Unconventional rock collective defies the rules

It’s no secret that the commercialization of rock’n’roll’s most recent restless creature, the «alternative» scene – as it was dubbed about a decade ago when provocative acts such as Nirvana and Rage Against the Machine led the movement’s charge before it, too, eventually completed a cycle and turned banal – has become barren ground from a musical form long attached to progressive activity. But some fresh and inspired work does continue to trickle through. No doubt doing their bit to keep rock’n’roll alive, the Canadian collective Godspeed You Black Emperor! – GYBE! from this point onward – which will play two shows in Greece this week, are, judging by recent tour reports and recorded work to date, well worth seeing. Booked to play at the capital’s Rodon Club on Friday before moving up to Thessaloniki’s Mylos Club the following evening, as part of an extensive three-month European tour that was launched in France a fortnight ago, GYBE!’s shows, including these two in Greece, have generated considerable interest around Europe. Late last week, the concert promoter of the band’s Greek shows, Astra Productions, released a statement noting that a quarter of all tickets printed had sold within the first five hours of release. Avid fans from neighboring countries where the band will not be touring have made group bookings, the promoter added. On stage, GYBE! usually performs as at least a nine-member band, using three guitars, two basses, a French horn, violin, viola, cello and percussion to recreate their distinctive and experimental sound. The ambitious collective takes the dynamics of its work to extremes with pieces that usually open soothingly before patiently building to hypnotic crescendos. Besides the score of musicians, this collective also includes visual collaborators who project film images. Reviewing one of the band’s older shows in the UK, the influential NME publication could have been describing some sort of ramshackle orchestra. «GYBE! is a group with so many members that they spilled right off the stage into the audience, and that didn’t include the person in charge of film loops,» the industry paper noted. Formed in 1994, GYBE! – whose band name is a translation of «Buraku Empororu,» a film about a scooter gang by a Japanese director, Mitsuo Yanagimachi – began unconventionally with what has now become a highly collectible cassette-only release; just 33 copies had been made available at the time. The band’s next recording, «F#A#(Infinity),» proved to be almost as obscure, with just 550 copies initially released on the Canadian label Constellation. An EP released in 1999, «Slow Riot for the New Zero Kanada,» due to word-of-mouth publicity and consistently impressive live shows, began generating a wider following. Last year’s «Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven» pushed the collective’s eclectic orchestral sound to further extremes. The band’s overall counterculture philosophy, reflected by its treatment of music as a battlefield rather than as a playground, has helped associate it with the proliferating anti-globalization movement throughout the world.

Subscribe to our Newsletters

Enter your information below to receive our weekly newsletters with the latest insights, opinion pieces and current events straight to your inbox.

By signing up you are agreeing to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.