Mogwai – Burning
Posted In: Burning, Fluid Radio, Mogwai, Mogwai - Burning, Nathanael le Scouarnec, Simon James French, Vincent Moon
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It’s rapidly approaching 13 years since Mogwai released their first LP ‘Mogwai Young Team’ back in October of 1997 and since then they’ve been hard at work producing a stunning catalogue of albums, EPs, singles, and film soundtracks. But now they’ve broken into the concert film market. For those about to think twice about reading due to the long-held preconception that “most concert films are rubbish” should not hesitate to read on.
That statement is mildly true though, most concert videos are filled with banal, static, side-of-the-stage shots and if it’s not shot from the stage-side, it’ll be an extreme long above the the crowd which aims to wow the viewer with the band’s lasers and giant balls (if you’re watching a Pink Floyd concert). And it’s also true that the concert film can be a shoddy way for a band to make money by releasing what is basically a glorified greatest hits collection. Yes, it’s unfortunate that making a tried and tested live performance recording is not always the best way to do things. Unless of course you take a different approach to it, like The Beastie Boys or Radiohead, both of whom gave video cameras out to their fans to film their respective concert from the audience’s perspective.
Or you can do what Vincent Moon and Nathanaël Le Scouarnec have done and create something that truly puts the word film back into concert film.
‘Burning’ is the new film about Glaswegian post-rockers Mogwai; filmed when they played a three-night show last year in Brooklyn, New York. The film was shot, edited and produced by Vincent Moon and Nathanaël Le Scouarnec. It was a tour that spanned their career from the opening of 1997’s ‘Mogwai Young Team’ to the closing of their latest release ‘The Hawk is Howling’ and fans were treated to a diverse mix from their eclectic catalogue. The best of the three nights were subsequently condensed and made into ‘Burning’, a collection of 8 tracks that makes for an intense 48 minute journey showcasing the bands ever morphing sound.
But what makes this film so incredible, and so different from any other concert film, is the intimacy that is present in every aspect ranging from the filming, the song choice and even to the interludes that appear between the tracks. For starters the camera hovers closely to fingers, guitars, cymbals, the fans’ heads, drum sticks, guitar picks and of course the band’s slew of effects pedals. The extreme long shot is done away with, there is no use for it here. The film is about how the band connects with their audience and it can be felt in everything from the intimate location – where the band are practically standing on top of one another -, the low camera angles through to the reactions of the audience – one lady even shares her emotional experience of her first Mogwai concert in the ending credits. Everything has been carefully thought upon and placed to heighten the restricted and inward feeling that is present throughout the film.
The scenes of the city, peppered throughout the film, seem to represent the isolated and inward feeling that can easily appear when living in such a large place and seem to be included to juxtapose the intimate scenes of the performance space where the audience are united. To hear the audience erupt into cheers as they hear the song they’ve waited weeks, months, maybe even years to hear live further drives the point home that the audience can be a large part of a live show. It’s interesting then that Moon and Le Scouarnec have decided to remove almost all traces of the audience audio. That’s not to say that the audience aren’t present though, they are, as they play a role in telling the Mogwai story, by showing, just through their actions, just how engrossed they are. The sound of them is used at key points to heighten the emotion felt by the audience-at-home. The choice to allow the audience to be seen and not heard works well in this case as all too many great concert DVDs and albums have been ruined by poorly mixed crowd noise.
The track choice is outstanding — it’s mind-blowing from start to finish and is perhaps the film’s best asset. Tracks become one with each other, erupt, seemingly from nowhere and merge into the sounds of the city exceptionally well. ‘I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead’ and ‘Batcat’ are easily the highlights. While ‘Batcat’ may not be one of their stronger in-the-studio tracks, it transforms on stage and the energy of the band as a cohesive unit turns the song into an uncontrollable beast as the squeals of the guitar ricochet through the mix. Notably though, the film does skip a few albums from Mogwai’s catalogue; ‘Come on Die Young’, ‘Rock Action’ and ‘Mr. Beast’ are nowhere to be heard.
Overall, ‘Burning’ is an exceptionally well made film which pushes what little boundaries ‘the concert film’ had set for itself in its current repressed state. Everything works well within its 48 minutes and the movie as a whole makes for great viewing and listening. The sound team have done a spectacular job of recording, mixing and mastering all the audio so that every instrument has its place in the mix. With the production value as high as this it’s easy to see how this film has turned out so well, there really isn’t much wrong with it.
- Review by Simon James French for Fluid Radio
The Precipice (The Hawk is Howling, 2008)
I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead (The Hawk is Howling, 2008)
Hunted by a Freak (Happy Songs for Happy People, 2003)
Like Herod (Mogwai Young Team, 1997)
New Paths to Helicon pt. 1 (Ten Rapid, 1997)
Mogwai Fear Satan (Mogwai Young Team, 1997)
Scotland’s Shame (The Hawk is Howling, 2008)
Batcat (The Hawk is Howling, 2008)
‘Burning’ can be ordered from the Mogwai website now in an array of options to suit you.