Mogwai Debut Stunning New A/V Set in Celebration of ‘Atomic’
In their most political show yet, the Scottish post-rockers employ archival footage starting from post-nuclear blast Japan to complement tracks from their latest album
Very rarely does one walk away from a music show questioning the morality of human evolution. The atomic age, while representing the apex of human invention, also showcases our predisposition for violence. The consequences of what happened in Hiroshima still reverberate across the world today, continuing to dominate world politics and influencing the actions of almost every country in existence. Last week, Scottish post-rock veterans Mogwai played an audio-visual concert that celebrated the release of Atomic, their latest full-length record, and brought these politically charged topics to life in an imposing fashion.
Atomic consists of material they originally contributed to renowned film critic Mark Cousin’s enthralling BBC Four documentary: Storyville – Atomic: Living in Dread and Promise. The gripping documentary, which explores the power of nuclear technology, relies on juxtaposition of archival footage, radio clippings and Mogwai’s breathtaking soundtrack. Cut the soundtrack, and one will find themselves staring at arbitrarily arranged saturated footage that comes across as a high-art project rather than a comprehensive documentary. This is where Mogwai shines–adding narrative to a barely legible visual documentation of nuclear technology. Atomic is a marked departure from their last full-length release–2013’s discerning Rave Tapes. Staying true to its subject, Atomic uses textural divergence to create the sense of fear experienced by so many post-Hiroshima. It’s distorted, signifying the moral corruption that we’ve come to associate with the atomic age.
Since May, the Glaswegian band has been taken this audio-visual show live across Europe and Japan. I happened to catch them live in Aarhus, Denmark’s second largest city. The show took place inside the city’s main concert hall that also happens to be located opposite Mølleparken a place, which according to a description given by TripAdvisor reviewer, is a “good place to buy drugs.” With monumental gothic interiors, the hall complemented the doom-ridden subjects that Mogwai and Mark Cousins would deal with over the next hour. Once you sat down, your view was directly engaged with the massive screen erected behind the stage. The message being conveyed was clear: no distractions.
As the first bits of archival footage projected on screen, the band launched into “Ether,” the opening song from Atomic. I caught Mogwai at the Bacardi NH7 Weekender music festival last year, and I couldn’t help but wonder about how they’d sound in an indoor venue. Well, they sound fucking huge; the towering walls of the city hall magnified their signature sonic frenzy. The melancholic “Bitterness Centrifuge” was accompanied by archival Japanese footage captured immediately in the aftermath of Hiroshima. “Fat Man,” a personal highlight from the night, was a relentless assault on the senses that, with the accompanying footage, made me question everything I have ever known, admired and hated about the human race.
This isn’t just another Mogwai show — this is an experience engineered to make one think about what we’re doing as a species. It is one of the loudest political statements made by an artist this year. If you happen to be in Europe or Japan around this time, do not miss this.