The Cover Story

The Kerrang! Awards 2022: “It’s an exciting time for heavy f*ckin’ music!”

Last week, the Kerrang! Awards returned to deliver 14 coveted trophies to the scene’s best and brightest stars. More than just a massive drunken party, though, the evening was a vital reminder that – from politics to pushing boundaries – the future is in very good hands…

The Kerrang! Awards 2022: “It’s an exciting time for heavy f*ckin’ music!”
Sam Law
Sam Binymin, Bekky Calver, Gobinder Jhitta

In all of its 156 years standing, the Shoreditch Town Hall has never seen a gathering quite like this. Down at street level, it’s all lights, camera, action, as convoys of vehicles unload their starry inhabitants onto the (metaphorical) red carpet. Parkway Drive frontman Winston McCall presses the flesh, red-eyed having just gotten off a flight from the other side of the world. Rising renegades Cassyette and Mannequin Pussy storm through in a colourful blur. Members of The Regrettes and You Me At Six push past each other at an already-rammed drinks reception. RuPaul’s Drag Race star Bimini Bon-Boulash swelters in the heat, fanning cool air under a spectacularly bejewelled breastplate that might just be the most metal thing in attendance.

Upstairs, a grand Victorian auditorium creaks under the weight of gallons of booze, a perimeter of Marshall stacks, and 14 definitely-priceless jagged K! statuettes ready to be handed out to heavy music’s best and brightest. After 36 months away, the Kerrang! Awards are back with a vengeance, celebrating the rock and alternative's world’s return to some kind of normalcy, and belatedly marking four (and a bit) decades of our beloved magazine’s place at the heart of that amp-cranking global family.

“I got my first Kerrang! back in 1999,” grins this evening’s host, esteemed comedian, and surprise metalhead Ed Gamble, hunkered in his dressing room. “That was really my gateway drug, my entry point into heavy music. So it feels surreal to be here all these years later hosting the awards. I’m really excited at the moment by the new wave of British heavy bands like Pupil Slicer and Heriot, Venom Prison and Conjurer. They’re just making this incredibly exciting, loud, face-ripping heavy metal music. But, given Dookie was one of the albums that got me into rock music when I was at school, I can’t believe that I’ll be standing on the same stage as Green Day!”

They don’t keep Ed waiting long. Sweeping through early, in advance of tomorrow’s headline at the 75,000-capacity London Stadium, the Californian pop-punk progenitors pick up this year’s Kerrang! Icon Award to thunderous applause. “We’ve been doing this so long now, and I can remember everything,” smiles frontman Billie Joe Armstrong. “One of the last times we were at the K! Awards, we were sat right by Cradle Of Filth, met Lemmy, and threw up. It was just a great night. So to be here again, amongst all these generations, really is an honour.”

It’s fitting, too, that the award is presented by two of 2022’s hottest punk figureheads: Frank Carter and Dean Richardson of The Rattlesnakes. “I’m supposed to be in Germany right now,” laughs Frank, with a festival slot booked for Hockenheim tomorrow. “But when we were asked to present the award to Green Day, we couldn’t say no. I’m a rock star because of those guys. I remember leaving my house at 5am to get the train to London to camp outside the old Virgin Megastore to get a ticket to their in-store on the Warning tour. That band changed my life!”

Green Day’s Hella Mega tourmates also gleefully get in on the action.

Fall Out Boy struggle to get their heads around a thoroughly-deserved Kerrang! Inspiration Award. “It’s crazy because we started this band so long ago,” reasons bassist Pete Wentz. “It can be crazy to have someone come up and say, ‘I play drums because of Andy Hurley!’ because I’ve been hanging out with him since we were 17. It’s very humbling, honestly.”

Guitarist Joe Trohman elbows in, “I just had the word ‘old’ going through my head the entire time.”

“None of it is just part of the ride for us,” vocalist Patrick Stump picks up, more earnestly. “We are such a weird band, with such weird influences, that any time we get acknowledged just means so much. Plus, [I’ve been turned onto so many new bands tonight] that it was kind of embarrassing. I was scrambling on my phone, like I’ve got to make a list!’”

