Godspeed You! Black Emperor win Polaris Music Prize
Published Tuesday, September 24, 2013 7:30AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, September 24, 2013 9:19AM EDT
TORONTO -- Montreal post-rock collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor won the $30,000 Polaris Music Prize on Monday for their first new album in a decade, then pledged -- through a representative for the absent band -- to direct their winnings to providing musical education and instruments in Quebec prisons.
The politically charged band, whose members rarely grant interviews or choose to speak about their music publicly, won the prize given to the best Canadian album of the year for "'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!" A four-song movement that stands as the outfit's first new album in 10 years, the record beat out a field that included Toronto new-wave vets Metric, Calgary-reared pop twins Tegan and Sara and Montreal electronic duo Purity Ring.
After indie songstress -- and last year's winner -- Feist announced Godspeed's win during a gala at Toronto's historic Carlu, Constellation Records co-founder Ian Ilavsky took the stage to accept the award on the band's behalf and announce their intentions with the prize money.
"I really did not expect to be up here tonight -- it's all a little abstract," he said after climbing onstage somewhat gingerly.
"I have known the band for almost 20 years. They've been at it for almost 20 years. And I do know they want to strongly and unequivocally thank everyone involved in the (Polaris)."
If Godspeed's win was indeed a surprise, it came in a year that hardly featured a clear front-runner.
Seven of 10 nominees, including Godspeed, appeared on the Polaris short list for the first time. The list featured no former winners and no widely agreed-upon favourite -- never an easy thing to ascertain anyway with the mercurial Polaris, which is always ultimately subject to the decision of its 11-person grand jury.
The short list of 10 album-of-the-year contenders was selected by over 200 music journalists, bloggers and broadcasters across Canada, who were asked to select the best Canadian albums of the year based strictly on merit, with no consideration for sales, genre or airplay.
Despite the absence of Godspeed, this year's gala featured performances from eight of the other nine shortlisted acts, with a few unexpected guests sending a charge into the audience.
The show was hosted by cerebral rapper Shad and cheerfully profane Ottawa singer/songwriter Kathleen Edwards (swear jars were dispensed to each table, with proceeds going to charity), while individual artist testimonials were provided by the likes of CBC/CNN personality George Stroumboulopoulos (on behalf of nominated Calgary twins Tegan and Sara, up for "Heartthrob"), Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning author Joseph Boyden (who celebrated Ottawa powwow-step trio A Tribe Called Red) and eight-time Juno winner Sarah McLachlan, who called Hamilton roots duo Whitehorse "two of (her) favourite people in the world."
"They share an amazing work ethic, a voracious appetite for knowledge and growth, both as artists and people, they're hugely talented and most importantly, they're two of the kindest people I've (known)," said McLachlan of her friends Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland.
Afterward, the couple put in a primal, percussion-heavy performance that prompted Edwards to remark that they were doing their "best impressions of Tarzan and Jane."
In another performance highlight, A Tribe Called Red animated their fusion of traditional powwow vocals and club-ready beats with a mesmerizing hoop dancer while Metric (shortlisted for a third time) performed a stripped-down version of "Breathing Underwater" with frontwoman Emily Haines behind the piano before a similarly bare-bones take on "Synthetica."
Other memorable performances came from Nanaimo, B.C.-born Zaki Ibrahim, who was flanked by steely-eyed, black-clad backup singers, and Stetson, whose dazzling set saw the Michigan-born virtuoso manipulating a pair saxophones to twisted effect (for which he received a hardy ovation).
Afterwards, Edwards -- apparently a fan -- told him she wanted to see him "play it in a unitard."
Elsewhere, Metz -- a Toronto noise-rock trio with a reputation for gloriously unhinged live performances -- kicked up a furious racket and second-time nominees Tegan and Sara's propulsive hit "Closer" was represented in a rousing vocal version by Toronto's Choir! Choir! Choir!
Touring the southern U.S., the sisters monitored the show from afar and apparently appreciated the performance, tweeting that they were "having a big heart crush" as they watched.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor later issued the following statement. A FEW WORDS REGARDING THIS POLARIS PRIZE THING
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