Tag Archives: post-rock

Why you really need to go see Mogwai at the Hydro in December.

Scotland’s post-rock titans have drank plentifully from the fountain of musical longevity and output as they continue to churn out slabs of cacophonous minimalism.

Music of the kind of supreme quality that could only bear their name, almost 20 years after the release of debut studio album ‘Mogwai Young Team’.

And the band – fuelled as Stuart Braithwaite says out of “a fear of regular employment” – aren’t one to rest on their laurels, with this past year to date seeing them play ‘Atomic’ score shows to audiences across the UK, Europe, Japan and most recently in January in North America.

This, as well as offering up a collaborative soundtrack in 2016 for climate change film ‘Before The Flood’ with three Oscar winners in the form of Trent Reznor, his longtime collaborator Atticus Ross and Argentine film composer Gustavo Santaolalla.

And with the promise of a new album on the cards – recorded late last year at Tarbox Road Studios in Upstate New York (where, incidentally, 1999’s Come On Die Young was recorded) – it will no doubt serve as a perfect way to whet the appetite prior to their end of year mega-show at The Hydro in December.

Few bands would have the balls to announce a gig almost 11 months in advance. But Mogwai do. Especially a gig of such scale, where, after June 2015’s 2 night assault on the senses at The Barrowlands as part of their 20th anniversary shows, they are going for the Glasgow jugular.

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A gig which, if there ever was one, could be baptised with the term ‘Ned Free Zone’, and one which will no doubt represent the ultimate test of the venue’s sound levels potential.

Rarely, if ever, has a band and venue such a Cinderella glass slipper perfect fit as this one does, and it definitely tops the bill of gigs to go see in the city this year.

And with previous concerts offering support in the form of acts such as Sacred Paws (signed to their own Rock Action label), Loop, Prolapse, Pye Corner Audio, The Vaselines, Forest Swords, there’s extra reason to be excited. Indeed, already mooted as possible support have been the likes of Man of Moon and The Twilight Sad for The Hydro.

If you haven’t already, you can get your ticket here:

http://www.ticketmaster.co.uk/mogwai-the-sse-hydro-glasgow/venueartist/444745/795768

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Mogwai, ‘Atomic’ review

Forgery-proof is one of the best adjectives I’ve heard used to describe Mogwai, Glasgow’s incontestable post-rock pioneers. Having created and shaped a signature sound that is so much their own, a Frankenstein’s monster of celestial, cinematic beauty, imitators run rather than shy away.

With ‘Atomic’, regarded as their ninth album ‘proper’, the band conjure up 48 mins of aural stimulus that has the supreme quality of sonically contextualising its subject matter, the nuclear age.

The ten songs here mirror a journey from feat to the grandiose, the angry to the melancholic, as the band bear the fruits of a pursuit towards an unexpected, yet thoroughly welcome, electronic and synth sound, set against the visual narrative of Marc Cousin’s bold documentary; images of MRI scans and X-rays juxtaposed with Hiroshima, Chernobyl and the horrors of nuclear devastation.

It’s high praise indeed that the band, who, being fully aware of their own proximity to Faslane submarine base and long-time CND supporters, are able to, through the power of their music, craft a sense of scrutiny and contemplation of the nuclear age that oscillates between reverence towards the immense change to our lives against the power of destruction it has brought on us.

As regards to soundtrack duties, we know before a ball is kicked that we are in safe hands, with ‘Atomic’ coming off the back of the majestic artistry that was 2006’s Zidane: a 21ST Century Portrait and the enduring, haunting score for French zombie noir show Les Revenants in 2013.

Stuart Braithwaite’s scything guitar talus –so much part of the Mogwai sound – takes a back seat as buzzing synths and electronic touches, backed by brooding percussion, populate the 10 tracks that make up ‘Atomic’, from the glittering, hopeful opener ‘Ether’ (with French horn added to the mix), through to the solemn, pondering piano infused ‘Fat Man’.

