As a few of you who follow my blog may recall, I’m a big fan of Mogwai. They strike just the right balance of malevolence and melody for me. I spent a few nights at the Roundhouse last year for a series of gigs that they had curated which I blogged about here. So when I saw that one of their members, the quasi front man Stuart Braithwaite, had a new side project and they were playing London, I thought I should check them out.
The vast majority of Mogwai’s material is instrumental. Those that do have vocals often don’t feature them in the conventional melodic sense, using spoken word or samples of speeches from other sources. Those that do carry a tune though are pretty good and create an interesting pivot for the rest of their wordless material (“Take Me Somewhere Nice” from “Rock Action” or especially “Teenage Exorcists” from the “Music Industry 3. Fitness Industry 1” EP).
Minor Victories are different proposition though as they are only one quarter Mogwai. Justin Lockey of Editors was putting together a side project and asked Rachel Goswell of Slowdive to contribute some vocals. Braithwaite then joined them and then Lockey’s brother, James, joined up for good measure. I must confess both Editors and Slowdive had largely passed me by previously. I think I saw Editors at Glastonbury a few years ago. They seemed pretty okay, instantly damning them with faint praise.
Their eponymous LP is released in June. It features that well known fun sponge Mark Kozolek but I won’t hold that against them for now. They’ve released a few tracks online. “A Hundred Ropes” is driving and urgent, “Scattered Ashes (Song For Richard)” is slightly more melodic with lovely vocal harmonies and “Folk Arp” is, well, a little folky. All feature synths far more prominently, something that Mogwai have been integrating into their sound lately, particularly on “Simon Ferocious”and “Remurdered” from their last non-soundtrack LP, “Rave Tapes”.
They’ve released a few videos for the early release songs, including this Kurasawa-esque film for “A Hundred Ropes”.
This was their debut gig. It was also my first time at the Village Underground, an arts venue in the Shoreditch area, which again shows how industrial spaces can be put to good use, very much like the warehouse in Manchester that we saw New Order before Christmas (blogged here) or Electowerkz, where I saw Bassekou Kouyate (here). There’s a lot that other parts of the country could learn, especially the Black Country. How many disused factories and warehouses could get converted into this sort of thing?
The band were supplemented for their first gig by Mogwai’s drummer, Martin Bulloch. It was a remarkably self assured start to their live career. Their sound was sleek and propulsive with the light and shade that Mogwai bring, complemented by Goswell’s vocals. For such a pure voice to cut through the volume and, at times, maelström on stage was no mean feat. The opening track, “Give Up The Ghosts”, was a great way to start, introducing an almost blues harmony, quite different from any of the band’s repertoire with their day bands. James Graham of the Twilight Sad, mates of Mogwai, joined them for “Scattered Ashes”, bringing out a previously hidden celtic melody. “Breaking My Light” was stunning, an almost Abba-esque quality with drama in buckets.
This was invigorating stuff. It was almost completely melodic with elements of the dynamic that Mogwai carry off so well, coupled with the more commercially minded Editors angle. It was instantly approachable and you could see the crowd get more comfortable with the previously unheard material as the evening progressed and more excited. There was also little chatter too. The audience were there mostly to enjoy the music.
The band kept it short and sweet, which was just perfect for a Tuesday night. The album is out in June and the band have a few UK dates this week, are then off to the States and finally cover the European festival circuit.
Mogwai are still very much a going concern. I’m off to see them at the Barbican in September, where they are playing the soundtrack live to a showing of Mark Cousins’ film “Atomic”. If you have 15 hours to spare, you could do worse than watch his “Story Of Film” documentary, a fascinating and comprehensive history of cinema. We watched it last year and it opened up many avenues of movies that we weren’t aware of. Who in Britain knew the importance of the film industry of Burkino Faso, for instance?
In the meantime, do try and catch Minor Victories if you are able. Who knows how long they will be around for given their day jobs.