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Mogwai returns to ‘always different’ Japan

TOKYO (TR) – One crucial element of the recently relentless “Cool Japan” marketing campaign targeting foreigners has been the concept of omotenashi, roughly meaning hospitality.

In coming to Japan over the past decade and a half, Glasgow-based band Mogwai can attest to such generosity; fans have showered them with numerous gifts after shows, including a number of Godzilla figurines.

“It was just weird, and we loved it,” says keyboardist Barry Burns from his home in Berlin via Skype. “I think it’s one of the only places that we come back to and we don’t get bored of it. There are a few places where there’s the you’ve-seen-it-once, you’ve-seen-everything kind of thing. But Japan is always different.”

Following the January release of the six-track EP “Music Industry 3. Fitness Industry 1.,” the band that has recently shifted toward a slightly more accessible sound from its previous sonic explosions returns to Japan next week — likely with their suitcases empty — for three shows as it marks two decades in existence.

This time around, however, Mogwai’s fans should not expect any remarkable difference over their performances at last year’s Summer Sonic festival. With touring having been continual before and since then, “Music Industry 3. Fitness Industry 1.” is light on new material, and serves mainly as a companion piece to last year’s heavily electronic “Rave Tapes,” their eighth album, which peaked at number 10 on the U.K. album chart — the band’s highest ever ranking.

“It is more like a branch in between the ‘Rave Tapes’ album and what happens next,” says Burns of the EP, which includes three “Rave Tapes” remixes. “It is more of an interim piece of music.”

'Music Industry 3. Fitness Industry 1.'
‘Music Industry 3. Fitness Industry 1.’

Most notable among the three new songs on “Music Industry 3.” is the opener, “Teenage Exorcists,” an uptempo number that surprisingly features vocals.

“We didn’t really have anything much to release between the last record and the next one,” the keyboardist says. “So we wanted to make sure people don’t forget about us.”

The other two new tracks, including the slow-building “HMP Shaun Ryder,” are more reflective of the band’s first few albums of up-and-down sonic dynamics, which often include crescendos of layered guitar that abruptly halt in silence before exploding skyward again.

When pressed for how the band has evolved from those days, when the band’s live output was delivered at ear-splitting volumes, Burns pauses.

“We are much better at playing the concerts now,” he concludes. “We used to be a bit sloppy.”

As far as its inner workings, the band, too, has changed, says Burns, who runs a bar in Berlin.

“The older you get the more, sort of, real life takes over,” he says. “Some of the guys in the band have got kids, and I live here (in Berlin). Not everyone lives near Glasgow anymore.”

Technology has helped in that regard.

“It is probably more difficult, but the Internet has provided a way to still make music together while not living near each other,” says Burns. “I would still be in Glasgow if that wasn’t the case.”

Beyond the suitcases stuffed with toys upon their departure from Japan after a tour, the band has maintained more than a casual connection to the country.

During one tour, the Japanese band Envy passed them a MiniDisc containing a collection of demos. The band was subsequently signed to Mogwai’s label Rock Action Records. Tetsuya Fukagawa, Envy’s vocalist, subsequently contributed to the track “I Chose Horses” from Mogwai’s album “Mr. Beast.”

'Rave Tapes'
‘Rave Tapes’

On another trip, the members of Mogwai made a pilgrimage to the location of the photograph used on the cover of their debut album “Mogwai Young Team.” The image is a night shot from the street in front of a Fuji Bank branch near JR Ebisu Station in Tokyo.

What they found was an example of “Japan is always different,” as Burns mentioned earlier.

“We went to the place, and the bank is gone,” says Burns. (Technically, it has been re-branded as Mizuho Bank.) “That’s the thing about Tokyo,” he says, “you can go there and then come back three months later, and they’ve not just changed the building, they’ve knocked it down and started a new one. It’s crazy.”

Note: Mogwai play at Ex Theater Roppongi in Tokyo on March 9, Nagoya Club Quattro in Nagoya on March 10 and Osaka Big Cat in Osaka on March 11.