SCRAM sees Berlin based Barry Burns’s vintage synth tones come alive to dystopian, kaleidoscopic effect, while the thick, powerful waves of the stunning ‘Bitterness Centrifuge’ embody a soaring, siren-like feel.

The equally impressive follow up ‘U-235’ (the chemical term for uranium) sees the band verge into broody electro-Kraut dream pop, sharply contrasted with the death march drone of Pripyat.

The ominous quality and feel continues with ‘Weak Force’ and ‘Little Boy’, seeing the band emanate a bleak, muted and moody sound reminiscent of a John Carpenter theme before ‘Are You A Dancer?’ and ‘Tzar’ return us to territory not to distant from Mogwai’s post-rock roots – the former’s hauntingly beautiful violin rendering it a highlight on the album.

Atomic further reinforces the capacity Mogwai have to create sonic soundscapes that permits for a measured introspection the likes of which only Mogwai can do. A band who, just shy of 21 years together, maintain a level of experimentation and exploration of new sounds that underscore their superlative musicianship, one which reiterates something we have known for years, that Mogwai are masters of their art.

Mogwai and Me

I’m not really sure when, or where I first heard Mogwai. I’d been aware of them for a few years without really paying much attention. More than anything, I remember seeing the name on a t-shirt at Connect Festival in Inverary, Scotland, back in 2007. Everyone wearing ‘Blur are Shite’ across their chest had me wondering. I’d heard of the band, but I hadn’t heard them.

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This was when my musical diet consisted of pure guitar driven indie pop, bands such as Interpol, The Horrors, Arctic Monkeys, Kings of Leon and Arcade Fire. Stable bands that soundtracked your Saturday nights on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow.

I can’t even remember if I caught much or any of their set that night as I waited for Bobby Gillespie’s Primal Scream to churn out the hits to the thousands gathered at the foot of the castle. But I returned to Glasgow with the idea that instrumental music wasn’t just shite like Robert Miles’s Children or Daft Punk’s ‘Da Funk’ – a song I heard play for 36 hours on repeat on a school ski trip to France.

I think it was around that time that I saw ‘Zidane – a 21st century portrait’, with my brother Mike and pal Andy at the GFT cinema. A massive Spanish football fan, I was surprised to hear that Zidane had took part in a film, and even more so when I realized it was done by artist Douglas Gordon, who hailed from the same neck of the woods as me, Maryhill in Glasgow.

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To say I was spellbound was an understatement, sitting there chewing on some sweets while watching the elegance of the world’s greatest ever footballer digging his boots into the turf, all while backed by Mogwai’s shimmering, wonderous soundtrack. I remember leaving the cinema feeling drunk and a tad high after such a visual, aural spectacle. I was Mogwai’d up, well and truly.

With the release of Hawk is Howling in September 2008, songs such as ‘Batcat’, ‘the Sun Smells Too Loud’ and the ridiculously epic “I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead’ became fully ingrained parts of my daily routine, songs which transported me away from the inhumane existence that was working for a home insurance firm in a call centre in Glasgow.

Around this time, my brother jumped ship from Scotland and moved over to Italy to work as an English language assistant in the small town of Ferrara near Bologna. Not knowing anyone, or any Italian, his first conversation with a local said a lot about a yet unknown quantity for me, Mogwai’s level of support abroad.

A guy in bar asked Mike where he was from. “Glasgow”. “Glasgow ?,” replied the Italian dude. “Mogwai – our generation’s Pink Floyd.”

Jump forward to February 2011, and the release of Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will’. After taking a call from an old Spanish guy called Manolo in a broom cupboard in Macsorley’s Bar one Friday afternoon, I quit my job and rented out my flat to move over to Northern Spain to teach English – copying my brother in doing so.

