Tag Archives: Atomic

Mogwai, ‘Atomic’ review

Forgery-proof is one of the best adjectives I’ve heard used to describe Mogwai, Glasgow’s incontestable post-rock pioneers. Having created and shaped a signature sound that is so much their own, a Frankenstein’s monster of celestial, cinematic beauty, imitators run rather than shy away.

With ‘Atomic’, regarded as their ninth album ‘proper’, the band conjure up 48 mins of aural stimulus that has the supreme quality of sonically contextualising its subject matter, the nuclear age.

The ten songs here mirror a journey from feat to the grandiose, the angry to the melancholic, as the band bear the fruits of a pursuit towards an unexpected, yet thoroughly welcome, electronic and synth sound, set against the visual narrative of Marc Cousin’s bold documentary; images of MRI scans and X-rays juxtaposed with Hiroshima, Chernobyl and the horrors of nuclear devastation.

It’s high praise indeed that the band, who, being fully aware of their own proximity to Faslane submarine base and long-time CND supporters, are able to, through the power of their music, craft a sense of scrutiny and contemplation of the nuclear age that oscillates between reverence towards the immense change to our lives against the power of destruction it has brought on us.

As regards to soundtrack duties, we know before a ball is kicked that we are in safe hands, with ‘Atomic’ coming off the back of the majestic artistry that was 2006’s Zidane: a 21ST Century Portrait and the enduring, haunting score for French zombie noir show Les Revenants in 2013.

Stuart Braithwaite’s scything guitar talus –so much part of the Mogwai sound – takes a back seat as buzzing synths and electronic touches, backed by brooding percussion, populate the 10 tracks that make up ‘Atomic’, from the glittering, hopeful opener ‘Ether’ (with French horn added to the mix), through to the solemn, pondering piano infused ‘Fat Man’.

SCRAM sees Berlin based Barry Burns’s vintage synth tones come alive to dystopian, kaleidoscopic effect, while the thick, powerful waves of the stunning ‘Bitterness Centrifuge’ embody a soaring, siren-like feel.

The equally impressive follow up ‘U-235’ (the chemical term for uranium) sees the band verge into broody electro-Kraut dream pop, sharply contrasted with the death march drone of Pripyat.

The ominous quality and feel continues with ‘Weak Force’ and ‘Little Boy’, seeing the band emanate a bleak, muted and moody sound reminiscent of a John Carpenter theme before ‘Are You A Dancer?’ and ‘Tzar’ return us to territory not to distant from Mogwai’s post-rock roots – the former’s hauntingly beautiful violin rendering it a highlight on the album.

Atomic further reinforces the capacity Mogwai have to create sonic soundscapes that permits for a measured introspection the likes of which only Mogwai can do. A band who, just shy of 21 years together, maintain a level of experimentation and exploration of new sounds that underscore their superlative musicianship, one which reiterates something we have known for years, that Mogwai are masters of their art.

Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite talks ‘Atomic’

There’s a rumour that Kurt Cobain’s footprint is locked in a safe at the QMU music venue at Glasgow University, a venue which saw Nirvana play a near mythical gig there 25 years ago in 1991.

In attendance that night was a 15 year old Stuart Braithwaite, guitarist with Scottish post-rock aficionados Mogwai. After being grounded for returning home late the previous night, he managed to somehow sweet-talk his parents into allowing him to delay the punishment so he could go see Nirvana play, a memory he recalls freshly as we meet a stone’s throw away from the venue in Glasgow’s West End, 20 years and 9 months to the day since his band, Mogwai, met for their first rehearsal as a band.

Stuart sat down with us to speak about upcoming new release ‘Atomic’, the band’s ninth album of tracks, reconfigured and reworked from the score they crafted for nuclear age documentary ‘Atomic: Living In Dread and Promise’ by Marc Cousins.

In between having to deal with the racket of what looked like the world’s biggest hen party and the close proximity of an amorous elderly couple showing us that romance isn’t dead, Stuart spoke with delight about how the album – the band’s third soundtrack – turned out, before he embarks on a hectic schedule as he prepares to mix Mogwai duties and shows and a debut album release for his new band, Minor Victories.

