Director: Mark Cousins
Spoilers Within: No
Originally posted 3rd July 2016 on Letterboxd.
I owe a lot to Mogwai.
My high-school was – although not as bad as many – a bit of an ordeal. Disregarding that I wasn’t a book smart kid, nor was I attentive in any way (I left school at 16 for no other reason than “I couldn’t be bothered”), I also wasn’t popular in any sense. During adulthood, I have come to understand that popularity isn’t everything, and this is something I would have liked to have heard then, and something that I wish we could instil in the younger generation now. Though not bullied to the degree that countless thousands were and are, I was harassed almost daily, and in turn, I harassed those ‘beneath’ me. Everyone knows of the ‘food-chain’ in high-schools, and I didn’t want to be at the bottom. Self-preservation, if you will. Overlooking this topic (this ‘review’ isn’t about my being bullied, but it needed context), I found solace in music. At first, it was any early-2000s nu-metal i.e. music that everyone listened to: Linkin Park, System of a Down, motherfuckin’ Papa Roach etc. Having that one connection to a group of people in similar circumstances is a pretty powerful and impressionable thing, but that wasn’t enough for me, so I aimed to be ‘the guy who knew about music’. At 14 I started hunting for everything that sounded ‘different’, bands that were ‘weird’ or ‘pompous’ or the opposite of early 2000s nu-metal.
This is where Mogwai came in. A friend lent me their second full-length LP: ‘Come On Die Young’, and the excitement of a whole new genre of music in post-rock wowed me. I specifically recall the moment I heard ‘Cody’ for the first time: my entire perception of music changed, and – without hyperbole – ushered me down the path to who I am today.
Leaping over 12 or so years to summer 2014 (10 years after my school-ditching) I finally got to see Mogwai live. Though it was special (more so in retrospect) it was during Primavera Sound, so within the atmosphere of a festival it was a little different to what I had imagined in my head. Because of this, my friends and I sought out their next gig at Bristol’s Simple Things Festival. Whilst there were many other musicians we wanted to watch, I was there primarily for Mogwai and I wasn’t going to miss them for anything. Myself, my girlfriend, and my best friend Andrew sat down to watch them in the beautiful amphitheatre-style Colston Hall: it was a wave of noise and emotion, and they played an absolutely note-perfect set (seriously, they were the very definition of musicianship) that it will always remain as one of my fondest memories. Twelve years of their music and then seeing them with my absolute favourite humans was as special as I had hoped.
Then – and this is where the story turns solemn – a few months later in January 2015, Andrew died suddenly; without warning. Though I don’t think as negatively or bitterly about it as much, it’s something that I think about daily, and will most definitely be one thing that I’ll carry with me until my time is up. Mogwai’s Bristol concert was the last time we were together for a gig of any sort. This has since united feelings of melancholy with the elation of the memory. It was a really tough couple of months following the devastating news, but where this story sort of comes full circle was seeing Mogwai, just over a year after the festival moment which we all shared. The third time seeing them the space of one year, but the first time without my best friend. It was hugely cathartic and tragic in equal measure, and although we have a stronger musical connection with him over another band, Mogwai continue to grow in importance for me, harking back to those high-school days of dismissing the musical tradition of my peers.
I suppose then, that – given this is a movie review site – I should write down my thoughts about Atomic: Living in Dread and Promise, but it’s hard to not have a strong emotional bias to it despite the soundtrack being totally independent of my past. It’s a decently thoughtful visual documentary that uses stark and ofttimes unmerciful imagery alongside its themes of hope and survival, but in the most outright sense, it wouldn’t have been on my radar – nor can I imagine seeking it out – had Mogwai not provided their indefectible sounds.
It’s hard to choose from an entire album full of various movements and moods, but for the purely enchanting prologue set to the forming of natural life – as opposed to the destruction shown later – this was the clear standout and encapsulates everything I love about Mogwai and the genre in 5 short minutes.