IMJA 2018

International Music Journalism Award - Let's Celebrate Music Journalism


Chris Cooke - CMU 
Stuart Dredge - Music Ally
James Hanley - Music Week
Amber Horsburgh - Deep Cuts newsletter
Cherie Hu - Forbes, Billboard etc. 
Tim Ingham - MBW
Gordon Masson - IQ
Daniel Sanchez - Digital Music News
David Turner - Penny Fractions / Dollar Fractions newsletter 
Winner: Musikwoche - „25 Years MusikWoche“  

Laudation for Klaus Walter // ByteFM, taz, diverse

The presentation of the 2018 International Music Journalism Award to Klaus Walter in the category "German-language Music Journalist of the Year" pays tribute to a great pop culture mediator and commentator; one who has tirelessly followed, commented on, loved and criticised the pop scene in all its crazy diversity and along all its frontlines not just in the past year but going on four decades. The fact that his desk has always been firmly planted in the city of Frankfurt makes the story even better.

A child of 1955, Walter was in a way born both too late and too early – too late, too young to be seriously involved in Frankfurt's subversive Sponti scene in the late 60s, and too early, too old to be one of Germany's original punk rockers. The Sponti scene later produced a foreign secretary, the punk movement the Böhsen Onkelz, all within the orbit of the famous Batschkapp rock club. But it was the representatives of the generations in between who had the overall scene on their radar. In Frankfurt's diverse cultural landscape, Klaus Walter never hooked up with one particular tribe, but always retained his independent position: that of the active observer and commentator of the bigger picture, of smaller details. Not committed to a specific scene, he was too competent, intellectual and knowledgeable not to be respected or listened to.

And listened to he certainly was. Klaus Walter, of course, is legendary not only as an author, but also, depending on where you live, as a voice. As the creator and presenter of "Der Ball ist rund", he spent almost 25 years charting the latest pop culture happenings at Hessischer Rundfunk, always well-informed and "on the ball". Formulating and composing texts intended to be spoken requires different timing, different audience-captivation techniques than passages that are merely read out. His countless inspiring columns and shows continue to benefit from this technique today. Barely a week seems to pass without him commenting (or being asked to comment) on something. Klaus Walter not only works "in media", he's himself a kind of independent medium, interpreter, visionary, channel. He filters the never-ending stream of new releases, but also compares them to relevant debates. When his email arrives on Fridays with the topics of his new programme, these aren't just useful music suggestions: they're important references to the challenges society faces today. 

He performs these important social duties on his own. Although an apparently permanent fixture at various broadcasting stations, magazines and newspapers, he could never be considered a typical representative of a certain establishment or its politics or writing style. Rather, as someone whose respected opinions open doors. The conclusion he draws from seeing pop as a contemporary companion is an obligation to provide enlightenment. And taking the enlightening potential of pop as the premise for his own work also means never losing love, urgency, soul. Never becoming a cool, emotionally distanced diagnostician or even a cynic. Never doubting the merits of sticking with soul boy jargon. So: Keep on keepin' on, Klaus Walter! Our disco needs you

For the jury: Hans Nieswandt

Laudation for Mary Anne Hobbs // BBC

There's a video on her YouTube channel of an interview with Billy Bragg in 2013, at the end of which Billy thanks her effusively for the interview, telling her how gratifyingly unlike the usual "artist releases record / journalist collects facts" interview their conversation had been, and how he hadn't expected it at all. Shortly before, with the help of Mary Anne Hobbs, Bragg summed up the essence of his art in a single sentence: "That's how you really change the world – through romance, not politics." A meeting of equals, well-prepared and conducted with genuine interest in her guests – this is Mary Anne Hobbs' speciality and perhaps the prerequisite for special moments like this one. Her sincerity also comes with an incredible enthusiasm for the artists, music and her own DJ work. You can feel it in everything she does. This is how music journalism should be.

For the jury: Frank Spilker

Laudation for Belkacem Bahlouli // Rolling Stone, France

For this edition of the International Awards of Musical Journalism, the jury focused on taking into account demands on style as well as content. The quality of writing stays first among them, all the more so because France is a country in which musical criticism and literature are closely linked. We considered the journalistic approach with its fundamentals, the relevance of the subject in our times, the hierarchy and reliability of information and the ability to transmit it beyond readers already in the know.
Belkacem Bahlouli was spotted all year long for his editorials in the French issues of the magazine Rolling Stone. Each month the journalist takes the opposite view from the succeeding announcements solely based on statistics with numbers and logarithmic trends. In March 2018, Belkacem Bahlouli was the first journalist who put in perspective an information coldly spread everywhere, and in so doing put into doubt the claim that hip-hop was the most consumed musical repertoire in France. He used different possible analytical readings and therefore revealed the danger of disinformation when marketing and raw numbers subjectively make their way to the press to reach goals skillfully studied beforehand. 

