Mogwai require a basic gut level of enthusiasm from the most apparently intellectual of pursuits...
Half past eight, and concerned onlookers have called an ambience. The wind whistles in through the cracks in the doors and lends to The Riverside an authentically frosty complexion: the mood entirely crispy, and Newcastle itself one giant and horribly literal chill-out zone. Meanwhile, the serious are gathered to listen to how sound may occupy a space. Like, yo.
Such, it appears, is the enticing premise of tonight’s gig relay between upstairs and down. A symposium of sound and intermittent silence. A wake for traditional song and notionally a small, scheduled skirmish between two convergent fringes of ambient, atmospheric music: the dance music to which you can’t dance, and the rock music which only most unconventionally rocks.
And initially, at least, we are situated in a place where personality must be forced to give way to texture. Bad news obviously if you’re Cilla Black, less terrible if you’re Luke Vibert, whose spartan intellectual-hop adds new depth to the whole performance concept of playing some records in a room. You had to be there. Except really you didn’t. This part of the review was actually composed last week, while watching my flatmate at the turntable. Only the words ‘Crosby Stills & Nash’ have been changed.
However, for a man dealing chiefly in the noises made when the doors are about to shut on European trains, Richie Hawtin, aka Plastikman, is strangely more interactive. Whereas the inhumanity of Wagon Christ is in his dry inflexibility, Plastikman’s minutely altering series of clatters and pounds is compelling, like evil itself: only more fascinating because you can put a human face to it. An eerily shiny face, but a face nonetheless. Apparently he lost his records this afternoon. Just imagine the madness if he hadn’t!
Or perhaps just see it in person. For upstairs we have a man in a cycling jacket shaking maracas like he’s extorting money from them. This is Pete Voss and the strange floating tendrils of sound ululating in his wake are Campag Velocet, who begin the second Breezeblock part of the evening, where the ambience is in the hands of guitars.
Curiously, here, in the realms of the analogue, is where convention truly departs and a truly otherworldly atmosphere takes over. As Campag, their drones and their linguistic splices depart you can feel the palpable reaction. Part respect and confusion. Part fear.
Mogwai fear no-one, and as Mary Anne Hobbs introduces them, she stumbles on why. “Grrrrr!” she pretty much growls, “The mmmmighty Mogwai!” Which entirely understandable enthusiasm nicely underlines the breathtakingly marginal territory that Mogwai walk. It’s like saying: “Fuck me! A geodesic dome! A uniquely curved roof held together by a purely mathematical structure!” Mogwai require a basic gut level of enthusiasm from the most apparently intellectual of pursuits.
Unsettling is what it is. Mogwai bring you flutes and violence. In ‘Like Herod’, there is placid beauty and terrible cruelty, while ‘New Paths To Helicon’ is their astonishing method in beautiful escalating intensity, pushing the boundaries of ambience into new and exultant shapes.
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Their method? That quiet is good. Disquiet, though, is always better.