Live Report: Big City Festival 2024

Mogwai-curated Glasgow one-dayer is a huge success...

Big City is a very welcome new addition to the Scottish festival calendar, taking the form of a one day event in Glasgow’s Queens Park, just beside the city’s most Bohemian quarter, Govanhill. Curated by headliners Mogwai, it feels very focussed on both the bands who’ve inspired the (massive) cult Scottish outfit, and bands who they’ve inspired in turn, partly through their Rock Action label, who have a small tent of their own onsite. Legendary Krautrocker Michael Rother is obviously a seminal influence on Stuart Braithwaite, his bandmates (and probably everyone playing today), and he’s the first thing we see. Hearing  classic Neu! material such as ‘Hallogallo’, which still sounds like an emission from the future, booming across the tent is a total joy.

At one point asks the crowd, ‘Why aren’t you dancing?” To be fair, it is three in the afternoon, and not really that kind of festival.

Another devotee of Krautrock are up next – Beak>, Geoff Barrow’s joyously playful quartet,  whose “The Seal” comes on with a pure Motorik swagger through menacing minor chords.  The band themselves play a really quirky, playful set, matched by their easy going rapport and wit, launching into a diatribe against Glastonbury goers, ‘flying’ from London across their patch (Bristol), and claiming they’d much rather be here. Not the first time that sentiment will be heard today…

One of the joys of the festival are that it also pays attention to the literary productions of musicians with a book tent for people to discuss their work with the likes of David Keenan. We have the best intentions of seeing Michael Rother discuss his career here, but get distracted by the good atmosphere and the people (it feels like the entire Glasgow music scene is here), and next see Free Love in the Rock Action tent. This band have been a joy to follow since they were a two piece called Happy Meals (before being threatened by MacDonald’s legal team), with the customary splashy Italo sounds Lewis Cook conjures up on synths now backed up by human powerhouse Paul Thomson on drums, who seems to be in just about every other interesting Glasgow underground band going since leaving Franz Ferdinand

Lead singer Suzi Cook effortlessly switches from English to French vocals while throwing roses into the crowd, then throwing herself in after them. The crowd part like the Red Sea to allow her to do her thing before taking back to the stage and eating some roses, as you do.

They generate the most energy of any band at the festival, and at any normal festival at this time on a Saturday night you’d built from that, but this is no normal festival, and things have to slow down, and become both more relaxed and more intense. As Beak> have noted earlier, “Can I smell wacky baccy in this tent?”

Slowdive have to be one of the unlikeliest success stories of recent years, a shoegaze band just out their time who became feted a couple of decades later for their classic album ‘Souvlaki’, as a result attracting audiences who wouldn’t have been born when they made the album (It has to be said that Mogwai also attract a really wide, intergenerational audience, as a sign of their musical quality). Slowdive play classics from Souvlaki, culminating in the double whammy of ‘Alison’ and ‘When the Sun Hits’, all shimmering chords amplified to the max. It all ends up in a gorgeous rendition of Syd Barrett’s musical version of James Joyce’s ‘Golden Hair’, with the great psych lost prophet’s head projected behind them, indicating the psychedelic, narcoticised roots of their music, before they slide into their own version in response to Barrett. 

Mogwai have often been touted as a ‘post rock’ band, but here, literally following Slowdive, they can appear ‘post-shoegaze’, justly slotting into their lineage. Opening with ‘To the Bin My Friend, Tonight We Vacate Earth’ this song’s title (they still do the best song titles) is pretty much a statement of intent. Classic tracks from their catalogue this entire century (and the end of last) are spun out, deconstructed and pummel the audience – sound set to 11 – as we’re hit with an overwhelming light show.  The closest thing to a conventional song, ‘Richie Sacramento’, a euphoric tribute to their musical peers, rings out loud and true. Otherwise the music has a glacial majesty, feeling as visceral and inexorable as tectonic plates shifting under the Earth’s surface. 

The band exit the stage, Stuart Braithwaite leaving his Jazzmaster hanging, wailing feedback, and the audience loudly demanding their return (But can they hear themselves? We’re deafened). The climax of their encore, ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’, is quite awe-inducing, an aural and sonic assault akin to witnessing Apocalypse Now in a public park, truly disorientating – truly ‘post-rock’ – in its kinetic abstraction,  played so loud it forces the whole body to act as an ear, as the late great avant-garde composer Phill Niblock might have put it. 

In one sense this could be viewed as the ultimate Mogwai gig, with their dream support, but in another, as a very welcome new festival, one that was unusually well curated, and universally enjoyed by the attendees.

As everyone is filing out into the still bright Glasgow night, the consensus is definitely that we would all rather have been in Glasgow than Glastonbury tonight.

Words: Brian Beadie

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