Mogwai are unrelenting and all-consuming as they grace Manchester’s Albert Hall

By February 3, 2018

Music. Manchester.

Photo: Joe Taylor

Mogwai are a band that have witnessed the rise and popularisation of a plethora of different genres, from grunge, to IDM, to dubstep, and yet, now into their third decade of making music, continue to produce innovative, denture-destabilising albums and live performances that entice fans and critics alike. In recent years Mogwai have turned their attention to soundtracks, scoring post-rock soundscapes for Mark Cousins’ documentary Atomic, Living in Dread and Promise, as well as for the Canal+ TV series Les Revenants and the eerie video game Life Is Strange. Now they’re back touring their ninth studio album Every Country’s Sun, a 56-minute post-, ambient-, art-, alt-rock pastoral that wends and weaves, hymn-like and hypnotic.

It seems fitting then that they grace Manchester’s Wesleyan Albert Hall for their two shows in the city, with the mixture of Gothic and Neo-Baroque architecture playing into the feeling of unnerving religious induction. The band walk on stage in near-darkness and Stuart Braithwaite utters what has almost become a catchphrase for the band, “We’re Mogwai from Glasgow, Scotland”, before Barry Burns begins the melancholic piano part of ‘Friend of the Night’ from their fifth album Mr. Beast. It’s a 6/4 post-rock masterpiece, with Burns’ piano circling Bullochs’ repetitive drum-beat all to a growing texture of distorted, intangible guitar that crescendos to mind-numbing size.

Their performance is unrelenting in its tsunami-like wall of sound, and with every song the audience melts further into their neo-sacred folds. Half-way through the set we’re treated to a lull, able to retrieve our balance before Burns begins playing the hallowed opening chords of ‘I’m Jim Morrison I’m Dead’ from The Hawk is Howling. “Have it!” someone shouts, and they build all over again, with the second guitarist seemingly only aware of his highest four frets, frantically strumming faster and faster for his otherworldly cacophony that flies out past him from the vast range of amps on stage. Braithwaite taunts the crowd with brief guitar licks that peek out from behind the distortion wall, waving into the post-rock ether before disappearing again having realised it’s not their place.

‘Don’t believe the fife’ is another track from Every Country’s Sun that spends the first couple of minutes lulling its audience into an ambient slumber with its quiet guitars, minimalist drums and ethereal synth sounds, before launching into nerve-squeezing distortion born in the doldrums. Dominic Aitchison’s bass reverberates so strongly through the floor and walls, up into the audience’s bodies, that one would fear for all pacemakers within a quarter-mile radius. ‘Remurdered’ from 2014’s Rave Tapes is a dark delve into gritty, fuzz-inducing corporeality, with its four-to-the-floor drums, bouncing synth line and leaden bass.

With the band’s closing track ‘Mogwai fear Satan’ from their debut LP Mogwai Young Team, a fifteen-minute epic that closes with Braithwaite hanging his guitar up facing the crowd while feedback loops chase around the hall, one could be forgiven for thinking that the Scottish four-piece’s sound stemmed from a disagreement in the darkest depths of hell. Their ear-strangling soundscapes vibrate every molecule in the nearby area, and in an age where the remnants of postmodern ontological emptiness and pessimism still pervade the general mindset, it’s a wonderful thing to be shaken to our very core, to be made to feel something totally consuming and come out the other side alive, if a little deafened.

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