'Godspeed' - The loud non-voice of the left

'Godspeed' - The loud non-voice of the left

The news can be scary, very scary indeed, anyone with a TV knows this, anyone without a TV knows this.

We live in an age were the main purpose of mainstream media seems to be to scare us. Mostly it works. As the famous line goes: "We live in a world with more and more information and less meaning", this quote from the post-modern theorist Frederick Jameson will make sense to anyone who has been alive, kicking and screaming, in the last thirty years or so.

Ours is a globalised, interlinked world, one in which we are all continuously interconnected, bad news - and that's the only news that counts - spreads fast, it seems more difficult to keep up to date with all the bad newsiness of it all than anything else.

This is the age of 24 hour news, of Pat Hickey in the nip, of idiot footballers tweeting bigotry, of high speed broadband, of Wikileaks, Snowden, WMD's (or not), on line bullies, ISIS, Trumps tiny hands and Hilary Clinton's private email account. We know all yet we know nothing. Donald Trump could be president of the US newspapers scream, conspiracy theories abound and we don't know who we can trust. Scary times indeed.

Thoughts like above were swirling through my head last weekend when I attended a concert by the awe inspiring post rock band Godspeed You! Black Emperor, in Vicar Street in Dublin. Godspeed (as their fans tend to call them) are the poet laureates of the left and they have been doing a great job over the past near twenty years of sound tracking this bad news all day every day world, and while they cannot soothe the pain or make it go away, their music always promotes one salient notion, one we all need to survive: hope.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor was formed in 1994 in Montreal, Quebec, by Efrim Menuck (guitar), Mike Moya(guitar), and Mauro Pezzente, taking 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.

They belong to a genre of music which is termed post - rock, a catch -all phrase but one that does belie the essence of the music, this is what happened after rock, after the verse-chorus-verse structure became stale and old, mostly discarding vocals, with long meandering tracks, which build and explode before retreating and then building once more. A bit like Beethoven crossed with Big Black.

As the years passed the group's numbers have ebbed and flowed. Musicians would often join the band for a few performances, then depart.

This revolving door approach to the group's membership frequently caused it tension before the release of their first record F♯ A♯ ∞. After this the group settled on a nine-person lineup with Menuck, Moya and David Bryant on guitars, Pezzente and Thierry Amar on bass guitars, Aidan Girt and Bruce Cawdron on drums, and Sophie Trudeau and Norsola Johnson on violin and cello respectively. Like the Dirty Three on steroids.

As mentioned there is a strong political element 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. Several of its songs also incorporate voice samples which express political sentiments, most notably "The Dead Flag Blues" (on their first LP F♯A♯∞) and "BBF3" (on Slow Riot for New Zerø Kanada EP).

Apart from the power of their music, with the ethos of punk running through all their work, it is this political element which makes them such a popular, cult band. Last year the band was awarded the Polaris Music prise, the Canadian equivalent of the Mercury Music Prize in Engerland or the Meteor Choice award here, on accepting the award the band members felt compelled to criticise the (as they saw it) waste of money on the lavish event when so many people are suffering due to austerity politics.

Indeed it is increasingly rare that musicians of any stripe would actually even bother talking about politics and it's somewhat apt that probably one of the most political of bands don't have a vocalist at all.

Throughout the gig the band play out their movements in front of huge screens onto which is projected 16mm footage shot by a full time member of the band whose sole job is to create these stark, lonely images of half finished tower blocks, empty snow covered landscapes and crowds protesting against the endless wars of our age.

As the two hour set begins to come to a close and the band fire into their early work, we hear some of the audio samples mentioned above, a clearly very agitated man discussing his attitude to the United States, he says things like: "America is a third world country and I think it's pretty damn sad that most people don't realise that their own country is a third world, third rate, third class dump!" He is asked to recite a poem, he claims he has written, but is in fact an old Iron Maiden lyric.

As the music, images and the man's demented ramblings converge and reach further and further crescendos, my mind is brought to Syria, Palestine, perpetual war for perpetual peace, the war on terror, (which as Gore Vidal once said is a meaningless phrase, it is like, he used to say, like declaring a war on dandruff) and the upcoming US election.

Every generation, as Wilco once said: Thinks it's the worst, thinks its the end of the world, but the hope I find in the wonderful music of Godspeed is in the reminder that the world in fact has always been this way and in many ways its always been worse.

As I stand at the back of the room, letting the sonic assault crash over me, I am thankful that this band exists and I'm not afraid any more or at least not as afraid.

Godspeed You! Black Emperors LP, Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress is available to buy now on Constellation Records and comes highly recommended.