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Tag: Mogwai

Dybbuk, the dislocated soul of the dead, Illustration by Ephraim Moshe Lilien.

The Resurrection of Mogwai

Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, (29) And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.

                                                                                             — John 5:28-29

The story of Lazarus of Bethany, in the gospel of John, is well known among those followers and scholars of religious texts to confirm the last and most important of Jesus’ seven feats—the Resurrection—the lynchpin in the signs that point to his divinity and what his more zealous adherents would go on to use as justification of his continued relevance. Indeed it has become the central tenant of Christianity. It’s no lie, the defiance of death, the finger in the face of nature, tipping the scales of time, resurrection is a powerful idea. But, owning up to the very real scientific nature of the Lazarus phenomenon, and as its scarcity defines its high value, Lazarus—i.e. the dead coming back—is more potent as a metaphor, at least in terms of saleability, than as a reality. Who doesn’t want to live forever, or at least think they do?

No one in their right mind believes that it is possible today to raise the dead, but having a look around at the neo-evangelical fervor that has gripped the United States, and the power and reach of quasi-cult organizations like Scientology, it seems that many want to believe. The best-selling novel series Left Behind attests to this. Even those who claim atheism seem to be searching for something to believe in. What exactly is yet to be seen. Hence the popularity of the Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and similarly genre’d Game of Thrones and the plethora of lesser quality copycat series based on a pastiche of fast and loose mythology and incorporating the Force, or some form of intangible “magic” as core form of guiding power. But what actual magic do we seek? Belief in a 2000 year-old Bronze Age John Lennon who preached peace and love? What say the followers of Yoda, Gandalf & Khalisi? What chance does Jesus, let alone, the rest of us have in the race to the final finish?

Jesus of Nazareth was not the first to be raised from the dead. Even Lazarus, who beat him to it, was not the first to be raised from the dead. If we remember our Greek mythology, both Achilles and Heracles (or Hercules, if you prefer) died and were resurrected, both after accomplishing a number of feats that pointed out to their contemporaries their own place in the pantheon of gods. Before them in the ancient near east, Baal and Osiris lead a motley crew of old-timey resurrections, presumably based upon their own predecessors reanimation as well. In short, resurrection is old school. But because it’s such a high gloss issue, it’s basic story line has stuck in our collective craws since before recorded history and became especially popular throughout the not-much-else-going-on middle ages.

The Resurrection of Mogwai

History of English Affairs

Take William of Newberg, whose 12th century work History of English Affairs depicts several instances of medieval revenants, those poor unbelieving criminal souls who didn’t quite make the cut in life and so, in death, come back, ostensibly, to haunt their their friends, family and associates. How irritating that they were shits when they were relatable corporeal humans, and after finally passing, they return—covered in dead people doodie—to do it all over again. If they embody the resurrection of damnation, who are the damned—us or them? Is it any wonder that vampyric legend out of 16th century Baltics became conflated with the peasant folklore of medieval British revenants—imagine their complexions. Ghastly indeed.

The Dybbuk, recently popularized in the Coen Brothers’ film, A Serious Man, is yet another form of revenant from Jewish mythology, a dislocated and parasitic soul cleaving to the living in order to right a wrong. Then there is the Draug, the animated corpse from Norse mythology, that has similar characteristics to humans (think the ring-wraiths from Lord of the Rings). The less popular Nachzehrer, a Germanic mixture of a vampire and ghost, begins to recall the reigning champ, the zombie.

Since Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead spawned and popularized the genre of the reanimated undead, there are too many instances of zombie culture to name. It is its own universe now, seemingly a living entity whose evolution is written not from the mind of writers worldwide, but from a growing compilation of material from which to morph a collective unconscious of the undead.

Such seems to be the case with the new show Resurrection from Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment and ABC Studios, based on the eponymous novel by Jason Mott, which is apparently based on a dream the author had, and not the eerily similar 2012 Canal+ television show Les Revenants, itself an adaptation of the 2004 film Les Revenants by Robin Campillo, in which millions of French zombies return, not to eat le cerveau (brains), but to reintegrate into their former lives. How French, they just want their postprandial cheese. Is its likeness to the 2003 film Yomigaeri (Back From Hell) by Akihiko Shiota coincidental or a process of cross-cultural collectivity? Are we drawing from some vast unconscious pool of similar imagery for a reason or for commercial sales? Is this an evolution or a stagnation?