“I’m gonna have to get some Valium,” his response to his upcoming heavy workload calendar.

“The first Mogwai Atomic gig is two days before the first Minor Victories gig but to be honest it’s pretty good because we (himself and drummer Martin Bulloch) are gonna rehearse with Minor Victories then rehearse with Mogwai, and then I’m doing Mogwai gig in Austria and then Minor Victories is gonna rehearse the night before our London gig.”

With regards to ‘Atomic’, Stuart feels that the work put in – adding muscle and scope to the original film score – has paid off.

“I’m really happy with it, I think it worked out well. The film itself has very separate themes in it. The start of the film is really optimistic and hopeful and inspiring then with certain bits, obviously with the nuclear war stuff is just…,” he says

“We just tried to mirror the mood of the images with the music. I think that maybe helps it work more a bit more like a record”.

He is also positive with initial response tracks like ‘U-235’, ‘Biterness Centrifuge’ and ‘Ether’ have received.

“I think people will like it. I mean I guess the way records come out now I’m sure people can probably hear it before it comes out and see if it’s their cup of tea. I notice its looking like, a lot of people are saying it’s gonna be seen just as another ‘record’. In a weird way maybe like when we’ve put records out that have changed things up a bit and that probably bothers people more you know than straight instrumental music.”

This record is unique in that it was the first not to involve guitarist John Cummings, who left in November last year to pursue other interests. Although he played on the original score, he had no involvement with the record. But according to Stuart, the 4 piece continued as normal.

“We just get on with it,” says Stuart. “Alex [Mackay] who plays with Zyna Hel (the musical moniker of Stuart’s partner Elizabeth Oswell) is playing with us.”

The albums strong subject matter made the recording process a thoroughly emotive one, one that Stuart agrees fed into the record, especially with the band having visited Hiroshima on a previous visit to Japan.

“Yeh defintely that experience plus proximity to the nuclear weapons here,” he says, referring to both the band’s visit to Japan alongside the Faslane Submarine base approximately 30 miles away to the west of Glasgow.

“When we were recording for the film the scene of the bombings in japan was brutal, I mean we were just sitting watching it and it was really emotional. And one of the reasons we did it was because we’d been to Hiroshima and we’d seen like the peace park and all the letters that the mayors written to different countries begging them not to have nuclear weapons. So yeh there’s a lot of real intensity there.”

Fittingly, the band will return to Hiroshima as one of the nine dates so far scheduled for the band to play, one that Stuart feels will take on extra resonance for the band even if he doesn’t expect it to be greeted with a lot of attention by the Japanese public.

“It actually won’t be a big deal we’ll probably play to the least amount of people we’ve played to in japan ever. I think only the real obsessive Mogwai fans will be there. It’s not like the whole town of Hiroshima will come out, but that’s fine. For us I think it’s an important thing to do. It will be really emotional.”

After previously recording the soundtracks to French zombie noir TV show Les Revenants and football biopic Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, the band are well schooled in the differences involved in writing and recording to accompany a visual spectacle.

“I think getting into the studio it’s the same. It’s just to try and make it sound as good as we can. But I think when you are writing the songs it’s different. When you are writing the songs for your own album it’s just a blank canvas, you just do whatever you want. You can be as daft or serious as you want. If it’s to go with someone else’s vision then you’ve got to keep that in mind.”

“I’d say generally the film soundtrack is generally more sparse. We did a lot more for the album. I think it’s also a bit different from our records too. It’s heavy.”

The band have announced nine ‘Atomic’ dates at the moment with more no doubt to come in the following months, but Stuart doesn’t see the band touring relentlessly due to the nature of the album, with the shows ones that he says will not see them dip into any material from their extensive catalogue.

“It’s a weird thing doing a gig that’s along to a film because it’s not quite a film showing and not quite a gig. I think doing other songs would seem a bit out of place. When we did Zidane we did it I think then we were unsure if the whole thing was gonna work so it was almost a safety net. To be totally honest it’s such a specialised thing there’s only so much you can do. I’ve also got Minor Victories is taking up quite a lot of my time. I think that’s gonna be like quite a lot.”

