Quebec collective displeased despite winning award.
Montreal-based post-rock collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s reaction to their success at the Polaris Prize gala was mixed, to be kind about it. They didn’t have an easy short list to compete with either, beating out new albums from Colin Stetson, Tegan and Sarah, METZ, and Young Galaxy. The band released a public reaction to the coveted Canadian music award on the Internet afterward.
The Polaris Music Prize, a not-for-profit organization, gives a yearly award to “the albums of the highest artistic integrity, without regard to musical genre, professional affiliation, or sales history,” according to its mission statement. The jury for the award is a panel of selected music critics.
Choosing not to attend the gala, the collective expressed gratitude for the award but also expressed their shock at winning. The band, who always choose to speak as a collective rather than as individuals, also made a handful of comments regarding the gala itself, including their opinion that “holding a gala during a time of austerity and normalized decline is a weird thing to do.” They went on to say that “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.” And finally they remarked that “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.”
While their position is admirable and understandable, the band does come off as a little naïve. It’s just how organizations exist—nothing about that is going to change in the near future. Organizations such as the Polaris Music Prize throw events to make the masses happy, collude with major business to benefit both parties, and can often be riddled with contradictions. Needlessly pointing to hypocrisy has never been the most flattering of actions for the pointer, even if it is warranted to a degree, as it is in this case.
However, some of their complaints are justifiable; the competition that the gala puts between Canadian artists every year is unnecessary. The awards elevating an artist above the rest is questionable, especially when that artist is most likely already in the upper echelon of monetary success, and the collective’s accusation that the whole event was nothing more than a “quick money” grab for musicians did have a ring of truth to it. Objectively weighing a body of music against another is beyond even the not-for-profit Polaris Music Prize organization, and their $30,000 assertion can come across as laughable.
The album, entitled Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!, despite being somewhat cobbled together due to its decade-long production process, fits and flows with itself as if it were the original plan. Separated into four movements, Allelujah! continues Godspeed’s trend of intensely politically-motivated music, being specifically directed at the 2003 Iraq War. Although the album would have had more impact had it been released during the height of the conflict, the echo of discontent it provides is still extremely relevant due to the current geopolitical circumstances in the Middle East.
Godspeed You! plans to use the $30,000 they were awarded to “to try to set a program so that prisoners in Quebec have musical instruments if they need them.”