Film classic featuring Mogwai's powerful live score

Mogwai play Atomic

Mark Cousins, Mogwai

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Scottish post-rockers Mogwai had long wanted to work with filmmaker Mark Cousins, and eventually got to collaborate with Cousins on his recent film Atomic. Cousins, famous for his 15-hour film history The Story of Film: an Odyssey, has edited archival footage into a disturbing, ambiguous history of atomic power, mixing music and film like an audiovisual DJ. Unintentionally comic public information films, impressive mushroom clouds and total destruction are followed by amazing, even life-saving technological progress. Mogwai perform their apocalyptic soundtrack live to the screening, making Atomic film, installation and concert in one – ominous and exhilarating to the very last minute.

Programme

Background information

Seventy years after the devastating atomic bombings of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Irish filmmaker Mark Cousins teamed up with Scottish post-rockband Mogwai to make Atomic, Living in Dread and Promise. The result is a magnificent combination of film, installation and concert, showing how nuclear power has changed the world forever. 

Cousins, a prominent British filmmaker and author, used footage from the huge archives of the British Film Institute, NASA and CERN to create a kaleidoscopic flow of images. The audience watch historical public information films which now come across as completely naïve – recommending for instance a few sandbags and some whitewash on the windows to ward off a nuclear explosion. They're also confronted with iconic footage of ominous mushroom clouds and horrific images of destruction, maimings and human suffering; with footage of protest marches during the dark days of the Cold War and personal testimonies of the disastrous nuclear fallout at Chernobyl and Fukushima. But there are also beautiful, microscopic images of cell division, the wonder of life, evolution and the progress of life-saving technologies made possible by nuclear research, such as X-ray and MRI scans. Cutting the footage like an audiovisual DJ, Cousins creates an associative montage about the history of nuclear energy – a multifaceted and conflicting history. The atom embodies both the possibility of total destruction and the chance to make life on this planet better. Part documentary and part poetic video art, Atomic, Living in Dread and Promise shows the nuclear age as a nightmare as well as a wonderful dream. 

The Scottish rockband Mogwai – known for their gripping, innovative music – wrote the soundtrack, which they will perform live to the screening of the film. They've delivered a haunting soundscape which surges to hurricane levels and combines with Cousins' imagery to create a breathtaking audiovisual experience. Mogwai is currently made up of four members: Dominic Aitchison, Stuart Braithwaite, Martin Bulloch and Barry Burns. On stage, they're supported by Scott Paterson and Luke Sutherland. Since forming in 1995, they have been hugely successful with their overpowering, no-frills performances. Often playing with their backs to the audience, their music takes centre stage when they perform. Playing the soundtrack live to the film, they won't want to take the spotlight either. As founding guitarist Stuart Braithwaite puts it: 'We won't want to get in the way, we're not attention seekers.'

The band had wanted to work with Cousins for some time, having been greatly impressed by his fifteen-part documentary series The Story of Film: an Odyssey (2011). Atomic, Living in Dread and Promise is their first collaboration with the filmmaker. Originally commissioned by BBC's Storyville, the film had its Dutch premiere last year at Amsterdam’s International Documentary Film Festival (without live music). A screening with live music by Mogwai will be first staged at the Donaufestival in Krems, Austria in May 2016. For Mogwai as well as Cousins, Atomic, Living in Dread and Promise marks their debut at the Holland Festival.

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Biographies

Scottish post-rockband Mogwai formed in 1995 in Glasgow. The group is made up of Stuart Braithwaite (guitar, vocals), Barry Burns (guitar, piano, synthesizer, computer, vocals), Dominic Aitchison (bass) and Martin Bulloch (drums). On stage, they're supported by Scott Paterson and Luke Sutherland. Their mostly instrumental music is rooted in underground, DIY guitar music (in the vein of post-punk bands such as Fugazi, Pixies, Sonic Youth and Slint) and – in tone and tuning – Scottish folk. 

They play abstract, lengthy scores which feature big dynamic contrasts, ranging from wildly raging guitar sections to fragile melodies. Although the band is named after the woolly creatures from the Gremlins movies (who turn into ferocious reptile monsters if you feed them after midnight), they maintain their name has no significant meaning. Neither do they set much store by the musical genre labels people like to give them. Mogwai is totally abstract, according to Stuart Braithwaite: 'It's just music. You can make of it what you want.' Recording their debut album Mogwai Young Team in 1997, the band have released eight studio albums to date. In 2015, to mark their 20th anniversary, they launched their retrospective Central Belters. Mogwai have written soundtracks for various films, including Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait (2006), The Fountain (2006) and Les Revenants (2012). Atomic, Living in Dread and Promise marks their debut at the Holland Festival. 

Director and film author Mark Cousins was born in 1965 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Cousins studied Film, Media and Art at the University of Stirling in Scotland before making his debut as a film director. Since 1993, he has made ten films for cinema. He directed twenty seven episodes of the seminal TV series Scene by Scene, interviewing famous actors and legendary directors. Cousins rose to international fame as the director, writer and presenter of the acclaimed, fifteen hour film The Story of Film: an Odyssey (2011), made for British digital TV channel More4 and based on his book The Story of Film (2004). The series was screened in full at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2011, as well as exhibited as a piece of video art at the Museum of Modern Art (New York, 2012). In 2015 Cousins directed I Am Belfast, the story of a 10,000-year-old woman who embodies the city. When he was approached by BBC's Storyville to make a film commemorating the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and the beginning of the nuclear age, he didn't have to think long: 'It's a subject which immediately chimed with me. I'm a child of the nuclear age, and in my teens I had nightmares about the bomb. And I've always been fascinated by the world of atoms. To me it was like abstract Star Wars. It didn't take long at all to get the film off the ground.'

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Credits

film director
Mark Cousins
film editor
Timo Langer
producers
John Archer, Mark Atkin, Heather Croall
music
Mogwai:
Dominic Aitchison,
Stuart Braithwaite,
Martin Bulloch,
Barry Burns