The French Jury

Laudation for Juri Steinburg // "Kollegahs und Farid Bangs 'JBG3' wird hart gefeiert, ist aber vor allem problematisch" (noisey.com)

Having the courage to think for one's self and the ability to place music in a broader social context beyond its commercial relevance – sadly, these are qualities rarely seen any more in German music journalism. Juri Sternburg's article from 1 December 2017 in "Vice" about the comments of Farid Bang and Kollegah long before the scandalous Echo awards displays both of these qualities. Rather than reducing the two German rappers' lyrics to a one-off case of tactlessness or a personal faux pas, he exposes them as part of a systemic problem. In his subtle yet sharp analysis, Juri Sternburg displays the courage to rise up against the trivialising tendencies of generally accepted views of history. He also challenges the ultimately ineffective mass outrage displayed when the two rappers received the Echo awards four months after the article was published with an emotional, but factually sound contribution to the discussion, one not dominated by personal sensitivities. Sternburg is provocative to the point of testing what is permissible.

Music is more than just songs. Juri Sternburg understands that the power of music lies in its ability to enable listeners to identify with what it's saying. If more music journalists were to preoccupy themselves on this level with the ambivalent topics of everyday culture and their consequences, we would finally have more discourse in the German music press again, online and in print. Journalism means responsibility. The presentation of this prize to Juri Sternburg should therefore be seen not least of all as an encouragement to other journalists and bloggers to stick their necks out a bit further in their articles on music, to think for themselves and to trigger discussions, even unpleasant ones.

For the jury: Wolf Kampmann

Laudation for Liz Pelly // "The Problem with Muzak: Spotify’s Bid to Remodel an Industry" (The Baffler)

Liz Pelly takes a look behind the scenes of Spotify. Her article explains why we are justifiably surprised when, for ten euros a month or even for free, with an advertising jingle after every third song, we suddenly have access to something that at one time we wouldn't in our wildest dreams have believed possible: the chance to download and listen to a much-publicised new album, on Friday, the day of its release!

Thank you, beautiful new world! You're so fast in giving me what I need, I can have my say any time!

Like hell you can, says Liz Pelly in "The Problem with Muzak", an article she wrote for the system-critical American magazine "The Baffler". We no longer hear what we really want to hear, she argues. Spotify subjects us to the sales targets of the music industry that allows us to listen to what it wants to succeed on the market and in the charts. And yet we still believe we're listening to what we personally want to listen to, selected according to our own personal choices.

"We're losing our music tastes" could have been the subheading to "The Problem with Muzak. The word "muzak" stands for the unconscious listening of music. The title of Pelly's article is also a reference to the musician and producer Steve Albini, who revealed the internal machinations of the music business during the heyday of indie rock in his article "The Problem with Music" for "Maximum Rock 'n' Roll" magazine in 1994. While Albini held forth on how bands were influenced and exploited by the music industry in the early 90s, today Pelly is concerned about us, the listeners.

Pelly explains the "Spotify problem" without anger, although it's still a rage. She eloquently illustrates the dangers for musicians – and music itself –, shows us how listeners are manipulated by an algorithm and explains the "vanilla" factor introduced by the sleep-inducing music from the "chill" sector which is so lucrative for the entertainment industries.

If it weren't so convenient, you might be tempted to cancelhave the right song to get the last couch potato out onto the streets – for his or her music!

 

(For the jury: Susanne Baller)

Laudation for Julien Jaubert // La santé mentale: succès dans le rap américain… (Yard Media)

Julien Jaubert was shortlisted for the article of the year, which we are pleased about all the more so because his article was published on an online media at a time when the digital sphere boosts and restores its colors to the whole musical sector. In the flow of all the studied subjects, this one stroke us since our very first reading with its original and surprising angle. “Mental health in hip-hop”, a mysterious title at first which gets more precise as we read on and turns out to be flagrantly relevant and obvious. A feeling of never having read an article on such simple themes like “it is not normal for a human being to get in front of tens of thousands people shouting at him during a concert”. If the main angle focuses on rap, Julien Jaubert very aptly knows how to remind us that all the subjects he speaks about are characteristics of human nature and concern us about artists in any domain. The originality and generosity transmitted in this subject distinguish him and make us think that his main source could well be empirical.

