Turns Out We Accidentally Watched Godspeed You! Black Emperor for an Hour

Meet us at the church of young droner lifestyle.

Jun 27 2015, 4:00pm

All photos courtesy of Sebastian Buzzalino

One of the hottest tickets during Calgary’s Sled Island festival was seeing Godspeed You! Black Emperor perform inside the Central United Church, located in the heart of the city’s downtown core. The band performed for two hours on two back-to-back nights, both of which saw a lineup of fans curling around the church and pouring out onto the streets an hour before the doors opened. Even those who had the fanciest bracelets found themselves turned away at the door, unable to persuade the organizers to break the capacity rules. The Quebecois band may be known for being difficult to work with (or give awards to) but apparently that difficulty also translated into the act of actually seeing them perform live.

On the second night, after heavy negotiations, I was able to worm my way past the attendees at the door and into the church. The pews were filled with people eagerly awaiting the music to start, and I made my way through the rustic place of worship in search of a place to sit, or at least a bar where I could momentarily relieve myself from the damp heat that hung in the poorly ventilated building. But of course, since it was a church, there was no bar to be found. Defeated, I took my seat in a pew on the second floor and waited for the music to start.

My view was less than perfect, and all I was able to see was the projection of grainy 35mm film cast on the church wall. A humming drone noise permeated the humidity, lulling me into the most relaxing state I’ve ever experienced while inside a church. After checking my emails and growing impatient, I vocally noted my displeasure at the band not yet performing. My complaint was met with turned heads and skeptical gazes, and the person beside me discreetly whispered, “they’ve been performing for an hour.”

It turned out that the humming drone was the sound of Godspeed You! Black Emperor playing their instruments, a fact I confirmed after standing from my pew and getting a better look. They’d been performing the entire time I was there, but I had confused them for white noise.

Soon after my mistake outed me to all those within earshot, I grew embarrassed and decided to watch the rest of the show silently, focusing on the music echoing throughout the church. Upon actually listening to the noise, I heard the minor modulations being made on the instruments and confirmed that they were in fact playing music using the instruments. The most notable sound came from the crowd, who broke into thunderous applause when the humming subsided.

I left early, deciding that the heat and the smell were not worth the music I was hearing. As I was leaving the doors a second wave of applause broke out, and I dashed for fresh air outdoors. The line around the building was still intact, with the crowd bargaining unsuccessfully with the organizer about wanting to be let in. I thought to ask one of the attendees what they felt the appeal was of seeing someone drone in a church for two hours (why not just go to Sunday mass, am I right?!) but decided against it. Some things may not make sense to me, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t hold value to someone else. All I could do was exit, giving up my place in the venue to someone who would enjoy it.