Sunday, June 14, 2015

One more time with feeling: thoughts on Mogwai at 20

This article is generating some interesting discussion, where its detractors are accusing the author of backhandedly flinging mud at the band when it's supposed to be an article that celebrates their longevity, while the people who don't care/stopped caring about Mogwai a decade ago don't get the fuss because Pitchfork has long since locked the band into the critical friend zone where their albums seem to merit a steady stream of 7.1's regardless of quality or level of praise in the review.

For me, the problem boils down to the following two points:

1) I find it somewhat disingenuous on the part of PF to accuse Mogwai of stubbornly sticking to an unpopular genre when they are the type of website that can have an impact on which microscenes get popular and stay popular.  They're not a small site that can do nothing but sit back and churn out clickbait about some massively popular cultural phenomenon as it evolves in a manner too complex to be controlled by anyone.  Music genres can be cool if PF says they are cool.

2) Twenty years of cultural relevance is an unrealistic goal for any band.  No band can be at the vanguard of a chic genre for that amount of time -- neither the band or the genre will retain its pedigree over such a long period of time.  By the early 80's, the Rolling Stones were well past their culturally relevant peak, and even the most diehard classic rock fans wouldn't say they were still making their most impactful music.  It's simply not a standard that any band can be held to.

In techno, I'm reminded of techno acts like Adam X (and his various monikers) or Chris Liebing, who stuck with hard techno during the years that it was cruelly unpopular, only to come out the other side and get hailed as saviours again when everything came full circle and that style became popular again.  Some might say they were being stubborn by not changing with the times when everyone and their brother went minimal or electro or schaffel.  But the glass half full viewpoint would say they were dedicated to their craft and wouldn't compromise.  That would be a far more interesting angle for an article about 20 years of Mogwai.  Unfortunately, in most rock-based criticism, the writers are too locked into a simple model where a band is lumped into a scene with a bunch of other like-minded bands for easy classification purposes, and loses their relevance when that scene is no longer the hot new thing.  At that point, their window of opportunity for making canonical records has passed so they are rarely spoken of again, except by die hard fans who are anyway too distracted by their own homerism to be taken too seriously.

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