Friday, June 06, 2003

Music Sounds Better With You #7

'Angels Vs Aliens' - Mogwai

The most important band to emerge from the British underground for years, and probably the most influential band in Britain bar Radiohead right now, Mogwai entered my life at just the right time. University had opened me up to new people, new experiences - and new music. Ten Rapid was my first contact with them, and 'Angels Vs Aliens' was the first song to take a real grip of my imagination - I think it was all the clattering percussion.

So, what's so special about them? Well, they opened my ears to a whole new type of music. Call it post-rock if you will, but the band themselves famously hate the term. They sounded like they took Sonic Youth's most abstract arty soundscapes as a starting point, not an endpoint. I was enthralled - "You can go FURTHER than that?!". They eschewed all lyrics - that meant no trivial platitudes or self-absorbed cliches foisted upon the listener, no need to explain yourself endlessly in interviews, no fans obsessing over and overanalysing words printed in sleeve notes. And they went to the absolute extremes of the sonic spectrum.

It was when I first saw them live that my love for them was set in stone: October 1999, in the Nottingham Ballroom. I didn't know much of the material, but that didn't matter. What I remember most is the extraordinary volume, which constantly threatened to pin me against the wall. The finale, a 25-minute long version of 'Mogwai Fear Satan' accompanied by psychotic strobing effects, was so ferociously loud that the Ballroom's wooden floor was positively shaking under my feet. It was like being caught in the middle of an earthquake, or being struck down by the god of thunder.

The difference between Mogwai and some of their contemporaries is that they're not snobbishly aloof. They want to make an emotional connection with their audiences, and they want to rock, whereas a band like Sigur Ros can seem like they're divorced from reality all together, content to exist in a self-enclosed bubble even when performing onstage.

Of course, things have changed over time. The songs have generally grown quieter, lyrics have crept in, the fanbase has swollen massively despite a conspicuous lack of hype. But they remain unwilling to compromise their musical vision. A case in point is their last album, Rock Action. They might have been expected to play the corporate game, and release a single which might be used as a tool to lever the album up the sales charts and garner a new audience ('Dial: Revenge', perhaps?). But no - what they did put out as a single was their previously-unreleased Albini-recorded version of the Jewish hymn 'My Father My King', ineligible for the charts at over 20 minutes long. Fuck the curfew.

Punk is a state of mind and not a musical genre. The term is not applicable to the spiky-haired scatalogical singalongs of Sum 41, or the self-obsessed teenage temper tantrum pop of Busted and Avril. But it is to Mogwai.

Inspired a love of: Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Low, Sigur Ros, A Silver Mt Zion, Codeine, Lift To Experience, Slint, Billy Mahonie, Mew, Hood, Ganger, Laeto, Do Make Say Think

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