Today (June 21) marks the return of the Kerrang! Awards ceremony, which will take place this evening at Islington Town Hall. It will be the first version of the awards to be held following investment from its new independent owners Wasted Talent Ltd - the weekly rock title having moved from Bauer Media last year.
Leading this year’s nominations are Foo Fighters, Architects and Enter Shikari, who have garnered three nominations each. Other nominated acts at the ceremony include Metallica, Iron Maiden, A Perfect Circle, Marilyn Manson, Biffy Clyro, Marmozets, Royal Blood and many more. The ceremony is also bolstered by a ‘Kerrang! Week Of Rock’ series of live events, featuring intimate shows from Enter Shikari and Neck Deep, plus a live Q&A with Slipknot/Stone Sour frontman Corey Taylor.
With March bringing news of Kerrang!’s plans to expand domestically and in America, here Kerrang!’s global creative director Phil Alexander, editor Sam Coare and executive director US, Ethan Fixell tell Music Week about what’s next for the rock weekly…
In the wider music event calendar, what do the Kerrang! awards represent?
Phil Alexander (global creative director): “Some of the greatest bands to come out of the UK are rock bands, be that Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd or Sex Pistols, Motörhead, Iron Maiden, Muse or Biffy Clyro. For some reason mainstream media doesn’t celebrate that kind of music, so we decided to celebrate it ourselves. That’s why we set up the Kerrang! Awards in 1994. They were the first pure rock awards anywhere on the planet. Twenty four years on, they remain a celebration of everything that is great about rock music, past and present. They provide an entire genre with a focal point, and attract a wider awareness for emerging acts. The latter in particular is crucial in helping to develop the next generation of acts.”
Sam Coare (editor, Kerrang! magazine): “The Kerrang! Awards were started way back in 1994 for one simple reason: because no-one else was celebrating rock music in the manner which it deserved. I think that holds true today, and this year’s event is a wonderful reflection of the breadth and depth of talent in our scene in 2018. Yet still, the odd nod aside, rock music remains largely ignored by the wider industry – which, when you consider its strength and success in the past 12 months, is scandalous. In the UK alone, we see the legendary names of our world sell out stadiums every summer. We see ever-growing artists stepping up to sell out arenas and academies every month. Our smaller venues and clubs are teeming with exciting bands every night of the week. Earlier this month, 100,000 people attended Download Festival. The rock scene is a diverse, dynamic, authentic world that unites fans like no other, and deserves the championing afforded by the Kerrang! Awards. It’s a world truly run first and foremost on affection for the music, and the Awards affords that one rare moment in the year when the industry can come together under one roof to celebrate all of that passion. Kerrang! has for 37 years been rock’s biggest champion, and will forever remain so.”
It’s the first K! Awards since 2016 - are you trying anything new this time around?
Sam Coare: "If anything, with this year’s event we set out to recapture the essence of past K! Awards: celebrating music. It might sound obvious, but past years has perhaps grown to an excessive size and been dressed up with too many bells and whistles. The spirit of the night had taken a backseat in proceedings, I think. It was important for us in 2018 to simply focus on the Awards and celebrating artists and music, first and foremost. I think we’ve stripped away a lot of the ‘tricks’ to deliver an event where we can thank, congratulate and honour artists – and give everyone a chance to cut loose in infamous Kerrang! Awards fashion…”
How did the supporting ‘Kerrang! Week Of Rock’ shows come about?
Sam Coare: “The principle of ‘by fans, for fans’ has been in Kerrang!’s DNA since day one. It was imperative to us, therefore, that in relaunching the Awards as a focal point in the calendar we deliver the very best of what Kerrang! offers brand-wide: bringing fans closer to the music they love in ways that no-one else can. The Week Of Rock was our way of delivering on that, bringing huge headline acts into intimate spaces – be that through tiny, free gigs with Enter Shikari and Neck Deep, or a money-can’t-buy audience with Slipknot/Stone Sour frontman Corey Taylor. It’s a thank you to the fans who are the lifeblood of everything we do, and I hope this year’s events are only the start of an ever-growing annual week-long celebration of rock across the country.”
