Godspeed You! Black Emperor is for the people

The post-rock titans returned for an affordable dance performance at the Luminato Festival.

June 17, 2016

Photos: Yannick Grandmont

It sounded like the perfect setting to see post-rock titans Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

The band were to provide live accompaniment to the Holy Body Tattoo dance company’s presentation of Monumental for the Luminato festival. As a bonus this would all happen inside the hollowed out core of Toronto’s massive bleakscape, the Hearn Generating Station.

The Holy Body Tattoo’s piece had been billed as a performance that “shatters the façade of capitalist urban culture,” a “sometimes harrowing trip in to the darkest corners of our urban, urbane, post-9/11 psyches.” When the dance company staged its initial run of Monumental a decade ago they performed to a soundtrack of Godspeed music. But this time the band would be there in person, thundering their noises through the massive decommissioned power plant tucked in the industrial wilds of Toronto’s south-eastern waterfront.

This show’s perfection would come in a number of ways:

1) It was a Godspeed You! Black Emperor show, but not. Godspeed most definitely played and the Monumental set leaned heavily on older work like F# A# (Infinity) songs “The Dead Flag Blues,” effectively functioning as the closest thing you’ll get to a GY!BE set. But…

2) You didn’t actually have to see Godspeed. Raised on an almost unlit platform behind the dance stage, the band were ghostly phantoms playing their unholy racket while Holy Body Tattoo’s uncomfortable, visceral performance commanded the eye.

3) The Hearn is amazing. A coal burning power plant when it opened in 1951, now it’s a rust, concrete, wire, and broken glassed symbol of how the community can take back and repurpose these industrial smoke belch institutions of the past.

Heck, before Monumental began Glen R. Murray, Ontario’s Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, gave a surprisingly fiery speech about how we the people need to reclaim spaces like The Hearn, and how these reclaimed structures can become our identity in a better, more artful world.

4) Most importantly, though, was the ticket prices.

Specifically, the tickets that I bought.

When I had pulled the trigger on buying them a few months back it seemed like I got a deal that was too good to be true. Two standard tickets (Section 101: BB33, BB34) at $32.77 each — second row, far left of the stage.

I was getting second row seats to a Godspeed show that doubled as a modern dance manifestation of my soul, all in a place that looked like the lair of a Batman villain. Fuck yeah.

Better still, the $65 I was spending on the pair was wildly out of sync with the price point for most of the tickets. Monumental’s ticket pricing tiers were set at $111.87, $89.27, and $66.67 for tickets that were worse than mine.

Was making the first rows of seats so relatively cheap GY!BE and Holy Body’s way of dismantling the power of Big Ticket? In my head, yes. In a post-Tragically Hip-shows-fucked-by-scalpers world, a gesture like this seemed so monumentally subversive it was difficult to not assign symbolic value to it. Even if the reality of it was that I probably scored my tickets through some sort of early-bird promo I didn’t even realize I was plugging in to.

Better still was the anticipation.

Milling around The Hearn before the show it was clear that while, yes, there was a genuine collection of misfits, rockers and art weirdoes assembled to see Monumental, there were just as many — if not more — champagne socialites (literally, one denizen of the charity ball circuit almost spilled her bubbly all over me while I navigated towards the washrooms). By sitting in the second row, I, representative of the working people, had scored a position more advantageous than people who actually looked like citizens of District 1 from The Hunger Games.


Much in the way that something free is never really free, the system always has a way of protecting its position. Like, in the way that Holy Body and Godspeed get to perform a gutty, intense show about the rat race and dismantling of capitalism in something like Monumental, but that big banks CIBC, BMO, Scotiabank, and TD are all Luminato sponsors, and therefore — at least in part — helped facilitate the performance.

Or that while the transformation of The Hearn into a unique art/culture hub destination is genuinely exciting, it’s also being used to vanguard hundreds of millions of dollars worth of property development in the neighbouring area in the coming years. And if you’ve ever watched Stringer Bell’s grasping in The Wire or saw how Vince Vaughn’s character got screwed in True Detective season two, you’ll understand what that means.

All that’s to say that when we went to sit down at our advantageously priced seats for Monumental on Tuesday night, we couldn’t.

One seat was missing.

It simply didn’t exist.

A beleaguered Luminato staffer very quickly came over to apologize, breathlessly saying that “we just built all this 25 minutes ago” and offered us a pair of replacement tickets in section KK, the eleventh row.

We took them. After all, you can’t fight for something that isn’t there. The new seats were still fine and we missed nothing from the Monumental performance. And besides, it wasn’t one frazzled Luminato worker’s fault. It was the system.

In the end it was perfect — a perfect lesson. I learned that no matter what, the system will always try to control you and keep you down, whether you’re Godspeed You! Black Emperor playing a festival bankrolled by Canada’s biggest banks… or a guy who just wanted the seats he paid for.

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