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Avant-garde box office: Godspeed You! Black Emperor live in London

19 August 2016, 14:07 | Written by Chris Shipman

A decade and a half before his celebration of all things British during the Opening Ceremony of London 2012, film director Danny Boyle created another, starkly different, vision of London. Iconic zombie flick 28 Days Later was famously influenced by the apocalyptic strains of post-rock A-listers Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s debut album F♯ A♯ ∞. ‘The whole film was cut to Godspeed in my head’, he revealed at the time, as the world collectively shrank behind its sofas in terror.

Two decades on from that jawdropping debut album’s release, Godspeed remain hugely influential, and the queue’s snaking around Elephant and Castle roundabout for tonight’s show are testament to that power. Often imitated, but ever unique, they remain avant-garde box office.

Over the course of two gloriously punishing hours, the Montreal collective perform just eight billowing tracks, including material from their latest release, Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress. Songs creep through the full dynamic range, from pin-drop silent string quivers to all-out bludgeoning riffage - all the while accompanied by grainy analogue projections of derelict buildings and railway tracks to nowhere. "Peasantry or 'Light! Inside of Light!’”, the second offering of the night is an early highlight from proceedings, its Eastern-tinged dreadnaught of a riff hammering into the audience to set the tone for the rest of the evening. Any heavier at these points, and you worry Godspeed would sink TFL a new Bakerloo line extension all the way to China.

It’s the quieter moments, however, which have the most impact, with haunting strings bounding around the upper reaches of the Art Deco auditorium as the trio of seated guitarists trill along, drenched in delay.

Although the set ebbs and flows through dynamics of loud bombast and quiet drone, the band’s performance encourages a meditative state on the part of the audience over its 120 minute duration - at once calm and unsettling. These semi-trances are occasionally punctured by appreciative applause, but for the most part, the audience wilfully submits.

Twenty years and five years in, Godspeed You! Black Emperor remain a vital live force - not just a band, but a true experience.

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