Godspeed You! Black Emperor is a Canadian experimental music collective which originated in Montreal, Quebec in 1994. They release its recordings through Constellation, an independent record label also located in Montreal. Film loop projections are an important aspect of the group’s live show, explained by Efrim Menuck as “[putting] the whole into context”.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor was formed in 1994 in Montreal, Quebec, by Efrim Menuck (guitar), Mike Moya (guitar), and Mauro Pezzente (bass), 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. The band initially assembled after being offered a supporting act for another local band named Steak 72. Thereafter, the trio performed live on a few separate occasions, before ultimately deciding to produce an album. The cassette, All Lights Fucked on the Hairy Amp Drooling, was self-released in December 1994 and limited to thirty-three copies.
After the limited release of the cassette, the band quickly expanded and continued to perform live periodically. According to Menuck, joining the group was quite simple: “It was like if anyone knew anybody who played an instrument and seemed like an okay person, they would sort of join up.” In short order, the group’s numbers ebbed and flowed. Local musicians would often join the band for a handful of performances, then depart. The revolving door nature of the group’s membership frequently caused it strain before the release of F♯ A♯ ∞. After that release, the group stabilized around 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. Moya would depart in 1998 to focus on HṚṢṬA, being replaced by Roger Tellier-Craig of Fly Pan Am.
Although various members of the band are often pinned down as anarchists, for a rather long time no one in the band explicitly subscribed to this label; however, as of 2014, Menuck was calling himself an anarchist. In any case, there is a strong political component 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 F♯A♯∞) and “BBF3” (on Slow Riot for New Zerø Kanada).
Members of the group have formed a number of side projects, including Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band, Fly Pan Am, HṚṢṬA, Esmerine, and Set Fire to Flames.
-wikipedia, GSYBE, edited
Images: Ian Cameron, Mathieu Lavoie, Scott Thiessen, Yuani Fragata, Alex Leclerc
Sound: Saaela Abrams, Alex Leclerc, Scott Thiessen, James Parker