A lot of execs and bands have told Music Week that it’s not an easy time to be a rock band - especially in the age of streaming. What can Kerrang! do for bands in 2018 to help level the playing field?
Phil Alexander: “Rock music has yet to fully embrace streaming. The reason for that is that rock fans still value physical product. In the long term, that will prove to be no bad thing as loyalty and fan engagement will be key to continued success and artist development. Kerrang! aims to help bridge the gap between streaming and physical, through curation, the championing of new talent, and by creating properties that can fuel the passion of the fans. The best example of this is perhaps the K! Pit – a short live set hosted in our favourite dive bar in East London where 50 fans get to set their favourite bands up close. We film, edit and sound mix the performance and then we stream the performance accordingly, reaching a huge audience. The positive comments that we’ve received during sets by the likes of Parkway Drive and Employed To Serve tell you how much people love those performances. We are still in our infancy with the K! Pit and with our other filmed properties, but the rock audience is getting used to watching those streamed performances and, looking at what has happened in dance music, you can see that the very idea of streamed live performances will grow on a global basis. That is an exciting prospect.”
Kerrang! aims to help bridge the gap between streaming and physical, through curation, the championing of new talent, and by creating properties that can fuel the passion of the fans
Phil Alexander, Kerrang!
Kerrang!’s print edition relaunched earlier this year - what is the vision you’re working towards in 2018 and beyond?
Phil Alexander: “The magazine relaunched this year and increased it’s sales by over 15% by adding a thicker cover and more pages. Editorially, we added depth, insight and quality to every page. We aim to operate with quality at the heart of everything we do, and the next year will see us create more properties – digital, physical and in the event space – that will help artists reach a committed audience. Our view is that we can do this on a global basis and expand what we do far beyond the printed page, all while keeping the magazine at the heart of the brand.”
Speaking of which, K! kickstarted its US operations this year – what does that do for the brand?
Phil Alexander: “The US is crying out for a brand like Kerrang! because we match authority with irreverence, and the insight that comes from genuine fan-dom. We believe having a US base allows us to think on a global basis and to help develop acts across two of rock’s major territories. We are in a unique position in that respect, and we believe we can achieve an awful lot by sticking to principles that have made Kerrang! a powerhouse brand in the first place.”
Ethan Fixell: “We hit the ground running in January, and it’s been an incredibly busy half of a year thus far! Since launching in the U.S., Kerrang! has produced a constant stream of U.S.-based editorial content – from live show coverage, to artist interviews, to exclusive videos with American bands and foreign bands visiting the States. We now have a weekly curated Spotify playlist spotlighting the best new heavy U.S. tracks, and have been coordinating exclusive song and video premieres from American artists. Some of our most viral content of the year has been U.S.-sourced, including our United States of Metal and United States of Hardcore maps. But we’re perhaps most proud of the live events we’ve been curating, which include three performances at Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn, New York, headlined by Mutoid Man, Hopesfall, and Pallbearer...and a national tour with Red Fang and Big Business. We’ve only got more planned for 2019!”
Why is it so important K! has a foothold in the US?
Ethan Fixell: “As an American teenager, I used to hunt down issues of Kerrang! in specialty bookstores in New York, and when I’d occasionally travel to London. Apparently I wasn’t alone - even before we launched in the States, 25% of our digital traffic was U.S.-based, and judging by the reactions I was met with when I told various music fans about my new gig, it’s clear that Kerrang! has long had a very passionate audience. And so, given the sheer volume of rock, punk, and metal fans in the U.S. we saw huge opportunity here. The brand’s new owners, Wasted Talent Inc., immediately – and smartly - recognised the value of our digital reach. Our print magazine is and always will be the heart and soul of our brand, but the larger business opportunities for Kerrang! live in the digital space; more specifically, in the U.S. marketplace.”
Finally, what is the specific vision for K! in America?
Ethan Fixell: “We don’t see Kerrang! in the UK and U.S. as two separate entities. Rather, our efforts in America are simply an extension of the UK publication, providing the brand with the ability to create more content for more fans around the globe. In short, by establishing a second home in New York City, we hope to continue to build our American audience, while generating more opportunities for revenue beyond the page.”