Pursuit of the truly unusual: that’s how it all starts. An unknown band was played on the Peel show, listeners flooded the airwaves with demands to hear them again, they recorded a Peel session, were voted for on the Festive Fifty, and….
…remain generally obscure. Which band or singer am I talking about? Jeffery Lewis? Sophie And Peter Johnson? Daniel Johnston? Saloon? Bastro? None of the above. I refer to the aural storm from Quebec that is Godspeed You Black Emperor! (the exclamation mark is theirs, not mine).
They made a splash on the programme at the end of the millenium , then released a couple of albums with VERY LONG TRACKS of symphonic length, and went into an ‘indefinite hiatus’ (not actually splitting up, but concentrating on projects with similarly ‘ahead of their time’ groups). They have a membership fluctuating between 3 to 20 members, though normally preferring an ensemble of 9. Like Billy Bragg, they do not seem to mind audiences recording their live performances. Their method of making music was described by their most eloquent member, Efrim Menuck, as ‘democracy in the worst sense of the word’. Basically, members contribute pieces to the whole, and very little seems to go unused, which would go to explain the length of their ‘songs’. Certainly, they find room for a number of influences: punk, classical, avant-garde, prog rock, and end up sounding like no-one else. Which made them good enough for JP’s show, certainly!
Their sole entry in the FF, Hung Over As The Queen At Maida Vale (1999 #21), is a 19-minute piece starting slowly and building to a crashing electric climax, before resolving itself into a piece of taped speech (another feature of their work). It has never been officially released, being taken from their Peel session of January 19, 1999, and is listed as being in three parts: Monheim/Chart #3/Steve Reich. In a month which sees new recordings by the Smashing Pumpkins and Ash, the 90s could also be profitably revived with a CD from this ‘collective’ (as they call themselves) for us to wallow in their unique sound world once more.