Godspeed You! Black Emperor hold a monolithic status over post-genre bands and musicians – enthralled to the noise, no-wave and post-hardcore scenes that sprung up around bands like Sonic Youth and Fugazi. What adds to their mystique is their entirely instrumental albums and shows: maelstroms of cacophony, which descend into melancholic, introverted passages – making them a choice band for students of the humanities.
Seeing Godspeed You! live is a rite of passage for those who want to prove their “punk” (underground, subversive) credentials, although their presence as godfathers to the post-rock scene calls that into question. The Brighton Dome, where Godspeed play tonight, is fitted with impressive acoustics which allow no one instrument priority over the other, offering GY!BE the fidelity a band of their musical complexity requires.
For those expecting the classics of East Hastings, Static or Sleep or rocket falls on Rocket Falls, the band have moved on to read the cheese-laden emotional pulls of their earlier albums and rightly so. Whereas their early material sounding like the yearning of an American prosperity lost, their new material is more reminiscent of the experimentation of bands like Can or This Heat – capturing the struggle of living on the fringes of American society.
Initially, Godspeed break into ‘Mladic’, an apt introduction to their new material, as it opens their first album since they reunited, Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!. Having seen GY!BE on their initial reunion tour, before they had recorded any new material and relied on the sentimentality of their earlier albums to captivate their audience, the improvement since 2010 is considerable.
Opening with ‘Mladic’, and then divulging into a set almost entirely from Luciferian Towers, GY!BE show how far they have developed their unique take on post-hardcore since they broke up in 2003. Rather than a band playing by numbers, it’s impossible to tell which segments are improvisations or teasing melodies from more recognisable songs from their back catalogue. The end result was two hours of revelation and epiphany, akin to the narrative of a film.
Back in 2010 GY!BE could have been a soundtrack for the decline of the American dream and affective repression, the loss of self-determination by a decentralised state. In 2017, they return triumphant, and better musicians as a result. At times the maelstrom they conjure is so intense that it would break into a squall of noise, before another uplifting segment would, once again, overwhelm. For two hours, ‘Godspeed move between tension and catharsis, something familiar to the majority living in the Anglo-American world as we bide our time between a proto-fascist President and the implosion of the Tories (ed. can’t wait lol).
As our interview with Robert R Williams emphasised, there’s a lack of hope and compassion in public discourse, it seems like GY!BE have picked up on this too and placed it center stage to their live show. If GY!BE started as a punk band, it might be worth remembering that the next time you listen to them as other artists pander to the corporatisation of independent music.
Words: Joe-Julian Naitsri