With that our attention turned to Stuart’s new ‘supergroup’ Minor Victories, in conjunction with Slowdive vocalist Rachel Goswell and brothers Justin (Editors) and James Lockey, one which allows him to focus purely on the music and avoid some of the behind the scenes work involved in being part of Mogwai.

“I am excited aye it’s gonna be fun everyone’s been really nice and it’s gonna be a bit different. I’m kinda used to being the guy that I kind of sort a lot of the things out for Mogwai. We don’t have a manager so we all chip in but I do a lot. So it’s quite good to like ‘uh what’s happening’ and turn up and play.”

Interesting to note was that of his three fellow band members, he’d only met one, something that for him was both new and unusual.

“I knew Rachel a little bit and it was Rachel that asked me but I’d never met James or Justin.”

And, even though the four piece only actually met together in March this year, there’s talk of a second album in the pipeline ahead of the release of the debut record on the 3rd June.

“We’ve talked about another record so it’s in the lap of the gods how it goes. I’d think we’d do another one even if it died on its arse to be totally honest but I think whether it grows arms and legs isn’t really up to us. It’s up to folk if they like it. But so far people are into it,” says Stuart.

As for Mogwai, fans will be more than pleased to hear that the band are already working on new material ahead of the release and subsequent tour of Atomic.

“We are getting the studio dates to do the new record just now. It’s think it’s gonna be the end of the year, maybe into next year. And we are starting to get tunes together. Me and Barry and Dominic have been sending each other tunes. We are getting into it.”

Over twenty years since a certain Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand, then booker for Glasgow’s renowned 13 Note Café, put on Mogwai’s first show, Stuart is approaching another date on his calendar in the form of the big 4-0, one he mentions in retort to questions concerning his decision to tone down the band baiting.

“I’m getting old I’m 40 in 2 months so it [baiting other bands] doesn’t really look good. I’d rather talk about stuff I liked than what I don’t like.”

But any suggestions of a big party or a one off gig to celebrate it are quickly played down by Stuart.

“I don’t know, I don’t really like a fuss.”

As for bands he likes, Stuart was especially excited about tomorrow’s upcoming gig of fellow Glaswegian’s Primal Scream, in between mentioning what other stuff is on his musical radar.

“I’m into this piano player Lubomyr Melnyk and his Erased Tapes stuff, I’ve been listening to that a lot. I really like a lot of church recordings like gospel music and like the Gaelic psalms from the Hebrides and even like – I’m totally atheist as well which is actually hilarious – but I really love sacred music,” he admits.

“Oh and that guy Mdou Moctar – that’s probably the best gig I’ve seen in a while –at the Art school. The Glasgow gig was nuts, it was sold out and like he’s probably one of these guys that feeds off the crowd.”

Since the last time we met last year, out with spending time in the studio recording ‘Atomic’, Mogwai made their first visit to India, an experience that Stuart was keen to share, alongside a chance meeting with a certain spiritual leader.

“It was a brilliant experience. It was quite humbling to see how some people live but the people were into music and everyone was so nice I met the Dalai Lama. I just said ‘It’s nice to meet you’ and shook his hand. He was like that ‘Your Stuart from Mogwai’,” he says, laughing.

“He was in town speaking at a big event. It was like The Beatles were there, there was like 1000 people outside our hotel holding cameras. I went to the lift and he was just there with two guys. He was doing stuff but I didn’t want to not say hello to someone like that. There was no big chat.”

There was no ‘Your the Pope’ statement, mirroring his infamous ‘You’re Lionel Ritchie’ comment on meeting the artist in an airport a few years back, one which provided the inspiration for the name for the track on 2011’s ‘Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will.’ And on the subject of song titles, Stuart finished up our chat with reference to the nuclear -themed song titles that populate ‘Atomic’ and how, unlike on previous albums, the band have stayed clear of their usual wit and frivolity in naming their tracks.

