On the day Godspeed You! Black Emperor visit Helsinki, Karstein Volle gives a short and probably wrong intro to post-rock. Maybe one of the most unassuming subgenres of rock – decades after it’s high water mark, it refuses to die.
I’m Jim Morrison, I’m dead
Post-rock had a genuine pop moment when Montreal collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor grazed the cover of NME back in 1999. Fiercely anti commercial, they refused to have anything to do with rock stardom. Well known for their hostility towards pop machinery, they made a point of letting the music do the talking. Somehow the music persevered and gained wide notoriety, while the band was busy fending off movie soundtrack deals, commercial offers and playing absolutely epic gigs.
Post-rock as a movement has generally nourished the notion of the collective instead of the rock star, not unlike rave in its early years. Any interview with Sigur Ròs or Mogwai will usually be full of the band mumblingly rejecting any notion of stardom.
Post-rock as a movement has generally nourished the notion of the collective instead of the rock star
The car’s on fire and there’s no driver at the wheel
The common conception is that there are two starting places of Post-rock.
One is Talk Talk releasing the album Spirit of Eden, then there’s Slint releasing their Steve Albini-produced Spiderland or Bark Psychosis’ debut, who accidentally gave the genre it’s moniker. Plus
Then there’s a second start, centered around Chicago label Kranky. From there post-rock started popping up everywhere. It seemed like the smaller and more offbeat the location, the more post-rock bands were active there.
In Glasgow Mogwai combined sardonic humor and in-jokes with cinematic soundscapes, Reykjavík’s Sigur Ròs became the elfin everyman stars of the bowed reverb guitar, while Montreal’s Godspeed You! Black Emperor employed screwdrivers, a hardcore punk attitude to the music game. Meaning no merch., no individual member interviews and mostly communicating through self released screeds and manifestos. DIY, anarchist ethics and left field politics permeated their aesthetic, while the music called up echoes of early Pink Floyd and Ennio Morricone spaghetti western soundtracks.
So, is it krautrock, ambient, psychedelia, prog-rock, space-rock, math-rock, tape music, minimalist classical, British IDM, jazz (both avant-garde and cool), dub, reggae, post-punk, free jazz, contemporary classical, or avant-garde electronica?
The answer is of course, all of them.
Post-rock is notoriously tricky to pin down, in fact the first couple of Google hits you get, all start with “how do we define this?”
The post-rock moniker has been used and abused to describe anything and everyone. Sometimes described as prog without shredding or new age with a fuzz pedal – sometimes any instrumental rock-oriented music would suffice. Not to mention that the first rule of post-rock, is to deny you are a part of it.
The post rock moniker has been used and abused to describe anything and everyone. Sometimes described as prog without shredding or new age with a fuzz pedal – sometimes any instrumental rock-oriented music would suffice
That said, there are some tendencies. The krautrock influence can be noticed in a lot of bands preferring repetition and hypnotic beats over virtuosity. Often ending up with 30 minute long songs, with “movements” baked in, like in symphonies. Not to mention the endless crescendos. One motivation for the length seems to be to explicitly reject the radio pop format of the 3 minute song.
The verbosity doesn’t limit itself to track length – how about short and snappy album titles such as “He Has Left Us Alone but Shafts of Light Sometimes Grace the Corner of Our Rooms” or playful little ditties named “AND BY OUR OWN HAND DID EVERY LAST BIRD LIE SILENT IN THEIR PUDDLES, THE AIR BARREN OF SONG AS THE CLOUDS DRIFTED AWAY. FOR KILLING THEIR GREATEST ENEMY, THE LOCUSTS NOISILY THANKED US AND TURNED THEIR JAWS TOWARD OUR CROPS, SWALLOWING OUR GREED WHOLE!”
Add original attitudes towards grammar and spelling (GY!BE’s F#A#°°, anyone?) and you got yourself a pretty interesting and self contained genre.
Just don’t mention Explosions in the Sky to any grizzled post-rocker – he’ll sneer and won’t share the hummus.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor are playing tonight in Helsinki. True to form, they didn’t want to be interviewed.
(Chapter titles provided by Slint, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Mogwai)