Godspeed You! Black Emperor (formerly punctuated Godspeed You Black Emperor! and commonly abbreviated to GYBE) are a Canadian post-rock band which originated from Montreal, Quebec in 1994. They were the first outside act to publish their recordings through Constellation, an influential independent record label also located in Montreal.
The band is perhaps best known for their lengthy instrumental songs and large membership. Comprised of nine semi-permanent members, they create prolonged tracks which utilize short movements, wide volume changes, and numerous recorded and sampled sounds. Studio albums typically contain no more than five songs, and often omit the band's name and track titles from the cover and artwork.
After the publication of their debut album in 1997, the group toured regularly from 1998 to 2002. In 2003, the band announced an indefinite hiatus in order for band members to pursue other musical interests. A misquoted interview in February 2008 reported the band had broken up, but this was later confirmed as false. Currently, the group has no foreseeable plans to reconvene.
The band took its name from God Speed You! Black Emperor, a 1976 Japanese black-and-white documentary by director Mitsuo Yanagimachi, which follows the exploits of a Japanese biker gang, the Black Emperors. The band is most commonly classified as post-rock, but they exhibit influences from a range of styles including progressive rock, punk, classical music and avant-garde. Each record consists of a few fairly long tracks (mostly between 15 and 25 minutes, but some as long as 29 minutes and some as short as 6), divided into "movements" which are sometimes specified in the record sleeve.
Efrim Menuck, Mike Moya and Mauro Pezzente formed the band around 1994 but its lineup has changed frequently. The band has had as many as twenty members at one time, but has tended to settle down to a group of nine. The instruments played vary with the lineup, but the music tends to be based around electric and bass guitars, strings and a percussion section. Other instruments such as the glockenspiel and the French horn make more occasional appearances. The music on some of their records is accompanied by spoken samples recorded by the band across North America, including an apocalyptic street preacher from Providence, Rhode Island, an announcement at a gas station, a group of children talking and singing in French, as well as many recordings taken off shortwave radio.
The band members have in the past been reluctant to give interviews, and have expressed their distaste for the mainstream, corporation-owned music industry. This has given them a reputation as shadowy, even unfriendly figures, and not a great deal is known about them personally. They did, however, become considerably more widely known after appearing on the cover of British music magazine the NME in 1999.
The member who interacts with the press the most is Efrim Menuck, and for this reason he is sometimes presented as a front-man. However, he has strongly repudiated this label. In an interview conducted by Insound, Efrim and former band member Roger-Tellier Craig have a strong showing of their political views on corporate media.
Although various members of the band are often pinned down as anarchists, no one in the band has explicitly subscribed to this label; however, there is a strong political component to the band's music. For example, the liner notes to Yanqui U.X.O. describe the song "09-15-00" as "Ariel Sharon surrounded by 1,000 Israeli soldiers marching on al-Haram Ash-Sharif & provoking another Intifada," and the back cover of that album depicts the relationships of several major record labels to the military-industrial complex (image can be found at Constellation Records). Several of their songs also incorporate voice samples which express political sentiments, most notably "The Dead Flag Blues" (on F?A??) and "BBF3" (on Slow Riot for New Zerø Kanada).
Members of the group have formed a number of side projects, including Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band, Fly Pan Am, H???A, and Set Fire to Flames.
The band released the CD versions of its first two albums on the Kranky record label, and released the LPs through Constellation Records. The LP and the CD of Yanqui U.X.O. were produced by Constellation after their contract with Kranky ran out.
In 2004, long-time guitarist Roger-Tellier Craig left the band on amicable terms to devote more time to Fly Pan Am.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor announced an indefinite hiatus in mid-2003, and have no plans to reconvene in the immediate future.
The group was once misconstrued as being a band of terrorists. After stopping at a local gas station for fuel in the town of Ardmore, Oklahoma, during their 2003 tour of the United States, the station attendant working that day believed the group of Canadians to be terrorists. She quickly passed a note to another customer also getting fuel to call the police. When the local police appeared, the group was held until they could be questioned by the FBI. Although the police were suspicious of the band's anti-government documents and some photos they had (such as those of oil rigs), they found no incriminating evidence. After background checks were run, the ensemble was released from custody and continued on their way to their next show in St. Louis, Missouri. Efrim Menuck later spoke to the crowd about what happened to them during their appearance in Missouri and speculated that their race was a motive for being released quickly ("It's a good thing we're nice white kids from Canada"), hinting at racism in the police force. The incident was mentioned in Michael Moore's book, Dude, Where's My Country?.
The group is known for their film loops, which they project behind them during performances. Efrim Menuck has explained that these loops, which are commonly produced by violinist Sophie Trudeau, are an important aspect of their concerts, because they "put the whole into context".