As Weezer enter the Kerrang! Hall Of Fame, their guitarist Brian Bell shares that sentiment.

“I wasn’t lying when I said onstage that I read Kerrang! as a kid,” he stresses. “Back then, there was no internet, so you really had to search for things. You’d get Kerrang! to see those rare photos of Metallica, Iron Maiden or Slayer, read about other acts, and find out about what was going on in music globally.

"What’s been really cool about today has been feeling that same sensation of finding out about new music that I hadn’t been aware of before, from the artists who won the breakthrough awards to guys like Deaf Havana who presented our award. Plus, I really want to check out that band called Pupil Slicer! Keep searching out new music. Start your own bands. Never give up the dream. Then, in 25 years time, you too could be standing where I am now, talking about it into someone’s iPhone for an interview like this!”

Rubbing shoulders with stadium-dwelling legends is all well and good, but as Kerrang! Editor Luke Morton underlines in his opening speech, this publication is and has always been about championing the underdogs and supporting the underground. In these awards’ time away, it feels like a whole new breed of heavy musician has sprung up to claim the limelight.

“If I told 15-year-old me that I’d be accepting a Kerrang! Award after Green Day,” half-cackles Milkie Way of New Noise winners WARGASM, “I’d have told myself to go fuck myself!”

“I’d have called myself a sell-out,” piles in her bandmate Sam Matlock, before getting serious for a second to stress how nights like this are crucial to offering newcomers exposure. “I think there’s this myth about the industry – print media, journalists, label people, bookers, corporations like Live Nation – being evil. That myth needs to be debunked. There’re a lot of people who are stepping in at the moment to help motherfuckers out, and that’s mostly by promoting music that they enjoy to other motherfuckers they think will enjoy it, too!”

In a moment of uncharacteristic self-effacement, they inadvertently pinpoint the importance of events like this in allowing youngsters to meet and interface with their idols who blazed the trail.

“It feels like this is an award for artists who’ve created something fresh,” reasons Sam. “I don’t personally think that we do create something fresh. We merge old elements of ’90s and ’00s things. Naming this award after a song by Refused from an album called The Shape Of Punk To Come from 1998 is fitting because I’ve been trying to rip them off for forever! Everyone is an amalgamation of their influences and their environment.”

“It’s ‘Recycled Noise’,” offers Milkie, “but good!”

If WARGASM have a taste for the outrageous, they’re in fine company.

Wearing their reputation as old-school hellraisers like scuffed-up pair of jeans, we bump into Melbourne-based Best International Breakthrough recipients Amyl And The Sniffers raiding our backstage bar. “It’s fuckin’ sick and fun and crazy,” laughs livewire vocalist Amy Taylor of her big night out. “I never imagined being at an awards show on the other side of the world, but I didn’t dismiss it, either. Any recognition is great, but it’s really nice to be recognised by Kerrang! who’re part of that independent rock community.”

And what’s next on the roadmap to global domination? “Fuck all! We’ll just see what happens!”

Compared to the Aussies’ timeless denim and leather, Mimi Barks’ blacked-out contact lenses and outfit heavily influenced by Berlin fetish fashion make her seem like a figure who’s warped in from rock’s dystopian future. With her Disruptor Award in hand, the Berlin-born doom-trap trailblazer stresses that she’s every bit as interested in shaking up the system.

“Apparently my music irritated people,” she beams, so excited she can barely find the words in English. “That’s all I ever wanted. I feel like my music has left people with a question mark. It’s amazing to be a part of the new generation of heavy music: different artists, different styles and sounds, but we are all part of the one generation, taking metal in a whole different direction.”

Indeed, even as we chat with attendees still to pick up their first K! Award, they’re repping brilliantly audacious new sounds. Witch Fever’s Amy Walpole, for instance, muses how she grew up listening to the biggest names on tonight’s guestlist, while Heriot’s Debbie Gough recalls how, years ago, she got weekly issues of Kerrang! in lieu of an allowance, but neither’s band feels less than revolutionary. Expect to see both on the winner's podium in the not-so-distant future.

