Montreal rockers add indie accolade to list of this year's Grammy, Juno, and Brit award wins

TORONTO (CUP) — If they somehow didn't have indie cred before, one of this year's most successful bands has now certainly solidified their top standing in the Canadian music world.

Montreal's Arcade Fire were announced as the winners of the 2011 Polaris Music Prize for their album, The Suburbs, at the annual gala held at the Masonic Temple in downtown Toronto on Sept. 19.

"Since the beginning of our career, we've been trying to get paid in an oversized novelty cheque and it's never happened 'til now, so — thanks, Polaris," multi-instrumentalist Richard Reed Parry told the packed crowd as the band accepted their prize.

The indie rockers can now place that giant $30,000 novelty cheque beside their Grammy, Juno, and Brit award trophies they've already scooped up this year.

However, Steve Jordan, founder and executive director of the Polaris Music Prize, doesn't think the band's previous wins will in any way change the way Polaris operates.

"There's no doubt that this is the biggest selling band that's ever won Polaris, and certainly that's going to extend our reach. But it's not our objective to have that kind of reach," he told journalists after the event, emphasizing the prize's goal of celebrating artistic merit above general popularity.

"What we're trying to create — it's not as much about picking a winner at the end of the whole contest as it is about the conversation that happens about music," Jordan explained.

That nationwide conversation reached its peak at the Sept. 19 gala, where six out of the 10 shortlisted artists performed for the live audience made up of former Polaris nominees, fellow critically acclaimed performers from Canada and beyond, as well as international media and industry insiders.

Calgary-by-way-of-Montreal youngsters Braids provided one of the most impressive sets of the night, performing two tracks from their shortlisted debut full-length release, Native Speaker.

Native Speaker was written and recorded in a very formative period of our lives that I think a lot of people went through, and a lot of people are going through, in that younger demographic,” drummer Austin Tufts told Canadian University Press before the event. “I think, in that way, it makes it more relatable.”

Every nominated act that took the stage that evening— including Ron Sexsmith, Austra, Galaxie, Timber Timbre and Hey Rosetta!— reached out to the young and old in both the live and at-home audiences, who were able to catch the event thanks to web radio and live-streaming.

Several live sets included extra indie star-power: Ohbijou’s Anissa Hart and Jenny Mecija and The Acorn’s Jeff Debutte joined Timber Timbre’s on-stage string section for their haunting performance; and Tasseomancy’s Sari and Romy Lightman sang backup to Austra’s Katie Stelmanis as the Toronto new-wave act turned up the heat early on in the night.

Remaining shortlisters Destroyer, Colin Stetson, The Weeknd, and Arcade Fire were not able to perform, despite the Montreal group’s Parry, Jeremy Gara, and Win Butler being on hand to accept their prize.

The band suggested upon ascending the stage that they would invest the $30,000 winnings into their recording studio.

"To be honest, we hadn't really thought about it much because we didn't expect to win," frontman Win Butler admitted after the gala. "But we started a studio outside of Montreal after our first record, and whenever we haven't been using it, we've let bands go in there and record for pretty cheap," he said, noting that fellow nominees Timber Timbre and Colin Stetson have stopped in before.

"For us, it's been an important part of this band's success to be able to be a band and do the creation part with little to no stress," said Parry. "We were really lucky in making records and having, just from the get-go, people being really generous with us, giving time, giving space, offering something — so I feel like we try to and will try to keep doing that as much as we can.”

"We've been blessed and fortunate enough to have a wealth of resources at our disposal," Parry continued, "and as artists, that's the greatest luxury in life — to have resources and time to just work on the art."

//Emma Godmere
CUP National Bureau Chief

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