Because the band is taper-friendly – that is, they allow audience members to record their live performances – fans often release new material before the band makes an official recording. Examples of this include the songs "Albanian" and "Gamelan", which are thus far unreleased.
Music in film and television
The band contributed the song "East Hastings" from their first album F?A?? to the UK film 28 Days Later, though the song was heavily edited; this was an unusual step for the ensemble. However, the track is excluded from the CD soundtrack, due to group ethics.
Samples of songs from F?A?? were looped extensively in the soundtrack of the Flash-animated film series Broken Saints, and much of the dialogue is taken from the spoken word portions, some directly, and some slightly altered.
In 2005, the band allowed songs from Yanqui U.X.O. to be used in the documentary film Bombhunters, stating that while they didn't normally allow their music to be used in films, they could align with the social nature of the film.
A segment of the track "Providence" was used to promote the BBC drama series Superstorm, which aired in April 2007.
The band is also referenced in the movie Pineapple Express when protagonist Dale Denton (Seth Rogen) tells his girlfriend Angie (Amber Heard) he is afraid she will go to college and "start listening to Godspeed You! Black Emperor and The Shins and become a lesbian". Screenwriter Evan Goldberg has said that this reference was because "Jay Baruchel is from Montreal and loves Godspeed, so we did it to poke at Jay. But I like Godspeed, Godspeed's good."
A segment of the track "9-15-00" is used in Top Gear, during a review of the Tesla Roadster.
- Efrim Menuck – guitar, keyboards
- Thierry Amar – bass
- Mauro Pezzente – bass
- Aidan Girt – percussion
- Bruce Cawdron – percussion
- David Bryant – guitar, tapes
- Norsola Johnson – cello
- Sophie Trudeau – violin, film production
- Mike Moya – guitar
- Roger-Tellier Craig – guitar
- Thea Pratt – horn
- James Chau – keyboards, harpsichord, guitar
- Gregory Borys – bass guitar
- James Daytron – guitar
- John Littlefair – film projections
- Grayson Walker – keyboards
- Studio albums
- 1994 All Lights Fucked on the Hairy Amp Drooling (cassette limited to 33 copies)
- 1997 F?A?? (LP, initially in an edition of five hundred copies, numbered, with various inserts including a train-flattened penny, then in 1998 on CD, with different recordings/arrangements to the LP)
- 2000 Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven (also known as Levez Vos Skinny Fists Comme Antennas to Heaven)
- 2002 Yanqui U.X.O.
- 1998 aMAZEzine! 7", (contributed track "Sunshine + Gasoline")
- 2004 Song of the Silent Land, (contributed track "Outro")
- Efrim Menuck, Thierry Amar, and Sophie Trudeau
- Efrim Menuck and Thierry Amar
- Vic Chesnutt (production & playing on North Star Deserter)
- Hannah Marcus (performers on Desert Farmers, tracks 2–5, 8, 9; Efrim – vocals on track 2)
- Efrim Menuck
- Hangedup (recording and mixing)
- Lesbians on Ecstasy (recording and mixing on We Know You Know)
- Simon Finn (recording on Magic Moments)
- Aidan Girt, Bruce Cawdron, David Bryant, Mike Moya, Roger Tellier-Craig, Sophie Trudeau, and Thea Pratt
- Mike Moya, Norsola & Thierry Amar
- Aidan Girt
- 1-Speed Bike (aka Bottleskup Flenkenkenmike)
- Bottleskup Flenkenkenmike
- Bakunin's Bum
- The Trapt
- Please Don't Put Charles on the Money
- Bruce Cawdron
- Thierry Amar
- Roger Tellier-Craig
- Roger Tellier-Craig & Sophie Trudeau
- Mike Moya & Sophie Trudeau
- Mike Moya
- Sophie Trudeau
- Mauro Pezzente
- David Bryant
- Norsola Johnson
- Various members
- Evangelista - Hello, Voyager (Efrim Menuck – recording, mixing, guitar, voice; David Payant – drums; Sophie Trudeau – violin, Thierry Amar – double bass)
- Brainwashed.com — The official Godspeed You! Black Emperor website
- Constellation Records' Godspeed You! Black Emperor website
- Godspeed You! Black Emperor at Last.fm
- Godspeed You! Black Emperor shows at the Internet Archive (FLAC)
- Observer (UK) newspaper article
- The Daily Ardmoreite article about the 2003
- Godspeed You Black Emperor! and the Politics of Chaos — An essay by Brad Weslake from the zine Neo-Industrial Opera
- IMDB entry for the GodSpeed! You Black Emperor documentary
Biography from Wikipedia