Belfast Telegraph

What makes Mogwai mad?

Trying to box the Glasgow quintet into any kind of genre, for starters. Ahead of their Belfast gig next week, they tell Jamie McDowell why they really hate being pigeon-holed

Mogwai's Stuart Braithwaite
Mogwai's Stuart Braithwaite

Mogwai haven't exactly followed the route of your conventional rock band. Indeed, such is the ‘out of the box’ nature of their sound that even their ‘rock' status has at times been called into question over the years.

Their guitar-based work is often heavily influenced by electronic music, and they don't really write lyrics to go with their songs. They are even named after a furry beastie from the movie Gremlins, for goodness’ sake (although they would admit the name has no real significant meaning).

Nevertheless, they’ve made a name for themselves since first bursting onto the fringes of the Britpop movement in 1995, not only for making great music, but for their pioneering style, and earning the praise of critics.

As well as recording their |solo material, Mogwai have also worked with some notable |artists such as the Manic Street |Preachers, and Northern Ireland’s very own David Holmes.

The band returns to Belfast next Sunday, February 13, to play the Mandela Hall as part of their 2011 tour, and guitarist Stuart Braithwaite (34) is quite honest about his experiences in the city: “I think the first time we went to Belfast it wasn't that good but every time after that we've had a really good time. I think Belfast's a lot like Glasgow. It's not like going away to play in a foreign destination. I was over recently to DJ at an album launch party for some friends of ours, Ski Bunny.”

Stuart explains how Mogwai continue to develop their live act visually as well as musically: “We've got some new stuff in the live show for our tour including some projections. I think the Mandela Hall will actually be the first place we'll use projections.

“We've rehearsed the whole new album but we'll also be playing a lot of our older stuff. It’ll be about half and half.”

The band’s latest album, their seventh to date, is called Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will and is released this month. It's already received strong reviews from music critics who've been lucky enough to get their hands on it.

The band's success and their status at the forefront of the indie rock scene, however, wasn't always a given.

“When we first started out, I had no idea that we'd ever get as far as we did,” laughs Stuart.

“I mean, we had big ambitions at the time but we were more |focused on trying to get on the John Peel show or trying to play at Barrowlands in Glasgow than making an album.”

They even buck the trend when it comes to song titles, with a few questionable ones along the way.

Stuart explains: “Some of our song titles are a bit jokey. ‘You're Lionel Ritchie’ was named after a time when I saw Lionel Ritchie at an airport. I was incredibly hungover at the time and I just looked at him and said, ‘You're Lionel Ritchie’.

“It's all I could think of at the time. I think song names like George Square Thatcher Death Party kind of speak for themselves.”

Stuart also tells of the work the band did for a beautifully made film about French footballer Zinedine Zidane. In it, a camera crew follow the star for 90 minutes during one match for Real Madrid, with Mogwai providing the soundtrack.

Stuart says: “That was really good. I remember watching him playing for Juventus when he was younger and I followed him at Real Madrid.”

Though he finds the modern phenomenon of creating a genre for every new band to fit into quite frustrating, Stuart has resigned himself to the fact that people are always going to try and find a pigeonhole to put Mogwai into. “These days, I think the whole genre thing has got out of control,” he laments.

“Sometimes there are genres created with maybe two bands in them. We've been put into all sorts of genres in the past. My favourite one was when we were described as ‘chill-wave'. The way we look at ourselves is that we're a rock band, or if you want to get detailed, instrumental rock. It's annoying as a musician to be pigeonholed into all these genres, but sometimes it's easier to just go with it.

“There's just good music and bad music really. When I was younger the UK music scene was just one big monolithic movement, but today it spans off in different directions.”

Mogwai play at the Mandela Hall on Sunday, February 13. See Stuart explains: “Some of our song titles are a bit jokey. ‘You're Lionel Ritchie’ was named after a time when I saw Lionel Ritchie at an airport. I was incredibly hungover at the time and I just looked at him and said, ‘You're Lionel Ritchie’.

“It's all I could think of at the time. I think song names like George Square Thatcher Death Party kind of speak for themselves.”

Stuart also tells of the work the band did for a beautifully made film about French footballer Zinedine Zidane. In it, a camera crew follow the star for 90 minutes during one match for Real Madrid, with Mogwai providing the soundtrack.

Stuart says: “That was really good. I remember watching him playing for Juventus when he was younger and I followed him at Real Madrid.”

Though he finds the modern phenomenon of creating a genre for every new band to fit into quite frustrating, Stuart has resigned himself to the fact that people are always going to try and find a pigeonhole to put Mogwai into. “These days, I think the whole genre thing has got out of control,” he laments.

“Sometimes there are genres created with maybe two bands in them. We've been put into all sorts of genres in the past. My favourite one was when we were described as ‘chill-wave'. The way we look at ourselves is that we're a rock band, or if you want to get detailed, instrumental rock. It's annoying as a musician to be pigeonholed into all these genres, but sometimes it's easier to just go with it.

“There's just good music and bad music really. When I was younger the UK music scene was just one big monolithic movement, but today it spans off in different directions.”

Mogwai play at the Mandela Hall on Sunday, February 13. See www.ticketmaster.ie for tickets

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