Interview in OOR, 13 January 2001, by Menno Visser
godspeed you black emperor!
First rip all the adverts out of this OOR. The Canadian postrock-squatter
collective Godspeeed You Black Emperor! has a real problem with advertising
multinationals. "All of our squatter friends in Holland are going to make fun
of us when they see we're in a glossy magazine. Up until now we've tried to
stay out of that world." Too bad for them, seeing as how the Dutch critics en
masse nominated their compelling, pastoral latest album Levez Vos Skinny
Fists Comme Antennas To Heaven! as one of the best releases of 2000 when it
was time to draw up their lists at the end of last year.
[end of preface]
Big mistake. The well-meaning effort to show the band what OOR is all about
was hardly appreciated. Way too many adverts and a totally lame band (U2) on
the cover. Even the glowing praise in the Elftal highlights feature and their
standing in the Moordlijst top 20 won't change their mind. Well, what to
expect when you consider the fact that they package their album in
environmentally-friendly recycled cardboard that reeks of Anger a mile away.
The guy from the label had warned to tread lightly ...
Let's start with the facts. GYBE! was founded seven years ago by guitarist
Efrim Menuck and bassist Mauro Denzzente (sic). The band name is a
Buraku Empororu, the first and least successful film by Japanese director
Mitsuo Yanagimachi, a vague black and white film about a Japanese scooter
gang. The first Godspeed release, the cassette All Lights Fucked On the Hairy
Drooling Amp, was limited to 33. Somewhat easier to find was the vinyl
release f#a#oo, which the American indie label Kranky released (with several
minor changes) in 1998. Last year saw the release of the mini-album Slow Riot
for New Zero Kanada.
According to the band's philosophy, the music is far more important than the
members of the group. The collective supersedes the individual and the
line-up continually changes. This also means no posed group photos,
preferably no interviews, but in the event of one absolutely no personal
questions are permitted. And including last names is an offence punishable by
death. All intended to minimise the distance between listener and music.
Luckily nowadays there's the internet, and after a bit of searching you find
out that the group currently consists of two guitarists (Efrim Menuck and
Roger Tellier Craig), two drummers (Bruce Caudron and Aidean Girt), two
bassists (Mauro Denzzente and Thierry Amar), a cellist (Norsola Johnson), a
violist (Sophie Trudeau) and tape master David Bryant. Legend has it that the
squatter's collective resides in an abandoned train yard in Montreal's Mile
End district .
Back to reality. Shortly before the last of four sold-out concerts in London
at the old Scala movie theatre, the band agrees to a rare (sic) interview.
Guitarits Efrim, without a doubt the leader of the group, takes drummer Aidan
and two other members he neglects to introduce, but they remain silent the
entire time anyway, to a nearby Ethiopian restaurant. The whole thing seems
like a kidnapping. Outside the club, a long line has formed hours earlier
with people hoping to wrangle a ticket to the sold-out gig. Interesting:
nobody calls out as the band walks past. Then again, nobody knows what they
look like thanks to the moratorium on group photos and the dimly lit
Last night the band gave the audience their money's worth for the third time
in a row with a two-hour long selection from their catalogue of intense,
instrumental post-rock, enhanced by grainy films projected above the stage.
Although they are known for playing the louder passages at ear-splitting
levels, earplugs proved unnecessary. Their music might appeal to the average
fans of Dead Can Dance, Mogwai, early Mercury Rev, today's Radiohead and,
yes, Wagner; that is, if they only knew about it. And while it may look
improvised, one of the band members has scribbled nine copies of the passages
planned for tonight's performance on the same smelly recycled rough
cardboard. Remember, copy machines all too often bear the mark of Xerox, a
-Do you play different sets each night?
-"Yeah" Efrim answers. "A lot of fans come to all four shows, so. But we
usually start and finish with the same numbers. Bla, bla, bla." He makes it
clear that the interview is not officially underway. This is not promising.