The Resurrection of Mogwai

The Resurrection of Mogwai

Mogwai live at 2009 Summer Sonic

The unclassifiable Scottish band Mogwai left me wanting circa their fifth full length album, Mr. Beast (Play It Again Sam, 2006), which also carries the dubious distinction of being the last compact disc I bought. The jewel case, dense with rich, disturbing decoration, included—beyond the actual disc itself—a booklet of paintings by the cover artist Amanda Church and a DVD of the Making Of Mr. Beast at their newly constructed Castle of Doom Studios in Edinburgh. I wanted more and I wanted less. More clarity and less feedback. While it still appeared that the band were, as a friend put it after their mediocre 2009 performance at the mediocre and rain-besieged Summer Sonic festival outside of Tokyo, “muddling about in their own piddle.” I could no longer hear the lovely and noisome progression of instrumental bliss I loved from Young Team (Chemikal Underground,1997), Come On Die Young (Chemikal Underground,1999), Rock Action (Matador, 2001), and Happy Songs For Happy People (Play It Again Sam, 2003). At the time it seemed that we had both emerged out of an extended adolescence and, like old loves often do, faded from one another’s lives. In their case it made sense that they had run out of sublime melodies to tear apart and put back together with guitar, drum and keys. In my case the fade caused them to disappear completely from my conscious mind. The age of the compact disk had joined the 8-track cassette in technology’s abandoned corner lot trash heap. So be it.

And so life goes on. And tastes progress. The older one becomes the harder it is to listen to bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Explosions in the Sky, and Mogwai around others. The pretty parts are fine, orchestral, sublime and are made for sunny Saturday picnics by the lake, but soon the lilting melodies tend toward to the post-WWI musical DADA-ism of post-rock noise art. There is meaning there, there’s just no explaining it to the in-laws. It then becomes extremely situational listening, rarely being played on the family Bose system or being aired out only during the sporadic family drives to Joshua Tree or, heaven forbid, Texas.

Les Revenants - The past has decided to resurface

Les Revenants – The past has decided to resurface

The television heads have gotten wise to paying top dollar for indie rock songs to attract the ever-waning attention spans of twenty-somethings. Lorde, Fun., The Halo Benders (also, think Lou Reed’s death eerily coinciding with his song Perfect Day on a Playstation 4 ad) have all been lucratively synced, but it’s more than just a snippet of a single by the latest Coldplay-for-hires, this was “Coming Home – Part II” by Skylar Grey, a benign tune in itself, but when paired with ABC proselytizing wantonly sentimental and vaguely apocalyptic evangelical fodder, it turns the stomach. The promos for Resurrection are full of Jesus light and leave you feeling like you’ve douched with a dirty Mormon undergarment, while the Canal+ Les Revenants has the pristine lakes and pastoral forests with just enough of the dark and gritty feel of the subterranean backalleys of old wartorn Europe—the resurrection of life in contrast to resurrection of damnation. Though outwardly we strive for the former, it’s the latter that we secretly covet. Like, though coveted by all, the return of a long-missed loved one, is not right, and somehow, it’s all going to go horribly wrong. I hope that for ABC Studios & Plan B there are the seeds of a Walking Dead / World War Z planted deep within the bowels of Resurrection. If so it could be ABC’s next Lost.

Nausea, at least for me, has always implied a cure, a revolt against treacly ills of bad writing and religious indoctrination. Synapses firing, I searched through my folders of global television series unwatched for clues. It was then I happened on Les Revenants and my introduction to French zombies began. Cueing up the first episode you hear “Hungry Face”, the title track off of Mogwai’s 2013 soundtrack and you are sucked in by the familiar stroke of fret, combination of keys, and patter of drums, but moreover by the use of silence, pairing mercilessly with Fabrice Gobert’s stunning visuals which transcends mere television watching.

