30 August 2002
Something like a polite cocktail party is taking place in a chintzy antechamber to the London Hilton’s Grand Ballroom. A few guests have carefully outrageous hair; many others sport nicely styled goatees and Gap casuals. One man is wearing a leather jacket with the word “REFUSE” printed on the back. Whether that is because his band is rubbish, or he Just Says No, is hard to determine. The throng sips champagne and chatters idly. This is, of course, the annual awards ceremony held by the raucously onomatopoeic Kerrang! magazine, of hard-rock legend. It is so dangerous that Ben Elton has been invited.
Eventually we are ushered into the ballroom proper, a vast, pink-lit generic awards space whose tables have been piled high with Budweiser, Coke, Absolut vodka, Jack Daniels, absinthe and commemorative cigarette lighters. Kerrang!’s editor-in-chief, Phil Alexander, tells us happily that his organ is now the biggest-selling music weekly in the world and gives the crowd some highly amusing instructions on how to climb the steps if they win an award. Then, on a stage rigged up to the side, the Offspring blast out their sunbleached, spiked-up nerd-grunge. They are playing to the world’s smallest mosh pit, which consists of 200 youngsters (known for the duration of this event as “the kids”) bussed down to the awards for the day. The seated luminaries at their tables nod their heads occasionally. The Offspring clatter to a tuneful halt; the singer gives the room a disgusted look, unstraps his guitar and walks off.
Up to present the first award are Welsh Rod Stewart tribute band, the Stereophonics. Their singer waxes lyrical about what a “bunch of cunts” the NME are. Everyone cheers. The first award, for best international newcomer, is given to Sum 41. The acceptance speech goes: “Fuck you! Heh-heh.” Beavis is in the house.
Soon the Offspring are back, because they have been given the mysteriously named award for classic songwriter. “Wow,” the singer says. As the ceremony wears on, the acceptance speeches exert a haiku-like fascination. Best British live act, the Radiohead tribute band Muse, are properly brought-up English boys: “Thank you very much indeed. I’d like to dedicate this to our cwew. Cheers. Cheers.” Marilyn Manson accepts his award for best video (won for Tainted Love) with an eloquent pre-recorded message, in which he hints that he might have felt up the bikini-clad woman in the Jacuzzi in his promo, and tells us: “I hope you’re getting ‘well pissed’,” with a virtuosic use of implied inverted commas. Puddle of Mudd (best single winners) say: “Yeah, what’s up? Thanks a lot! Party!”
There are heroes of rock and then there are villains. Everyone here hates Nickelback, the bearded Canadian Nirvana tribute band who are nominated for a few awards and are booed whenever their name appears on the video screens. “Everyone cheer for Nickelback!” says one presenter. Tumbleweed blows through the ballroom. Alec Empire, winner of the spirit of independence award, gives the first part of his speech in German, muttering about what roughly translates as “shit bands like Nickelback and Linkin Park”. It would be cynical to suggest everyone else is just jealous of Nickelback’s enormous record sales.
They are not jealous, however, of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who rightly win best band in the world. Singer Anthony Kiedis delivers his video message while riding a Vespa. “We would like to express our ultimate and extreme gratitude,” he says, charmingly. But the night’s best acceptance speech comes from the brilliant Rammstein, whose award for best international live act is presented, naturally enough, by Gary Numan. Rammstein’s singer says this: “Hello! We are from Germany and my name is Fritz. Schnell schnell, achtung achtung, auf wiedersehen. We have to get back to Germany because we have some serious problems there. Bye!”
The kids have been shouting “Foo! Foo! Foo! Foo!” every time the Foo Fighters are nominated; when the Foos finally get an award, they switch to shouting “Dave Grohl! Dave Grohl! Dave Grohl!” It would be invidious to call the Foo Fighters a Nirvana tribute band, since Dave Grohl was actually in Nirvana; and anyway, next to most of the copycat grunge tonight, the Foos sound wonderfully fresh and melodic. Mr Grohl is delighted to accept the Hall of Fame award. “We’ve only been a band for, like, seven or eight years,” he says wonderingly. The kids show the horn in ecstasy.
After the awards end there is a trough break so that we can consume acres of buffet food. A waiter eyes one of my lovingly hand-tooled cigarettes and asks if it’s a spliff. Eventually we are allowed into another ballroom for the after-show party: all white drapes, ultraviolet light and strategically placed videogame pods, courtesy of Microsoft. Radio 1 presenter Sara Cox spreads her legs and gets stuck into a skateboarding simulation. Jennifer Saunders wanders around looking dazed. The guests get gradually more drunk and bump gently into each other. The DJ gets the biggest roar of the evening when he puts on Livin’ on a Prayer, by Bon Jovi.
There has been little sign of real rock aggro all evening. While presenting the best album award to Hundred Reasons, British pop-grungesters Ash make a dark reference to Skunk Anansie’s drummer and shout: “Death to all false metal!” But the evening’s best attempt at true wild rock behaviour came at the end of the ceremony, when a fight erupted around nutty metallers Raging Speedhorn and an entire table was tipped over. It must have caused at least £100 of damage in broken glass. Now that’s rock’n’roll.
As one man was overheard sighing in the gents: “D’you remember old Kerrang!, proper rock?” Kerrang!’s editor says the magazine, no longer the purist metal rag of old, now covers “music with attitude”, which presumably means just about anything except Sugababes. But the suits are mostly selling the kids the kind of formulaic nu-metal that sounded fresh when Rage Against the Machine invented it 10 whole years ago.
In my bag of take-home Kerrang! goodies there is a battery-operated green neon glowstick, which presumably I am meant to hold aloft next time I experience a rock-ballad moment. Cigarette lighters are bad, mmmkay?