|We warn intrepid
readers that our annotations to the following article, published by Canadian
music tabloid Exclaim!, are of extremely limited interest.
We took the time to respond to it and post it on our website as a point
of information for the editors of Exclaim! and anyone else with
an obsessive and unhealthy interest in the backchannel spite fostered by
our mainstream Canadian music press. Exclaim! proves, as only
the lamest tabloid paper is able, that a spurious and slanderous article
is better than no article at all.
We never ask or encourage Exclaim! to write anything about godspeed or any other constellation artist. Exclaim! nonetheless sees fit to devote a half-page of idle ramblings about the band, which are factually incorrect on every single point and add a healthy dose of defamatory speculation and outright lies for good measure. Job well done Exclaim!
Read all about it
below, if you care to give up half an hour of your life you'll never get
back. But please, unless you are an Exclaim! staffer or otherwise
mired in the music industry, do something more worthwhile...
Are you there Godspeed? Itís me, Roman
Franz Kafka once wrote a rather profound existential parable entitled "Before The Law." The short story involves a man who wishes access to "the law," only to be intercepted by a gatekeeper who says that access is indeed possible, but not at that particular moment. Instead of leaving, the man chooses to wait until he can gain entry, and is given permission to do so.
A practical application of this parable can be applied to interviewing "mysterious" Montreal-based musical collective Godspeed You Black Emperor! The instrumental group have achieved international acclaim over the past few years by steering clear of the conventions of current mainstream commercial music. In a combination of classical structures along with passive atmospheric rock, their lengthy pieces lack an instant coffee catchiness. Instead, their music engulfs you -- beginning in a minimalist greyscale psychedelia, an oppressive brooding mood slowly evolves into an eventual faster-paced colourful zoetrope (complete with glockenspiel) of a hope-filled release of seismic cascading proportions.
This month sees the release of their third widely-available release, Yanqui U.X.O. Of course, the musical content of the album remains a mystery (1) -- their now-exclusive label, Constellation Records, says that music will not be released unless the band agrees to be interviewed (2), a "privilege" apparently not that easy to obtain. (3) I know it was recorded by Steve Albini, an engineer widely known for his excellent skill in capturing a band live to tape in a non-produced manner, and who is also renowned for publicly attacking corporate practices and ideals. My interview pitch (4) involved wanting to delve further into the messages in the new albumís packaging, which features cover art of bombs being deployed from the sky and a schematic linking major record labels to non-entertainment companies that fund weapons developers. Furthermore, the album comes with an insert that reads: "Though godspeed is guilty of profiting from hateful chain store sales, we encourage you to avoid giving money to predatory retailers and superstores."
It's an approach (5) that serves GYBE! well. It makes their non-commercial stance easy to identify. It saves time and effort (not to mention postage costs) (6) in promoting the album. (7) It helps maintain the image of "mystery" they've worked so hard for. It forces keen music journalists to buy the album in order to write about them, which discourages negative press, since non-fans are unlikely to bother, and lines the band's pockets at the same time. (8) And it allows them an ivory tower stance from which to respond to any criticism that might come their way -- and in the past, they have retaliated like vipers to those who've written about the band without "permission." (9)
All of these elements, of course, make them an intriguing subject, ripe for discussion. A request for an interview was made; the band would be meeting soon, I was told, and the request would be dealt with then. So I wait. And with waiting comes boredom. (10) To amuse myself, I conjure all the GYBE! mythology in an epic control-the-universe meeting akin to the Stonecutters from The Simpsons. (11)
Finally, I am told, my request has been approved and I should expect to hear from a band member at any time. (12)
Still waiting. Suspiciously. (13)
I begin to contact a few Montreal-area associates of the band. (14) Surprisingly, no one wants to speak on the record. The Stonecutters vibe has me believing that the band's dominance has created a fear of backlash that blankets the Montreal music community. (15) In reality, most people just don't care. (16) My investigations do yield that the band didn't like Albini's work on the record and remixed it at their own Hotel 2 Tango studio. (17) I also discover that the band severed their long-standing relationship with Kranky (the stalwart -- and tiny -- American indie label that handled CD issues of their previous work) because Kranky was apparently a cog in the corporate machine. (18) Of course, going through Constellation will increase their profit margin, but that couldn't be a motivator right? No, of course not. (19)
No one ever did call. (20)
Back to Kafka's parable. The waiting man eventually reaches old age. The gatekeeper comes to him at his death and reveals the truth: "Since this gate was made only for you, I am now going to shut it."
(1) The contents of the new godspeed record remain a mystery to Roman Sokal because he did not receive a free advance copy which, like most 'journalists' , he believes is his right. He then submits that this right is being abrogated by constellation, apparently in something like the following manner: the natural law that mandates free advance copies of CDs plus a guaranteed Q&A session for any journalist that comes knocking has been overturned by a despotic rock band and their record label, who replace it with an arbitrary "law" of their own, where "access" is granted only at their whim. Behaviour so disorienting and sinister it merits literary allusions to Kafka. Mr. Sokal's overactive imagination and feverish sense of media entitlement have led him to frame in these terms his simple inability to make contact with gy!be or receive a complimentary disc.
(2) There is no correlation whatsoever between the release of godspeed music and the band's agreement to conduct an interview. If by "released" Exclaim! means 'sent out a free copy of the yet-to-be-released godspeed CD' then it should be patently clear to all parties why this gift might be contingent on an interview confirmation:
Roman Sokal, representing Exclaim! magazine, makes an unsolicited request for an 'on-the-record', journalistically-circumscribed interview. Even though uninvited, Exclaim! understands this overture as a transaction, which is partly why the journalist considers it is his right to get at least one measly free CD from constellation just for asking, just to grease the wheels, set the machine in motion - as everyone knows, you throw enough swag around and some of it'll stick. Fair enough. Payment for services rendered.
Except that we don't do business with Exclaim!, a fact the editors are surely aware of. Exclaim! magazine does not receive promotional materials, payments or endorsements of any sort from constellation. We neither advertise in their pages nor seek reviews by sending them free copies of our records. We do not directly or indirectly solicit interviews, features, previews, lead-ins, teasers, shortbits, 'questionnaire' whizzpages, or whatever else Exclaim! calls its dutifully apportioned editorial column space. We do not presume Exclaim! or anyone acting in its name demands or deserves our co-operation, much less hand-outs. We don't pay attention to its timelines, deadlines or milestones and we don't ask them to pay attention to ours. For the past four years, Constellation has as a matter of policy refrained from sending free goods or other requests for service to Exclaim!
If Mr. Sokal is unaware
of this, then his editors have made a shameless and sickening error in
running his piece. They have duped their own writer into assuming
that constellation supports and welcomes the publication he represents,
then proceeded to print his hatchet job in over 100 000 copies of their
music tabloid. Or perhaps defamatory gossip-mongering and sophomoric
provocation lie closer to the editorial spirit of the paper than the good
faith and professional standards that any 'error' of judgment might presuppose.
Mr. Sokal himself -- again unsolicited -- confirms our hunch:
Date: Tue, 5 Nov
2002 03:59:08 -0500 (EST)
so as you have likely seen, the piece is out. i am sorry if it offended you in anyway. what i wanted to do was along long thing on artists in general vs. public perception, etc...you know, like a philisophical type of thing. instead i had to do something (and being given guideline even, which specifics like trying to razz you into chasing me down a montreal street or something like that i cant recall at the moment). i hated writing the thing by the letter. again, i apologize. and i did end up getting a copy of the album last week by sonic unyon, which i appreciate fully. i think it is the band's best work to date- kind of a weird mix of evil pink floyd with barmitzvah ethnic styles. or simply put, just a really great album and ive listened to it many times now. oh and what I forgot to mention was that part of the mag's m.o. in regards to running a piece on the band was to get you to write a nasty letter back that they could print. *sigh*! its all nonsense, i just like listening to music- since falling into the music production/engineering/recording studio thing (which i am semi retired from now, for years) as well as 'journalism' has sort of castrated the simple joy of years gone where it was fun to just go out and buy an anticipated record and not knowing (or even care to think of) what was behind a band, etc.
well, be well, and hope to finally catch one of your shows in the near futur.
Thanks for that. This is the very definition of hack journalism, straight from the horse's mouth.
Incredibly, we were in fact willing to make an exception in the present case, if it was agreed with godspeed that giving Mr. Sokal a free advance copy of the album would be germane to his interview request. Since neither constellation nor godspeed had any particular interest in seeing his request through, we were all operating at our usual glacial pace with the press. What Exclaim! conveniently regards as a dispensation of "privileges" is in fact a mundane matter of 'not-getting-around-to-it' : a meaningless byproduct of the utter banality and soul-crushing emptiness of entertaining media requests. As if we should all be jumping to attention, hand-jobbing every journalist who calls, in the name of 'democracy'. We field about 100 times more media requests than would be necessary to fulfill exactly this egalitarian media prophecy -- a hell on earth where we would be doing nothing but arranging press "access", mailing out free discs on an hourly basis, and negotiating licensing agreements for television commercials and dramedies on the side. Obviously, we field 99% of these requests by ignoring, stalling, fumbling and dropping them. We make no apologies for the hurt feelings of spoiled media brats and their arch sense of entitlement.
