Mogwai Go Nuclear On Their Latest Soundtrack
When it comes to soundtracking a world-ending nuclear apocalypse, Mogwai are the perfect band for the job. They tell Prog about horror, human nature and their explosive new album, Atomic.
A band like Mogwai, who are known for creating evocative instrumental soundscapes with a backdrop of deeply held political opinions, look like the ideal outfit to spend their career on soundtrack projects. So it’s perhaps a surprise that they’ve only worked on a handful of them to date.
Fortunately, their fourth soundtrack effort blends that evocative musicianship with just about the perfect topic for them: the question of how humanity is battling to take responsibility for its development of nuclear technology. Their music adds to the power of Atomic: Living In Dread And Promise, directed by Mark Cousins and first broadcast last year. The band later took the broadcast-specific material and reworked it into a 10-track album, Atomic, which was released earlier this month.
The subject matter is close to home. Guitarist Stuart Braithwaite and bassist Dominic Aitchison grew up in a world where the battle for nuclear responsibility is up close and personal. Glasgow, the third-largest city in the UK, lies just 28 miles from the port where the British nuclear arsenal is based. One mistake – political or physical – will mean the immediate end of everything they’ve ever known. They’ve lived with that since they were born, and it’s manifested in what Prog might call the ‘negatively triumphant’ nature of the soundtrack, which seems to hint at a perverse beauty of destruction.
“The whole thread of that 1980s tension of apocalypse, there’s a lot of that in the film, and in the music,” Braithwaite says, summing up the vibe. “But I think what I liked is that there are very separate themes. There’s the positivity of human discovery, the science of nature, then there’s all this bleakness. It was a challenge to rise to the drama.”
Trident submarines are running on Windows 95 – think about that when you’re trying to sleep.
Everyone in the west of Scotland of a certain age knows the doublethink they have to deal with on a daily basis. After the Second World War, they rebuilt schools in a rough ‘H’ form, leading to a rumour that the shape would diffuse a nuclear wind and save the kids. That was matched with the Protect And Survive near-horror movie public information films, advising you to hide in a den under a table if the fallout warning was heard. The reasons behind both were the same: to make it easier for troops to recover bodies in the aftermath.
Meanwhile, a precious few people, selected for their jobs, would be working in a now-revealed secret bunker near St Andrews, dealing with survivor’s guilt and the knowledge that it was unlikely they’d ever see daylight again. In Glasgow, you’re aware all that could spin out just 200 seconds from now. And yet you get up, go to work, have a pint, watch the game – you keep calm and carry on.
Braithwaite is frustrated about it. “I’m surprised there isn’t an absolute outcry,” he says. “I remember everyone just laughing at Pravda in the 80s. But here, now, there’s a state-owned media. In any kind of normal situation, there’d be an outcry. Did they not drive one of those missiles up the M4 during one of those big storms? And the Trident submarines are running on Windows 95 – think about that when you’re trying to sleep.”