Does Mogwai make the series a success singlehandedly? No, but the meditative and mystery implied in the haunting tones sets the table nicely. Les Revenants is Young Team on Quaaludes. Subdued and at times ambivalent, it represents the more contemplative side of the band. The side that, behind the sheer wall of mind-numbing Marshall stack feedback, you always knew was there, but wondered how they could ever more fully explore that side. Discipline and restraint have supplanted the atonal choler that plagued various tedious middle-marches of albums past, leaving listeners awash in euphonious and dulcet tones that have transcended the mere physicality of instruments toward a diviner vibration. Laced with songs entitled “The Huts”, “Kill Jester”, “Eagle Tax”—which, despite their nonsensical titles, belie a narrative beyond the seeming nihilistic text (in some cases the series writers used their scores to write the series). One senses a denouement, an unfolding of a mystery, growth. This growth is most noticeably sublime when its power is wielded with authority rather than youthful angst. The erstwhile rage spun from delicate and brooding melodies that have garnered Mogwai avid audiences spanning multiple musical genres has matured into instrumental mastery.

The Resurrection of Mogwai

Rave Tapes – Sub Pop 2014

Their most recent release, Rave Tapes, continues where Revenants left off. “Heard About You Last Night” opens by demonstrating an almost austere Buddhist simplicity, yet they stake the territory of resonant clarity for grim abstinence. There is plenty of sex, but no pornography. The album’s waistband—“Remurdered”, “Hexon Bogon”, “Repelish” and “Master Card”—is thick with rigorous and meaty cuts of guitar-driven narrative backed by keys both luminous and mysterious. The swirling epic “Deesh” takes us to concise altitudes where only when the silence prevails can one hear the true framework of whitenoise, while the album’s closer and the first single “The Lord Is Out of Control” can play both as a hearkening toward and a recanting of tones as narrative progressions. Provocative mixing of electronic beats, organs, vocoders and ocean waves propel the multitude of inner monologues toward an attainment of true revelation through collective unconsciousness. Attaining musical excellence is one thing, yet the key to maintaining harmonious Nirvana is to not be happy, to never be satisfied with status quo achievements. To not be born again, but rather to have become. To be becoming.

In retrospect I guess I should have realized that it was the shitty acoustics of the concrete warehouse venue in which they played to 10000 middlingly stoned, distracted and overprivileged youths that made the 2009 show such a letdown. Summer Sonic is a good idea gone horribly astray from its hopefully humble intentions. Lord knows the amount of money they are paying decent musicians to come from across the world to play in a sweltering concrete convention pavilion. What’s worse they’ve convinced the youth of Japan that it is normal, good even, that they should see, not just a show, but cram multiple artists together under such conditions. If I am honest I will admit that I had grown apart from Mogwai on my own, but such a reunion can either reinvigorate a once mirthful love or push it farther afield. In my case Summer Sonic performed the latter. May the Lord Be Out Of Control On Thee, Summer Sonic.

Organized religion represents a trusted link to the mythology of the past, but if there is any kind of rough guide for living in the modern world, it must be film, for good or ill. Occasionally when we cut through the fog of dogma, and the two-faced stubbornness of politics we come to nuggets of wisdom, such as this, from the mouth of Celine, in the Richard Linklater classic Before Sunrise, “If there’s any kind of magic in this world, it must be in the attempt of understanding someone, sharing something. I know, it’s almost impossible to succeed, but…who cares, really? The answer must be in the attempt.” Forget Gandalf, fuck zombies and screw loved ones back from the dead, these are Hollywood’s attempt to recreate more mind-numbing blather—that you’ve already seen—to entertain you to death while real life goes on all-around, and inside of, you. It’s not on the screen. It’s sitting next to you. The true magic is eye contact, the breath, community and connection. And I don’t mean WI-FI.

