A black train full of black violins, bearing down on you at impossible speed, threatening to crush you and threatening to crush you until all you want is to be crushed.

If they play your town, you should go. Maybe you won't like it at all. Or maybe, you will wake up the next morning and find that you have changed your mind, about everything.

The band themselves tour with up to eight members, acts a sort of musical collective, with no discernible spokesperson or real 'leader'. They rarely do interviews, never release press photos & shun all attempts at marketing or pop critic interpretation, actually going so far as to write letters to the music press around Montreal to beg/threaten/cajole the writers to stop mentioning them. They did, however, include train flattened pennies in the first 500 LP's sold.

The name of the band is taken from Mitsuo Yanagimachi's first film, Buraku Empororu (1975), a documentary shot on grainy B&W 16mm film stock which follows a Tokyo motorcycle gang. The piece has no narration, no script & no commentary (the technical production's so bad & lighting is so dim, that quite often the camera mechanism is all you hear & the movement on screen is impossible to follow).

f# a# ∞# (interpreted alternatively as "F-sharp A-sharp Infinity", or "Fuck All Eternity", both of which seem to fit the band ethos) was godspeed's first official LP, released on Kranky records on CD in the summer of '98 - the CD feature three songs, or movements, 1. Dead Flag Blues --- "the sun has fallen down / and the billboards are all leering / and the flags are all dead at the top of their poles" ---16m28s ; 2. East Hastings -17m59s-named after a notoriously bleak & drug-addled area of East Vancouver ; 3. Providence-as in Rhode Island, where the group recorded the apocalyptic street preacher featured on the 29m track.1

Seeing Godspeed in concert (with Low & Labradford) in September 1999 at Montreal's Olympia Opera House made all this cinematic inspiration eminently clear, as members of the band are also 16mm film enthusiasts. Looped reels of shadowy footage, winter street scenes, scratched negatives were projected from the balcony on to a screen above the band as they literally huddled & hunched in performance. Need an image? Try here. The last release on the Kranky label (krank 043) Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven went out Oct. 2000 (while the vinyl cut of the album, on Constellation Records had already hit stores about Montreal a few weeks previous) - it's a profoundly pwetty, close-to-two-hour blackout. Sample tracks here.

Update: Their newest record, out the first week of Nov. 2002 is Yanqui U.X.O. Open the sleeve and you're immediately presented with a reproduced memo on the letterhead of the security firm US Investigator Service Inc.. The document is titled Investigator Writing Sample. First question: "Identify someone you know who is not trustworthy. Explain how you reached that conclusion." That pretty well sets the tone of the record: a creeped-out, angry and menacing lament. Brief tableauxs of commiseration slide in and out of the fog, alongside smouldering heaps of frustrated impatience with a world skidding towards disaster. More a ghost story than the zombie-flick soundscapes of the early records, this is a forlorn, fragmented work. The last track sounds like some disgruntled cellist faction doing a Joy Division cover at a political rally they've been forced to play at gunpoint. No lie. Produced by Steve Albini, they've dumped Kranky, basically calling them corporate lackeys to a vile recording industry (more about that in the record review). They've done no publicity, no tour is planned, but then again, these are the same chums who've penned a song chorus "all musicians are cowards". They seem to be a deliberate and crafted trajectory not to succeed...

