MUGSTAR are a band that like to push boundaries. They’re primarily known for their distinctive blend of psychedelic space rock, which has seen them release barnstorming releases on Agitated Records, and their most recent effort (Flemish Weave) on Mogwai’s Rock Action Records. Theirs is a sound that is constantly evolving, which is perfectly evidenced on the band’s latest LP Collapsar – a collection of singles and rarities that spans their 15-year career.
The band’s 2012 album Ad Marginem – a soundtrack to a film of the same name – was a chance for them to push the boundaries of live performance, and explore the relationship between visuals and audio. It’s a story of isolation and loss, filmed on the coasts of Merseyside. Created alongside filmmaker Liam Yates, Mugstar helped to direct and act in the film, releasing the soundtrack to great acclaim later the same year.
We’re beyond excited to bring Ad Marginem to the Philharmonic Music Room this Wednesday (7th February), with Mugstar performing their soundtrack live and in full. It’s a rare chance to see this unique and intriguing film with the full-on live experience of the music charting its highs and lows. Ahead of the screening, we caught up with Mugstar’s guitarist Neil Murphy, who co-wrote and co-directed the film alongside Yates. His answers offer a glimpse into the exciting creative process behind this project.
When you were working on the idea for the film with Liam Yates, did you always envisage that Mugstar would write the soundtrack to it?
I’d written a screenplay before meeting Liam. Liam approached us about another project, and it was during that that we decided we should produce the film. We’d seen a few bands doing live soundtracks and decided it would be good for Mugstar to do it. Making the film was a new challenge.
How does an Ad Marginem performance differ from other live projects you have done before?
It takes a lot of rehearsal! We always use a lot of improvisation in live performance but working to a film means that there’s something fixed that you have to work to. Even so, we’ve taken a more relaxed approach in more recent performances. The first time we played it was very rigourously worked out, but that can affect the energy. A bit more looseness seems to be more successful.
Visuals are a massive part of the live experience of your music. What was the appeal of extending this to a film situation?
I’m a big cineaste. I suppose the lure of getting to make a film was very appealing, plus it was a way to write a score from scratch. I think when I was writing the film a lot of the idea was to produce evocative imagery to stimulate music.
How did you approach the composition? Did the musical score or the visual drama come first?
The film was completed before we started to put together a score. Then it was just lots of work to bring the soundtrack together. Most of our music grows out of jams, which is perhaps not the easiest way to score a film, and the dynamics of film music were different to our normal way of working.
Has the soundtrack work – or the performances alongside contemporary dance groups that you’ve done – affected the way you perform as a band?
I enjoy working within constraints; it can help creativity, and I feel it’s always good to force yourself to move outside the comfort zone, which can easily become a rut. We’ll continue to work on collaborations (we’ve got another dance performance scheduled later this year). The last one was very exciting, and it did force us into producing new material, as well as exploring new sounds and textures. I mostly like to work intuitively so there may not be conscious changes emerging from collaborations, but I’m sure unconsciously it affects practice, plus the experience is always inspiring and energising.
Mugstar perform Ad Marginem live on Wednesday 7th February at the Philharmonic Music Room. Advance tickets are available here.