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I got a job teaching English in an after school academy in the evenings, while during the day I taught the staff at the Bayer pharmaceutical factory in the town of La Felguera – the factory that produces 100% of the active ingredient for all the world’s aspirin. It’s maze of steel tubes and chimneys dominating the skyline, giving the provincial, stereotypical Spanish non-descript town a heavy Blade Runner feel.

Turned out the slow walk along the river there and back to my flat took me around 50 mins, around about the same time it took me to listen to Hardcore…in its entirety. And listen to it I did. For some reason my Ipod shuffle broke after I downloaded the album, so I only had that album on it.

lada

For a full school calendar year, maybe two – September to June – I walked down the Nalon river in the mining valley of Central Asturias to and from the aspirin factory with Mogwai as my guide. I was in another place – far from the abandoned steel towers and mining industry relics surrounding me as ‘Rano Pano’ and ‘How To Be A Werewolf’ kicked in.

Still having not seen them fully in concert, I was gutted to be back home in Glasgow that August when Mogwai headlined a festival barely 20 miles away from where I stayed, in the seaside city of Gijon, in the grounds of La Laboral – Franco’s mega technical college complex and amazing place for a concert.

For that, I had to wait until June last year, when Mogwai put on two shows to celebrate their twentieth anniversary in Glasgow, after missing their concerts at the Royal Concert Hall and and Richmond Park in 2014. And what better place to see them than a Saturday night at the Barrowlands – one of, if not the, best venue in the country.

barras

And it was tremendous. Ear-bleedingly loud. And as the band worked their way through an extensive back catalogue, I was glad to be in the position to have become well versed in most of their albums to date, as opposed to just the material they released post 2007.

Not long after the shows, I bumped into Stuart from the band about 2 am one Saturday night on Byres Road. After a brief stop and chat he gave me his email address, so I could arrange an interview for music website/podcast Scottish Fiction. A week later, I sat down with Stuart and had a blast discussing the band’s 20 years together and their plans for going forward.

sara

With me was my Spanish pal Sara, a Mogwai fanatic herself, who, being her last ever day living in Glasgow, I thought would appreciate sharing a beer with Stuart. Although that day for her she recalls as being both the best and worst in her three years living there, as, moments before the interview while waiting for me outside Tennents bar in the West End, a nutjob ran out brandishing a kitchen knife and threatened her. Such is life in Glasgow. One moment running the risk of a hospital visit, the other having a drink with your musical hero in a reformed Church.

das

After visiting Barry from Mogwai’s pub, Das Gift, in Berlin while I was there a few times earlier on this year, it was nice to meet the man behind both the world’s best Twitter account and best jukebox in Germany. And as the band geared up to release Atomic, I sat down with Stuart once again to talk about it over a beer in Glasgow’s West End.

This time in less cosmopolitan company with my brother, a conversation had between Stuart, my brother and Paul from Franz Ferdinand at Christmas time during their DJ set in a Glasgow pub played itself out before our eyes. With Franz having played a few gigs in the Italian town my brother called home, Stuart mentioned that he’d be up for playing at the same place with Mogwai.

 

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Cue a number of emails from my brother to the organizers, telling them to get Mogwai onto the bill, and during the interview Stuart got a message on his phone confirming the date. Ferrara, Italy, July 2016.

Well I couldn’t not go could aye? So here I am, drunk as hell, in my brothers flat. Earlier tonight Mogwai played what was regarded as the best concert in the town’s musical history, to a crowd of 1500 people next to the castle, performing their soundtrack to the documentary film ‘Atomic’ while it played on the screen behind them.

Mogwai-Atomic

The post gig Laphroig whisky with the band backstage in their dressing room went down pretty well, discussing Glasgow’s best curry house, as I cast my mind back to nine years earlier and the ‘Blur are Shite’ t-shirt in Inverary. Funny how things play themselves out.

Cheers Mogwai.

Your music has taken me somewhere nice, more so than any other band out there. And I hope it continues to do so.