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How Godspeed You! Black Emperor's ambiguity evolved from a building block to a selling point 

Banking on a Myth


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If ever a band has deconstructed promotional precedent to its foundation, it's Godspeed You! Black Emperor. While other acts clamor for new listeners and secure media coverage, the members of GY!BE sit back and watch success unfold as an organic phenomenon. Taking grassroots strategies to new extremes, the Canadian octet relies solely on its music and word of mouth for publicity — and with records brandished with post-apocalyptic and anti-government themes, it's safe to label them a mainstream anomaly. It's all part of the elaborate ideology the band silently and cryptically purports. However, somewhere in between the overdubbed war sirens and Torah-inspired liner notes, GY!BE's mystique was no longer perceived as a distinctive quirk but as the definitive foundation of their identity.

GY!BE began as a trio from Montreal, a city known for its extensive post-rock scene. Since Godspeed's inception, their unconventionality was apparent. The release of their 1994 debut, All Lights Fucked on the Hairy Amp Drooling, was limited to a not-so-staggering 33 cassettes. Avoiding the medium that founding member David Bryant considers "the jewel-cased CD monstrosity," the tapes were as quickly sold as they were lost; there are no reported copies aside from what their label, Constellation Records, preserved. Even the original release of F# A# ∞ was limited to 500 vinyl copies with handmade packaging by the band.

Likewise, Godspeed's concerts follow a similar vein. Live shows feature GY!BE seated in an onstage semicircle, funneling all available energy into creating meticulous layers of sound using three guitars, two drum kits and various other instruments. Crowd interaction is nonexistent, and the closest you'll get to an encore is the post-show equipment breakdown. While this gives audiences the uninhibited ability to focus on the looped background video reel and immerse themselves in the interwoven cacophonic crescendo that is GY!BE's music, it's still pretty damn weird.

These self-defeating tactics would be a shot in the proverbial foot for any other band, but they were the building blocks from which GY!BE sharpened their alienating finesse. As popularity grew with each new release, they spent the years prior to their 2003 hiatus continuing this enigmatic flair, displaying anarcho-conspiracy propaganda at shows and occasionally getting apprehended by the authorities as suspected terrorists at Oklahoman gas stations. Luckily for Godspeed, the aforementioned apprehension mishap set media outlets abuzz. Their image (as well as a featured spot in Michael Moore's 2003 Dude, Where's My Country?) was consequently set in stone. The past consistencies made it credible, and the added melodrama made it intriguing.

The seven years between GY!BE's break and re-formation were monumental for the music industry. From the introduction of iTunes, to the Big Five major labels (accused in the liner notes of Yanqui U.X.O. of being tied to weapons manufacturers) shrinking to the Big Four, the newly digitized landscape was a different thing by the time GY!BE reformed. They stepped out of their 2003 time machine mind frame, and fans nervously anticipated how this group of neo-Luddites would respond. Would it be the turning point of their behavioral patterns? Was my Twitter feed about to be blasted by Disinfo articles and headshots of Peter Joseph?

Their 2010 reunion was largely publicized by curating an All Tomorrow's Parties date with a heterogeneous slew of acts ranging from Deerhoof to Weird Al. Combine that with a scattered announcement detailing forthcoming plans and snubbing the Internet as "petty" and "tyrannical," and the members of GY!BE were back as their normal selves. The esoteric and adversarial theatrics that garnered fans in the '90s were still in every element of their career.

When the Scene requested an interview with the band, a label rep responded, "Sorry to say, the band won't be doing any interviews around these dates, nor ever really." No real surprise, but it was refreshing to hear firsthand that GY!BE has their values intact — media machine be damned.



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