2015 finds post rock pioneers Mogwai celebrating their twentieth anniversary. A lot has happened in that twenty year period. Mogwai have released eight studio albums and three soundtracks. These albums have been critically acclaimed and commercially successful not just in Britain, but in America. That’s why nowadays, Mogwai are regarded as Scottish music’s elder statesmen. So it’s fitting the Mogwai have recently released a three disc retrospective box set, Central Belters, on Rock Action Records. Central Belters tells the story of twenty years of Mogwai. It’s a story which began in 1991.
That’s when Stuart Braithwaite and Dominic Aitchison first met in Glasgow. Four years later, they met drummer Martin Bulloch and formed Mogwai, which film buffs will remember, is a character from the movie Gremlins. Mogwai was always meant as a temporary name, but it stuck and was on the label of Tuner, their 1996 debut single.
Tuner was released to critical acclaim and the NME awarded it their single of the week award. Two other singles were released during 1996 Angels v. Aliens and Summer, which features on Central Belters. By then Mogwai were a quartet.
Guitarist John Cummings joined the band in 1995. He’s also something of a maestro when it comes to all things technical and is described as playing “guitar and laptop.” He was part of one of the hottest bands of the late nineties, Mogwai who released two more singles in 1997.
The first of these was New Paths To Helicon Pt. 1 which features on Central Belters. It showed Mogwai growing and maturing as a band. NME agreed, and just like their debut single Tuner, New Paths To Helicon Pt. 1 was won NME’s single of the week award. Club Beatroot the followup to was also well received by critics. This was the perfect time for Mogwai to record their debut album, Mogwai Young Team.
Mogwai Young Team.
For Mogwai Young Team, Mogwai brought onboard Brendan O’Hare the Teenage Fanclub’s drummer. Another guest artist was Aidan Moffat of Falkirk based band Arab Strap. He added the vocal to R U Still In 2 It. The rest of Mogwai Young Team consisted of instrumentals. Mogwai Young Team was recorded at Chem 19 studios and produced by two of Scotland’s top producers, ex-Delgado Paul Savage and Andy Miller. Once Mogwai Young Team was completed, it was then released on Scotland’s biggest record label, Chemikal Underground.
Before its release, critics were one over by Mogwai Young Team. Mogwai were hailed Mogwai as a band with a big future. Mogwai Young Team was a hailed as a groundbreaking album of post-rock. An example of that was Mogwai Fear Satan, which features on Central Belters. It’s just one reason critics forecast a big future for Mogwai.
That proved to be a perceptive forecast. When Mogwai Young Team was released on 21st October 1997, sold over 30,000 copies and reached number seventy-five in the UK. The Mogwai Young Team were on their way. However, a few changes were about to take place.
Come On Die Young.
A year later, Mogwai were back in the studio recording their sophomore album Come On Die Young. Much had changed. A new member had joined the band. Barry Buns a flautist and sometimes pianist, had played a few gigs with the band. They then asked him to become the fifth member of Mogwai. Violinst Luke Sutherland joined Mogwai, but not on a full-time basis. This wasn’t the only change.
Recording was split between New York and Glasgow. This time, they’d forsaken Chem 19 in Blantyre and recorded parts of the album in Rarbox Road Studios, New York. Some sessions took place in Glasgow’s Cava Studios. Producing Come On Die Young was Dave Fridman. For some critics, his addition changed Mogwai’s sound.
Some critics felt his production style resulted in a much more orthodox sounding album. However, personally, I felt that Come On Die You was part of Mogwai discovering their “sound” and direction. Come On Die Young is a much more understated, but also ambient, experimental, multi-textured and melodic. There’s a fusion of ambient, grunge and post rock on Come On Die Young, which was released in 29th March 1999.
On its release, Come On Die Young reached number twenty-nine in the UK. Mogwai it seemed were now on their way to finding their sound and fulfilling the potential evident on their debut album. This was apparent with tracks of the quality of Two of its highlights, CODY, Hugh Dallas and Christmas Steps feature on Central Belters. However, like all innovative bands, Mogwai continued to reinvent their music.
This proved to the case on their eponymous E.P. Two of E.P.’s four tracks feature on Central Belters. This includes Stanley Kubrick, which was recorded in the exotic surroundings of Cowdenbeath in Fife. Burn Girl Prom Queen was recorded at Cava Studios, in Mogwai’s hometown of Glasgow. These two tracks were part of E.P., which further enhanced Mogwai’s reputation as post rock pioneers. So did their third album Rock Action.
Mogwai’s music continued to evolve on their third album 2001s Rock Action. More use was made of electronics on Rock Action. This was part of a process that would continue over the next few albums. There were even more layers and textures on Rock Action. It was as if Mogwai had expanded their palette. Seven of the songs were instrumentals, while Dial Revenge featured Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals.
