Manchester International Festival: Mogwai, Performing live to Zidane, a 21st Century Portrait

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One of the triumphs of this year’s Manchester International Festival was its capacity to create a sense of place in an unexpected space. The 5,000 who communed on the Tarmac of a city centre car park to see a relay of Kenneth Branagh and Rob Ashford’s Macbeth on Saturday night can vouch for that.

The intense, sweaty confines of a former Methodist meeting hall also provided an unimaginably sensory location for Mogwai’s live performance of the music they were commissioned to write for one of the football’s finest films.

The band asked for the start to be put back an hour and a half, such was the broiling heat - not the kind of luxury the France international midfielder Zinedine Zidane was ever afforded before he entered Real Madrid’s Bernabeu stadium. The rain and sweat were dripping from Zidane on the April night in 2005 when his performance for Real against the ceramics town club Villarreal was captured by 17 cameras for Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno's film, with the grunts of combat superimposed. The thump of quick passes across sound like a pair of sparring boxers’ gloves. 

Mogwai played in front of the hall’s 40-foot wooden organ though this was substantially more than a Wurlitzer-style accompaniment. The musicians’ presence delivered their score from background to foreground and imbued the 1996 film with dimensions which are easy to miss amid its absorbing sweep. Their lyrical, melodic sections created an intense sense of the loneliness of the footballer player, out there in front of 85,000, and yet alone with the weight of expectation that he will orchestrate the action.

The band’s presence created an exaggerated sense of light and shade, too: from the abrupt, empty silence after the opposition’s first goal to the howling, screaming crescendo of "It Would Have Happened Anyway", delivering intensity to the night’s shocking conclusion. Free earplugs were provided, though were best put aside for those wanting to know what screams through a player’s head.

It is unusual to sit silently through a football match in this city of 1,000 football chants. But here was a different kind of soundtrack, taking us even closer to the single fascination of those who follow this game hors de combat– a sense of how it really feels to be out there in the middle, fighting with the pressure and the noises inside your head.

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