strategy indeed.

Maybe there should be a prize for that.

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