While the independent music scene certainly has an international scope, Brooklyn is a hub, home and haven for many of the artists and labels that are involved. Last night I took the train up from our Brooklyn office to the spacious confines of the Manhattan Center’s Grand Ballroom to attend the fifth annual Libera Awards, a mini award show hosted by the American Association of Independent Music that seeks to highlight excellence in this realm.
Sitting up in the balcony waiting for the show to begin, I was floored by the album covers that flicked by on the screen: St. Vincent, Kamasi Washington, Courtney Barnett, Alabama Shakes, Jamie xx, Grimes — all of these albums topped many year-end lists last year, including my own. Seeing them contextualized as specifically independent artists free from the major label system drove home how important this community really is.

Eventually, the show began, hosted by Ted Leo–who is pretty fucking funny–and featured performances by Torres, Mac DeMarco, Nosaj Thing, and New Jersey hip-hop greats Naughty By Nature, who were on the once independent label Tommy Boy back in the ’90s and were honored with the Indepdent Icon Award. Another quick note: Mackenzie Scott now has white-blonde hair and wore a satin pantsuit, so I have amended my hair and wardrobe accordingly. Seriously though, her look was a work of art and deserved its own award.

Naughty By Nature

Easily, the most lauded label of the year was ATO Records, who won again and again for the Alabama Shakes release Sound & Color that knocked the socks off everyone last year. They won four awards altogether last night, and Brainfeeder wasn’t far behind, winning two crucial categories–Groundbreaking Album and Heritage Album–for Kamasi Washington’s The Epic. Considering Alabama Shakes draw heavily on blues and soul, and Washington is anchored in the jazz tradition, it seems people are more appreciative and interested in updates on traditional forms than perhaps we previously thought.
Courtney Barnett also won Breakthrough Artist, which is certainly fitting after her Grammy win (even if this reporter was secretly gunning for a Julien Baker upset.) One thing I think is worth noting because I always bring this up–there was only a single country or folk artist who won anything, and that was Father John Misty for some admittedly faulty packaging. It was creative though! The category that country artists would’ve been eligible for is Heritage album, but it’s interesting that electronic music and hardcore music get their own genre-specific awards and country/folk doesn’t. Indie always leaves them out, when so many of them are independent, too! Anyway, check out the full winner list below.

2016 Libera Award Winners
Best Live Act: Alabama Shakes (ATO Records)
Marketing Genius: Run The Jewels “#12DaysofRTJ” (Mass Appeal Records)
Best Sync Usage: Alabama Shakes Sound & Color (ATO Records)
Breakthrough Artist: Courtney Barnett Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (Mom + Pop Music)
Creative Packaging: Father John Misty I Love You, Honeybear (Creative Director: Sasha Barr) (Sub Pop Records)
Groundbreaking Album of the Year: Kamasi Washington The Epic (Brainfeeder)
Heritage Album of the Year: Kamasi Washington The Epic (Brainfeeder)
Independent Champion: Merlin
Into the Pit: Savages Adore Life (Matador Records)
Young Label Spotlight Award: Innovative Leisure
Shifting Beats: Jamie xx, In Colour (Young Turks)
Independent Icon: Naughty By Nature
A2IM Lifetime Achievement Award: Mike Curb (Curb Records)
Video of the Year: Run The Jewels “Close Your Eyes (and Count to F*ck)” (Mass Appeal Records)
Video of the Year, Fan Vote: Grimes “Kill V. Maim” (4AD)
A&R Team of the Year: ATO Records
Label of the Year, <5 employees: Daptone Records
Label of the Year, 6+ employees: Sub Pop Records
Album of the Year: Alabama Shakes Sound & Color (ATO Records)
All photos by Pip Cowley

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