Again, Rock Action was produced by Dave Fridman, while recording took place in New York and at Glasgow’s Cava Studios. Once Rock Action was completed, it became Mogwai’s first album to be released on Play It Again Sam.
Rock Action was released in April 2001, and proved to be Mogwai’s most successful album. It reached number twenty-three in the UK. Critics remarked upon how Rock Action wasn’t as dark an album as its predecessors. That didn’t mean that Mogwai’s view of the world had changed. They were still worldweary. That would become a Mogwai trademark.
Six months after the release of Rock Action, Mogwai returned with another single, The My Father My King. It was released in October 2001, and was described “as the companion piece to Rock Action.” A sticker on the cover bore Mogwai’s description of the single as: “two parts serenity and one part death metal.” That was about to change. Soon, they’d be happy people writing happy songs and making a breakthrough into the American market.
Happy Songs For Happy People.
Happy Songs For Happy People was released in 2003. Mogwai’s evolution continued. Their music continued further down the electronic road. Yes, electric guitars and a drummer were used, but synths were playing a more important role in Mogwai’s music. So were the addition of strings and a piano. They played their part in what was a much more understated album. Part of this change in style was a change of producer.
Tony Doogan was brought onboard as producer. He replaced Dave Fridman. Gone were transatlantic recording sessions. Happy Songs For Happy People was recorded at Cava Sound Studios, Glasgow. On its release in June 2003, Happy Songs For Happy People was well received by critics. Critics drew attention to I Know You Are But What Am I? and Hunted By A Freak, which feature on the new Central Belters compilation. The critics welcomed Mogwai’s latest change in style. So did record buyers.
While Happy Songs For Happy People only reached number forty-seven in the UK, it spent a week in the American charts, reaching number 182 in the US Billboard 200. After four albums, Mogwai had broken into the American market. Happy Songs For Happy People it seemed, was a landmark album.
Having made inroads into the lucrative American market, Mogwai didn’t rush their fifth album. It was released three years after Happy Songs For Happy People. There’s a reason for this. They were working on tree separate projects.
The first was their fifth album Mr. Beast. Then there was the first soundtrack they’d written and recorded. This was for the 2006 movie Zidane: A 21st Century Soundtrack. Mogwai also collaborated with Clint Mansell on the soundtrack to The Fountain. Although soundtracks were a nice sideline for Mogwai, their fifth album Mr. Beast was of huge importance. Especially, if it was a commercial success in America.
Recording of Mr. Beast took place at Mogwai’s new studio, Castle Of Doom Studios in Glasgow. Co-producing Mr.Beast with Mogwai, was Tony Doogan. Between April and October 2005, Mogwai honed their fifth album. Tony Doogan and Mogwai co-produced Mr. Beast. After six months, Mr. Beast was complete. It was Mogwai’s most important album.
Everyone realised the importance of Mr. Beast. Mogwai were on a verge of breaking into the American market. Happy Songs for Happy People had got Mogwai’s foot in the door. Now was the time for the Mogwai Young Team to kick it in, and make their presence felt. That’s what Mogwai intended to do with tracks like Travel Is Dangerous,Friend Of The Night and We’re No Here. They featured Mogwai at their best, and are on the new Central Belters compilation. This trio of tracks would please critics.
On its release, it was mostly, to critical acclaim. Critics were fascinated at how Mogwai’s music continued to evolve. For Mogwai, standing still was going backwards. Groundbreaking music was what record buyers expected from Mogwai.
When Mr. Beast was released on 5th March 2006, record buyers found an album of innovative music. It climbed thirty-one in the UK. Across the Atlantic, Mr. Beast reached number 128 in the US Billboard 200. Mogwai were now one of Scotland’s most successful musical exports. They were certainly Scotland’s most innovative band. This was a title they weren’t going to give up without a fight.
Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait.
Following the release of Mr. Beast, the other two projects that Mogwai had been working on, were released. The first was Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. The project came about in late 2005, when artist Douglas Gordon asked Mogwai to write and record a soundtrack to a film he was making about Zinedine Zidane, Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. Mogwai agreed, and this gave them their entry into the world of soundtracks.
Maogwai grasped this opportunity. They recorded Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait at Castle Of Doom Studios. At first hand, Mogwai had recorded ten tracks, which were produced by Tony Doogan. However, when the soundtrack was released, it came baring a secret.
Unlike the seven minutes of Half Time, which features on Central Belters, the hidden track Untitled, is a twenty-three minute epic, featuring Mogwai at their most inventive. That was the case throughout Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. Most critics realised this. A few, however, didn’t seem to ‘get’ Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. However, the critics that mattered, gave Mogwai the recognition they deserved when Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait was released on 30th October 2006. Then less than a month later, the soundtrack to The Fountain was released on 27th November 2006.
