Indie band Wolf Alice have picked up the 2018 Mercury Prize for their eclectic, enchanting second album, Visions of a Life.
The London four-piece were almost lost for words as they took to the stage to accept the £25,000 prize.
“It means so much to pick this up with my three best friends,” said singer Ellie Rowsell.
The group beat the likes of Noel Gallagher, Arctic Monkeys and Lily Allen to lift the trophy.
They also saw off the bookies’ favourite, Nadine Shah, whose third album, Holiday Destination, explores her experiences as a second-generation immigrant, and the UK’s attitudes to refugees.
But the 31-year-old, who was born to Pakistani and Norwegian parents and raised in Whitburn, South Tyneside, stole the televised prize ceremony with a fierce and passionate performance of the song Out The Way.
Visions of a Life was praised by judges as “an exuberant tapestry of swirling pop, grunge and indie guitar rock.”
The band put their appeal more idiosyncratically: “We’re too pop for rock and too rock for pop.”
In fact, their second album built on the promise of their debut My Love Is Cool (which also received a Mercury nomination) cementing their status as future festival headliners with a hypnotic jumble of grunge, dream-pop and shoegaze stoner rock.
The songs coalesce around Rowsell, an enigmatic frontwoman who can switch from a shy ingénue (Don’t Delete The Kisses) to a screaming, vengeful She-Ra (Yuk Foo) without pretence or artifice.
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The 26-year-old was a Mercury Prize judge in 2016, and said that made her band’s victory all the more meaningful.
“You get given almost 300 albums – so I know the intensity and the frustration of making that decision,” she said backstage, adding: “Now I know what overwhelmed feels like.”
Earlier, the band’s bassist Theo Ellis said he felt vindicated after the band faced years of rejection from record companies.
“The first label meeting we ever had, we walked into a room, and the geezer said, ‘You don’t look like a band at all. What are you? What are you supposed to be? All your songs sound different. You don’t look like each other.’
“We never really figured it out, but here we are,” he added.
The group said they would invest their prize money in building a studio to record their third album next year.
Other nominees for the 2018 Mercury Prize included jazz act Sons of Kemet, London MC Novelist and up-and-coming soul star Jorja Smith.
But there had been criticism that this year’s list favoured mainstream, commercial artists at the expense of newcomers who needed exposure.
Wolf Alice’s victory strikes a happy medium between the two extremes; with a record that was popular enough to reach number two in the charts, but was overlooked in the best album category at this year’s Brit Awards.
“These kind of things can never please everybody,” said Rowsell. “The last time we were nominated, I hardly recognised most of the list, and this [year’s] list was far more well known.
“It’s nice to champion lesser-known and smaller artists, but there’s plenty of other ways of doing that.”
“I don’t think the award has any duty to any one sector of the industry or the other,” said Jeremy Pritchard, bass player for fellow nominees Everything Everything.
“Contrariness is part of its identity.”
Everything Everything were also two-time nominees for the prize and stressed that even being featured on the shortlist could change a young band’s career.
“Our first nomination gave us some longevity. It gave us a kick at that stage of our career when we needed it most.”