The Visual Vibe


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Over the course of a three-day residency at the Music Hall of Williamsburg last year, four cameras filmed the Scottish band Mogwai, its cult of fans and all of their surroundings. The compiled and edited effort is called Burning, a companion film to the upcoming Mogwai live album Special Moves, both dropping Aug. 24.

Somewhere between Converge’s The Long Road Home and Pink Floyd’s Live at Pompeii lies Burning. It’s coarse in the way of the former and mystifying in the way of the latter.

“It was a great challenge I wanted to try,” says Vincent Moon, who directed the film with Nathaniel Le Scouarnec, both Frenchmen with loads of music-filming experience. “Especially filming Mogwai, which is a band who doesn’t do a show at all—there is nothing to see there, and when I go to a Mogwai show, I close my eyes... So how to re-create that feeling? What are the limits of representation?” Moon and company used a range of tight, detailed shots rather than full-angle exposures to create visual momentum. Le Scouarnec then cut footage of New York between songs into what becomes a fluid, singular piece of film, rather than a disconnected collection of three night’s worth of songs. Each scene becomes a semi-surreal, fluid, abstract piece unto itself—akin to the ambient post-rock of Mogwai.

According to the band’s frontman, Stuart Braithwaite, Mogwai had no control over what songs would be cut for the film and in what order they would appear. Le Scouarnec and Moon chose a powerful mix of Mogwai classics, including “Hunted By a Freak” and “Mogwai Fear Satan,” among a group of lesser-known live gems. It’s an arresting, atypical approach to a live concert film, with virtually no dialogue on stage or off, and an acute filmographic look at New York City.

“We’d always really enjoyed our performances in New York, we’d always been so well received there. And Matt,” Braithwaite said, referring to Moon, “was living in Brooklyn at the time we were talking about doing a live album. We decided that working with him on the project would be the right thing.”

Braithwaite says Mogwai befriended the filmmaker while working previously together on Adelia, I Want to Love, a short documentary following the band around Italy in 2008. But at some point, Moon had moved past recording music in a stage setting, he says. after making live films with The National and other bands, he started filming the internet sensation La Blogotheque Take Away Shows, a web series featuring prominent contemporary musicians in unorthodox settings: Grizzly Bear singing a cappella while strolling through Paris streets; Beirut frontman Zach Condon crooning an album’s worth of songs while passing through a church; Animal Collective making instruments of the Paris landscape.

“I just decided at some point I had no interest in filming music on stage and I still think the same. It doesn’t bring anything new to both music and image creation to film. This is just useless compared simply to the situations i can put musicians in when they play offstage, which is a real challenge then for them.”

Capturing the power of the Scottish band’s live set was too much for him to pass up, however.

“I think I will never ever be able to fully accomplish this,” he says. “It’s an impossible quest, and [that’s] the beauty of it. But yes, maybe, watching it on a big screen, loud, you almost get there, to a pure, organic feeling, something which hurts in a way.”

But even the band didn’t expect the visual impact that Burning would deliver.

“I didn’t think video particularly would suit itself to what we do live,” Braithwaite tells me over the phone from Scotland. “But [Moon] seemed to be the right choice. He’s very passionate about what he does and I think he recognizes something in what we do.”

>> Burning

Aug. 24, Music Hall of Williamsburg, 66 N. 6th St. (betw. Wythe & Kent Aves.), Brooklyn, 718-486-5400; 7, $5. Also Sept. 12 at Metropolitan Museum of Art.




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