The Flaming Lips at Summer Sonic (HESO Magazine)

Why Summer Sonic Sucks

They made me sign a contract stipulating I wouldn’t badmouth the show. By writing this I will most likely not be invited back. I am fine with this. I am of the opinion that these massive festivals should be done way with altogether. The only thing a baseball stadium should be used for is burning Celine Dion in effigy or, well, baseball. Certainly not an exposition of “music” blasted as it were through stacks of speakers like so much dynamite used to tunnel through mountainsides. But you get what you pay for, and yet despite it being the tenth anniversary of the three-day showcase put on by Creativeman, apparently the punk dudes and goth girls are fine paying nearly $175 per day and showing up well into the afternoon. That must be their rock n’f’n roll sensibility: arrive just in time for Nine Inch Nails’ last Japan tour while missing Marine Stage openers Boys Like Girls, who seemed to have trouble getting through whole songs, or maybe those were just their songs. Either way, I decided to start drinking early.

Phoenix played a strong and instrumental heavy showing on the “Mountain” 2nd tier stage at the far end of the warehouse, de facto winner of worst stage name ever Click To Tweet

Why Summer Sonic Sucks

Why Summer Sonic Sucks

I Hate Rock N Roll (at Summer Sonic)

I made my way stage by stage (seven in all) early on before absolute indifference strangled my spirit and managed to catch bits and pieces of Totalfat on the Island (it’s a parking lot with that fake golf grass) stage and Fukuhara Miho at the aptly named Beach stage (who ironically enough first appeared on a Celine Dion tribute album). Bouncing between the Dance and Sonic stages (both indoor a massive concrete warehouse) I caught bits and pieces of School of Seven bells and Fujifabric, whose guitarist needs to get a new band, before jumping back to witness Kyte’s occasionally more than interesting Spacemen 3 and Coldplay lovechild’s version of rock orchestraic shoegaze until well, enough of that 1/16th beat programmed high-hat at 2pm. It was time for Girltalk anyway, who exploded onto the Dance stage for some one-legged cross-genre mash-up fun. I now know where my ¥2000 Eco-Friendly fee went after witnessing Gregg Michael Gillis’ cut-off clad twin ingénues literally blowing through twenty packs of toilet paper and confetti with their day-glo air guns. Though this bothered me at first, as soon as the stage filled with twenty-odd crowd-turned-dancers and Gillis reiterated, “I wanna take it to the next level!” while hop-scotching on the decks with one leg (his preferred dance) and pumping his fist in the air, I didn’t mind the loss of the industrial strength single-ply so much. This is what music is all about: Dancing. The sweat and taut skin of youth grinding away in oblivious joy on some stage somewhere likely under the gaze of disapproving eyes. This is Footloose. Short as his set was it provided much of the Day One highlights, what with Katy Perry A.W.O.L., so how could Paramore or Mercury Rev ever hope to pick up the slack?

Perhaps not so surprisingly Phoenix played a strong and instrumental heavy showing on the “Mountain” stage (the 2nd tier stage at the far end of the warehouse, de facto winner of worst stage name ever) in support of their latest album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, despite all appearances of not knowing where in the world they were playing today. Mewling around for more alcohol to relieve the concrete doldrums a decision was made, and though sacrificing Jack Peñate on the Beach stage at sunset was likely the most difficult of the long weekend, Nine Inch nails managed to carry the day- despite SSSS (shit stadium sound syndrome) with an eclectic retrospective of an hour-long set including “March of the Pigs”, “Closer” and a violent “I’m Afraid of Americans” before closing with- you guessed it- “Hurt”. A thunderous downpour soaking run back to the Sonic stage to see an alternatively brilliant and uninspired set by Mogwai, flip-flopping between mirroring the Thor-like hammering sky outside and waffling around in their own piddle puddles like sad wayward children. Follow the left-brain lads. Aphex Twin was even less brilliant and more disappointing given the rehashed run-of-the-mill dj set Richard James seemed satisfied performing to the easily amused crowd. Giving my bladder the impetus to win out over my sense of dharmic duty to actually finish listening to the entire set. To pee or not to pee. Depends on the DJ.

Despite Saturday’s promise of Joan Jett, Elvis Costello, CSS, and the Specials I decided to take a personal day for consumption of proper amounts of Pizza and Belgian Ale, as well as to consider my friend’s overarching indictment that Summer Sonic was like a government-sponsored music festival in Singapore. That bad…or good? I’ll give you a moment to ponder that. While you do so, why not check out the review of Fujirock?

