Mogwai play the soundtrack to Zidane
Manchester International Festival
At the end of a mesmerizing and stunning set of hypnotic instrumental music, Stuart Braithwaite from Mogwai finally steps up to the mic and jokes, ‘We never thought the hottest gig we’d ever play would be in Manchester..;
He is referencing the temperature in the room which is on one of the hottest nights of the year in the middle of a freak heat wave that has bathed the city in a warm glow that makes it feel more like Los Angeles than the trad North West murkiness.
He could also have been referencing the band’s stunning set or the great Zidane film that they are soundtracking in one of those perfect event gigs the great new Albert Hall venue in the city centre across the road from the famous Free Trade hall where the Sex Pistols started a northern youthquake all those years ago.
Sometimes gigs have moments of bliss, sometimes they just are bliss…tonight is one of those gigs.
The gods have lined this one up perfectly, a great, idiosyncratic band playing the soundtrack to Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno film about the genius French footballer Zinedine Zidane in a new Manchester venue that combines grander and a church like holiness to create an atmosphere that is like no other.
After this gig the only way I could ever watch football again is with a soundtrack of ambient guitar genius cranked up loud creating a whole different atmosphere.
When Mogwai were asked to write the sound track to the Zidane film which follows the legendary French footballer around for a whole match, they rewrote some tunes left lying around the rehearsal room floor and added some new material and mix and matched the tunes to make a brilliant, cohesive whole.
The band were a great choice for this project with half of them being big football fans and their music subtley tugs at you as you are hypnotized by Zidane’s brooding presence on the screen.
Zidane certainly has a presence, his famous face peers out of the screen, permo-carved into that permanent scowl. His body is oozing attitude- a mixture of pure confidence in his ability and an odd insecurity with constant readjusting of his socks and a strange uncertainty hinted at in his granite face that made him so iconic, especially to a generation of Arab/ French youth and their brothers across the Mediterranean where his Algerian/Berber roots and his surly take no shit attitude made him a hero. His astonishing talent, combined with attitude turned him into a new kind of football superstar…like Eric Cantona but even more surly and even more of a rebel spirit.
Like some sort of gladiator running amok on the fields of France, Zidane defied authority and cast iron defenses with a wiliness and an innate toughness and his powerful presence is central to the film that follows him in a game for his then team Real Madrid.
Every prowl, every scowl, every run at the defense and also those minutes loitering around like a psychotic cheetah waiting for its prey, his impenetrable face breaking into a smile only once when a team mate tells him a joke that is probably darker than his own soul.
Of course there are moments of pure drama in the film, Zidane sets up a goal with a peach of a cross and piece of breathless stunning skill and then gets sent off ten minutes from the end in a moment of madness that reflects the other side of his personality. It matters little as he gets a standing ovation anyway as he heads towards the players tunnel.
It’s somehow fitting that Mogwai were asked to soundtrack the film, their brooding, melancholic music is so perfect and captures the odd tranquility and strange silence of performing to 70 000 people in the high drama of big time sport. This is the eerie loneliness of Zidane out on the pitch playing to a packed stadium- for an hour and half he barely communicates with anyone apart from hand gestures for the ball, and is a lost in the strange silence that is reflected with the quieter passages in the music.
Zidane himself talks about this disconnect in the subtitled sections that run underneath the shots of him running up and down the pitch like a stroppy gazelle.
The band sit in front of the screen and play the album, it’s instrumental pieces are both reflective and climaxing- building on the drones that are such a big part of their sound. There are few bands in the world that have this kind of dynamic, they may sit stock still, occasionally looking at the packed audience but this is still very much a rock show but played by different rules and different dynamics. They are like the quietest hardcore band in the world, they have the toughness of that music but couched into multi peddled guitar workouts with keyboards that intertwine and interlace with dramatic effect.
The music pulls you and yet leaves you concentration space to be entranced in Zidane’s on screen performance. Somehow it all fitting together and makes sense of the high drama matador spirit of the modern football game.
As Zidane talks of the peace he finds on the pitch- the way he can hear a tiny sound in the distance, Mogwai do the same, bringing a silence to the babble of electricity that is rock n roll. They are so much in command of their own musical power that they can grab a moment and hold it, the tension and release are perfect, the flickering moods are captured with ease and they own the moment.
The backdrop of the venue only adds to this sense of occasion, The Albert Hall has only just opened for this short run of gigs and will reopen on the new year a valuable and perfect addition to the ever increasing number of venues that make up the Manchester music scene, a city with nearly 40 venues and this new gift of a space that adds a grandeur with its stained glass windows and the scent of god in the air.
As the band lock into another melancholic piece, another subtlety brilliant ebb and flow of guitars and keyboards, the sound builds and falls and Zidane looks pensively out from the screen across the pitch looking for his opportunity- the moment to make that run, that defense splitting pass, you feel the tension as it oozes like the sweat from his granite face and can hear the tension in the band’s music as it holds the moment waiting for the climactic release of the goal that can turn a match.
As the gladiator leaves the pitch and the lions roar, Mogwai crank the drone and the moment is perfection and we are lost in a multi media spell.
‘I have a need to play intensely every day, to fight every match hard.’ As Zidane himself once said and Mogwai live by.