Albums of 2014 (#6): Mogwai – Rave Tapes (Rock Action)
Mogwai's latest opus Rave Tapes saw them applying electronic menace to their beguiling post-rock template, before unexpectedly yet heroically gatecrashing the charts. Stuart Braithwaite discusses the album and beyond
All things considered, it’s been quite a year for Mogwai. By anyone’s standards, their eighth ‘proper’ album Rave Tapes was a certifiable success, drawing near-ubiquitous praise across an increasingly fractured music press and crashing the UK top ten in the process. “A pulse-quickening return from a band that’s still evolving, and still amazing,” cried these very pages, while triumphant performances at Glastonbury and London’s Royal Festival Hall provided the sumptuous icing to an already-well-garnished cake. And if that wasn’t enough, the Glasgow quintet look set to crown 2014 with yet another exemplary release, in the form of new EP Music Industry 3 Fitness Industry 1. Impressed? You will be.
Guitarist, de facto leader and occasional singer Stuart Braithwaite isn’t letting it go to his head, of course. “We just write the best music we can and see what happens,” he explains cheerfully, leaving The Skinny pondering how deliberate their sonic experiments have ever been. What of their new-found electronic focus? “The truth is that Barry got a modular synth and the songs he wrote with it were the mainstay of the album. There wasn’t any planning to speak of. It’s always nice when it looks like we had a plan though.”
Any Mogwai album will inevitably introduce new cornerstones to their blisteringly loud live sets, and the blood-pumping horror of advance track ‘Remurdered’ seems to have slashed its way to becoming a particular fan favourite. Do these mainstays become obvious during the writing process, we wonder? “It’s a bit random, to be honest,” Stuart admits. “I thought people would like that song, which is one of the reasons we put it out first. That said, there have been other songs I thought people would be into which didn’t work so well. The opposite has happened a few times too.”
"It’s always nice when it looks like we had a plan" – Stuart Braithwaite
Deliberate or no, Remurdered is one of several tracks on Rave Tapes to invite comparisons to the soundtrack work of Vangelis and John Carpenter. Of course, the mighty 'Gwai are far from strangers to this subtle art, having scored Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain and Douglas Gordon's portrait documentary Zidane, as well as being nominated for this year’s SAY Award thanks to their work on acclaimed supernatural TV drama Les Revenants. This aspect of Mogwai’s extraordinary oeuvre shows no signs of slowing: “We have a pretty busy soundtrack schedule over the next year – the second series of Les Revenants, as well as another few films. So far the projects we’ve worked on have been quite compatible with our musical style so we haven’t had to change too much. I’m sure that’ll change in the future though.”
Speaking of which, 2015 will mark the twentieth anniversary of Mogwai’s existence as a band. A marvellous achievement, some might suggest, although Stuart’s stoicism remains uncowed. Almost. “I’m normally pretty unsentimental, but I think that us continuously making music for twenty years is pretty remarkable,” he concludes, adding that the band have “a few things planned to mark the occasion.” From one memorable year to another, then. Rave on.
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