...back to the concert though. From the fifth row, they seemed to be connected to each other psychically, taking invisible cues. They never spoke to the audience or so much as looked at each other in the two-and-half hour set they played, they just looked at their instruments or smoked in the shadow of towering amps and gear (with eight people, there's a lot of stuff on stage). They just played, and played, and played, and when they couldn't play anymore, one by one they switched off their amps, dropped their cello, or viola, or bass guitar, or glockenspiel and just walked silently off stage. In a word (well, okay, three) incredibly powerful shit. For pure aural intensity, it doesn't really come any better.
1. all lights fucked on the hairy amp drooling (December, 1994) : out-of-print cassette - only 33 were ever dubbed.
2. f#a# infinity (August 1997) : recorded '95-'97, on a rented 16-track analogue machine, supplemented with 4-track recordings and material from the band's archive of field recordings. First full length release.
3. slow riot for new zero kanada e.p. (March 1999) : recorded at The Gas Station in Toronto, and 'subsequently mastered/botched, re-mastered/botched, and re-mastered again'.
4. lift your skinny fists like antennas to heaven (Oct 2000) : double LP. See above.
5. Yanqui U.X.O. (November 2002) : double LP.
Note: Thanks to a tip from Chihuahua Grub, the heavy metal influence on the band is at least confirmed, as it seems one of the tracks off the Slow riot for new zero canada EP is named "BBF3" which stands for Blaise Bailey Finnegan III, singer of Iron Maiden for two albums (...thanks TW...) whose lyrics from their single "Virus" make up much of the vocal track.
On May 10, 1998, Godspeed You Black Emperor! played a set in Montreal. They opened with this monologue.

this is a forward for godspeed
nobody we know owns anything
many of us will never own anything at all

we're tired of feeling bewildered
tired of helplessness
we want many, many things to end soon
these times, when everything is denied us
anything is possible
but everyday stubborn, clumsy, beautiful ideas
drop on the withering vine
we're tired of this state of affairs
we call to end paranoia, self-intimidation and fear
meanwhile, the world spins
as if nothing has happened at all
we're all still waiting

we dedicate this to everyone who couldn't afford
the thirty dollar price tag!
we dedicate this to

girls kissing girls
boys kissing boys
girls kissing boys
and everything in between!

the future is bleak, uncertain, beautiful
tomorrow they might come and arrest us all
only if you listen closely can you hear the machines
beneath the sidewalk whispering...
the machines beneath the sidewalk are
always whispering

strive to listen close
please, try to be free
don't be afraid
the end of the world will never come.

04/03/03, Brooklyn, New York

Godspeed you black emperor! are playing a concert. Efrim speaks to the crowd:

Hello? Holy fuck do you people hate your fucking president!

And it's like, it's shocking right? Cause we're farting around this country and nightly you say the word president and people are like "fuck! shit! fuck!"

Crowd yells out "fuck" and "shit."

This is what I'm sayin', ya'll need to let it out. It's like callisthenics or something. But! Wait! Wait! But! But! But, there's this weird thing which is like 3 weeks ago leading up to the war, it's the same deal with the war. You talk to...all of a sudden we all had so much shit in common.

You talk to anybody and say "Hey how's it going?" and they'de be like "No War!!!" Ok so, so then the war started...and all of a sudden more and more people you talk to who last week were like "Now War!!!...we're gonna shut this fucking thing down!" and all the rest of it, more and more people are like "Well...I'm not really into it...but it's happening and we just gotta hope for a quick resolution"...

Massive boo from the crowd.

And its fucked up cause all of a sudden you're like nostalgic for 3 weeks ago..you're like standing there going "oh man 3 weeks ago, that was really happening..."...you know...

"Defect to Canada!"

You don't wanna defect to Canada! You don't wanna be doing that...whoever it was who just yelled that. But wait! It's this constant thing when you talk to certain people and you say anything in they're like "Well it's very easy to criticize, it's very easy to complain...but what solutions? You know?...what are you offering?"...in terms of answers, right. So here is, so here is one possible answer, right:

We all must go to the hardware store and buy a hammer. All of us. All...all...all of us. And we walk or drive or fly to Washington, the capitol, and we go to the Pentagon or the White House or both and we bring both those buildings down brick by fucking brick by fucking brick...

And don't no one go to work and don't no one go to school and don't no one shop and don't no one drive... So we're gonna play a little song now and it's dedicated to that idea.

Moya from slow riot for a new zero kanada begins...

First transcribed by Keith Bear on the gybe yahoogroup.

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