Godspeed You! Black Emperor

The Canadians magic up a musical tsunami in London.

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For all their good intentions – and there’s an aura of what they used to call ‘right-on’-ness about Canadian post-rock behemoths Godspeed You! Black Emperor – you can’t help thinking that 28 quid for a ticket, which is what they’re going for on the door, is a bit steep. But that’s about the last negative thought to occur tonight.

At 9.05pm, the stage goes dark and the band who eschew ego, as expected, appear without fanfare and just get on with the business of blowing us away with slow-building walls of sound. They start with Hope Drone amid a flurry of chamber-rock noise that morphs seamlessly into a typically GY!BE illbient drone. It sounds at once formless and sculpted, an impressive trick. Most of the musicians are seated to further distance themselves from their posturing, preening peers – there’s no phallocentric deployment of guitars here. Instruments come and go in the mix, just as the band’s members have come and gone over the years. Meanwhile, the barrage of sonics and FX somehow answers the question: how can instrumental music be political? There are no gaps between songs, nothing as banal and reductive as applause, let alone banter and faux bonhomie. If Godspeed create a sense of community, it’s one without the vapid hand-holding and singing along.

They play all four tracks from 2015’s Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress in order. Peasantry Or ‘Light! Inside Of Light!’ is like something from_ The Terror, Flaming Lips_’ cosmic, dark treatise on death and the void, only not quite as easy on the ear. The violin shredding brings to mind Steeleye Span in hell. It’s a bit like watching, helpless, as an obliterating wave comes towards you in slow motion. Asunder, Sweet is hypnotic, tumultuous and intense. There are cheers for Moya, one of the few instances of interaction between artist and audience. The Sad Mafioso approximates the sound of galaxies dying. This is soundtrack music for the end of the world.

To close, they set the controls for the art of the stun, leaving the volume high on the PA as they leave the stage, one by one. When the lights come back on, it’s like being bumped back to reality. Allelujah! Don’t bend! Ascend! indeed.

Paul Lester

Paul Lester is the editor of Record Collector. He began freelancing for Melody Maker in the late 80s, and was later made Features Editor. He was a member of the team that launched Uncut Magazine, where he became Deputy Editor. In 2006 he went freelance again and has written for The Guardian, The Times, the Sunday Times, the Telegraph, Classic Rock, Q and the Jewish Chronicle. He has also written books on Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Bjork, The Verve, Gang Of Four, Wire, Lady Gaga, Robbie Williams, the Spice Girls, and Pink.