bright light ! articles
title: "arbiters of noise"
date published: ???? 1999
interview by: mike mcgonigal
published in:
country of origin: uk?
submitted by: ian rowley

arbiters of noise
are mogwai the last true punk band?

scottish five-piece mogwai aren't the first artsy, postpunk act to righteously employ the dynamics of loud versus soft, rock versus not really rock, distorted versus clean and dissonant versus harmonic. but they're the best to come out in a long while, perhaps since american indie legends slint. like that wildly influential combo, mogwai make music that's precious and ponderous, definitely rockist and distinctly their own. their music approaches the wall-of-sound squall of crafty prog-trancers such as ghost and pelt, but it's more varied, harder-edged and difficult to describe. amazon's mike mcgonigal chats with mogwai guitarist and pianist john cummings. you recorded come on die young with dave fridmann (ex-mercury rev) in upstate new york; what was that like?

john cummings: as a producer and engineer, he's great. the studio is this house that some couple had spent two years building while they lived in a big caravan outside. six months after it got finished and before they'd actually moved in properly, the couple got divorced. so dave and some of his friends bought the house. it's in the middle of a big forest and it was hunting season when we were there. we weren't really able to go for a walk around, in case we'd get shot by hunters. they might have mistaken us for some animal--a rabbit, maybe. ūs did that kind of situation really centre you guys?

cummings: me personally, yeah. the last album was recorded really near where we all stay in glasgow and that was a bit of a problem. stuart and dominic had to go home and walk the dog and stuff like that; they couldn't really concentrate. young team and come on die young are named after gang slogans; what's all that about? are gangs really big in scotland?

cummings: ehh? i mean, they exist. and when you're young, there are always gangs: "oh, you can't go up there because there's this gang hanging about." none of us really were part of all that, but it's what we went to school with and just remembering the things that we used to see greatly amuses us. when we went on tour before we recorded the first album, we were getting quite silly. that's when we made up all our alternate names. and we decided that we were mogwai young team: a gang. we got quite excited by a kind of tour madness and started writing "myt" and we got a bit carried away. at one point in the tour, we were close to getting the led zeppelin-like symbols. we snuffed out that one quite quickly. but the names kind of stuck. my name was captain meat. it's not the best name. no, it's not.

cummings: people seemed to think it's got something or other to do with my liking sausages and chicken and stuff. i like meat. it's a tasty substance. but if i had a chance again, i don't think i would have named myself after it. is "punk rock/puff daddy/antichrist" supposed to read as puff daddy the antichrist, or is it like there's one section of the song dedicated to puff daddy and another to the antichrist, if they are in fact separate?

cummings: if we had connected the name "puff daddy" with the term "antichrist" any more ... might have had some trouble?

cummings: yeah. so we had to kind of separate them a wee bit for legal reasons. as far as i'm concerned, puff daddy very much is the antichrist, yes. but we really couldn't make as bold a statement as that. why do you think that?

cummings: there's nothing wrong with pop music. "never ever" by all saints is a tremendous song; i could listen to it every day. but take, for instance, that puff song with the "kashmir" riff--the riff itself is the only thing in the song that's of any value. puffy's just done nothing good at all. and i suppose it annoys me that everyone thinks he's brilliant and he makes so much money, and he thinks he's brilliant and he's just not. he's offensive. you guys have something of a political-social edge, which is interesting for a predominantly instrumental band. for instance, there's your ep from early 1999, fuck the curfew. can you explain, first of all, what that's about?

cummings: there's a town called hamilton near glasgow; it's where we recorded the first album. they imposed this curfew and if you were under 16, you couldn't be allowed out after nine o'clock at night. it was ridiculous that kids couldn't actually be out doing anything after nine o'clock or they would get sent home. the curfew is not going to solve anything at all. when things annoy us, it does tend to seep into our music in some way, even if it's just in song titles. we're not going to ignore the fact that we get really annoyed by government policies or other things, but neither are we going to start a huge political movement based around it. we're not going to try to get everyone at our gigs to start chanting, "we hate the government. we hate the government." nothing like that. does the fact that you don't have much singing at all in your songs confuse people? cummings: yeah, a lot of people don't really seem to understand it. but i don't really think there's anything to not understand. it's weird. if i saw monkey brains on a dinner menu in a restaurant, i would probably think that was quite weird, but it's very commonplace in some countries.