In the restaurant, Efrim insists on sitting in the smoking section, and he
doesn't have a problem with ordering a non-vegetarian meal. Speaking of
principles. The question and answer session can begin once the microphone has
been skilfully hidden under a stack of napkins. This is written into their
contract, this can't look like an interview. Efrim takes charge of answering
the questions, with Aidan adding a cynical comment every now and then. The
atmosphere is one of forced relaxation. The band actually has a hidden
agenda: although they agree to an interview, Efrim chooses his words with
painstaking precision to avoid giving any clear answer. Let the cat and mouse
OOR - "How would you describe your music?"
GYBE - "That's not our role, that's what music journalists are supposed to do."
O - "Some might describe it as depressing."
G - "Would that be happy people, who claim our music sounds depressing?"
O - "Have you by any chance heard the latest Radiohead album, Kid A?"
G - "Radiohead is nothing but a bunch of hypocrites and liars. They are crazy
enough to think that everything they say is taken seriously, despite the fact
that they belong to a multinational. You know, it's not that one person
writes all our music. There are nine of us in the band and we're influenced
more by non-musical things in our lives than anything musical. Sometimes
three or four members write the songs, but the material always takes shape
the same way when all of us get together. It's an organic process."
O - "How do you discuss your music?"
G - "Sometimes we have to draw diagrams to indicate which part we mean.
Sometimes it takes five minutes to explain what part we're actually talking
about, but that doesn't matter."
O - "How do you come up with the song titles?"
G - "Roger is good with words, but if someone else has an idea we toss it
O - "During a live performance who is the conductor?"
G - "We have a complex system of cues. It works like a relay race, we
communicate with signals."
O - "How important is the visual element to your shows?"
G - "It's pretty important, of course, because we don't have a singer. The
visuals put the whole into context. But the one who does that, Sophie, isn't
here right now."
O - "You guys seem like a classical orchestra."
G - "What, because we happen to have a violin and a cello? Some of the cues
and harmonic bridges are the same, but we don't play compositions, so we
don't make classical music. It isn't written out, and we use drums. We're a
rock band, you know."
O - "Your music lends itself to film soundtracks."
G - "Yeah, we get lots of requests from lame Hollywood directors like Oliver
Stone asking if they can use some of our old material in their movies, but we
aren't about to say yes to anything like that."
O - "What is your view on remixing?"
G - "Nobody has done that. It depends on who does it. A lot of remixing
happens before actually remixing what rubbish."
O - "Do any of you ever go out to clubs?"
Aidan suddenly responds
G - "Sophie sometimes goes to clubs to film."
Efrim quickly cuts him off.
G - "We are a collective and we speak as a collective and therefore we will
not answer these types of questions!"
In an unparalleled marketing offensive, GYBE makes the media (referred to in
their press releases as the fifth social underclass) buy tickets to the
London shows. Moreover, journalists must report to the box office an hour in
advance or forfeit their tickets to the everyday people. The proceeds from
this -- and it turns out they have a sense of humour after all -- go to The
Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Unit, an organisation striving to combat
illiteracy. "What's the reason behind this striking campaign?"
G - "Because the media always assumes they can get in everywhere for free. I
think that the media, especially here in England, should really do something
about the level of adult illiteracy so people know how to formulate a
sentence and put their ideas on paper. I think that it's a very good cause.
In London alone there are around 100 names on the guest list. I just looked
at all the adverts in the OOR. Magazines make their money from these adverts,
and they can certainly afford to buy concert tickets for their staff. The
advertisers are companies with a lot of money. If we let the media in for
free, then in principal you're giving money to Pepsi and that to me is a
completely ridiculous notion. Nothing personal, man. And these are sold out
shows, we could just as well let 100 fans in. It's bad enough we're in a
glossy mag now."
O - "You don't like interviews, eh? Do you find it difficult?"
G - "Sometimes, but yeah, it's a pretty amusing pastime."
O - "You know, your music sounds pretty damn commercial at times, wouldn't
G - "A-ha, now it gets interesting ... I'm sure there are parts that could
sell American Express credit cards."
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