Music: No autographs, please

A nine-piece from Montreal who write the soundtrack to urban decay? Doesn't sound a lot of fun. But godspeedyoublackemperor! do give you a free gift with every purchase.

A sharp, pistol-like report from an overloading monitor causes the already pained-looking sound engineer to wince into his levels meter. Godspeedyoublackemperor! have been sound-checking for most of the afternoon, and the logistical problems of having nine people on stage are starting to look insurmountable. The venue will be closed down if they go over 105 decibels. Unfortunately, the band are that loud before they've even plugged in to the house PA system.

As they launch into the same stately instrumental segment for the umpteenth time, the expressions on the face of the musicians - three guitarists, two bass-players, a two-woman string section and a brace of drummers - veer between stoical and disconsolate. For the observer, it is strange and slightly disorienting to witness the giant, melancholic wash of sound created by this unique Montreal mini-orchestra being broken down into its constituent elements. But perhaps it is no bad thing, given the almost mystical levels of reverence currently generated by their music's awesome, tsunami-like crests and troughs, to know that they are activated by a drummer saying something as mundane as "Let's do the speed-up from the solo part".

Finally, thanks to the soundman's subterfuge, the whole thing comes together. Crystalline shards of cello and violin rip through the venue's speakers as "Moya" (the first track on their current Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada EP) attains its full glacial majesty. Moments later, three of godspeed's nine members - Efrim, Nardola, and Aidan - convene stiffly on the floor outside the toilets. The band rarely speak to journalists, and the atmosphere of the meeting is more akin to an encounter with a clandestine political cadre than a regular pop interview.

The sense of mission they carry with them is delightfully infectious. Lean, paranoid, hair shaved, shaggy or in messianic top-knots, if godspeedyoublackemperor! were unable to find a place to stay after a gig, you can imagine them getting together to put up a barn. There is nothing wilfully masochistic about an austere and largely foodless touring regimen - Nardola speaks wistfully of "looking for a middle ground between being treated like superstars and being treated like a lump of shit". That's just the way things have to be if you want to take this many musicians (and their glockenspiel) round Europe on a shoestring.

It's down to the momentum of their music and the excitement of being part of something that is bigger than themselves to carry them through. "I realised when I first started drumming with this band that I can't change the tempo," Aidan explains. "Once it gets going all you can do is hold on."

Godspeed's music has an extraordinarily acute sense of place. Elegiac album sleeve-notes and the haunting back-projections of deserted factory landscapes they employ in concert seem to confirm that the band's roots lie in the economic decline of Mile End, the run-down Montreal neighbourhood all but one of them call home.

"We're not representing Mile End as a whole," Efrim says, "but an idealised notion of certain aspects of the place, like the fact that there's a railway track which runs right through it, and next to the railway track there's a lot of abandoned industrial space." Abandoned industrial space may not sound like everyone's idea of a good time, but there is pleasure as well as pain in godspeed's apocalyptic pop aesthetic. The vinyl edition of last year's compelling debut, f#a#, came with a free gift worthy of their fellow devotees of the nomenclatural exclamation mark, Wham! Each sleeve contained coins crushed by trains on the railway track which ran behind the studio where its music was recorded.

The album's unexpected success has turned this touching gesture into a full-time job. "We did the first 1,000 for ourselves, but the record company is crushing pennies now," Aidan admits. When f#a# first came out, he thought it would be like all his friend's band's records - "with 200 copies each in every one of our closets". Efrim was more optimistic, albeit guardedly so: "I had a belief that if we toured North America and played well live, we could sell records from the stage."

Such a return to the pilgrim spirit of early hardcore punk is long overdue in what might be termed American rock's post-alternative era. Efrim recounts the disillusionment of "being into hardcore, and then hardcore becoming this thing called grunge, and suddenly anything interesting that had grown out of it getting recuperated at a really rapid rate, so you would come across something new, and four months later you'd see a rock video with some horrible band of posers doing exactly what you'd been doing in your basement, and you'd feel like an idiot".

Why? "Because real communities only form outside the glare of the spotlight... the moment something's named by an organ of the media, it's over."

Given this imposingly rigorous mindset, it's small wonder that the huge buzz which currently surrounds them is making godspeedyoublackemperor! uneasy. When a barman asks them to sign a CD for him, they have to go and fetch the only member of the band (inevitably, a drummer) who is willing to do it. The autograph-hunter tries to come to terms with the fact that the rest of them have refused as a mark of respect.

The heights of eloquence to which this awkward encounter subsequently spurs Efrim suggests that the glare of the spotlight might bring out the best in him. "We're just trying to do the best we can without pulling a Bono or a Michael Stipe and going `Look at us, we have these special intricate thoughts that are actually just weird variations of liberal humanism'," he almost snarls. "Forget it! We're just fumbling to try to explain what seems obvious to us." A thoughtful pause. "Then again, there are eight million deluded rock and pop musicians who think that they're `keeping it real', and, at the end of the day, there's a good chance that we're as full of shit as the next people."

`Slow Riot for a New Zero Kanada' is out now on Kranky records

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
books
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
books
Arts and Entertainment
The man with the golden run: Daniel Craig as James Bond in 'Skyfall'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Waving Seal' by Luke Wilkinson was Highly Commended in the Portraits category

photography
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering