Two circuses and GYBE…

I went to two circuses today. The first was a visit to the Cirque du Soleil with the sprogs to see Corteo, in which a clown dreams about the funeral procession after his own death. There were some magical moments in there between the more traditional acrobatics, juggling and other feats of strength, skill and balance. One of these, judging from the faces around me, was when a midget actress (together with her midget partner one of the stars of the show, incidentally) floats and bounces above the audience, suspended below a bunch of helium baloons. A few dropped catches aside (only the jugglers, not the trapeze artists!) this was up to the usual high standard. In the evening I took my daughter to the Cirque Royal to see God Speed You! Black Emperor. Like Sigur Ros more recently, in 2002 it seemed that this Canadian ‘post-rock’  band had run out of collective creative steam and fragmented amicably into individual projects, so it’s a surprise to see them back together and on tour. Doubtless, Mammon is in there somewhere, but so much the better for us. Although for long rumoured to be anarchists, there is nothing anarchic about GYBE’s music. A layer of sound is laid down, typically using feedback, and maybe accompanied by a few harmonic guitar chords. The musicians (a double bassist, several guitarists) build on top of this, using loops, and above it all a violin keens. They build to successive crescendos, each wave of sound marked percussively by their two drummers (yes, two!). And the whole is wrapped in a symphonic structure. There is a complete eschewal of traditional big act apparatus. The band play in a gloomy light that occasionally brightens imperceptibly – there is no light show, there are no strobes. The looped images on the screen behind them – grainy photographs, enigmatic fragments of film – are an integral part of the overall concept. The musicians sit as much as stand. They concentrate on their instruments to the exclusion of the audience. (There is a good essay about them here.) In my opinion, when they loop in fragments of voices (poets, revolutionaries, angry protestors) they are very close to the minimalist music of Steve Reich – indeed, I could almost have imagined this concert at the Palais des Beaux Arts. A rich day.


  1. Brad

    Martin, you write that “there is nothing anarchic about GYBE’s music”, and then recommend my essay, in which I argue precisely that their music should be read through the lens of anarchism. Perhaps you just mean that their sound isn’t disorganised; but your remark gives the (in my view) misleading impression that anarchism is irrelevant to their music. In any case, I appreciate the recommendation!

  2. Martin

    Brad, I was, as you rightly guessed, trying to make a distinction between their anarchism and their carefully constructed music. I very much enjoyed your article, for which grateful thanks, and it was great to see them touring again.

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