As with every interview request, Mr. Sokal's was passed on to the band. Constellation doesn't decide who godspeed talks to. The mere fact that Roman requested an interview with the band does not mean he automatically wins a free record. Like about 5000 other media organs and agents who have contacted constellation this year, Exclaim! apparently believes that its unsolicited offer to cover or expose our musicians grants it a goodie bag and some answers, pronto. Following Roman's Law, we should be sending out free CDs to anyone who expresses an interest in the band. This is indeed an ideal scenario. Every genuine fan of the band, all the window-shoppers and anyone else who feigns an interest gets the disc for free. In fact, nobody ever pays for anything and the world is a beautiful place. This grotesque elitism of media types places them at the vanguard of a dawning utopia: a chorus of hacks and entertainment synergists calling for a money-free society applicable only to their exclusive, navel-gazing cloister. Yes, the utopic revolution starts here.
For the record, Exclaim! might be interested to know that the members of godspeed have conducted dozens of interviews with people who did not in any manner receive free goods or other gifts from constellation, or their previous label, kranky. Dozens of others have decided to write thoughtful, reflective, well-researched critical pieces without having been 'granted' an interview. Sorry Roman, but the fact that you allowed yourself to be editorially railroaded by the chieftains at Exclaim! does not let you off the hook.
(3) What do Mr. Sokal's quotation marks signify exactly? Is he insinuating that we have used this term, "privilege"? We have not. In psychology, this is called 'transference'. Exclaim! reveals nothing but its own inordinate sense of privilege. And Roman, if you want to "scare-quote" your own words for emphasis, an accepted practice is to use 'single' quotes to make it clear you are not actually putting words in other people's mouths.
(4) godspeed members especially love it when people "pitch" them interviews. They really like to step up and knock those outta the ballpark. They all look back fondly on their past 'home-run' rap sessions with journalists, and dream about the next one. They're probably tarring their bats and taking practice swings right now.
(5) What approach? A tiny gesture like the one contained in the insert artwork? Which declares godspeed's complicity in an industry landscape they abhor while gently encouraging fans to avoid the worst manifestations of this industry? Actual music buyers (unlike the media) have exactly one significant material choice to make in shaping how the music industry operates: whose goods to purchase and where. This is all godspeed is attempting to address. It is not a "non-commercial stance" -- in fact, it is predicated on commerce.
Clearly, for Exclaim! these liner-notes are just another meaningless scrap of infogarbage with no possible implications beyond some vaguely-conceived 'cool-factor' it's peddling on the band's behalf. Godspeed is so radical -- just like a Che Guevera baby-T or the new game for Sony Playstation. It is the media, and the media alone, who interpret all this stuff through a reductively post-modern lens of 'image-maintenance', 'branding' and whatnot. Bypass or ignore the media, and you simply entrench all this in their skewed brains. Everything is symbol and image; nothing is real.
(6) godspeed is not generally involved in the extremely mundane task of deciding who and how many people will receive promotional copies of an album. The label decides who to send to, with very occasional input from bands, who have better things to do. Bands do share the burden of these costs financially, however -- promo postage is a shared production expense and lost revenue on free copies is equally distributed. Sending out 1500 vs. 750 free copies, for example, would affect godspeed's per unit earnings by roughly 0.5 cents. Obviously, it's the lost revenue on giveaway copies that makes this difference; postage is a rounding error.
For the record, neither godspeed nor constellation enforce a particularly tight-fisted promo policy. There are plenty of free Yanqui U.X.O. discs floating around out there. We have distributors in over twenty countries, and every one of these asks for discs to offer their regional radio, zines, and shop owners. We ask our distributors to prioritise smaller music outlets, political and arts publications, and community radio stations. Obviously, the further afield and the more foreign the tongue, the less we can be sure about any of this; it can get hopelessly remote and abstract. We certainly have no idea who's going to actually listen to these, for the most part, or what they are going to say about them, if anything. But after five years of diligence, we are pretty happy with all the distributors we currently work with. They share our reticence about throwing out discs to whoever steps up with a pitch, and they understand that the role any gift-requester plays in the larger economy is a factor for us. Still, even the most humble promo allotments to all these countries add up in a hurry. Then along comes a godspeed release; constellation could without exaggeration send off ten-thousand free discs if it wanted to be 'generous' with the press, really try to get a buzz going, give everybody in the industry what they're asking for. We imagine this is what majors going for million-sellers are doing -- turning ostensibly cultural artefacts into so much detritus.
