Phil Alexander talks judging

Not only does he sit on this year's judging panel, but Phil Alexander is also Editor-In-Chief at MOJO, Q & Kerrang. We spoke to Phil about judging this year's shortlist and here's what he had to say.

What’s it like being a Mercury Prize judge?  

This being my second year of judging, you realise quickly how intense this process is. It really was full on last year, specifically coming to the final result. But even the debate leading up to that – the preliminary meetings – was really, really intense because what you’ve got in a room is essentially 12 people who are really invested and obsessed with music, so whittling down 220 something albums to a shortlist is tough. There’s a lot of passion and people arguing the case for records they truly love. What’s really interesting is there are other artists on the panel, so they don’t necessarily look at music with same critical eye I do – it’s what I do for a living –  so when they start engaging in this semi critical process it’s a new experience for them. For someone who does it all time, it’s interesting to watch, but also take on board how they react. That influences your perspective. It is a really interesting conversation and debate in that room 

Has the process changed how you approach reviews for your music magazine? 

It doesn’t necessarily change how I review things, but how we talk about it in the room is different. Musicians talking about their fellow musicians often leads to them observing things that you had not initially noticed and it really makes you think about it differently. There are definitely moments where you end up reaching for your iPod to listen to something again, so you can reference what they’re talking about. It’s fascinating. Having said that, I love sitting in a room and talking about music anyway – anyone I’ve worked with over the years will tell you that so – it’s not only what I do for a living, but I do it with my mates too, so the Mercury Prize is a bit like a bus man’s holiday for me. 

What makes this year’s shortlist unique?

There’s an awful lot of detail on all the records this year.  A lot of sonic detail, that’s quite rich sounding. And there are surprises on there without a shadow of a doubt, from a more mainstream point of view but also from a left field perspective. Again, it’s a really, really strong list. There’s a lot of intelligent music being made right now and this list reflects that. 

Who’s your tip for the winner?

It’s impossible to say who the winner will be. There’s a lot of people in our judging group who like a lot of different records so it’s very difficult to measure up which way it will go until we get in that room on the night. I think if you asked all the judges now we’d probably all have a very different choice of who should win. It’s all about when we get in that room, start talking and lay down criteria for ourselves, that we’ll come to a decision. That’s how it went last year. 

So the prize is decided last minute?

Last year it went right down to the wire. We could not reach a consensus – we all felt very differently about two records in particular and it was really tough. In the end we had to lay down the law ourselves, go back to our criteria and go: ‘This is why this record should win.’ I think it will be the same this year. 

Find out what decision Phil and our other judges make at the 2017 Hyundai Mercury Prize at the Eventim Apollo on September 14th. Get your tickets here.

Make sure you are tuned in to BBC Four from 9pm to see who will win or listen to BBC Radio 6 from 7pm for coverage with Tom Ravenscroft.

View the entire shortlist here or listen to our Apple Music Playlist below: