Godspeed you!Black Emperor played one of the most powerful performances a music collective can bring on Saturday 10th of June, and I am very grateful to have been able to witness it.
Let me set the scene; it’s the 100 year commemoration of the Battle of Messines, significant for being the heaviest non-nuclear detonation ever recorded at the time. The battle was part of the First World War, which took almost entirely place in trenches, in the town of Messines, 10 km south of Yper, in the Flemish fields.
To commemorate, the province of West-Flanders organised a very special night of concerts at the craters where the detonation happened. As dusk started to settle in, the Canadian post-rock music collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor brought us a unique composition, created especially for this occasion.
Now I’m still a novice of Godspeed. This is the 2nd time i see them live, and it’s the 2nd time where they unexpectedly took me through such an intense musical trip. so I can’t say a lot about it being a very typical GY!BE gig. But this composition was a fascinating experimentation, telling the story of this horrible war (“the Great War”’) and its significance by using music and visuals, tying it all together with the historic surroundings.
The concert kicked off with a visual creation by Shelbatra Jashari. Over 100 young people dressed in white hazmat suites climbed the scaffolding on both sides of the stage. The crowd silently watched how the white suites lit up by a video projection, and how names of fallen soldiers rolled over them.
The visuals transformed to contemporary images of West-Flanders, that still contain faint traces from the war. The mine craters dispersed all over the West-Flemish landscape, now rustique ponds. Or with little imagination you could see the soldiers march through those Flemish fields on their way to the frontline. Even visuals of water reminded us of how part of the frontline was flooded to halt the Germans.
When Godspeed You!Black Emperor took the stage, they masterfully made the music swell on, becoming more nervous, agitated, agressive. We felt like we were being catapulted back into the run-up to the war, where emotions were reaching a boiling point in Western-Europe.
When it reached its musical climax, I will bet my left kidney that GY!BE purposefully timed that moment to coincide with the rise of the blood red full moon over the hills, rising ever more powerfully throughout that climax.
The audience felt it as well, this ever growing presence of the full moon, which was apparently also the eyewitness on exactly the same night 100 years ago.
Never before have I seen a performance so masterfully use its surroundings to enhance the impact of its music.
The concert continued on, transitioning into a new sort of nervousness. One that felt like a shockwave was reverberating from the tectonic plates colliding in Western-Europe, causing aftershocks in the rest of the world. The music was tumultuous, and you could feel the turmoil in the air. The guided visuals showed prices of food going up in the Commonwealth countries like Australia and Canada, and soldiers from all over the world getting ready to join the battlefront.
I could sense the global aspect of this war even more because of my Irish and Australian compagnions, who also had recollections of what the Great War meant for their country and their history.
The concert steamrolled on, going more into the impact of the war on the human psyche and the individual tragedies. At least that’s how i interpreted it. The snare instruments played a more prominent role, as if they were playing on our heartstrings.
Godspeed gave it their best shot to make us empathise with the deep dark emotions of Fear and Desperation through the music. Guitare snares hit us like bullets, the strings rolled over the Flemish fields like a dark blanket.
Not only sound, but also light pierced the dark night. The 19 surrounding craters flashed the dark skies with some powerful light installations, recreating the constant firing of riffles, cannons and grenades.
(Credits: Babette Van Rafelghem)
Godspeed continued on for a full 2 hour set, sparing no opportunity to bring out all the feels.
Ending with the masterful Moya, the Canadians didn’t exactly end on a cheerful note.
After this intense 2h concert, we felt completely emotionally drained, much like how the people must have felt when it was finally over on November 11th, 1918. But also envigorated by the experience.
The last veteran of the First World War passed away in 2011. He had been 110 years old. There are no more witnesses to WWI to tell the tale, a war that cost the lives to an estimated 9,75 million people.
it’s the type of concerts like Godspeed you!Black Emperor that are needed to help us remember. Let us never forget.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
by John McCrae, May 1915
Article also appeared on Indiestyle