Tellingly, a few of the hot names who should be picking up trophies tonight are too in-demand to make it. London duo Nova Twins are en route to crashing the UK Top 40 with second album Supernova (which eventually landed at Number 27) as they are crowned Best British Breakthrough, but find themselves at Worthy Farm for Glastonbury. Alt.pop oddity Poppy picks up Best International Artist, and sends an acceptance video straight out of her alternate internet universe. Bring Me The Horizon are headlining VOLT Festival in Hungary when DiE4u claims Best Song.

The uber-busy Bob Vylan can’t be here, either, but vocalist Bobby sends his wife Zara to deliver a stirring acceptance speech that touches on everything from empty social justice signalling to the recent death of Oladeji Adeyemi Omishore during an interaction with the London Metropolitan Police.

“First off, we would like to say that we don’t think anybody deserves this award more than us,” Zara says. “To some of you, that might sound arrogant or cocky, but that’s because, for so long, artists have been told to be meek, to be happy for the scraps that they are thrown, and not to display any true sense of pride in the work that they have created. But that’s not what Bob Vylan are about. We know who we are, what we have accomplished, and how we have accomplished it. We have not accomplished it with the help of the machine: a sexist, racist, homophobic machine, a machine that doesn’t understand or care about the artist, much less black artists and our cultures…”

Fortunately, Janey Starling isn’t the type to be upstaged. As presenters Petrol Girls lay out the ex-Dream Nails vocalist’s achievements; from taking direct action as a seasoned Sisters Uncut activist and her time as a Unite trade union rep, to holding space at shows for women and marginalised genders and producing the UK’s first media guidelines for reporting fatal domestic abuse, as well as countless other campaigns strategised with her feminist organisation Level Up – most recently to end prison sentences for pregnant women – it’s clear that no honour tonight is more richly deserved than her Grassroots Award.

“I was reading Kerrang! when the only woman that was featured in the pages was the cartoon Pandora, so this feels very significant,” Janey explains of the importance of this platform. “Gender-based violence is all about power and control. We know that spaces like the film industry and the music industry – where there are a lot of powerful individuals – tend to be the ones where you see those abuses of power. To be able to be onstage in that space and deliver a feminist message, a reminder, was really important.”

And how else might an award like this help spread such an urgent message?

“Well, it's quite heavy, so I could definitely use it to smash some windows,” she smirks, with righteous mischief. “I might go and throw it at the Home Office!”

For all the things the Kerrang! Universe has gotten back this year, we’ve endured some gut-wrenching losses, too. None hurt more than that of Foo Fighters’ heroic drummer Taylor Hawkins on March 25. In by far the evening’s most bittersweet moment, Taylor’s good friend and Queen legend Roger Taylor, as well as Roger’s son, Taylor’s godson, and The Darkness sticksman Rufus join proceedings to pay tribute to someone who was very evidently a hero to both of them.

“It was a beautiful thing to watch Taylor Hawkins. He was balletic. As my wife put it, he was like sunshine in human form,” begins Roger, recalling the day 20 years ago when they travelled to see the Foos’ first-ever headline set at Reading Festival, where Taylor pointed at a 12-year-old Rufus and gestured for him to sit behind his kit. Thus began a relationship that would endure for two decades. “We were ‘The Three Taylors’,” Rufus recalls, with a world of sadness in his eyes. “He used to check up on me every day. I still look at my phone to see whether he’s called...”

As tear-jerking a tale as that is, it’s also a reminder of the immense power of live music to bring people together and lift them up that underpins so much of what we’re celebrating tonight.

For twenty one pilots, there’s a particular poignancy to be receiving the Best Live Act just a matter of hours before they headline the O2 Academy Brixton, in the middle of a four-night London run that sees them also hit the Camden Assembly, O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire and OVO Arena Wembley.

