KOKO Asia Exclusive

KOKO Asia Approved is for those from the region or are touring the region. We watch a local band and we love it then we will review it. We watch an international band touring the region and we love it you guessed it we will review it.

When Mogwai Came To Town

By Robin Banks
Date: 14 January 2009

Photos by: Kelvin oon

Scottish accents, smelly taxis, exotic food, local beer, awesome caves, cute monkeys, baby cobras, Tuborg girls, intense rock action

As far as assignments went, this was definitely one of the better ones. Thanks to those lovely folk at Soundscape Records, Scottish instrumental rock titans Mogwai were coming to Kuala Lumpur for their Malaysian live debut and I was going to be their go-to guy - or ‘artist liaison’ to use proper music industry parlance.

Accepting the gig was a no-brainer as I was a big fan of Mogwai’s music going back to their early releases and owned most of their records. So when THE/A call came in from Mak, the mainman from local indie label Soundscape who brought the likes of Explosions In The Sky, Mono, Club 8 and others to KL at great personal and financial sacrifice, asking if I could do him a favour by helping him take care of the band - for my ability to understand Glaswegian more than anything else really - naturally I said yes. The fact that I was going to be paid expenses for the job was a huge bonus.

My brief was simple: hang out with the band and their crew for the duration of their stay and take care of all their professional and recreational needs and requests, all within reason of course. Basically, I was going to be their local friendly face, tour guide, translator, personal assistant, point of contact to the promoter and occasional driver.

Now, if the band turned to be a bunch of demanding, egomaniacal pricks with attitude problems, this could easily turn out to be the longest, most depressing three days of my life. But luckily for me, the band and their five-man crew turned out to be true gents and a pleasure to be around.

As it turned out, Mogwai and their crew were cool, friendly, polite, easy going and acted like they were be genuinely thrilled and grateful for the opportunity to come over to KL and play for their fans here. And their accents weren’t even that difficult to understand - nothing like Kenny Dalglish or Six Alex Ferguson’s impenetrable burr really! In terms of granting access, the band was also extremely generous and obliging, allowing a documentary crew and numerous photographers to follow them around for the whole trip.

Certainly, It was refreshing to see an established 13-year tour hardened outfit still getting all excited about being on the road to the point of not wanting to go to bed less they miss out on something exciting. “Touring is what being in a band is all about,” explained Martin, Mogwai’s diminutive powerhouse drummer, when asked if he still fancied being on the road after all these years.

So let’s meet the band. Apart from Martin, there’s Stuart and Dominic, the other original members of Mogwai who play guitar and bass respectively as well as handling most of the band’s promotional and press duties. In a democratic set up like Mogwai’s, these two seem to be band’s opinion leaders. Then there’s John, the ultra-friendly, softly spoken Celtic fan who plays beautiful guitar lines just like his guitar hero David Pajo and who enjoys his jazz cigarettes. Last but certainly not least is Barry, the happy go-lucky multi-talented maverick who can play about just about any instrument he lays his hands on.

In terms of personality, Stuart and Dominic seemed to be the quiet, bookish ones of the band, the ones less likely to stay out for a heavy night of tour debauchery. Barry and Martin also seemed to prefer the serenity of their hotel room to a night on the tiles. But although these lads took it easy on the hanging out and partying (probably because they have several months of touring still ahead of them to go) during their visit to KL, they remained very friendly and approachable to everyone. That left John to represent the band on late nights out on the town along with the band’s crew.

Mogwai’s road crew. Now, here was a bunch of excellent characters that took living life to the fullest just as seriously as they took their jobs and their music. Funny, friendly and seemingly always up for a laugh, these lads were serious fun to be around. Commanding centerstage with his infectious personality and fascinating tales was Michael, the band’s larger-than-life live soundman, a super cool dude who has worked with groundbreaking, influential Welsh geniuses Super Furry Animals (the British group that Mogwai feels most kinship with according to the band) on several occasions and who runs his own studio in Edinburgh. When I mentioned that I was a huge SFA fan and had named my son after Cian Ciaran, their keyboard player as a sort of tribute, he thought that was amazing and presented me with his SFA sunhat as a gift. Like I said, a very cool guy indeed.

Making up the rest of the lively touring party was Simon, the laid-back tour manager who has taken care of the band on the road since their early days; Foxy, the Everton supporting lighting technician; Kevin, the smiley monitor guy from Ireland and Hopey, the amicable guitar tech who always found the time to have a chat with everyone.

So what did Mogwai get up to in KL during their visit? Well, as it was their first visit to Malaysia, they wanted to see as many sights as they could possibly cram in during their whirlwind visit and eat as much local food as possible. For their first night in town, arrangements were made to bring the band for some authentic hawker fare at Jalan Alor for dinner. So after picking up the band from KLIA, getting them on a shuttle bus into town and then checking them in at their hotel located at KL’s Golden Triangle, it was off in separate taxi cabs to where some of KL’s most delicious roadside were situated.