“We certainly didn’t want to do anything flippant when we were dealing with such a theme.”

Meeting Mogwai; 20 years and still going strong.

As Scotland’s seminal post-rock flag bearers, Mogwai have been making noise and splitting ears for as long as we can remember. With a new ‘Best Of’ compilation making its way into record shops at the end of the month, Central Belters, I sat down with guitarist Stuart Braithwaite to discuss everything from film scores, Lou Reed, nostalgia and of course, Glasgow.

20 candles recently blown, and yet for Mogwai, Glasgow’s post-rock pioneers, they show no lack of enthusiasm for making music that has so far churned out a heady amount of albums to add substance to any good record collection.

After their triumphant, face-melting anniversary shows at the Barrowlands and London’s Roundhouse in June, the band were keen to cement passing the double-decade mark with more than just a run of gigs, especially for those unlucky enough not to have been there to see them.

I think we really wanted to do something to kind of mark the occasion.  Not just the concerts.  They were great fun.  Something more permanent.  It seemed quite an obvious thing to do,” explains Stuart.

With new Best Of compilation Central Belters, the band have been careful to provide fair representation to all strands of what has been a remarkable career, with the 35 tracks spanning all 8 studio albums as well as the Les Revenants and Zidane soundtracks, whilst attempting to cater to all possible sections of the Mogwai ‘Young Team’.

“I think a lot of people got into us in the last five or 10 years.  Maybe some people liked us at the start and fell away, or stopped going to record shops.  So this is an opportunity to show what we’ve done over the last 20 years.”

With such an expansive back catalogue to choose from, Stuart had his say on what would be included where.  “The rarities were harder, as there is so much there and they were less obvious picks,” he explains.  “With the rest, I kind of ran with it.  It was more that the rest of the band would say ‘no’, rather than being five different ideas.”

Seems many moons ago that the Mogwai as we know came to be, after that first jam in Stuart’s family home in Glasgow, and the city, if not directly, has certainly had some part to play in the longevity of their music, as he himself notes, “Maybe it’s a subconscious thing that has probably happened without us thinking about it.  Glasgow was a scene that helped us and we’d like to think that we’ve helped it as well.  It’s definitely a community thing that you have here.”


Stuart also took time to give us some news on his side project with super-group Minor Victories, revealing that, with the album nearly complete, he has been working with James Graham from local heroes The Twilight Sad on a song for what will essentially be a “pop record”.

The band will go back to the drawing board shortly after the release of Central Belters with the completion of Mark Cousin’s Atomic documentary soundtrack, alongside the promise of more live shows next year.  “We are going back into the studio this month…to turn the Atomic music into a record, do some shows and make that live along with the film,” he says.  “Then next year we’ll be making a new album.”

And as for continuing to experiment with other ideas, it seems the motivation is also most definitely there.  “I think we would like to do a proper film.  To be involved right from the start,” he explains.  “We’ve came close to a few things happening but nothing came of it.”  With that in mind, a passing suggestion was made of throwing their hat into the ring for the upcoming Trainspotting 2.

“That would be great.  I know Irvine (Welsh), he is a brilliant guy.  I don’t know if I know him well enough to phone him up like you would phone your pal,” he jokes, “but you never know, it might be one of those, ‘If you don’t ask you don’t get’ things.”

As for the future, he doesn’t see himself, or the band, hanging up their instruments at any point soon, not while the desire is still there to experiment with new sounds, play more gigs and travel to more places.  “I’d love to be still making music when I’m 75,” he says, “I think if you’re lucky to do what you like doing anyway then there’s no reason to stop.”


Any regrets then as the release date draws nearer?  One or two, none more so than the missed opportunity of a collaboration with a certain Lou Reed.  “We actually once got asked to play with him.  That is a real, real regret, we didn’t do it because we were making a record (2008’s Hawk is Howling).  He wanted to do a noise jam with us.”

And while history, as it happened, robbed us of what would have surely been an astonishing musical get-together, we can, without doubt, thank our musical stars that Mogwai have led our ears and our minds into realms the likes of which we had never entered previously.

Here’s to another 20.