“I guess it’s fitting to pick up an award for live music when we’re about to go and play some live music,” observes frontman Tyler Joseph. “And it’s humbling to get it in this room with all of these bands, who are all amazing live acts. This is the award that probably means the most to us.”

“When we started out in Columbus, Ohio, we didn’t really know how else to get our name out there,” chimes drummer Josh Dun. “We decided the biggest impact that we could ever have would be through our live show. So we channelled our energy into that. Even now, when people ask the secret to what we do, we tell them that they should focus on putting on a really captivating live show and try to get people to come and bring their friends. People still want to see live music!”

“Live music is the one mode of salvation for any band,” nods Tyler. “No matter where you live, you can play shows. You may not be near ‘the industry’, you may not have a connection, you may not know someone who knows someone that can help you get out there and get a record deal. But you can get out there yourself and play live. Everyone has that capability. It’s the great equaliser.”

At a time when that freedom to play live seemed to have been almost extinguished, last year’s Download Pilot re-lit the flame. There couldn’t be a more fitting recipient for Best Festival.

“The whole Download Pilot experience was surreal,” says Rou Reynolds of Enter Shikari, who collects the spoils, having spectacularly headlined the event’s Saturday night, “right from getting that first call asking if we wanted to play a festival in three weeks, effectively midway through the pandemic, at a time when a festival would be the most unheard-of thing. It was just mental. It was an incredible weekend – so euphoric – and we just gave it the best show that we could. It wasn’t Download, sure, but it was still 10,000 people – a serious feat. The sheer amount of work that went in in such a short timeframe, and having to work with the government, jumping through what must’ve been about a million hoops, was incredible. The variety, the sheer exciting array of music that was on that bill, was so good. There was such a community feeling as well. There was an element of the surreal that you just wouldn’t get at anywhere else.”

“We’re so stoked,” adds festival promoter Kamran Haq. “The last couple of years have been so fuckin’ tough, so to pull Download Pilot together on a shoestring budget last year with bands who hadn’t played in 16 months – then to finally be back at full capacity this year – has been amazing.”

And where better to drop curtain than with the band who closed the main stage at Download this year?

Ed Gamble’s opening monologue gag that Biffy Clyro had “taken the Andy Murray trajectory”, going from ‘Scottish hopefuls’ to ‘British successes’, is amusingly played out as the Ayrshire boys scoop the evening’s final award for Best British Act, but they’re in no hurry to complain.

“It’s a good problem to have,” buzzes frontman Simon Neil, playfully modulating his accent to make a point. “It depends where we are. If I’m in my home town, I’m fockin’ Scottish! If we’re in London, we’re fuckin’ British. If we’re abroad, we’ve got nothing to do with this fuckin’ place!”

Joking aside, having just headlined Donington for the second time – their seventh overall set on the hallowed turf – Biffy are as qualified as anyone to trumpet British rock’s current state of play.

“Finally, we’re at a stage where we feel like we do belong in that headline slot and we can fuckin represent,” continues Simon. “We do feel like we’re one of the greats now, but only because of every other band out there. And I mean young bands, who’re making their first records, too. Those bands inspire us and make us want to be better: Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes, Architects, Loathe, Higher Power, Witch Fever, Pupil Slicer, While She Sleeps… And that’s leaving out so many others. It used to be, when we started out, that unless you were a three, four or five-piece band, you didn’t count. Now you can be anybody. It’s an exciting time for heavy fuckin’ music.”

Even more than the free-flowing bar and killer afterparty soundtrack, it’s that excitement – that sense of unbridled possibility – that fuels the room as everyone's smiling face hugs and high-fives deep into the small hours and out into the night. Here’s hoping we’ve quelled the bangover enough to make it even bigger, better and bolder in 12 months time.

Many thanks to our amazing partners Marshall, Music Venue Trust, Dr. Martens, Blinding Talent, MEATliquor, Strongbow Ultra and Dead Man’s Fingers Rum.

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