When Montreal collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor played their second ever UK show in Edinburgh’s tiny Stills Gallery in November 1998, it was a suitably low-key setting for a fiercely private-minded group who, with the rise of pre-millennial tension, sounded as seriously fin de siecle as they came. Arriving on the back of their opaquely titled 1997 album, ‘F♯A♯∞’, a slow-burning chamber-suite urgently soundtracking the apocalypse, these anarchistically-inclined auteurs presented a darkly complex set of arrangements that applied the epic soundtracks of Ennio Morricone to the string-laden mournfulness of Arvo Part. GYBE suggested the worst even as they yearned for something better.
Even the Stills show captured a pervading sense of collapse when, forty-five minutes in, the venue’s speakers blew. Or the sound was pulled after the upstairs neighbours complained. No-one was sure. Everything seemed doomed, Godspeed included. Within a year, however, GYBE graced the cover of the NME and headlined the second stage of Belle and Sebastian’s holiday camp-set Bowlie Weekender. Godspeed toured with Sigur Ros and appeared at the Mogwai-curated ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ festival. Three more similarly intense records, and then, after 2003, silence.
The world hasn’t ended, but Godspeed now sound like prophets, curating an ATP of their own before playing Barrowlands. So is this prodigal’s return some kind of big bucks sell-out? Or have an underground cell broken cover to say ‘I told you so’ now we’re dancing through dark times once more? Truth is, no-one knows. Now, as then, GYBE aren’t playing ball. There is no press release or images. Nor are they talking to the press. “The internet is a petty tyrannical monster” declared a band-signed communiqué in April. As the final typed-out words on the blurry-black and ambiguous sleeve of ‘F♯A♯∞’ decreed, ‘no efforts to reconcile have been made’. Embrace the fear.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Barrowlands, Glasgow, December 8th
The List, November 2010