June 1998 – EP reviews – Mogwai’s ‘No Education=No Future (Fuck the Curfew)’ (“the politics are in the sound”)

30 Jun

Mogwai: 'No Education=No Future (Fuck the Curfew)' EP

Mogwai: ‘No Education=No Future (Fuck the Curfew)’ EP

Mogwai – Glasgow’s “young team” of guitar noise-puppies – are just drawing out of their teens, but they’re already two-and-a-half albums old, and tour veterans. The name’s appropriate – in the sleeve photos they may look a little cute and fresh-faced to an twenty-seven-year-old codger like me, but if ‘No Education…’ is any indication, they do change into something far scarier at night. (They beat Hanson’s burbling Ewoks, anyway).

The punch-card stabs of guitar are pure Slint, but whereas Slint would lay muttered, emotional stories over their six-stringed dots and dashes, Mogwai are vocal-free and rely on pure, bullish emotion as walloped out by plectrum and drumstick. The explicit political rage of the EP’s title isn’t spat out in teen-punk slogan songs, nor in Prodigy chants. It’s carried in the rushing up against the front of the beat: it’s in their surges against the decay of sound. It’s in the faith (which they share with Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine) in big dirty noise over a mediocre world. The politics are in the sound.

Perhaps it’s because of the sparse, distant, classical-in-rebellion melodies from Luke Sutherland’s guesting violin, but Xmas Steps carries an odd resemblance to King Crimson‘s Larks Tongues In Aspic. It emerges from a soft interlocking hush of irregular rolls of bass and barely-there guitars (similar to the tension-gatherings of Bark Psychosis) then rises – nerves preparing for the clench – to a building, slashing crescendo and an eventual scrubbing, screeching roar of amp-shredding overdrive and machine-gun spurts of snare, before unclenching its fists and subsiding down into peace again, calmed by the mothering voice of the violin. It nods to Neu!’s jerky rhythms of robot-thrash as much as to Slint or Crimson, but, crucially, it’s warmer than any of them. You can hear the exact moment when strummed guitars, under growing pressure, begin to rebel and distort. Towards the end there’s a papery bang of noise; perhaps an amp blowing up from suppressed rage and cutting across the quiet wind-down.

After Xmas Steps the other two tracks seem like little brothers, but maintain the interest. Rollerball’s a sort of classical Krautrock etude. Soft guitar figures, sub-audible tinkles of piano off on the fringes, rough points of drum decoration: the final sound is of the lads downing instruments and strolling out of the studio, and it’s as much a part of the piece as any of the notes were. Small Children in the Background lays its sleepy guitar glints over a glassy fuzz-trail. It rises, almost orchestral, to an emotional peak, then cuts out to small and precious ensemble playing as sensitive as an eyelash. Whispers of voice lap back and forth at the front of the mix.

Without words, without direct vocals, without even an individual signature to each player, Mogwai’s music is oddly impersonal… but still, somehow, powerfully emotional. As they glower out from behind their clanking guitars, they might place themselves among the Glasgow arties, but in fact they’re in another place altogether. They’ll hate me for mentioning the “prog” word, but – in the best sense – it’s there in the music already. They’re already far closer to the intensely shaped, angular expressionism of Rothko, Henry Cow or The Monsoon Bassoon than they are to The Delgados’ Velvet Undergound impressions or to Bis’ synthesised pogo-sticking.

At the moment, they’ve got all the dynamics, all the expressive intensity they need – all they need now is the technique, and they’ll break through to that level their music is yearning towards. Expect great things from them by the time they hit twenty-five. ‘Til then, the least we can do is to lift the curfew on them.

Mogwai: ‘No Education=No Future (Fuck the Curfew)’
Chemikal Underground Ltd., CHEM026CD (5 020667 342652)
CD-only EP
29th June 1998
Get it from: (2020 update) Original EP best obtained second-hand; download available from Chemikal Underground
Mogwai online:
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