French undead give new life to Scottish band: Mogwai fuel nightmares and sales with their sinister score for The Returned

Mogwai are riding high on their spooky music for TV hit ‘The Returned'
  • @montyhugh

Who will be remembered as the sounds of summer 2013? Well, Daft Punk, obviously, and Robin Thicke, unfortunately. But also some musicians less likely to have you up all night to get lucky and more likely to keep you up with cold sweats:

The Scottish veterans Mogwai, namely, who have been fuelling nightmares with their sinister score for The Returned, the French horror TV show whose first series reaches its climax on Channel 4 next Sunday.

Over the last six weeks, their eerily stark soundscapes have been key to the sense of impending doom brewing in this tale of the undead residents of an Alpine town. Indeed The Returned’s creator, Fabrice Gobert, has referred to the music as the show’s “narrator”. And the series is important to the band too, bringing them a mainstream audience after 18 years. The soundtrack album, Les Revenants, originally released in February, is being re-promoted to coincide with the series finale, and frontman Stuart Braithwaite notes that “it’s been selling more digitally than physically, which is the complete opposite of our other records and leads me to believe it’s new people [buying it].”

The band was approached by Gobert on the basis of their similarly eerie score for 2006’s Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, about the footballer Zinedine Zidane – which they are performing live at the Barbican, London on Friday after doing the same at the Manchester International Festival last week.

As to the surprise of a Glasgow quintet soundtracking this deeply French production, Braithwaite says they have always had an affinity with the Gallic sensibility. “It’s [a country] that has always taken to our music.

“When we were starting out, it was one of the first places where people took us quite seriously… it all goes back to Bonnie Prince Charlie,” he chuckles.

Unusually, the band did the bulk of their composing before any filming had occurred, in early 2012 – a consequence of their touring commitments last summer, though it also enabled Gobert to use the music to set the mood for the actors and production team. Working from scripts for the first two episodes, the band were also given a few influences to gauge their tone by, including the Scandinavian vampire film Let the Right One In and David Lynch’s seminal TV mystery Twin Peaks. It helped too that they were serious horror soundtrack buffs.

Braithwaite says their main goal was “to not make it cheesy”. And while their own work can be grandiose, they decided to quieten things down in this instance, sticking mostly to minimal, piano-led arrangements. So what’s the key to making music to watch ghouls by? “Dissonance and flat fifths,” Braithwaite says, referring to what is dubbed “the Devil’s Interval” for its sinister effect.

Braithwaite says he has been watching the series for the first time every Sunday night, but is finding it no less creepy for his involvement. “I think that’s testament to how good [the show] is. Normally, when our music comes on something, all I can think of is when we recorded it and that kind of thing, but in this case it transcends that mundane level.”

The band will start working on series two at some point next year, and already know something of what will happen. Is he wary of giving any spoilers? Is a zombie starey-eyed? “We have to guard the secrets with our lives,” he says.