I first encountered the band Mogwai by accident at a gig in Milan in 1999. I was living out in Spain on a university exchange and took a week out to visit friends over there, who were doing the same thing. A bar crawl somehow ended up in us getting into one of their gigs for free. We’d heard they were a new band from Glasgow, so having lived in a bit of an MTV Europe bubble, wanted to check in to see if we were missing anything fresh from back home. We pretty much missed the entire gig (which is probably how we got in for free), arriving for the encore, a quarter-hour wall of two-chord guitar riffs. Great to my Campari fuelled ears, but for a head that was firmly fixed back then on finding the perfect electronic beat, that was pretty much my entire experience of that band up to now.
Fast forward 20ish years and I’m at a Q+A with Mogwai in Rough Trade East on a Saturday evening. Having swung by earlier in the day for a spot of record shopping, I see that they’re doing an in-store the same day. Not realising that they’re not playing live, I get one of the last wristbands and an album as a bit of a punt.
On paper it feels like the perfect time and location for this band. Saturday night, when all the social norms dictate you should be either painting the town or sat with a curry on the sofa watching X-factor, instead you’re in a big industrial space filled with the music nerds (myself included). Arriving just as the band are taking their seats, I note that unless they’re doing a VERY stripped down show, there’s no music being performed here tonight...
There’s still something quite refreshing though, I discover, in listening to a band answer questions from life long fans, about whom you know very little, other than they’ve a rep for producing some top notch soundtracks. There’s an obvious warmth between the four members on stage that only comes with a mutual respect, decades of real lives lived together and lots of love. They have a great rapport and for who from the outside might appear to be a group of shoegaze-guitar, moody introverts, they have a really great sense of humour. ‘Party In The Dark,’ seemingly a rare foray into a lead vocal on a Mogwai track on the new album, sounds a bit like New Order doing The Flaming Lips, which works for me. Band member, Barry Burns, cheekily describes adding a vocal to a track as a last ditch addition to a song to stop it heading off into B-side obscurity. The others are creased at the statement, yet it feels only slightly like a fib and reveals a refreshing level of humour and honesty that many more bands should take note of – media trained to not say anything that might make music making sound like the happy accident it can be so often.
Happy accidents feel like a running theme here for to me today, not least as attending this event has reminded me that there’s nothing quite like taking a chance on new music and how visiting a physical space can make musical connections all the more potent.
There’s further ribbing and silly stories about the artwork and the album’s title and after an hour, that’s the evening dusted. I head off home via the bagel shop on Brick Lane. A freshly signed new album in my bag, a resolve to dig into the band’s catalogue (the ‘Atomic’ soundtrack is great) and a broader reminder in this often isolated digital age, that we need physical record shops more than ever if we want to make truly organic discoveries.
Mogwai - Every Country’s Sun is out now on Rock Action, available HERE