Since originating sporadically in Montreal in 1994, Godspeed You! Black Emperor have been an elusive bunch. Often regarded as a key influence and pioneers of the experimental post-rock and dark ambient genres, the Canadian collective raised a lot of eyebrows due to their surprise reunion in 2010, following after a 7 year absence. Since then, the group have released 3 full length records, with their latest offering; Luciferian Towers, being released during September of this year. In support of this masterclass of experimental drone laced post rock, the group have endeavoured on a 3 date UK tour, stopping off at Bristol’s Motion.
To be blunt, tonight’s openers, Bardo Pond (6.5), seem to be suffering from a bit of an interpersonal personality crisis. Whilst presenting themselves as a withdrawn, introspective post-rock act, their main forte is wavey space oriented acid rock, with a slight hint of such typical post-rock ambiences. Initially, their performance feels lacklustre and certainly a bit of a contrast to the symphonies of Godspeed. There’s an active focus on blues orientated acid rock, but a focus that lacks inventiveness, substance or drive. Despite the shimmering walls of distorted static and wavering, conventional vocals of front woman Isobel Sollenberger, there’s a minimal amount of presence or distinctive atmospherics conjured, and in all, it feels a bit lack a flat mess of creative contrasts and mixed sonic ideologies.
Yet, as their set progresses, a degree of transparent metamorphism takes place. In time, the arrogant, loose acidic walls of static begin to maintain a level of individuality and illustriousness. The aforementioned focus on corrosive space rock remains, but levels of compliance to droning post rock factors come into play. In turn, the loose and uninspiring shoegaze becomes more consuming and mentally absorbing and the contrast with the conventional vocals makes for a fantastic and engaging sonic bombardment on the senses.
Frontwoman Sollenberger truly presents herself to be the spine and musical foundation of the act, her early acid rock inspired vocals, dancing and persona adding a more human feel to a genre normally reserved as quite stoic and emotionally withdrawn. Yes, some of the more blues oriented tracks feel out of place, but when the group slowly burn into their element, it’s a magnificent spectacle. Whilst the bulk of their set feels a bit hit and miss, their final track, a slow burning, all consuming emotive monolithic piece incorporating wind arrangements is a jubilant piece that shows that acid blues rock and droning post rock and co-exist and intermingle when structured correctly.
In true vein to the workings of Godspeed You! Black Emperor (8), whilst this tour saw very little promotion in external media, Motion is absolutely packed out, primarily due to news of the touring spreading via word of mouth and social media. Immediately, as the house lights darken to signify the start of the set, it becomes transparent this isn’t going to be an conventional gig. There’s no extended applause or rabid cheering, just a cold, anxious and apprehensive atmosphere as all 9 solemnly touch stage; an immediate reminder and confirmation of the foreboding, impending yet unique persona of the act. And such, the set begins with a 10 minute introductory piece lovingly dubbed by fans as the ‘Hope Drone’, and after a few minutes, it’s easy to see why it’s earned the moniker. Bleak, intense and convulsing canyons of droning reverb and static fill the venue, with a looped protectionary animation of the word ‘hope’ illuminate the collective. It’s dismal, bleak, dreadful but consuming and mesmerizing, and rightly so, the perfect introduction to this legendary post-rock act.
During this sonic welcome, it quickly dawns on you what an odd, yet weirdly complimentary choice of venue this is taking place in. For those uninitiated, Motion is often regarded as the primal, almost ancestry home of the art of the rave. An ex-warehouse re-purposed as a holy chapel of EDM and uninhibited narcotic consumption. But yet, as the drone slowly evolves into the titanic post-rock monolith that is Godspeed’s ‘Bosses Hang’, the industrial physical aesthetics housed here only add volumes to the atmosphere built. The aforementioned track truly presents the band at their finest; sweeping, granulating, expanding sonic patterns vibrate into your very being, providing an almost otherworldly sense of apocalyptic dread that climaxes into a triumphant achievement of contemporary music.
As the group further delve further into the movements present on their recent LP, the set continuously blossoms into a chaotic, extrasensory but cathartic affair that surpasses the conventional boundaries of live music. No way does this constitute as a traditional enjoyable music; it’s more of a spectacle or an experience than a mundane gig, but one that is truly engrossing and enthralling. As the act close with their 1999 movement ‘BBF3’, a track that spans over 20 minutes live, they succeed in presenting an experience that see’s the definition of music pushed to its absolute limits. It’s a set that’s pure unparalleled intensity, and one perfectly presents what Godspeed You! Black Emperor are, and will always will be.