So where we can exercise any control over this flow of swag, we try. This mostly means North America, which is scrutinised as closely as possible. Given the torrent of self-satisfied 'professional' requests for free stuff that endlessly washes across this obnoxious continent and over our desks, this adds up to a supremely depressing daily chore. But whether or not Exclaim! receives a free copy has nothing to do with the penny-pinching, money-grubbing caricature that informs Mr. Sokalís paragraph. The suggestion that our approach to giving out promo discs is part and parcel of a godspeed profit-maximisation/mystery-generation strategy is ham-fisted, mean-spirited and pure fabrication. The fact that Exclaim! is a lightweight music tabloid whose lip-service 'politics' are a mushy-mouthed hollow pose would have a lot more to do with it.
(7) godspeed 'promote' their music by playing shows 3-6 months of the year and occasionally talking on some 'official' prescribed journalistic level with print and radio media representatives. The fact that they don't do more - tie-ins, street teams, junkets, jingles, photo sessions, muchmusic, sit-coms, etc. - is clear evidence of a brilliant image strategy. In fact, they don't even have a manager, management agency, management team, management temp or publicist working to mediate and map them out as courteously, compliantly and efficiently as possible. No, godspeed are left to devise and execute this uber-savvy strategy all on their own, with the label running a little interference. Luckily, since this involves doing a whole lot of nothing, it actually "saves time and effort". Those elusive and lazy collectivists! What a devious bunch of layabouts!
(9) godspeed angrily and bitterly rebutted the falsehoods and innuendo contained in an unsolicited Exclaim! piece written in 1998 - not that the "vipers" at Exclaim! are willing to disclose this. But please elaborate. Please supply us with examples of your own. What myriad collection of 'critics' have been slayed by the venom shot from godspeed's "ivory tower"? How about give us just three other examples beside yourselves? This image of godspeed mowing down dissenters from the comfort of its fortress is very evocative. It would make a great airbrushed fantasy poster. Perhaps the cover of the next album. Don't worry, we'll credit you and ship you a promo to boot if we use it.
And once again, we never used the term "permission". Exclaim! doesn't need our "permission" to spew its bullshit.
(11) Yes how amusing. This is an excellent use of resources -- the solipsistic idling of your TV brain. Or is that godspeed "saves time and effort" approach infectious? Either way, the band and label are to blame. The only reason you're sitting there doing sweet fuck all is because godspeed aren't busily attending to your interview request. They've really got you in a headlock. They're working some serious ninja shit. Snap out of it.
We're unclear whether Mr. Sokal is still embarked on his insightful and
metaphorically rich Simpsons thought-project (it really is a cartoon life!)
or if he's just plain delusional. No interview request was "approved".
Here is the complete text of our e-mail correspondence. Note that
by the end of the exchange, Sonic Unyon (one of our distributors) has supplied
with a disc (at our request) so that the paper can at least fact-check
parts of an article we were informed by Sonic Unyon was going to press.
Date: Thu, 19 Sep
2002 16:48:01 -0400 (EDT)
lemme know your thoughts!
To: roman sokal
hi roman. firstly, no one hates anyone. secondly, the band will be doing a handful of interviews but probably not many. we'll pass along your request and get back to you whenever we get an answer from them.
Date: Thu, 19 Sep
2002 16:48:43 -0400 (EDT)
p..s- do you think it is possible i can obtain a copy of the disc?
To: roman sokal
obviously if the band were to be interested in an interview, we would send you a disc.
Date: Fri, 20 Sep
2002 13:36:28 -0400 (EDT)
Date: Mon, 30 Sep
2002 01:05:26 -0400 (EDT)
To: roman sokal
hello roman. the band is meeting tonight and will be looking at interview requests. we'll get you an answer shortly.
Date: Tue, 1 Oct
2002 16:58:28 -0400 (EDT)
anyhow, let me know!
To: roman sokal
hi roman. the band had a long agenda last night and interveiws got bumped to a meeting next monday, sorry. as soon as we have more info, we'll get in touch.
Date: Tue, 1 Oct
2002 17:41:08 -0400 (EDT)
salut don, thanks
for getting back to me. well, my deadline is supposed to
To: roman sokal
hi roman. we will be away as of thursday, until monday. we'll contact you next week after the band has met again.
Date: Wed, 2 Oct
2002 17:38:01 -0400 (EDT)
Date: Tue, 8 Oct
2002 15:00:18 -0400 (EDT)
anyway, keep me posted on any developments!