Why Summer Sonic Sucks

Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne rolling overhead

I arrived early-ish Sunday with high expectations that the lineup would overshadow the venue’s shortcomings. The Sonic Stage alone could be depended on to deliver one from the melancholy humidity and violent sonic reverberations. Repeat after me: Grizzly Bear, The Vaselines, Teenage Fanclub, Sonic Youth & The Flaming Lips. The Veronicas, Five Finger Death Punch and Gogol Bordello, among other compelling acts appearing strewn across far-flung stages, would have to be sacrificed for the greater good.

It’s possible I may be being overly harsh but Tame Impala sounds like a really lame Sterolab, which I suppose is better than a shitty Keane, who are pretty shitty, so kudos for that. After a refreshing slam of the head against the concrete and the first of quite a few contraband whiskeys, The Temper Trap came on and actually reclaimed some of the pride they lost when they chose that name, solely by the intensity of their live set, though the guitarist has to get a new move because Girltalk already has the one-leg-hop-fist-pump trademarked. Though the Vaselines entered to a subdued midday crowd, their three guitar strong call and response post punk ditties soon got the audience ready for the three other 20+ year old bands on tap. Power pop progenitors Teenage Fanclub, who despite putting out nothing but strong albums since the early 90s, always sound better live. So good in fact I decided to kick up my heels with the other flashbackers in the back with a drink, almost tasting that special blend of tea I drank one night in the mid-90s while locked in a room with only Bandwagonesque and an iguana named Ray. Great. Album.

For the third day running the pounding rain outside the cattle-pen-esque warehouse quartered into “stages” and separated by the same movable walls you had in your elementary school when the budget was slashed made it an easy choice between Ne-yo at the Chiba Marines Stadium and Sonic Youth alongside another two boilermakers where I stood. Since the addition of ex-Pavement bassist Mark Ibold has freed up Kim Gordon to occasionally double him on bass, pick up a guitar or just jump her ass off in her silver go-go girl skirt, the quintet has found an even happier equilibrium- if that can be believed- between their straightforward punk and their trademark harmonic dissonance, which is the balance the band struck amazingly well throughout their eleven-song set. Performed in a dueling banjo-like fashion with Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore cross-riffing with Gordon and Ibold to Steve Shelley’s constant beat in time to the positively and negatively charged ions making their own beautiful clash of sound skyward pouring down and dredging up on their closer “Death Valley ‘69”, quenching the thirst of the sonically deprived audience. Hands raised to toward the heavens- Hallelujah.

Why Summer Sonic Sucks

I went to Summer Sonic and all I got was stranded in the rain

There is always a certain point when even the most die-hard sexual participant (or in this case concert-goer) recognizes that all-too-familiar lower backache and the tired, cramping legs which inevitably come in between overlong bouts (waiting between sets…) and with unstimulating partners (…for shitty bands). Yet seeing as how the Flaming Lips began their ninety-minute show (long by S.S. standards) by emerging from a video projection of a psychedelic vagina in close-up shooting day-glo sparks, I would doubt the Oklahoma City denizens have ever had problems with either, not that I would know in the latter, but I do have to admit that the adrenalin pumping through my veins when they started in with “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” as Wayne Coyne rolled overhead in his plastic bubble certainly eased two days of concrete stupor. After which Coyne, perpetually decked out in his natty godfather of rock threads, urged everyone to, “C’mon Motherfuckers!” before launching into Soft Bulletin classic “Waitin’ For A Superman”. Careening through less familiar Zaireeka and newer At War With The Mystics material (though oddly omitting the excellent Clouds Taste Metallic completely) the foursome of Lips- accompanied on stage by a bevy of frogs, bunnies and the random light saber guy- happened on more familiar ground with a stripped down Dylanesque revisioning of “The Fight” and “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1” in ethereal organic gospel beauty amid comments like, “Never thought we’d be playing at the same time as Beyonce…” as well as more bullhorn blared, “C’mon MFers!” That was when they almost destroyed their carefully crafted momentum by marching everyone through a somber “Taps” (as a simultaneous eulogy / protest song for the Iraq War) to only the second completely silent audience I’ve ever been in with minimum 1000 other people (Mogwai live at El Rey in LA. circa 1999). Their rather obvious closer, “Do You Realize??” punctuated by gong peals and confetti blasts- was preceded by heartfelt gratitude toward Summer Sonic (“We played the first Summer Sonic in 1999…I mean 2000!”) which perhaps clarified for me why western bands and local fans alike revere this celebration of commercialization and concrete.

