Klaxons are the big noise on Mercury awards night

· All eyes on Winehouse but band wins £20,000 prize
· Unexpected result is met with gasps from audience

Usually the chatter at the Mercury Music awards is about the judges' legendary caprice: will they do a "Talvin" and give the £20,000 prize to an unknown outsider, as they did with Talvin Singh in 1999? Or go for the populist vote and hand the gong to the biggest band of the year, as in 2006 and 2004 with Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand?

But this time round there was only one question on everyone's lips: is she here? All eyes were peeled for sightings of Amy Winehouse's tangled beehive and, rather more sinisterly, her blood-encrusted toes. Whether she won or not was incidental.

And in the end it didn't matter. The hell-raising was left to the winners, Klaxons with their album Myths of the Near Future, rather than Winehouse - who turned up, sang Love is a Losing Game from her nominated second album, Back to Black, and sat quietly at a table in the corner with her dad, Mitch, and husband, Blake Fielder-Civil.

Klaxons, a London four-piece, have been going less than two years but rose to notoriety after the NME declared them leaders of the New Rave movement, which mixes indie guitars with the synths and beats of dance music.

They were the hit of the Reading festival at the end of last month, when thousands of glo stick-waving fans crushed into a tent to hear their set instead of watching the supposed main draw, The Smashing Pumpkins. But it's fair to say their victory was unexpected last night. When Jools Holland read out the band's name, a big "ooooooooooh" filled the room.

Klaxons themselves seemed even more bemused. Singer and bass player Jamie Reynolds, his leg in a complicated plaster after an ill-advised stage dive in France six weeks ago, was rubbing his eyes in shock as he hobbled on stage. The other band members - James Righton (vocals, keyboards, bass guitar), Simon Taylor-Davis (guitar, backing vocals), Steffan Halperin (drums, backing vocals) - were literally open-mouthed. Before, that is, the free booze they had drunk kicked in and they muttered something about watching Arctic Monkeys on telly last year and started shouting "wooooooooooh!"

At the press conference afterwards, the band propped each other up to answer a few questions. Never ones to give a straight answer when a straight-faced lie will do, they said they were going to give their prize winnings to research into telepathy, and that their win didn't put an end to their new-rave tag, it merely spurred them on to make "new-new rave".

"I think [the Mercury judges] have rewarded forward thinking music," Reynolds said. Asked about winning over Winehouse, the band grumbled about having to answer questions about her all day. "She is fantastic, but her record is a retro record, and we have made the most forward thinking record since I don't know how long," Reynolds said.

Ladbrokes spokesman Nick Weinberg admitted he hadn't seen the result coming: "The Klaxons win was a shock. All the money had been for Bat For Lashes."

Natasha Khan, aka Bat For Lashes, said she didn't mind missing out. "It was a surprise that Klaxons won, but I think everyone up for the award is brilliant and would have deserved to win."

Not everyone was so diplomatic. Tahita Bulmer, lead singer with nominees the New Young Pony Club, said it was a predictable result. "The Klaxons already have loads of press. They should have given it to someone smaller who needed a boost. At the end of the day, Klaxons are already on the up."


Helen Pidd

The GuardianTramp

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