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Formed by longtime friends whose goal was to create “serious guitar music,” Mogwai did much more than that during their decades-long career. Their long, sweeping tracks and experiments in extreme dynamic shifts, both exemplified on 1999′s debut album Young Team, built on Slint’s legacy and helped define the sound of post-rock (even though they disliked being associated with the style). As time went on, Mogwai’s music grew more ambitious and diverse, spanning the electronic-enhanced introspection of 2001′s Rock Action and 2014′s Rave Tapes to the heavier sounds of 2008′s The Hawk Is Howling and 2017′s Every Country's Sun — and on 2021′s As the Love Continues, the band borrowed from all of those sounds ably. The group’s mastery of atmosphere made them a natural fit for soundtrack work, and their scores for Zidane (2006), Les Revenants (2013), and Black Bird (2022) were just as vital as their own albums.
Formed in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1995 by guitarist/vocalist Stuart Braithwaite, guitarist Dominic Aitchison, and drummer Martin Bulloch, Mogwai added another guitarist, John Cummings, before debuting in February 1996 with the single “Tuner.” A rarity in the Mogwai discography for its prominent vocals, it was followed by a split single with Dweeb titled “Angels vs. Aliens” that landed in the Top Ten on the British indie charts. After appearances on a series of compilations, Mogwai returned later in the year with the 7” “Summer,” and after another early 1997 single, “New Paths to Helicon,” they issued the compilation Ten Rapid. That May, they released the 4 Satin EP.
Former Teenage Fanclub and Telstar Ponies member Brendan O'Hare joined the lineup in time to record the band’s debut studio LP, Young Team. Recorded at Hamilton, Scotland’s Gargleblast Studios, with a lone vocal courtesy of Arab Strap’s Aidan Moffat, it featured some of the most striking examples of Mogwai’s sudden dynamic shifts. Following the album’s October 1997 release, it reached number 75 on the U.K. Albums Chart and won widespread acclaim.
O'Hare exited Mogwai a short time later — returning to his primary projects Macrocosmica and Fiend — to be replaced by Barry Burns. The band next issued 1998′s Kicking a Dead Pig, a two-disc remix collection; the No Education = No Future (Fuck the Curfew) EP appeared a few months later. That year’s Black Sabbath covers split single with Magoo reached number 60 on the U.K. Singles Chart, marking Mogwai’s debut on that chart. For their second album, the band took a more minimalist approach informed by Slint and the For Carnation. Recorded with producer Dave Fridmann at his upstate New York Tarbox Road Studios, March 1999′s implosive Come on Die Young built on the success of the group’s debut album, hitting number 29 on the U.K. Albums Chart.
Mogwai continued to evolve in the 2000s. On April 2001′s Rock Action, they once again worked with Fridmann, adding electronic and textural elements as well as vocal cameos by Super Furry Animals’ Gruff Rhys and Slint’s David Pajo. Peaking at number 23 on the U.K. Album Chart, it was eventually certified gold in Europe in 2009. Late that year, the band released the My Father, My King EP, a single 20-minute track that often closed Mogwai’s shows during that era. On June 2003′s ironically titled Happy Songs for Happy People, the group added strings and pianos as well as synths to their palette, making it one of their lushest-sounding albums to date. It reached number six in the U.K. and was their first significant success in the U.S., peaking at 182 on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart and number 13 on the Billboard Independent Albums Chart (like its predecessor, Happy Songs was certified gold in Europe in 2009). Government Commissions: BBC Sessions 1996-2003 arrived early in 2005. The band continued the reflective direction of their 2000s output with March 2006′s Mr. Beast. Peaking on the Billboard 200 at number 128 and on the U.K. Albums Chart at number 31, the album also spawned a U.K. Top 40 hit with the single “Friend of the Night.” The following year, Mr. Beast was certified gold in Europe.
In the middle of the 2000s, Mogwai began their soundtrack career, which became an important part of their music in the years to come. The band collaborated with Clint Mansell and the Kronos Quartet on the soundtrack to Darren Aronofsky’s 2005 film The Fountain. Mogwai also crafted the score for Douglas Gordon’s documentary Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, which was released in the U.K. in 2006 and in the U.S. in 2007. Late that year, Mogwai started work on their next album, recording at Chem19 Studios for the first time since the No Education = No Future (Fuck the Curfew) EP. Preceded by the Batcat EP, which featured a collaboration with garage-psych legend Roky Erickson, September 2008′s The Hawk Is Howling marked a return to a heavier rock sound. The band’s first completely instrumental album as well as their first self-produced effort, the set reached number 35 on the U.K. Album Chart, number 97 on the Billboard 200, and was certified gold in Europe in 2012. Following their appearance in the 2009 post-rock documentary Introspective, Mogwai released their first live album, 2010′s Special Moves, as a package with the Vincent Moon-directed concert film Burning on their own Rock Action label.
Mogwai kicked off the 2010s with February 2011′s Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, a more streamlined set of songs that reunited them with Young Team producer Paul Savage. Peaking at number 25 on the U.K. Album Chart, the LP reached number 97 on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart in the U.S., where it was the band’s first record to be distributed by Sub Pop. That October, it was certified silver in Europe. Later that year, they followed up with an EP of unreleased material from the Hardcore sessions, Earth Division, released on Sub Pop. In December 2012, the group issued A Wrenched Virile Lore, a collection of Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will remixes by artists including Justin Broadrick and the Soft Moon.
Early the following year, the first taste of the band’s acclaimed score to the French zombie TV series Les Revenants (which was based on the 2004 film of the same name) arrived as a four-song EP; in February 2013, the full-length album appeared. Mogwai filled the rest of the year with live performances of their Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait score in Glasgow, Manchester, and London, and with recording their eighth proper album at their Castle of Doom studio. The Krautrock- and electronic-influenced Rave Tapes arrived in January 2014. Produced by the band and Savage, it peaked at number ten on the U.K. Album Chart and reached number 55 on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart in the States. That December, Mogwai issued the Music Industry 3. Fitness Industry 1. EP, a collection of Rave Tapes remixes by Blanck Mass, Pye Corner Audio, and Nils Frahm, as well as previously unreleased tracks.
In November 2015, Cummings left the band to work on his own projects. Mogwai’s first release after his departure was 2016′s Atomic, a collection of reworked tracks from their music for Mark Cousins’ BBC 4 documentary Atomic: Living in Dread and Promise. Later that year, Mogwai, along with Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Gustavo Santaolalla, contributed music to Fisher Stevens and Leonardo DiCaprio’s climate change documentary Before the Flood. On September 2017′s Every Country's Sun, the band reunited with Fridmann and balanced the electronic leanings of their 2010s output with the heavier sounds of their work in the ’90s and 2000s. The album reached number six in the U.K. and number 17 on Billboard’s Independent Albums Chart in the U.S.
In 2018, Mogwai scored their first feature film, the sci-fi crime thriller KIN. Another soundtrack, this time for the Italian crime drama TV series ZeroZeroZero, followed in May 2020. The group returned with their own music in February 2021. Working remotely with Fridmann due to lockdowns caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic, As the Love Continues also included contributions from Atticus Ross and Colin Stetson and was one of the band’s most diverse yet accessible efforts. The group’s soundtrack for the first season of the series Black Bird was released in 2022. ~ Heather Phares & Jason Ankeny