When [B]Luke Sutherland[/B] appears at the death of [B]'Xmas Steps'[/B] to play mournful violin while guitars vapourise around him, it becomes apparent that [a]Mogwai[/a]'s only active peers now a
The war on mediocrity is conducted, for the most part, by stealth. They take their time, because they know they can. And when, finally, annihilation comes, it is inevitable, comprehensive and utterly merciless.
The strobes are on overdrive and Stuart Braithwaite‘s staggering round the tiny stage, raving into the mic, raging at something, everything. But you can’t make out a word for the overwhelming torrent of white noise the rest of Mogwai are creating. A great, arching, pulverising, euphoric skree of contextualised sonic anarchy.
It’s comparable in volume and intensity only – and though the reference dogs them, it’s particularly apposite right now – to My Bloody Valentine, when they would pluck a note out of ‘You Made Me Realise’ and hold it, unwaveringly, for 15 minutes. A death-or-glory, take-no-prisoners, Valhalla-we-are-coming moment, when the power and possibilities of the electric guitar to make a controlled yet astonishing racket are tested to the limit. It’s what you want, really.
Mogwai‘s first full British tour for 18-odd months, then, finds them in bigger venues, with their own lighting rig which begins to sway alarmingly during ‘Christmas Song’. With their own sound system, and a bass channel so potent it makes everything onstage vibrate for much of the gig, and with their own concessions stand selling earplugs alongside all those ‘Blur: Are Shite’ shirts. The earplugs, it’s probably fair to say, are the closest thing to a compromise they get to all night.
Because, once again, the extremes of this remarkable gig all point to the unavoidable fact that Mogwai matter. At heart, it’s a ceaseless ambition to transcend and destroy the mundane, to move and connect on every level, to engender a belief that, hideously unfashionable though it may be, music can actually be of importance in people’s lives, so much more than a leisure activity, a showbiz diversion. There’s a fierce motivation here – in the stark and lovely detailing of ‘Christmas Song’, in ‘Helicon 1’‘s cloudy grandeur, in the climactic white-out of ‘Like Herod’ – to create something beautiful not just for its own sake but because someone really should, compelled by a rage against so much dismal fakery that passes itself off as ‘alternative’, as ’emotional’, as ‘music’.
Serious stuff, but why shouldn’t it be? Mogwai‘s rare talent is to make something positive out of their hatred, so it’s never enough for Braithwaite to merely call a band shite as a sensationalist tactic, it’s necessary for him to go out and prove what a better band sounds like. It gets harder, of course. Where once the angles and clichi-swerving principles of post-rock seemed like a perfect antidote to the despondent mass of underachieving indie, now even that sounds, more often than not, every bit as tired and formulaic. In the face of some of their tricks becoming ubiquitous, it’s incredible how Mogwai‘s charms haven’t been, if not completely wiped out, at least eroded slightly.
The reason why’s simple, however; they’re just much, much better. Better tunes that are more vicious, more sensuous, more radical. Better playing that is, for all its righteous indignation, strangely egoless. A sense of their own worth that somehow avoids being pretentious; they can, clearly, leave that part to other people. When Luke Sutherland appears at the death of ‘Xmas Steps’ to play mournful violin while guitars vapourise around him, it becomes apparent that Mogwai‘s only active peers now are Godspeed You Black Emperor!.
You can look for poetry and, sometimes, you can even find it, amidst beards and Kappa, Celtic shirts and stickers on amps that read, “Skateboarding is not a crime”. When ‘Superheroes Of BMX’ peaks, a moth flits hesitantly across the stage, buffeted by the noise, flying in and out of the amps, somehow surviving the onslaught. There’s a metaphor there, surely – and we’re beyond caring now – all about frailty and brute force, delicacy and chaos. Beauty and massive, inescapable volume. That’s Mogwai: they’re good, y’know.