It couldn’t have been easy for Glasgow five-piece Mogwai to survive the rise and fall of a genre and emerge smelling of roses.
Despite having been around for almost two decades, the Scots managed, against all odds, to finally crack the UK top 10 with 2014’s Raves Tapes. This hasn’t come easy, and Mogwai’s longevity and continued success can be attributed to one thing – hard work.
Whether it’s through their litany of hand-picked remixes, unexpected collaborations or their own bespoke imprint Rock Action, the band have put in the time not only as performers but as listeners too, which has made for an exceptionally varied catalogue.
We’ve collected 10 of the band’s lesser-heard gems, from an early remix handled by techno deity Surgeon to Fuck Buttons’ quirky take on the band’s best-loved track.
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(Rock Action, 1996)
The flipside of Mogwai’s debut single ‘Lower’ was overshadowed by its bigger brother ‘Tuner’ (later re-recorded for the Ten Rapid compilation), but almost two decades later it’s well worthy of closer inspection. Scuzzy as it gets and rougher than Chuck Norris’s beard, ‘Lower’ makes it painfully obvious why, back in the mid-90s, Mogwai were regarded as Glasgow’s answer to Sonic Youth.
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‘Guardians of Space’
(from 4 Satin EP, Jetset Records, 1997)
‘Guardians of Space’ should never have been heard at all – it was accidentally released on the U.S. version of the 4 Satin EP after the label mixed up the master tapes, and was removed from all subsequent pressings. Poppier and riffier than the band’s debut album proper Young Team, it feels like a band exorcising some demons before they moved onto a slew of more pensive material.
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(Fierce Panda, 1998)
Released on Fierce Panda in 1998 as a split 7″ with Peel favourites Magoo (how’s that for a throwback opener!), Mogwai’s scruffy cover of Black Sabbath’s ‘Sweet Leaf’ feels like a distant relative of Butthole Surfers’ decidedly irreverent ‘Sweat Loaf’, treating the source material as scrap paper on which to doodle their own ramblings, with spontaneous eruptions of band chatter drowning out that classic riff. The band’s love of vintage heavy rock is well known (their label, Rock Action, is named after one of the Stooges) but they treat it with the carelessness it deserves.
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‘Mogwai Fear Satan (Surgeon Remix)’
(from Kicking A Dead Pig, Eye Q, 1998)
You only need to take a quick look at the mind-boggling amount of bespoke (and often brilliant) remixes that Mogwai have accumulated over the years to realise they’re a band who like to stay on their toes. Even back in ’98 they were hooking up dubs from the likes of Brummie warehouse techno originator Surgeon, who was about as far off most fans’ radars as you could possibly get. The fact that it sounds like a boiling kettle (something the press were very keen to point out at the time) only makes it more essential.
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(from Travels in Constants, Vol. 12, Temporary Residence Limited, 2001)
It would be safe to say that without Slint, Mogwai would have sounded completely different – so it’s fitting that the lads pay tribute to guitarist Dave Pajo with this touching cover of Papa M’s skeletal ‘Arundel’. Replacing the original track’s guitar with muted piano, it might be one of the most haunting pieces Mogwai have ever committed to tape, and that’s no mean feat.
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(from 5 Track Tour Single, 2001)
This lesser-heard gem teams Mogwai up with Northern purveyors of serene electronica The Remote Viewer, and the results are quietly explosive. The duo would end up helping out again on Rock Action’s ‘2 Rights Make 1 Wrong’, but ‘Drum Machine’ is the connoisseur’s choice, blending The Remote Viewer’s filigree electronic percussion and banjo with Mogwai’s electric piano drones and unmistakable plucks.
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(from Government Commissions: BBC Sessions 1996-2003, PIAS, 2005)
Despite their eight studio LPs and a healthy crop of EPs, soundtracks and remix collections, Mogwai are not, in the end, an album band. No matter how much you love them on record, experiencing Mogwai live is a crucial Damascene moment; the epiphany that turns you from enthusiastic punter into sweaty-palmed ultrafan screaming for “GLASGOW MEGA SNAAAAKE” and blotting moisture from your eyes. Consequently, Mogwai’s compilation of BBC sessions (mostly recorded for John Peel, who has a lovely cameo at the beginning of the album) serves as a better primer than any one studio album, and this take of ‘Cody’ seems about 20 degrees hotter than the version on Come On Die Young.
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‘Mogwai Fear Satan’
(Rock Action, 2008)
A great idea, well executed – Olympian racketmongers Fuck Buttons take on a Mogwai classic (alright, loads of them are referred to as ‘classics’ in the ranks of the ultrafans, but this one definitely is) with shining, super-heavy results. Quite a rarity too, first released as a CD-R during the bands’ U.S. tour together in 2008 and then pressed up on 10″ for Record Store Day in 2010.
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‘Special N (L. Pierre Remix’)’
(Rock Action, 2013)
Arab Strap’s Aidan Moffat, an old pal and collaborator of the band (he also provides vocals for ‘R U Still In 2 It’ on Young Team), adopts his L. Pierre guise for this twinkly, feather-soft ambient remix. ‘Special N’ is taken from Mogwai’s creepy, low-key soundtrack for the Twin Peaks-esque French TV series Les Revenants – a canny commission if ever there was one.
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(from Rave Tapes boxset, Rock Action, 2014)
A fresh one, this – ‘Bad Magician’ is the best of the three bonus tracks included in the vinyl boxset version of cracking new album Rave Tapes, and is a fine example of the band’s increasingly bright and crispy electronic-leaning sound – plinky-plonk keys and biting snares that leaven the downwards weight of their typically crunchy, squealing guitars. Shame it missed the cut for the album itself.
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