Brixton Academy, London
There is a media scrum on the normally student-flanked steps of Brixton Academy. Billed as the alternative to The Brits, tonight's NME Brats Awards conclude two weeks of extensive live shows and coverage on Radio 1 and Channel 4. Star attendance indicates how it is respected as an accurate gauge of the state of play in the British music industry - unlike The Brits, where Oasis showed their respect by sticking the award not quite where it was intended. In 1992 The Brats forecast a hat trick of tips for the top, with The Verve, Radiohead and Blur, and they lauded The Jam well before Brit Pop reinstated them as forefathers.
It is hardly surprising that the Brixton Academy is primed to catch all on celluloid when the players right here, right now on the British music scene are weaving through the cameras: The Verve, notoriously absent from such bashes, Zoe Ball and Jo Wylie, Saffron from Republica, Spiritualized, Damien Harris (Skint Records), with Kylie Minogue turning up at the end for live interviews and photo shoots and a Howard Marks looking askance at the table plan. The Sun reporter is primed for insider gossip, and all its sources are under one roof.
The Brats have grown up in the three years since inception, gaining major sponsorship from Miller Genuine Draft and providing juicy media column inches. This was where Liam Gallagher incited the Blur v Oasis battle and Noel claimed that taking drugs was like having a cup of tea. The Brats have got the scoops well before the public become tired of hearing the story repeated.
The Academy heaves with musicians, press officers and music journalists, which sparks the first doubt that it is still a valid stab at the music industry. The real difference seems to be that The Brats award ceremony aims to rise above the back-slapping and indulgence, it is under an hour long, the winners barely say thank you, and it has never been criticised in the press - until now. Considering that it will be screened on Channel 4 on Saturday and was live from Radio 1 on Tuesday, to be against hype contradicts its wooing of hype-laden coverage.
Eddie Izzard opened the evening with the most risque comment, on the boredom of awards ceremonies, and was unchallenged on the entertainment front with the winners' morose thank yous. The Verve, who won four categories, could only muster standing up and a slight turn. By midnight and the beginning of the rock 'n' roll hours and the after-show party, Mary Anne Hobbs on Radio 1 could be heard bemoaning the lack of gossip as guest after guest grappled for something to say.
The highlight of the evening proved not to be the rarity of seeing so many stars in real life, but the video links to absent guests. Like promo videos, these were funny and well thought out, featuring the Spice Girls as troll dolls, Oasis as The Beatles and Elton John's Candle in the Wind as a candle dangerously burning under spangly trousers.
This and the set design, a fully functional toilet so large that it filled the whole stage, provided an amusing edge. Switch to Channel 4 on Saturday night and you'll be treated to this tasty visual slice; catch any of Channel 4's coverage of the Astoria preview shows this week and the skilful manipulation of camera angles and lighting are better value than those who turned up at the over-sold shows.
The Brats do sound familiar, a cooler version of Michael Jackson's showmanship with "Earth Song" at The Brits two years ago. But take away the showman and all the media could report on is that The Verve are miserly about photo-shoots.
The final Astoria preview show, tonight, 12.40am, Channel 4. 'The Brats - the NME Music Awards', Saturday, 11.05, Channel 4.
Radiohead for OK Computer
The Verve for Bitter Sweet Symphony
Best Solo Artist
Best Dance Act