On the way to dinner, Barry, Stuart, Michael and I lucked out and got a cab driven by a grumpy Chinese guy that smelt truly awful even by Malaysian standards, all body odor, pee and bad incense. When asked by the guys if that kind of smell was normal, I had to explain the charms of KL’s taxi service to them. But in true Mogwai fashion, they took it in good humour with no complains. Funnily enough, they always preferred to walk everywhere for the rest of their stay in KL, even when (non smelly) private transport was on hand.

Although hygiene levels at the roadside side stalls on Jalan Alor are usually hovering at the low 20% mark, that didn’t seem to put the band off at all. In fact, they were thrilled by the prospect of being somewhere so atmospheric and authentically SE Asian. The group duly tucked into the food and drink with gusto, declaring it one of the best meals they’ve had on tour in ages. So enjoyable was the meal that after three hours at the table, much bonding and several extended “Yam Sengs”, another establishment was sought and a second meal ordered and devoured by everyone.

The next day, the plan was to spend the day taking in some local scenery with Batu Caves, a huge limestone rock structure situated at the east of Kuala Lumpur, the chosen destination. Despite the searing afternoon heat, the trip turned out to be an excellent one with the band in high spirits, a result of having a rare day off to see the sights. With a huge golden statue and lavish Hindu temple on site as well as Macaque monkeys roaming around, there was certainly plenty for the band to take in and they had a great time exploring and snapping pictures. Climbing up the steep 252 steps to the cave entrance, a visibly impressed Dominic enthused, “You tend to see a lot of the same things on tour. But every once in a while, you get to see something like this.”

For Barry, the trip to Batu Caves proved to be extra special as he actually managed to film a baby cobra that was slithering around on his video camera. Apparently, he didn’t know it was a cobra until it reared up its head in a classic cobra stance. Glasgow Mega Snake? More like Glasgow Mini Snake but very cool nevertheless. After the Caves, it was back to the hotel for some rest before heading out to dinner again, this time for a hearty Indian. Before heading out to eat, the band’s crew decided to hop over to the venue for a quick production meeting with the local crew in preparation for the big show as there was always lots to sort out according to Michael. As it was the night before the show, most of the band and crew had decided to take it easy on the boozing and opted for an early night instead.

The day of the show saw a very different side of the band and the crew. The crew in particular were amazing to watch as they went about their jobs with military precision. At the production meeting the day before, Michael and the rest of the lads in the crew transformed from the playful jokers at the caves to a serious professional outfit right before my eyes, asking plenty of pertinent technical questions to the relevant people and directing the local crew with quiet assurance and authority. Everyone was on top of their game. Today was more of the same, with each member of the team taking charge of their own departments in impressive, meticulous fashion, working smoothly to get the stage, sound and venue ready for the gig. No bullshit, no messing around. As Michael puts it: “We know how to put on a great show. It’s as simple as that.”

Once settled into their generously sized hospitality lounge at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, the band readied themselves for soundcheck and then the show by tucking into the catering, fooling around on their laptops and reading - just preserving their energy by quietly chilling out basically. Some bands get all hyper before a gig but for Mogwai, calm and serenity seemed to be the key to a top performance. Stuart and Dominic did an hour of local press before heading down for soundcheck where the band sounded incredible running through ‘Batcat’ and ‘Hunted By A Freak’, their trademark impeccable stage sound already seemingly sorted out by their highly proficient crew.

After the soundcheck, just before the doors of the venue were to be opened, the band very obliged to go to a meet-and-greet session with five fans arranged by the gig sponsors Tuborg. However, when the time came for the session, the band - who had just expected to meet five fans - were greeted by six cute Chinese Tuborg girls and the CEO of the company as well as the fans and made to partake in a several photo calls with the huge entourage. The band, who were not used to this type of ‘rock star’ treatment, could not stop giggling like schoolboys throughout and the whole thing turned into a bit of a farce really. Again, the band took it in good spirits.

And finally on to the show. Local fans had been waiting a long time for the band to come over and play a show and 1100 souls who made it to the convention were definitely not disappointed. Mogwai reviews are usually populated with rock clichés like “post rock”, “shoegazing” and “sonic cathedrals” and utterly horrible to read so I’m not even going to go there. Mogwai at the KLCC was loud, quiet, really quiet, SUPER LOUD, sexy, emotional, trippy, psychedelic, heavy as f**k... all the things one expects Mogwai to sound like, but even better thanks to their incredible live sound. Mogwai is a band that sounds even better live on stage than on record, no question about that. Batcat, Like Herod, Mogwai Fear Satan, Helicon 1, Xmas Steps.. all these classics were performed on the night and each one sounded glorious.

After the show, the band spent over an hour meeting the fans at a signing session, elated at how the gig had gone down. Myself, I was tired but happy at completing my first artist liaison gig without any serious f**k ups. Mogwai, came, saw, had a great time and rocked our world majestically. Now where were those Tuborg Girls again?

Koko Live Posters