The French Jury

Laudation for Visa Vie // "Clarify" (detektor.fm)

Social justice, education, health, equality, migration, money, culture, living together in society in general. These are the big issues we encounter on a daily basis – through politics, through the media, but also through conversations within the family, among friends and with colleagues during breaks from work. Consciously or unconsciously, they play a large part in our daily lives, regardless of where we come from, what we earn and how well educated we are. These are important topics, and also nice ones – if things were running as they should, that is. But in most countries things aren’t going so well, which is why we have to keep debating the big issues, sometimes until we’re on the edge of despair, to the limit of our tolerance of opposing views.

The big issues are not easy topic – which is why the long-standing TV talk show format regularly descends into chaos with everyone talking over each other. In "Clarify", Visa Vie looks at all the difficult issues society faces. But instead of trying to manage rows between opponents, the show enters into a dialogue with carefully selected guests from the world of music and culture. Each guest brings along a story to tell which every listener identifies with in some way or another. Even if on the face of it you’d think you have nothing in common with the guests, at some point during the 30-minute show there comes a moment when you realise: I haven't thought about it that way before, I understand this person better now, I can see things from their perspective. In the best-case scenario, you even reconsider opinions you have held for a long time about other people and their lifestyles.

 So how does Visa Vie do this? By constructively presenting incredibly good discussions, asking the right questions at the right time, and showing restraint where necessary. Above all though, it succeeds by maintaining an atmosphere of calm, intelligence, empathy and thoughtfulness – in an era of loud headlines, hasty opinions and snap judgements.
 The dialogue as a medium, i.e. the person-to-person conversation, meant for and shared with all other people out there, still offers enormous potential for bringing us all closer together. Especially when it comes to the difficult issues in life. Visa Vie and “Clarify” were the best examples of this in the run-up to the 2017 German elections. This show format has true pioneering quality.

For the jury: Claus Schwartau

Laudation for Damon Krukowski // "Ways Of Hearing" (Showcase On Radiotopia)

Music journalism in audio format has a big advantage over its printed counterpart. You don't have to describe that tune you've had in your head for days, or put in words how passionate a voice, how powerful a guitar riff might sound. All these things can be made audible. Damon Krukowski takes full advantage of this in his podcast "Ways Of Hearing" – with music samples, field recordings and snippets of sound. His six-part podcast bursts with creative, effectively presented sound elements which Krukowski uses to illustrate a very complex topic. In "Ways Of Hearing", he shows us how increasing digitalisation is changing, shaping and developing our listening habits. Krukowski takes a humorous and personal look at the subject, having experienced first-hand the developments of sound digitalisation with his band Galaxie 500. And as a fan of the analogue, warm sound of the 80s, which was also a trademark of Galaxie 500, he sometimes seems a little confused by all the side effects of the cultural transformation brought about by digitalisation. But instead of causing bitterness, this confusion has made Krukowski curious to understand the developments and implications of the increasingly digitalised sound worlds. For example, he asks how digital music consumption affects isolation in cities, or he looks at whether Skype calls sound less emotional than phone conversations. Based on these small everyday observations, Krukowski encourages us to reflect on the act of listening and our own listening habits. Something so automatic, we rarely stop to think about it. But it's worth it. After "Ways Of Hearing", you certainly listen differently – more critically, more consciously. And the best thing about this six-part journey of discovery is that it's such a fun one.

Für die Jury: Isabelle Klein

Laudation for Viola Funk // "Die dunkle Seite des deutschen Rap (WDR)

“The dark side of German rap”: Multimedia: this sector can mean everything or nothing. But if there is a project that manages to be multimedia-based and makes an enormously important thematic contribution to a debate, then there’s no getting around Viola Funk’s “The Dark Side of German Rap” in 2018. In her documentary, she looks at both sides of the difficult subject “Anti-Semitism in Gangster Rap”. Her feature drew big audiences both on television and on the Internet, proving her appeal to all kinds of age groups.