The Fountain was a collaboration between contemporary classic composer Clint Mansell, string quartet the Kronos Quartet and Mogwai. To some onlookers, it looked like an unlikely collaboration. That wasn’t the case though.
Mogwai had spent December 2005 locked away in their Castle Of Doom Studios with producer Tony Doogan. Other parts of The Fountain project were recorded in New York and Los Angeles. Then once the project was complete, The Fountain was released on 27th November 2006.
When The Fountain soundtrack was released, the reviews were positive. Mogwai’s contribution to the soundtrack had proved vital, while the Kronos Quartet proved a perfect foil the Mogwai Young Team. Mogwai’s lasted soundtrack had enhanced their reputation as the go-to guys for a soundtrack. That would their sideline in the future. However, before they released another soundtrack, Mogwai would release another two albums.
The Hawk Is Howling.
The first of these was The Hawk Is Howling. To ensure they kept their title of Scotland’s most innovative bands, Mogwai returned to the studio where it all began, Chem 19 in Blantyre.
Andy Miller who’d co-produced Mogwai Young Team, Mogwai’s debut album was chosen to produce what became The Hawk Is Howling. This was Mogwai’s sixth album and marked a first. It was Mogwai’s first album to consist of just instrumentals. Among them were I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead, The Sun Smells Too Loud, Batcat and Scotland’s Shame which feature Central Belters. They feature the post rock pioneers pushing musical boundaries to their limits, and sometimes, beyond. Once The Hawk Is Howling was recorded, Garth Jones mixed the album at Castle Of Doom Studios in Glasgow. After that, The Hawk Is Howling was ready for release.
The Hawk Is Howling was released on 22nd September 2008. Critics were won over by The Hawk Is Howling. There were no dissenting voices. This was one of Mogwai’s best albums. So, it was no surprise it sold well in the UK and America.
On its release, The Hawk Is Howling reached number thirty-five in the UK and number ninety-seven in the US Billboard 200. It seemed with each album, Mogwai’s music evolved and matured. This resulted in even more success coming their way. Would this continue with Hardcore Will Never Die?
Hardcore Will Never Die.
For their seventh album, Mogwai returned to Chem 19 Studios in Blantyre, where they hooked up with ex-Delgado Paul Savage. Since he’d produced Mogwai’s debut album, Mogwai Young Team Paul had established a reputation as one of Scotland’s best producers.
By then, Paul Savage had worked with everyone from Franz Ferdinand to R.M. Hubbert. However, it was a very different Mogwai Paul encountered. They were very different to the band who recorded Mogwai Young Team Paul. Their music had evolved and was continuing to do so. They’d matured as musicians and embraced the new technology. Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will was proof of this.
Here was an album of groundbreaking, genre-melting post-rock with attitude. Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will was also an album not short on humour. Poppy soulster Lionel Ritchie provided the inspiration for You’re Lionel Ritchine. There was also a celebratory sound to Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
The death of Scotland’s nemesis, Margaret Thatcher sparked celebration on Glasgow’s George Square. Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will celebrated that great night again with George Square Thatcher Death Party. Sadly, it’s not on the new Central Belters’ compilation. However, Mexican Grand Prix, Rano Pano and How To Be A Werewolf are. They’re a reminder of an album of pioneering, post rock music crammed full of hooks, humour and attitude. Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will was an album that couldn’t fail.
Before the release of Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, Rano Pano was released as a single. On the flip side was Hasenheide, which didn’t feature on Hardcore Will Never Die. However, it makes a welcome appearance on Central Belters, and is a reminder that Mogwai’s B-Sides are better than most band’s singles. Things it seemed were looking good for Mogwai.
Yet again, Mogwai won over the majority of critics with Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will. A couple of contrarian critics proved to be mere dissenting voices in the wilderness. Most critics realised that Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will was one of Mogwai’s finest hours. Record buyers would agree.
Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will reached number thirty-five in the UK and number ninety-seven in the US Billboard 200. For Mogwai, they were now into their third decade as band and had just enjoyed their biggest album to date. What next?
The answer to that was Les Revenants, a soundtrack to a French television series. Les Revenants or The Returned is essentially a television program about zombies. Unlike similar programs, when the “undead” return to the town they lived in, it’s as they were, not how most films portray zombies. Another difference was the way Mogwai were commissioned.
Usually, someone writing a soundtrack can see the film they’re writing music to. Not Mogwai. They were just shown a few scripts. Then they were given an overview of what the series was about. From there, Mogwai wrote thirteen of the fourteen tracks including Wizard Motor and Hungry Face which features on Central Belters. The other track they chose was What Are They Doing In Heaven Today, which was written by Charles Elbert Tilney. These fourteen tracks were recorded by Mogwai, who produced Les Revenants with Neil MacMenamin. Once Les Revenants was finished, it was released in February 2013.