It is often unfortunately taken for granted that due to the relative affluence of its large middle class, its rampant consumerism as well as acceptance of foreign medicines, technology and cultural values, that Japan is a western nation. This occasionally causes individuals to overreact to what are viewed through ethnocentric eyes as social peccadilloes, which is another essay altogether. Yet, in general, due to its relative comfort, high salaries and lack of laws pertaining to alcohol, it is often easy to forget that Japan is an island in the far east- the pacific gateway to Asia- and that being so located, the majority of North American and European artists popular on the tour circuit don’t necessarily have the means or resources to pull off an extended tour of Asia, or even a mini-tour of Japan. Flights, equipment costs, hotels number among many other obstacles facing touring artists, who often have to depend on their labels to fund trips due to local promoters offering bare bones remuneration to all but the biggest attractions. Sure, ticket prices are higher here, but so are all domestic charges, so bands rarely see an extra cut. Pedestalized (but not paid) as they are, what they do get is the best service in the western music-loving world. Delivery, translation and succinct efficiency have come to define Japan’s concert industry so much so as to guarantee Summer Sonic the hottest acts at the peak of the summer festival season. Though all this has come to actually guarantee both artists and fans only one thing- a single appearance (maybe two or three if you count Osaka and Nagoya) once every new album cycle or reunion tour grab for cash. Beyond saving the artists exorbitant travel expenses, logistical headaches and giving the Japanese fan what they crave in an otherwise dry international music scene Creativeman can pack as many people as possible into probably the worst venue that ever was. And sadly, boasting their Sex Pistols t-shirts and ripped jeans, these sardines willingly part with their hard earned cash.

Soylent Green is People! © Zebriography

Soylent Green is People! © Zebriography

The setup at Makuhari Messe is a fire hazard, pure and simple. As well as being ripe for a disaster, which I realized might be tap for Sunday’s 8pm headlining Lips’ set when a 7.1 earthquake set anxious feet prematurely to dance. Few paid any real attention to the temblor, despite the obvious risk to the thousands of avid fans crushing ever closer to the stage, as staffers packed them in like so many tuna in Tsukiji. Creativeman’s exit strategy looked woefully similar to Bush Jr.’s in Iraq until the Lips (Read as Obama) came in with musical advice to avert battle weary troops from further PTSD. Which is the reason the fans don’t mind the crowds, the lackluster sets, the high prices, the shite sound, the constant rules shouted through megaphones, all set in an acoustic nightmare of a wharehouse just made for corporate seminars: Music trumps all.

It’s specifically because of this- apart from the inherent and ignored danger (though that is kind of punk isn’t it?), the ubiquitous concrete and heavy-handed commercialism- Summer Sonic’s producers look to have at least a few more years of success left, what with the stature of the bands they can attract (what can’t massive ego-stroking accomplish when coupled with cold hard cash?) and the intelligent decision to have bikini-top clad cuties pouring drinks to cleavage-starved lads. It might surprise you to know, but among the other western amenities adopted by Japan, drinking milk for strong bones and lean bodies has had an increasingly positive effect on the female population. Now if only we could get Celine Dion to defect…

**Editor’s Note**

Apart from attempting to dictate the content of the article, Creativeman also was quite fascist about cameras, not allowing us any access other than what the rudimentary fan would get, thus maintaining the monopoly on imagery for their DVD sales and sponsored quid pro quo write-ups, hence the eclectic shot selection.

The opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent HESO Magazine.

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