Interview - Mogwai on Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait

Interview: Mogwai on Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait

The band are set to perform a live rendition of their soundtrack to Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno’s mesmerising film

Matt Evans chats to Barry Burns about Mogwai’s upcoming live show performing to Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno’s mesmerising film of Zinedine Zidane

Mogwai are perhaps not an obvious band to soundtrack a football film. Then again, there’s little obvious about Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno’s 2006 Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. More psychological sketch than sports documentary, its unrelenting focus on the now-retired Real Madrid icon Zinedine Zidane makes for a mesmerising experience – one only enhanced by Mogwai’s melancholy score. Now, for the first time, Mogwai are to soundtrack the film live, in Manchester, London and at a brand-new temporary open-air venue in Glasgow.

How did the band first become involved in the project?
‘We met with Douglas Gordon in Glasgow, and he showed us a rough cut with some of our old music. He wanted us to do something original for it. It was as easy as that. He just let us get on with it. We didn’t have the film on all the time and play along with it. We just made up a bunch of songs – some were old ones that we’d half-finished and some were new. There are themes in it that we would interchange between songs, to help make it cohesive. That was a new thing for us.’

Despite showing an entire match, there’s a psychological intensity to Zidane that makes it compelling even for those not into football. Would you agree?
‘Of the band, Stuart, John and Martin are the big football fans. Dominic and I are not really into football at all. Especially Dominic – but we like to tease him that he’s a closet Rangers supporter. But it’s interesting to watch Zidane’s face all the way through. Anyone can appreciate that the guy was an amazing football player.’

The soundtrack conveys some sadness, almost as if the pitch is a pretty lonely place …
‘There are parts where it goes really quiet, and it’s almost as if you can see what he’s thinking. It’s really interesting to watch one person for the entire game. But it’s definitely a lonely film. I think the music helps. But I don’t even think it’s really about him.’

Does live soundtracking present particular challenges?
‘We’ll find that out when we rehearse it! There’s quite a lot of organ and piano parts in there. I can’t do it all, so we’ve got Graeme Ronald of Remember Remember to help out. It’ll come together quite quickly.’

Mogwai recently released a second soundtrack album, accompanying the French supernatural drama The Returned. How was that experience?
‘That was great. I wasn’t expecting it to be as much fun as it was. Television people don’t usually understand how music works. But they were really good. They let us just get on with it.’

Does soundtrack work require a different mindset?
‘Yeah. An album has to say something, it’s got to be structured. A soundtrack has to augment something else. You’re letting someone else deal with your music rather than being completely responsible.’

What’s next for Mogwai?
‘We’ve got plenty of demos. The next album will be recorded in August/September. I bought some old modular synths where you plug in wires and press buttons. It’s pretty weird, but the songs sound good.’

Mogwai perform Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, 220 Broomielaw, Glasgow, Sun 21 Jul; The Returned is now showing on Channel 4, Sun, 9pm.

Mogwai Performing Live to 'Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait'

The band composed the soundtrack to the 2006 film and now, for the first time, they perform it live.