On Monday night, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the Montreal-based rock band, was awarded the 2013 Polaris Music Prize – and the $30,000 that goes with it – for their fourth album, Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
All should be good, right?
I had mentally prepared a congrats-to-the-winner blog, but all that kind of went up in smoke when the band, which didn’t attend the ceremony at the Carlu in Toronto, published an open letter, essentially lambasting the Polaris Prize (you can read that letter in full here).
The band was quite vocal on a number of points – “holding holding a gala during a time of austerity and normalized decline is a weird thing to do” and “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 “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” – and that’s no surprise, since the band has often taken anti-corporate positions in the past.
And, while some of what they say is completely justified – “give the money to the kids let ’em put on their own goddam parties…” – a lot of it is pretty harsh, I think.
Polaris aims to include every single artist in their rankings. That means that unknown bands can be pit up against industry heavyweights like Metric and Leonard Cohen. I think that is pretty damn cool, and definitely something to support. I think that that is something to be proud of.
GYBE also said they’d be using the money to set up a music program for prisoners in Quebec. The money was supplied by the same corporate sponsors that they decried. And maybe, if the northern ice caps were truly something that they were worried about, they’d use the money to support research to reverse the damage?
The band also took a few stabs at the country – “our country is fucked” and “Troubled Motherland”.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I was a little insulted. How can they seem so unappreciative? To a smaller band, one that, maybe, spent all the money they had to record the album they submitted, $30,000 would be nothing less than a Godsend. If GYBE was really offended by the award and the ceremony, they’d give the money back. Fuck you, Polaris, but we’ll take the money anyway.
Steve Jordan, Polaris founder, told the Canadian Press: “Our winners are entitled to state their views and that certainly happened. I think we have a track record of embracing the negatives as well because we want this to be about an entire conversation, not just about people who are like: ‘Yay, Polaris!’ We listen to all voices.”
So, speaking of voices, what do you think? Let us know in the comments!