Freedom Rock

Instrumental rock band Mogwai’s owes roots to the nature of free jazz

With the rise of instrumental rock bands like Explosions In The Sky, the Scottish-band Mogwai has caught the ears of many listeners and critics who might have previously shied away from the somewhat taboo nature of instrumental rock in the past. Mogwai has made itsa name for itself by creating compositions (that are often loud as hell in the live setting) with atmospheric soundscapes, dynamic contrasts, distortion and pedals, and they mainly rely on the strengths of two-to-three guitarists to fleshflush out the piece. The sound is definitely rock — at times you could even say metal — but the spirit perhaps is owed a little bit more to the nature of free jazz. “When we started out we had some songs with vocals and some without,” guitarist and founder Stuart Braithwaite says from his heavy Scottish brogue. (Braithwaite had been hard to get in touch with, with several interviews falling through due to “paperwork difficulties” with the band getting overseas.) “Both seemed to go as well as the other. We’re just making music. When you just have organs, drums, guitars and a bass it’s really a blank page. It’s been good doing instrumental music; it’s something we enjoy. If you have vocals it’s always kind of a main part of the music, and some do that really well, but it’s always the main, central point. When it’s just instruments, you have more freedom. “There’s four of us who write songs. We kind of just find a key and work with some chords and melody. Everyone contributes. Some of the other instrumental rock bands are quite different from how we make music. We look at bands like Sonic Youth as a major influence and yes, it does kind of have a free jazz feel to it.” Whether it be Mogwai, Explosions, Tortoise or Friends of Dean Martinez, instrumental music frees the players to leaps and bounds they might not be able to take reach with a song built around the traditional verse-chorus-verse structure. And while Mogwai’s sound has always been built around multiple guitars, the sounds owes a debt of gratitude to much of the electronic music that has been taking Europe by storm and slowly getting a foothold with U.S. club - and concert -goers. The sounds can be soaring and free in one moment and then highly involved and complicated the next, with the players drawing out a composition in ways that are both reminiscent of classical masters and jazz pioneers like Miles Davis, John Coltrane and, more recently, Ornette Coleman. “Explosions are really good. They’re friends of ours and I like what they’re doing,” Braithwaite says (kind of sounding like a pirate). “There’s a ton of really good stuff out there by instrumental rock bands. Our vision from the beginning was more into the electronic stuff than into the rock stuff. We always did that; it was something we’ve always been into, something we’ve always been thinking about. I love the open-ended aspect of that kind of music. At first we weren’t even aware of stuff like Kraut-rock but we have become more aware.” Cuts on the new record Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will (Sub-Pop) find an enjoyable balance between soaring sonic inflections and tight grooves that both are instantly enjoyable and also complicated in ways that take more than a few listens to get to the bottom of. Mogwai is doing something that is completely on its own, owing no debt to popular chart busters, yet at the same time inviting the listener to perhaps work a little harder at listening. This show should be one for the books as Mogwai had to cancel the first couple of North American dates due to red tape, impracticalities but should be ready to rock socks this week in Omaha. Mogwai plays The Slowdown, 729 N 14 St., on Saturday, April 30th at 9 p.m.. Tickets are $20 and Errors will open. For more info or to buy tickets visit onepercentproductions.com.

posted at 11:10 pm
on Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

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