marcus dunk meets lyric minimalists and provocateurs mogwai
from the gyrating hips of elvis through to the spit of the sex pistols, rock musicians have always taken great pleasure in outraging, offending and just plain annoying as many people as possible. but with rock now well and truly into middle age, it has become harder to get shocked by anything that musicians do. or more importantly, by anything that any musician plays. so there's something refreshing about knowing that a few bands still have the power to make music that can surprise, upset and disturb.
on their recent uk tour playing support to the manic street preachers, scottish band mogwai managed to do all three. "we saw girls crying, people begging the bouncers for earplugs, folk scrambling for exits," laughs stuart braithwaite, guitarist and , for want of a better word, frontman for the band. "there was this group of fans following the manics around for every gig, and this one girl's face just got longer and longer every night we played. it was pretty funny."
"yeah, it's really good fun knowing you're upsetting so many people," agrees bassist dominic aitchison. "it was such a hilarious 10 days, we had such a great time. there were people there who were really into us, but there were others who just didn't understand us at all. you could tell by the look on their faces they were waiting for the lyrics to come in - which obviously never happens..."
formed in glasgow in 1995 by friends stuart, dominic and drummer martin bulloch, they quickly recruited new members and after a few minor releases released "mogwai young team" in 1997 to critical acclaim. cementing their reputation for energetic live performances in the intervening period, their follow-up album, "come on die young", was released earlier this year. it was hailed as one of the best and most significant albums of recent times.
sitting in a sunny brighton cafe, it's hard to believe that, with their fellow bandmates, dominic and stuart could be responsible for an evil thought, let alone the sonic sadism they've been describing. but after listening to their music - lazily described by some critics as "post-rock" - it's possible to understand the mixture of bewildered annoyance and adoration they continue to evoke.
best described as instrumental rock music, their basic song formula is straightforward. moving from the low-key and downbeat, through to the gentle and sweetly melodic, they occasionally build or simply explode into a cacophony of driving rock, overwhelming layered instrumentation and pure, intense white noise.
in their live performances, the sheer volume and intensity of the music makes being an audience member a visceral experience. coupled with the fact that both lyrics and vocals have been essentially banished, the result is something that pushes popular music in new directions. calling it "art" would be a pretentious step too far, but it's certainly something that feels exciting and different to most other pop.
"i think most people are not used to having no lyrics to focus on," says stuart. "lyrics are a real comfort to some people . i guess they like to sing along and when they can't do that with us they can get a bit upset."
yet into these vocal silences, fans, critics and detractors seem determined to read all manner of bizarreness and peculiar intentions. they're punk rockers who are ironically recreating pop music; they're nothing but a one-song band who write glorified soundtrack music; they're the last hope for resurrecting the bloated corpse of rock music.
"some of the things that people have said about our music are just out there," sighs dominic. "we really should have written them down and published them in a book."
"the whole 'post-rock' thing is just ridiculous," says stuart. "it implies that rock has died and that it's lineage has come to a halt. i'd argue that it hasn't at all, that the progression from bill haley and the comets in the fifties to a group like the velvet underground in the seventies is musically a drastic shift that can, and will still, be taken.
"we're musicians, not anything else, and it's not something that we're messing around with for a couple of years before we go out and get a job. if you make music that you think is good, you want as many people to hear it as possible. it's as simple as that for us."
even if that means offending the odd punter? "yeah", nods dominic. "someone told me about this pub that puts our albums on to get everybody out at closing time. the punters start looking really depressed and just leave. i think that's great. i like the fact that our music can have such an impact."