The Mogwai influence on the Scottish music scene is all-pervasive, and as a restless, eager audience gather in the foyer of Leith Theatre, we’re certain we’re here for a stellar night of sound. It’s an impressive setting, previously used for Edinburgh International Festival events between 1961 and 1968, so its reuse as a festival venue is both welcomed and apt. However, in the 1920s of its inception, amplified music was not the acoustic architects would have had in mind, and on previous visits I have noticed it can be a tricky task to locate the elusive sonic sweet spot, while still seeing musicians up-close. I was hopeful that perhaps these issues wouldn’t trouble EIF.
First on-stage were Rev Magnetic, the most recent project of Luke Sutherland, who has a loyal underground following from his time in Long Fin Killie, Bows and as erstwhile Mogwai member. Usually a four-piece, tonight Rev Magnetic were joined for several numbers by RAZA’s Bertrand Auguste Mougel, adding drum-triggered synth shimmers. Audrey Bizourne (also of Gift Horse) on bass, synth and vocals was a joy to watch onstage, locking in well with drummer Sam Leighton. Alas, Rev Magnetic were stung by the Leith Theatre sound curse in their third number, with some elements sounding too far away from each other, as if Sutherland was lost singing in a completely different sound-world, but they brought it back without too much effort, and the closing song was deeply moving, starting from the wistful regret of Sutherland’s lyrics. “How can I have been so stupid? You were my only ray of light,” resolving in the celebration of sudden clarity. Rev Magnetic’s music was contagiously engaging, and I certainly hope they felt the well-earned love for them from the room.
The sound demons continued to play fiendish tricks during Mogwai’s set, causing Stuart Braithwaite to sing off-key at times. Presumably his in-ear monitor was faulty, for he kept casting glances to the roadies waiting in the wings. Even with earplugs, the sound was nosebleedingly loud, and parts of my skull reverberated, that I didn’t even know could! “Don’t Believe the Fife” featured lovely woozy phasing to create a disorienting vibe as Leith Theatre became the site of the most cosmic game of sonic ping-pong. The main criticism lobbed against Mogwai is that their music is uneventful, but when they’re on-form, their music emerges like aerial photography images of mountain ranges in the mind, peaks unfurling before your flight. Particularly endearing was watching the ballet of the roadie flinging Alex MacKay’s guitar onto him like a superhero’s cape as he flew to the front of the stage from playing synth at the back.
Transcending technical hitches, Mogwai are one of those bands every child born in Scotland should be given a ticket to see as a rite of passage.
Photo courtesy of David Wilkinson.
For more on the Edinburgh International Festival click here.