So What Do We Make of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Dis of the Polaris Music Prize

Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! album was awarded the Polaris Music Prize on Monday, an honour that comes with a fat $30K cheque.  They, being Godspeed, weren’t there to accept the award, of course.  Instead, they responded almost immediately with this statement

Read it.  I’ll wait.

* * * 

Got that?

As a member of this year’s Grand Jury, I’m going to recuse myself from any comments.  I will, however, encourage you to comment on their response. Funny? Noble? Dickheads?  Your call.

Meanwhile, David Farrell at New Canadian Music offers this opinion:

The fallout from Godspeed You! Black Emperor winning the Polaris Music Award this year makes it a challenge for founder Steve Jordan to confidently move forward with his goodwill mission to promote Canadian artists and music.

One wants to think that the jurists furiously debated the potential blowback from handing the award to an  activist Montreal ensemble that takes no prisoners in a world it views as pockmarked with conspiracies, corruption, evil, anti-democratic behavior,  and is voluble in expressing political invective through music.

The Polaris Music Prize may see itself as an alternative to the mainstream, but to GSYBE, it and its kind are part of a great miasma created by the convergence of avaricious political and corporate leaders bent on undermining democracy itself.  

Given the ethos of the eight-piece collective, one must ask why the hell Godspeed You! Black Emperor did not request its name be removed from the ballot.

Was GSYBE as naive in thinking it would never win as the jury was in assuming the honour would be received with grudging acceptance?

Read on.  And I look forward to your opinions.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

7 thoughts on “So What Do We Make of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Dis of the Polaris Music Prize

  • September 25, 2013 at 4:47 pm
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    I think their comments are astute, even if it's a bitter criticism to accept. These are important things to remember and is even, perhaps, a necessary knock-down of our music scene.

    I think that they proved in this statement that Godspeed You! are the best band for the award. Not only is their music forward thinking and full of the merit called for by the Polaris mission statement, they are pushing us to think about our industry and our country.

    I love the Polaris Prize and think it's an awesome celebration of music (GOOD music); I certainly look forward to it every year. I think Godspeed You! Black Emperor reminds us of why we love this music scene. It's not because it's fancy and has a tonne of corporate sponsorship – the best shows we have are in tiny clubs or lofts or bars with sticky floors. We should be celebrating what makes us excellent and weird and progressive, no?

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  • September 25, 2013 at 4:55 pm
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    I get what they're saying, but I see it as super ungrateful. We as Canadians are so lucky to have such programs that award musicians with funding for their projects, because hey, we all know how hard it is to make it in the business and any bit of money helps. Along with Factor/MUCH Fact, no other countries really support their musicians as we so proudly do.

    I'm friends with tons of people in bands who have dug into their own pockets to support themselves in hopes that their music will become a full-time gig, so it's kind of a slap in their faces when a group who has won a massive sum of money just willingly gives it away. (Granted however, they at least put it towards a good/music related cause.) People dream for even a small fraction of reward for a job well done.

    A lot of people just can't get over the fact that they made a whole fuss about corporate sponsors and extravagant venues and whatever other pretentious, sarcastic comments, because they don't seem to be pulling out of their soon-to-be NIN tour, which makes them very hypocritical in a sense.

    Honestly, I think maybe they should have spread the money and given it to the other artists who actually made an effort to show up, support the cause and try their best to be the winner of that night.

    But alas, being anti-everything these days seems to be the "thing".

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  • September 25, 2013 at 5:01 pm
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    Because, there is much more push to letting to process take it's course. If they just dropped out of the long list, no one would have ever heard their stance on it except for the people already attentive to them. There is much more to be said for waiting it out, being granted the placement they were and using it to begin generating discussion and debate. After all, isn't that how we bring on change? Not to mention the fitting and symbolic act of taking that money and putting it to a more meaningful cause as they see fit.

    I personally would have felt a lot better about the statement had they focused it onto a specific topic. Mixing environment/corporate involvement etc. – it felt like a giant overhead funnel complaint, whereas maybe a more focused approach would have come across more effectively.

    The thing is, in it's entirety, the statement felt like an honest pour out of the confusion of emotions they are feeling. It was a bit too aggressive for me to really sympathize with. But I do agree with it for the most part and I don't see why they shouldn't do exactly what they want to do.

    Everyone should have seen it coming.

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  • September 25, 2013 at 5:24 pm
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    Seems pretty ironic that they are so against the concept of an awards gala like Polaris but not only allow their name to be on the ballot but are going to accept the money as well? Smells like a sell out to me …

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  • September 25, 2013 at 6:42 pm
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    Funny Noble Dickheads is a pretty great band name

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  • September 26, 2013 at 3:12 am
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    Anyone who's surprised,annoyed or offended by this has obviously never listened to a Godspeed! Album. I for one am grateful that it went to a truly alternative band, instead of the boring dreck they usually honour. This award needed a kick in the ass to remain relevant, and GYBE had the biggest boots.

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  • September 26, 2013 at 12:38 pm
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    Because the award itself is ONLY based on the actual work – I wholeheartedly agree with the choice to crown Godspeed as winners. By that definition, many of the other artists nominated would have been deserving winners as well. I think that anyone who has any knowledge of Godspeed should have expected such a response from them – it's who they are. As for them having donated their prize money – Feist did the same so they are not the first, and really, as winners the cash is theirs to do with as they see fit without judgement.
    Godspeed have always been open about their politics and I can't imagine the Jurors gave them the Prize without considering what their response would undoubtedly be.
    It is unfortunate that their response seems to have overshadowed all of the great art that was honoured on Monday night. With funding to arts programs all over the world being slashed and burned, I think Polaris and awards like it are more needed than ever. Polaris is a great example of recognizing the hard work, technique and dedication of those involved in the work – especially when you factor in lack of influence of 'charts' and 'sales'.
    I can't really say that I disagree with anything in the Godspeed statement, however, I can't really say I agree with the path they took to get there. If they truly felt that way about the award and the gala evening – should they not have issued the statement and declined nomination on June 13?
    And isn't gathering together a room full of Canada's best and brightest talents in the field to honour their continued commitment to their craft in a political climate that is not at all encouraging a good thing?

    Reply

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