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Godspeed You! Black Emperor – O2 Brixton Academy, London 21/11/13

December 8, 2013

“..twerking rainbows and MDMA-stuffed lollipops.”

godspeed you brixton

For many Godspeed You! Black Emperor fans of a certain age, tonight is a night they never though they’d experience. Well it’s certainly not something I had ever envisaged happening – only discovering them after their 2003 hiatus, or assumed split.

In the mid-to-late nineties everything was just peachy in the Western world we were told. The Berlin-wall had come down, there was no natural enemy for the media to bombard us with. The free market was seemingly blossoming and hunky dory, we all had a McDonalds to feed us, stock markets ascending to unparalleled heights. Our post-rock chthonic heroes GSY!BE could see through this diaphanous facade, into the “belly of the beast” and the damage that a grotesque form of capitalism was starting to manifest into our society – even before it was, well, ‘cool’ to do so.

So Godspeed’s emergence to the world in 2011 seemed terribly fitting given how many eyes have been opened to this sight of the beast devouring itself, the 1% happy to continue their egregious ways, with a new and improved formula for a clearly-defined post-9/11 enemy cast.

Even prior to a single noise at O2 Brixton Academy tonight the weight of all this knowledge is present. Initially it’s not noticeable that they had actually started; the stage is enveloped in darkness as a soft subtle drone grows – it’s 5/10 minutes before a good portion of the crowd start paying attention to the opener ‘Hope Drone’. No announcements, no fanfare, just a slow-burning creeping vibe that the atmosphere around me here is changing. The various members are bumbling around non-descriptively on stage like roadies would, tweaking equipment, eyes down, before eventually settling to a three guitarists, two drummers, two bassists set-up. Our opening number transforms into ‘Mladic’ – their gargantuan opener to comeback album ’Alleluiah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! from last year though the track itself has been around as a live entity since the early 00’s.

“We were proud and shy motherfuckers, and we engaged with the world thusly”

While the visuals from Godspeed themselves is non-existent, what we do have is a huge screen with projected super 8mm videos, each track having a certain theme or feel; during ‘Mladic’ two separate reels are screened adjacent to each other, one with an industrial train journey often with typed pages overlaid, and the other one scenes of protest, war, death. You weren’t expecting twerking rainbows and MDMA-stuffed lollipops were you?

Anyway that’s Godspeed all over. They’re of course political, but not in the crude and explicit sense of ‘protest’ bands joining the cause for Love Music Hate Racism, or whatever, screaming couplets about how bad ‘the man’ is. It’s more by implication. It’s Gang of Four, it’s not The Clash. Rather than directly state their party line, it’s a series of clues and a bigger picture aesthetic – these visuals a core part of their process. Symbols, visuals, absorbing information, cloak facade – these articulate more than lyrics. And it always have been with them for example via their artwork.

A track that’s new to my ears begins after ‘Moya’, and doesn’t reach it’s brain shattering conclusion until 45 minutes later – a track that is aptly titled ‘Behemoth’ and has been played at live shows since 2012 as acolyte fans will be aware. It’s something that would fit on to ’Alleluiah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! – featuring those middle-eastern tinged sounds that characterise the album, before building into a drone and devastating crescendo like only Godspeed can in a jubilant, capricious frenzy. Fifth and final number is ‘The Sad Mafioso’ (from East Hastings) aka the 28 Days Later one, and it’s rewarding to end on something you could describe as a ‘hit’.

As compelling as the night is, I get a sense that a lot of the soundscape is a similar kind of bandwidth – yeah it’s wholly hypnotising, utterly powerful and a total joy at their peaks, but over the two hours I find my mind wandering somewhat and get the sense ‘we’ve been here’. This is very much nit-picking, and is part down to my own expectations of this being the best show ever due to the build-up of a decade’s worth of promise. As it is, it’s just an excellent show.

An average listening experience to Godspeed is one of utter introspection – headphones on, lights darkened in a room on your own, possibly mildly under the influence of some kind of substance. I’d be surprised if it was on anyones erection selection playlist put it the way. So to experience this solitude, but surrounded by thousands of people like at O2 Brixton Academy is a seriously compelling phenomenon; I find myself totally in my own world, absorbed in the drone and monumental riffs and cataclysmic drums, only to occasionally suddenly snap out of this world and feel the presence of all around me. Who are mostly in the exact same mind state. It’s beautiful, it’s shared – but still very much a private experience.

With thanks to O2 Academy – check out O2 Academy TV

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