Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Godspeed You! Black Emperor Wins the Polaris Music Prize and Issues Statement

The 2013 Polaris Music Prize was handed out last night at a gala in Toronto, with weirdo, post-rock band Godspeed You! Black Emperor winning the top prize. The Montreal band is known for its epic, instrumental mini-symphonies that are intended to make you feel stupid for not understanding what they actually mean. Actually, they're pretty damn good, and they deserve this award.

Being the anonymous freedom fighters that they are, the band did not attend the gala. Since the themes in a lot of their songs can be described as "anarchistic", or "from the far left", one would assume that an awards gala, sponsored by a major corporation, with a significant cash prize, would not be the band's cup of tea. So when the band won, people were unsure as to what their reaction would be. Fortunately, they released a statement that almost looks like it was written by someone pretending to be in Godspeed You! Black Emperor:
hello kanada.
hello kanadian music-writers.
thanks for the nomination thanks for the prize- it feels nice to be acknowledged by the Troubled Motherland when we so often feel orphaned here. and much respect for all y’all who write about local bands, who blow that horn loudly- because that trumpeting is crucial and necessary and important.
and much respect to the freelancers especially, because freelancing is a hard fucking gig, and almost all of us are freelancers now, right? falling and scrambling and hustling through these difficult times?
so yes, we are grateful, and yes we are humble and we are shy to complain when we’ve been acknowledged thusly- BUT HOLY SHIT AND HOLY COW- we’ve been plowing our field on the margins of weird culture for almost 20 years now, and “this scene is pretty cool but what it really fucking needs is an awards show” is not a thought that’s ever crossed our minds.
3 quick bullet-points that almost anybody could agree on maybe=
-holding a gala during a time of austerity and normalized decline is a weird thing to do.
-organizing a gala just so musicians can compete against each other for a novelty-sized cheque doesn’t serve the cause of righteous music at all.
-asking the toyota motor company to help cover the tab for that gala, during a summer where the melting northern ice caps are live-streaming on the internet, IS FUCKING INSANE, and comes across as tone-deaf to the current horrifying malaise.
these are hard times for everybody. and musicians’ blues are pretty low on the list of things in need of urgent correction BUT AND BUT if the point of this prize and party is acknowledging music-labor performed in the name of something other than quick money, well then maybe the next celebration should happen in a cruddier hall, without the corporate banners and culture overlords. and maybe a party thusly is long overdue- it would be truly nice to enjoy that hang, somewhere sometime where the point wasn’t just lazy money patting itself on the back.
give the money to the kids let ‘em put on their own goddamn parties, give the money to the olds and let them try to write opuses in spite of, but let the muchmusic videostars fight it out in the inconsequential middle, without gov’t. culture-money in their pockets.
us we’re gonna use the money to try to set up a program so that prisoners in quebec have musical instruments if they need them…
amen and amen.
apologies for being such bores,
we love you so much / our country is fucked,
godspeed you! black emperor
Ohhhhhhkay. Kanada? Good one. How ORWELLIAN.

Let's wrap our head around this convoluted diatribe for a second. I would say, as a whole, I would agree with the idea that awards shows are ridiculous. Pitting artists against each other and attempting to determine who created the best art is somewhat absurd when you think about it. And whatever these weirdos want to do with the prize money is up to them (they will, after all, gladly take the money). I would also hazard a guess that the line about the "muchmusic videostars [fighting] it out in the inconsequential middle, without gov't. culture-money in their pockets" must be a reference to FACTOR, and the disgusting corporate welfare that it perpetuates. I certainly agree that the system, as it currently exists, benefits the top tier of Canadian music - the bands that already have the money and resources to record, tour and promote their music. It is a broken and abhorrent system.

That being said, GY!BE need to get over themselves. I get that they're trying to make a statement, and that they're anarchists or socialists or anti-corporate or all of the above or whatever the fuck is the anti-establishment flavour of the day. But they're part of an industry that has always been corporate and will continue to be corporate. Despite GY!BE's noble stance, I'm almost positive that they will continue to play festivals with a heavy corporate presence, or continue to gladly accept FACTOR grants. (Yes, Godspeed You! Black Emperor accepted a FACTOR grant for the very album that won them this year's Polaris Prize.) Because when it comes down to it, our corporate overlords are the ones that sign the cheques and sponsor events like the Polaris Music Prize - a prize that has benefited many acts and given them greater exposure and popularity. And the last time I checked, the winner of the Prize doesn't have to start writing jingles for Toyota, or feature Polaris ATVs in their music videos.

I get that there are more important things going on in the world - no one would disagree with this statement - however, this awards show - or any other awards like it - aren't intended to trivialize world events like they don't mean anything. They are a departure. If we didn't do shit like this, we would kill ourselves every damn day thinking about victims of chemical weapons attacks, or the rising ocean levels. Writing something like they did above only makes GY!BE look like a teenage girl interrupting her parents at the dinner table to ask how they have the audacity to talk about the PTA when there are millions of baby seals dying every year. You can be altruistic and idealistic - but you don't have to carry it with you all the time. Christ, with the money they make from the Polaris Prize they can make more music and bring more awareness to whatever cause they fancy.

This isn't the fucking Man talking - this is what the modern world is like, and GY!BE isn't any more profound because they sent out a manifesto in place of physically accepting an award that's sponsored by a corporation. In fact, in light of their own FACTOR grants, GY!BE sound like hypocrites. And if GY!BE is against making "lazy money", then they should give up their prize money to someone else. Stop applying to FACTOR. Stop playing gigs for money. Live on a compound. Perhaps they would enjoy playing in an igloo on Ellesmere Island and learning how to use every part of the Narwhal.

I get it. The record industry is a bitch. The world is in shambles. But the Polaris Prize should not be the target of our derision.

No comments:

Post a Comment