The Swiss music industry has rolled out the red carpet for the third time to celebrate the best acts of 2009, but for many bands success still means making it abroad.
Growing in stature, the awards have upsized and moved from a small Zurich club to the city’s Schiffbau arts complex – more space for the 200-metre red carpet on which glammed up nominees from the genres of pop, dance, rock and rap posture for the media.
Tuesday’s ceremony, co-hosted by an ex-Miss Switzerland, made nods to international bands, who make up the lion’s share of the Swiss charts. Among those honoured in the national award categories were newcomers Pegasus and old hands, the renowned electro duo Yello, who were presented with the Outstanding Achievement Award.
First held in 2008, the Swiss Music Awards chooses bands that have been shortlisted on the basis of sales and then whittled down by 70 academy members to a final three in each category. For the first time, a critic’s choice Jury Prize has been awarded.
Bänz Friedli has headed the awards jury for the past three years. Since the start of the awards he has campaigned for more diversity in the bands nominated – and for more Swissness.
“It was too much like a red-carpet glamour thing at first. It had to be turned into a more Swiss thing because I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to give the Black Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga another award that they are not even going to pick up because it’s a tiny little country,” he told swissinfo.ch.
“When you do this kind of red carpet event in a little country like Switzerland, you are always somewhere between being self-aware and being ridiculous. You absolutely have to say we have our own scene, our own bands that are typical and exist only in Switzerland because they are singing in their mother tongue. That is why I actually asked them to give us, the jury, a prize of our own.”
Winner of the Jury Prize was Big Zis, a woman who raps in Züridüütsch, the Swiss-German dialect in Zurich. Also nominated were Filewile, an electronic band being played on Canada college radio and mentioned in the Australian media, and pop singer Heidi Happy, who sings in English.
“With the jury prize we have this little opportunity to show where good music comes from,” said Friedli.
“It usually comes from the independent labels, from the scenes, not from the major companies. It gives us the opportunity to say that the Swiss music scene is more than [rappers] Bligg and Stress. I think it also helps the awards – it gives the awards show more credibility.”
For artists like Big Zis who sing in dialect the scope for winning more fans is clearly limited, but a number of acts are trying to make it outside their native Swiss borders.
“Big Zis is incredibly good. If she was born in Brooklyn, she’d be a star,” said Friedli. “You have this new generation though. The Heidi Happys, the Sophie Hungers. This [kind of act] is much more international.”
Lunik are one such band hoping to go global. The double platinum-selling band released a new album in February which entered the Swiss album charts at number one and the group performed live at the Swiss Music Awards. But they will go to being virtual unknowns when they do their first showcase gig in London later this month in a bid to woo the British music industry.
“I am nervous but also quite sure that we can do it,” Lunik frontwoman Jaël told swissinfo.ch backstage at the awards.
“It’s really important for us, we know the Swiss market now. We know all the clubs; we’ve played here several times. So we feel ready to go out there and see new countries and new audiences.”
Breaking out of Switzerland is very hard, she says, as the country does not have the back-up network of people who can help Swiss acts secure good tours and television and radio slots abroad.
“It’s nice in Switzerland but it’s a really small market. If you really want to live from your music and stop being a hobby band, you just have to try to get out.”
Paving the way
“This is the rock and roll business. You try to have success everywhere,” Jean Zuber of Swiss Music Export, an organisation promoting Swiss music mainly in France and Germany, told swissinfo.ch.
“I think for us it will help if somebody – whoever it is – has success outside Switzerland. On the one hand you have mainstream acts like Lunik. They have a chance [to break through] but I don’t know if they will. The Lovebugs tried several times and didn’t really break outside Switzerland. I think for some niche artists like Sophie Hunger it will be easier and more effective.”
Bonaparte, a pop trash electro band, is one such act with a strong hold in their niche market. Celtic metal band Eluveitie also are “really, really strong”, says Zuber.
“And of course you have a phenomenon like DJ Bobo who will always have success. I think in every market there will be Swiss artists trying to make it,” Zuber said.
“I think one artist will help all the others. They will think, ‘ah we have new music in Switzerland’.”
Jessica Dacey in Zurich, swissinfo.ch
Best National Song
Tous les mêmes – Stress featuring Karolyn
Best International Song
Poker Face - Lady Gaga
Best National Pop/Rock Album
Touch Yello - Yello
Best International Pop/Rock Album
Funhouse - P!nk
Best National Urban Album
Like a rocket - Stress
Best International Urban Album
The E.N.D – Black Eyed Peas
Best National Dance Album
2009 – DJ Antoine
Best National Newcomer
Best International Newcomer
Outstanding Achievement Award