To: roman sokal
hello roman. i believe someone from the band will contact you directly...
again, my digits are 905 555 5555
hope all is well
To: roman sokal
hi roman. i've forwarded your message to the band and asked them to get in touch.
Date: Fri, 25 Oct
2002 17:04:41 -0400 (EDT)
well danke anyway
for the efforts-
Date: Mon, 28 Oct
2002 15:50:41 -0500 (EST)
thanks for getting
me a gybe disc via palmerston
(14) Ah, here we go...detective on the prowl. Doesn't sound like his sources are warming up to him though. Can't imagine why not. Guess you should just climb to the top of the mountain and have a brooding existential picture taken of yourself.
(15) Nice that you brought your cartoon "vibe" with you to Montreal to add some tension and atmosphere. It's so dull and dreary here otherwise, what with godspeed ruling the city and everyone living in dread of "backlash" under their "dominance".
It is no secret that godspeed did not use the first batch of mixes executed under time constraints and galloping burnout in Chicago with Albini at the board. They tried to complete the whole record between tours, which was sort of unrealistic. The option to return to Chicago to re-mix after touring was available. But not cheap. The hotel2tango, where the band rehearses, also now happens to be a 24-track studio fully compatible with the excellent masters recorded at Electrical Audio by Albini. godspeed decided to try re-mixing at the hotel first, because why not give it a shot at home, in the facility you yourselves have built up from nothing, with little more to lose than a couple more weeks of summer. The general consensus was that the hotel mixes were much improved, and it was time to say 'done'. There is no truth to the claim that "the band didn't like Albini's work on the record" - this is irresponsible and inflammatory. Luckily Albini recognises a puerile hatchet job as well as the next guy, so godspeed probably doesn't have to worry about defusing any misunderstandings. But thanks anyway for trying to undermine that relationship, about which you know exactly zero.
(18) Quite a "discovery". Also utter nonsense. Anybody remotely involved in the 'indie rock' industry knows kranky are as low key as it gets for a mid-sized indie label. Exclaim! gets this half correct in characterising them as "stalwart" (though "tiny" would be untrue, compared to the vast majority of micro-indie bedroom operations out there). The suggestion that godspeed has made some glib and facile claim about kranky's corporate complicity is baseless innuendo. No member of godspeed has said or believes anything of the sort. But fabrications like these, cloaked as factual evidence culled from on-the-spot 'investigations', nicely confirm Exclaim!'s implicit claim that godspeed are empty posers waving anti-corporate slogans while laughing all the way to the bank.
On almost every point of industry practice, there is no appreciable difference between kranky and constellation. Both labels share more or less the same distribution channels, and both largely sidestep even the standard 'indie' promotional trough more than most. Both labels undoubtedly make various compromises in bringing records to market -- constellation acknowledges the ones it makes and is ready to answer for them at any time. But of course nobody's ever really looked into this; that would take a lot of research unbecoming the high station of a music journalist, where all stories are delivered on a silver presskit, garnished with sprigs of gossip. The fact that kranky sends free discs to Exclaim! and we don't would be the only significant issue here.
Godspeed's contract with kranky was up and the band decided not to renew for a few very simple reasons: 1) to work more closely with their original label in a way that permits daily contact and conversation about how to roll out their recordings; 2) to ensure that profits from future recordings are re-invested in local infrastructures and projects, as opposed to lining the pockets of a couple of guys in Chicago; 3) to exercise more control over pricing, in an effort to lower the retail cost of their work. kranky has always been remote to godspeed's deeper personal and political concerns. constellation is not. However, this lazy and spurious proposition that kranky was found guilty of corporate complicity by the band is ludicrous. No doubt kranky will get a real kick out of this as well, in spite of another effort on Exclaim!'s part to misrepresent and poison the band's relationship with the people they work with.
(19) Slander, basically. "Of course" you are filled to the ears with shit. You impute "profit margin" as a motive for godspeed's dealings with record labels. This is defamatory nonsense, and precisely the opposite of the facts. godspeed's "profit margin" will not increase with constellation. Any of our distributors could have informed you that the CD retail price for Yanqui U.X.O. will be lower than godspeed's previous American CDs. That's because we'll be charging less for it. And because we'll be charging less for it, godspeed won't make as much money. As an aside, neither will constellation be making as much as the American label did and goes on doing with their first three godspeed CDs. But how charming to see Exclaim! - "Canada's Music Authority" (sic) - throw out this particular libel. 'Montreal rock group moves from indie American label to indie Canadian label in a blatant cash grab'. You idiots.