Godspeed You! Black Emperor
KeplerEdit this event
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Indie. Now that’s an interesting word. It brings up all sorts of connotations both irreverent and acutely political. As any Sonic Youth fan will tell you, it means ‘fuck the mainstream and do it yourself’ or any other meaningless soundbite derived from the plethora of media that deals with minority cultures. Now I know next to nothing about the machinery of independent rock, nor do I want to. I just utterly despise the seemingly unavoidable implications of elitism that arise from claiming to be an ‘Indie’ fan (in its original sense) and I cringe at the sheer volume of labels and phrases that people use to talk about something they apparently love. I can’t help but partly drag myself into this abyss every time I talk about or even listen to music and yet somewhere along the line some people have got it right.
These people are Godspeed You Black Emperor! and the many other pillars of the Canadian 'post-rock' scene (the abyss is calling me!). In a 10-track Constellation sampler there is something approaching a manifesto in the inlay card that is littered with brilliantly barbed sentences about ‘hipper-than-now taste-makers’ who coined the phrase ‘post-rock’ and conclude that ‘independent rock as utopic analogue for social organisation is our mandate’. I would have scoffed at such a lofty and hopelessly idealistic statement if it weren’t for the fact that Godspeed and their ilk make such brilliant and truthful music. Many very average bands and labels that masquerade as ‘Indie’ have spouted equally big words but few can really mean them more than these enigmatic Canadians.
Tonight, the Emperors have brought some companions from their homeland called Kepler. I couldn’t help but smile when some confused faces at the front observed that these guys have microphones! Yes, they sing. And rather nicely too. Understandably lacking much of the epic facade of the headliners, they usually manage to turn this to their advantage. It’s all a rather pastoral affair much in the vein of Low with crooning harmonies and twangy country guitars. They don’t so much as perform to you but charm you into their slightly spooky lovelorn world and it occasionally looks like quite a nice place to stay and chat about broken hearts and stolen glimpses from women across the street but all along I feel there’s something lacking. All too infrequently we get a bit of drama, a bit of excitement, something that makes everyone forget where they are and wonder ‘what the fuck was that?’. The nerves fade and things improve as the set grows but ultimately I’m already dreaming about ‘the flags all dead at the top of their poles...’.
I can’t deny it. There is such an air of expectation in the hall that builds and builds as a roadie-less Godspeed set about plugging in guitars and dragging huge drums across the stage. Eventually, the band settle and we are occasionally treated to little fragments of vaguely familiar haunting melodies. And then it starts. It’s a new ‘song’ but it bears all the usual hallmarks. The slow build from near silence, the droning cello and violin creeping in and out, tangling and untangling with the melody, the meditative, mesmerising middle section and the coda that decomposes and finally fizzes into the ether. All the while, a stark, scratchy ‘hope’ flickers and dances on the big screen behind the band. It’s so close to parody but you really get the feeling the band mean it and that the joke’s on all those ‘taste-makers’ and jaded politicians that Godspeed abhor. The NME were quick to latch on to the band’s ‘apocalyptic’ ramblings and turn it into some Hammer Horror-esque circus but sitting in this intimate and reverberant hall with the band shrouded in purple light there could have been few people tonight who didn’t feel that they had just witnessed a devastatingly committed and convincing performance. Towards the end we hear George W. Bush’s landmark speech about ‘the axis of evil’ eerily cut up and spliced with random applause. It’s at this moment I realise that we need Godspeed more than ever.
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