Awesome! Alt-J win as Mercury Prize seeks lost youth


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The Independent Culture

Three years ago they were playing gigs in the upstairs rooms of student pubs in Leeds. Today they wake up as the next big thing in British pop. Such are the whims of the Mercury Prize.

Alt-J, the four-piece indie-pop outfit who met at university and dazzled critics with their debut album An Awesome Wave, won the prestigious prize at a revamped ceremony in London last night.

Simon Firth, chairman of the Mercury judges hailed the album's "hypnotic quality".

"It's one of those albums that knocks you back when you hear it," he said after the winner was announced.

"It's got a certain hypnotic quality and it's melodically interesting. The way it's constructed is layered – it has digital production but it doesn't sound like a digital record. Mercury has always been about something that sounds fresh."

An Awesome Wave is the thirteenth debut album to win the Mercury prize. The last debut winner the xx, in 2010, have gone on to play packed out tours and headline major festivals. Alt-J have a tour of Europe and America planned before Christmas and plan to work on their second album next year – all a far cry from their formative years on the student gig circuit at the University of Leeds, where the band met in 2007. "We had this chemistry then when we were making this music in our rooms and you can feel that chemistry in the album," said singer Joe Newman.

With Mercury organisers keen to shake off criticism that the prize had become predicable and staid, this year's ceremony was held at a new venue with a new – younger – host.

Jools Holland was ditched in favour of Lauren Laverne, with proceedings moved from the stuffy surroundings of Grosvenor House to the Roundhouse in Camden. The announcement was broadcast live on Channel 4 after Mercury organisers and corporate sponsors Barclaycard broke off a long-term partnership with the BBC.

Live coverage of the show was presented on digital channel 4Music by new Radio 1 Breakfast Show host Nick Grimshaw.

Alt-J, who have been tipped as the new Radiohead by critics, paid tribute to fellow nominees, including Richard Hawley whose album, Standing at the Sky's Edge was also tipped to win.