Godspeed You! Black Emperor
17th September 2022
Supersonic Festival presented the excellent Godspeed You! Black Emperor in Coventry last weekend. They said ‘Since 1997, the Canadian collective have been pulling at the threads of late capitalism. A quarter of a century later, they continue crafting their cinematic instrumentals to conjure a world on the very brink of apocalypse – a soundtrack for our times. Between searing melodies that ricochet and converge amidst violin and bassline counterpoint, their noise-drenched, widescreen, post-rock sound is an all encompassing live experience. Expect field recordings and semi-improvised passages that frame the fervent epics they forge.’ Fighting Boredom were there, read what we thought below.
I bought the tickets for this show a year and three months ago, it’s been postponed twice due to Covid and the uncertainty around international travel and entertainment that has gripped the world for years now. But finally, we’re standing in the venue twenty minutes from my home and waiting for the music. I suppose I should say something like, it’s been worth the wait, or, they made up for the rescheduling. But to be honest, it’s not like that, it’s good to be here and it’s good that I bought the tickets that long ago, because I don’t think I could have bought them now. Everything costs more except, somewhat predictably, my time. More bills and less money. Sound familiar? Well that’s where I am. Music is now a luxury and it shouldn’t be. If you don’t want popular to the masses music or golden oldies you need to buy it. The radio doesn’t play it. I know there are odd stations but they are on the most part, at least in the UK, digital. My car is old, it’s pretty far from having anything digital, let alone a radio.
Anyway. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, that is why I’m here. There’s a semi circle of monitors onstage, seats and instruments leant against or laid on them. It goes dark, I’m as close as I can be while being able to write, at the side near the barrier. There’s a bass drone that goes on and on. A violinist and double bass player walk on, take their bows and start the music over the drone. It’s an engrossing and low down start. The low subtle sound grows as more people take the stage until there are two bassists, two guitarists and two percussionists joined with the two stringed instruments. The sound rises into a massive orchestration of music, it stays as intense and beautiful as anything I’ve ever heard and just keeps going.
The sound fades like watching a forest as the mist rises, the bass fills the gap and the music grows again gently until it reaches gorgeous almost orchestral heights. The sound fills the venue and people react in different ways, there’s the ones swaying and dancing to the music, the ones staring rapt at the stage as it flows through them, some with closed eyes, and the ones trying to sneak photos and grinning as the massive wave crashes into their souls. The music is enhanced by the film projectors lined up on a pedestal at the back of the hall, the technician goes side to side slotting film into one and starting another. The music has backdrops of colour and light, then rioting and water cannons. It is immense.
The music that they make ranges from tiny and emotional to repetitive devastating gigantic swathes of music. They layer drone, prog, folk and pure feeling up and up until it falls. Only to do it all over again. The backdrop has changed to empty concrete masses, it brings to mind Chernobyl left to rot but I’m not sure, it’s bleak and lost and the music becomes finely focused and very angry. I have written lots in my notebook but in the moment I lost my place and wrote over the same lines two or three times in the dark. It doesn’t matter, the majestic sounds hit you deep inside. This is protest music without words, just the emotions behind it.
They leave the stage and the feedback drone just carries on into the crowd, as the people slowly turn away. I take it back, some things are worth waiting for.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Note – at this point in the review I would normally add a gallery of all the pictures. This time there are very few, here’s a note from the photographer to explain why. Can we both just say that this is in no way a reflection on Supersonic Festival, it follows the wishes of the band.
I knew this was going to be a nightmare. I’ve taken, in my opinion rubbish, pictures of this band before. This time though they (the band) really outdid themselves. The conversation on the door with the promotor was
‘Ten minutes, no flash
Me ‘Fair enough, standard stuff, can I have a pass for the pit?’
Promotor ‘Err, the band have explicitly said no pit access, behind the barrier only.’
Me ‘It’s sold out, how’s that going to work?’
Promotor ‘Yeah, I know, sorry, not our decision’
So, the band starts and there are no lights for ten minutes. Really? The tape looping was great.
All words by Adrian Bloxham and Martin Ward, all pictures by Martin Ward.