Even The Designer Of The ARIA Trophy Isn’t Sure Why It’s So Dangerously Pointy
"I have always been worried about it, to be honest."
More than any one winner or moment at the ARIAs, it’s the awards themselves — as in the pyramid-shaped trophies — that cause most contention. Made of 1.75kgs of metal, they could bludgeon a beast, sure, but it’s their fuck-off sharp corners that really add alarm.
Earlier this month, Double J’s Zan Rowe took to Twitter to ask the question at the back of many minds: has anyone been injured in an ARIA trophy mishap?
As stories of near-misses (and one manager’s punctured foot) rolled in from the likes of Montaigne and Phil Jamieson, it became clear that we’re burdening our brightest musicians with deathtraps-in-waiting. Unless you’re Sia — then you gleefully tell the media you’re going to stick it up your bum.
Even with Australia’s proclivity towards things that can kill us (fauna, flora, our government’s refusal to act on climate change), the ARIA trophy really sticks out, gaudily threatening for no reason. Ever since Rowe’s tweet, we’ve been persistently prodded by a question: why are they so goddamn pointy?
Unable to move on, we went straight to the source: Mark Denning, trophy designer and man of answers.
Denning is a man of many talents: over the past 30 years, he’s designed an eclectic mixture of things, from inventing those DVDs that loop footage of fireplaces to being the brains behind the surf-sport brand Wahu. Add the ARIA trophy into the mix, and you’ve got a zig-zag of a CV: over the phone from his Sydney office, Denning explained to Music Junkee how it came about.
The ARIA awards first launched in 1987 as an industry-only event — until 1993, it wouldn’t be televised. For that first year, Warner Music designer Philip Mortlock whipped up a trophy design resembling a vinyl with the top right corner cut out to say ‘ARIA’. Not quite happy with this trophy, ARIA (which stands for Australian Record Industry Association, if you’ve forgotten) held a design competition, with each of the six major labels on the ARIA board nominating a trophy mock-up.
“[Virgin] asked me to come up with their one, so they could submit it to the ARIA board members,” he said. “I started playing around with shapes with some silver cardboard and this one seemed to work out…The ARIA’s actual logo then proceeded to become this pointy sort of shape, so it all sort of tied in together.”
“They make a good ice pick if you’re ever defrosting a refrigerator. I actually destroyed my refrigerator because I hit the gas stick. “
Since 1990, they’ve stuck with Denning’s design, though he’s just as confused as we are about the execution.
“They submitted it and that was pretty much the last I saw of it until it was made,” he said.
“They didn’t consult me at all after it was designed. They pretty much took my piece of silver cardboard and made a mould out of it… It was never my intention to have such a heavy award. If I had been in charge of it at that stage, I would have made it out of a light alloy and would’ve probably had more slightly rounded corners.”
“But they make a good ice pick if you’re ever defrosting a refrigerator. I actually destroyed [my] refrigerator because I hit the gas stick. ‘My ARIA killed my refrigerator’. There’s a headline.”
The Butler Did It, With The ARIA Trophy, On The Yacht
Denning jokes, but admits he does get a little nervous around ARIAs time.
“I have always been worried about it, to be honest,” he said. “I have imagined some major incident happening with the ARIAs award, where someone would hold one up or would be a bit off balance and they would hurt themselves. Thank God nothing like that has ever happened.”
Or so he thought. I let him know about Northlane manager Julian Marshall’s 2016 trip to the hospital, after he tried to move the band’s awards and one slipped, piercing his foot. He takes it well (“Oh really?”). It’s not great, but it’s not as a bad as it could be.
It’s certainly a prime weapon though, even if it does sound like a Clue joke in-waiting. Which it literally was: back in 2010, Denning gave the ABC permission to use the award as a weapon in Sleuth 101, a short-lived improvisational ‘whodunit’ show from 2010. In episode two, an ageing rockstar was stabbed in his recording studio with his own award, and Frank Woodley (who else?) had to piece together the clues.
While that hasn’t happened in real life (yet), the trophy probably shares one more thing in common with murder weapons: according to Denning, there’s a heap of them at the bottom of Sydney Harbour.
“In the early days, after [the awards], they’d go on one of these boat cruises to celebrate. Quite a few [trophies] have fallen into the harbour. And they have to send down scuba divers looking for them… I imagine it would be quite hard to find them cause there’s a lot sediment at the bottom of the harbour and it’s so heavy that it would just find its way down.”
If the police were to find a bloody ARIA, they’d probably find the culprit — the prime finish means fingerprints pretty much cover them. The police might come to Denning too, since his name is on the award, like a calling card.
“As part of payment they were going to put a signet on the bottom to say it was designed by me,” he said. “[But] they decided on a big cheap sticker. When most of the artists hold it up, they hold it with the base to the cameras — and there I am.”
Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee, and can’t stop thinking about that pyramid-impalement scene in Hot Fuzz. Follow him on Twitter.