For the jury: Niloufar Behradi

Laudation for Estelle Caswell // "Earworm" (Vox.Com)

Anyone who really, really wants to learn something about music without for a single second having the uneasy sense of being condemned to an arduous lecture on the subject, can confidently surrender themselves to the expertise of Estelle Caswell. In her series "Earworm", hosted by vox.com, the producer analyses and explains songs, sounds and structures. Her video series, appealing both in content and appearance, is impressive not least because of its wide range of perspectives: One episode looks at rhyming structures. The next one examines and explains a certain sound effect. Another one tells the story of a favourite album. Caswell’s approach turns out to be as multi-faceted and imaginative as the music itself. She shares her enormous knowledge so generously with her audience that even the most technically adept viewer feels a lot smarter at the end of each episode than they did before. As a bonus, Estelle Caswell provides the right playlist for each topic: a worthy winner in the "Multimedia” category.

For the jury: Dani Fromm

Laudation for Salwa Houmsi // "Frauen im Pop - wo ist die Gleichberechtigung?" (Jäger&Sammler / funk)

"Women in pop – where is the equality?"  Salwa is the voice we have needed in German music journalism for years now. Just like the music industry itself, the structural hierarchies in music journalism are the domains of white men. It goes without saying for this award however that we weren’t interested in choosing a woman – preferably from a migrant background – as a matter of principle. Absolutely not. What interested us was the fact that Salwa addresses topics crucial to the present and future of the music business in a way that is strong, self-confident and almost understated. 

On the radio, in print and online magazines, in videos or in her Insta stories – right across the board, she knows how to use the media and reaches her interested fans on all channels. Salwa has no concerns about the future of music journalism: with her work, she shows us how it’s done in 2018.

For the jury: Niloufar Behradi

Laudation for Thomas Kiebl // "Warum ich ungerne Interviews gebe? Wegen euch!“ – Taktloss Interview – (The Message)

The success or failure of an interview depends far too much on what the guest is prepared to contribute. So, somehow, giving a journalist a prize for an interview always seems a bit problematic. But Thomas Kiebl was undoubtedly the deserved winner of the award for one of the best music journalistic contributions of the year even though it was for an interview: His attempt to get to grips with his awkward guest, the German rapper-artist and notorious total interview stonewaller Taktloss, not only reveals a whole lot about someone who doesn't actually want to reveal anything at all. What makes the piece especially worth reading, and highly entertaining, is that the author’s many assets are brought to the table all at once:

Thomas Kiebl combines great expertise with a profound love of the subject. What’s more, he possesses the necessary skill to make both these things tangible for his readers. Our award for his interview with Taktloss is also recognition of his countless other writings. Each meticulously researched detail reveals the level of diligence, energy and passion that Kiebl invests in even his briefest pieces. His most impressive achievement though is his articulation – his enthusiasm for celebrating rich, lavish vocabulary, without losing himself completely in self-indulgent rapture: with Thomas Kiebl, the subject at hand is always top priority.

For the jury: Dani Fromm

Laudation for Julia Lorenz // "Drangsal vs. Die Nerven" (Musikexpress, Ausgabe 5 / 2018)

At first glance, there doesn’t seem that much linking these musicians together at all: On the one hand, there’s the angry, bare-bones post punk of Die Nerven. On the other, Drangsal’s big, full, eccentric pop. But Julia Lorenz quickly shows in her article that two of the most exciting current German acts do actually share a lot of common ground. She takes us to a joint photo shoot of Die Nerven and Drangsal and talks in turn to both the Esslingen-based band and the singer from the Palatinate region in Germany about their respective new albums, and she lets the artists talk about each other. Firstly, this provides a nice set-up in dramatic terms, but it also proves an ideal structure to tease out the things the two acts relate to and have in common, something Lorenz does in a very entertaining and articulate way. She reports and observes with a keen eye for detail and a good deal of humour, then repeatedly jumps to the meta level, elegantly interweaving the interview passages with Die Nerven and Drangsal. Which points to another of Lorenz's strengths: Her ability to coax interesting statements out of her interviewees with a mixture of empathy and quick-wittedness. In conversation with Lorenz, both Die Nerven and Drangsal come out with statements that would make perfect slogan postcards for the kitchen walls of German flat-shares. And if these flats are home to any aspiring music journalists then hopefully there’s a copy of Lorenz’s text lying on the kitchen table. Because there’s a lot to learn from it.

For the jury: Isabelle Klein

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