Before Les Revenants was released an E.P. was released. It featured four tracks. That was a tantalising taster of what was to come. After all, Mogwai would approach a soundtrack like Les Revenants in a different manner. They wouldn’t do anything predictable. Les Revenants was a case of expect the unexpected. Critics loved Les Revenants and hailed the album as one of the best albums Mogwai had released. However, Mogwai had other ideas.
Rave Tapes features ten tracks which were written by Mogwai. These tracks were recorded at Mogwai’s Castle Of Doom Studios, in Glasgow. Producing Rave Tapes was ex-Delgado Paul Savage. He’s produced previous Mogwai albums and knew how the band worked. This was important, given Mogwai were at last, enjoying the critical acclaim and commercial success their music deserved. Work began on Rave Tapes on the 28th August 2013.
This was like the first day back at school. Mogwai were ready to begin recording what was their eighth studio album. The lineup of Mogwai has been settled for a few years. This included a rhythm section of bassist and guitarist Dominic Aitchison, drummer Martin Bulloch and guitarists Stuart Braithwaite and John Cummings who also played piano. Barry Burns plays organ, piano and guitar. at Castle Of Doom Studios, Glasgow, Mogwai recorded the ten tracks that became Rave Tapes, which was released on 20th January 2014.
Rave Tapes was one of the most anticipated albums of 2014. The big question was, what direction Mogwai’s music would head? After all, Mogwai’s music never stands still. It’s in a constant state of evolution. That’s no bad thing. Standing still is akin to going backwards in Mogwai’s book. On Rave Tapes, Mogwai’s music continues to evolve. Musical genres and influences melt into one on Remurdered, The Lord Is Out Of Control and Tell Everyone I Love Them, which all feature on the Central Belters’ box set. However, one of the most prominent influences on Rave was Krautrock. Add to this ambient, avant-garde, electronica, experimental, indie rock and rock. We hear different sides to Mogwai on Rave Tapes. Whether it’s fuzzy soundscapes or kicking out the jams, Mogwai don’t disappoint on Rave Tapes, their most recent album.
Since then, Mogwai haven’t released the followup to Rave Tapes. However, Mogwai released Music Industry 3. Fitness Industry E.P. on 1st of December 2014. Opening this six track E.P. is one of its highlights, Teenage Exorcists. So fittingly, it finds its way onto Mogwai’s three disc retrospective box set, Central Belters.
For anyone yet to discover the delights of of post rock pioneers Mogwai, then the Central Belters’ box set is the perfect starting place. It was recently released on Rock Action Records, and costs no more than an individual CD. It’s Mogwai’s way of thanking their loyal fans who have supported them over the last twenty years. And what a roller coaster it’s been.
Since they formed in 1995, Mogwai have released eight albums and three soundtracks. Then there’s countless singles, E.P.s and two remix albums. Mogwai must be one of the hardest working bands in music. That’s not forgetting one of the most innovative.
For the last twenty years, Mogwai’s music has been ambitious, bold, challenging, influential and innovative music. It’s full of nuances, subtleties and surprises as Mogwai seamlessly combine musical genres. They fuse ambient, avant garde, classic rock, electronica, experimental, indie rock, psychedelia and Krautrock, to create their unique post rock sound. All the time, Mogwai continue to push musical boundaries to their limits and even sometimes, way beyond.
That’s why Mogwai’s music has continued to evolve. They’ve never been content to stand still. Mogwai never play it safe, and their music is never predictable. Leave that to lesser mortals, like Coldplay, Mumford and Sons and Ed Sheeran. While they churn out album after album of similar music, the Mogwai Young Team will be off on a new adventure.
Glasgow’s famous five are due a new musical adventure. It’s nearly two years since the release of Rave Tapes. Hopefully, Mogwai are hard at work on their next musical adventure in their Castle Of Doom studios. This isn’t the type of adventure Enid Blyton’s Famous Five once enjoyed. There’s no picnics, lemonade and bicycle trips. Instead, it’s a bit more edgy and gritty. That’s the case with Central Belters Mogwai’s career retrospective.
Central Belters celebrates twenty years of pioneering post rock from Glasgow’s one and only, Mogwai, who for the last two decades, have been producing music that’s innovative and influential. Long may that continue.
- Posted in: Ambient ♦ Indie Rock ♦ Psychedelia ♦ Rock
- Tagged: Central Belters, Come On Die Young, Dominic Aitchison, Happy Songs For Happy People, Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will, Les Revenants, Mogwai, Mogwai Young Team, Mr. Beast, Paul Savage, Rave Tapes, Rock Action, Rock Action Records, Stuart Braithwaite, The Hawk Is Howling, Tony Doogan