Spacerock titans Mugstar perform a rare live outing of their soundtrack Ad Marginem, Getintothis’ Jamie Bowman reflects on their latest homecoming.
There’s something about the experimental music made by post-rockers that lends itself well to sound tracking unsettling images.
Think Godspeed You! Black Emperor ‘s haunting East Hastings accompanying the sight of hungry zombies in 28 Days Later or Explosions in the Sky’s work on Afghan war thriller Lone Survivor and there’s no doubt it’s a genre that just fits with the horrific, the uneasy and the downright scary.
Go back even further and you get Goblin’s fine work on the films of Dario Argento and the Day of the Dead. So for Liverpool’s space rock supremos Mugstar to dip their toes in the world of sound tracking feels very right as a packed and appreciative audience take their seats in the Philharmonic’s Music Room.
Filmed around the coasts of Merseyside, Ad Marginem is a moody meditation on isolation and loss starring some familiar figures if you’re a Liverpool-based record collector. In keeping with the expressionist-influenced black and white cinematography, Mugstar, some of whom also star in the film, provide the darkly atmospheric soundtrack which comes with some typically Mugstar-ian moments of violent release, controlled claustrophobia and dense explosiveness.
As the band stare up at the big screen the music develops and unfolds with the opening stages concentrating on the lighter, quieter side of Mugstar’s output. Tracks like ‘Memorial’ and ‘Inquisition’ lumber their way into view with their methodical construction a far cry from the familiar wildness of a band who have always seemed at their best when they set their controls for the heart of the sun.
Reminiscent of Slint, the twin guitars circle and intertwine as they create a bleak and sparse landscape matched by the stunning images of Formby’s prehistoric sand dunes and pine forests.
While enjoyable enough the film itself seems an all too obvious nod to the work of Ingmar Bergman with the stately marches across Sefton’s beach also recalling Anton Corbijn’s collaborations with Joy Division and Echo and the Bunnymen. It’s dark in a sixth form kind of way but thankfully Mugstar’s music can be taken in isolation and enjoyed as an aural rather than visual pleasure all of its own.
The album and film clock in at 35 minutes and if the viewer is lagging by this time the reward for such patience comes as Rite II surges its way into view giving the film and audience a jolt as the band’s sonic assault provides a truly thrilling climax. There’s a bit of Mugstar squad rotation going on tonight with the familiar figures of Jason and Pete missing from the line up but there is no identifiable weak link as Cavalier Song’s Mark and Luke prove able deputies.
After a short interval, the band are at first bedevilled by sound problems before righting themselves and taking us through a welcoming trip through the Mugstar back pages. Any fan of continuous, expectant grooves, bludgeoning riffs and pastoral psychedelia need look no further then entering Mugstar’s orbit and there is much here to please the heads who hang on their every drone.
Tonight felt like a step into the unknown for Mugstar whose natural habitat has always felt like the sweaty underground club or half way up the bill at Liverpool Psych Fest. To take to the stage in a building more famous for its classical scores saw them mix it with the best and emerge victorious.
Pictures by Getintothis’ Martin Saleh