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Yes, absolutely ‘in Concert’: together, in unison, in symbiosis. I am not objective about Magma; this is not really a ‘concert review’, more like a thoroughly subjective, highly indulgent account of An Experience. There, consider yerself Warned.


Fate-or-what-you-will conspired most elegantly for Your Correspondent upon Friday 8th May. It’s been a while since Magma visited these islands, but their soi-disant ‘Endless Tour’ brought the Kobaïan delegation to London last Friday. Of course it was compulsory for yer dutiful Zeuhl Kadett to peregrine thither for a much-needed dose of Cosmic Communion.

Turns out, a work colleague of mine has a Magma-appreciatin’ brother. Magma-appreciation, by the way, seems to crop up like a genetic anomaly. I don’t think it runs in families, it just visits upon random individuals, often to the utter mystification of everyone else. Neither advantageous nor injurious, and all-the-time curious. Anyway, I duly bent my steps towards the Kings Road on Friday afternoon, to meet up with Jules (the brother) and his son Kyle (that rare creature, a Magma-tolerator… usually it’s LOVE or HATE, innit?), who had found a hostelry in which to while away the afternoon.

Ah me, the Kings Road… what a barren landscape of overpriced everything! Gone, long gone, are the days when it was Lively and Interesting. There was nothing to look at there except over-groomed humans buying unnecessary things. Granny Takes a Trip… yeah, to Waitrose. (Could I have been the exception, traipsing intrepid in my ‘Interplanetary Alchemist Prince’ Magma-audient costume? Well, someone’s got to do it - black velvet won’t wear itself, you know… unless it’s Haunted by a Previous Owner.)

You’ll have to excuse the ‘mirror shot in a Premier Inn’ sin - but you can just about make out the Interplanetary Alchemist Prince, I hope!

Anyway, I located the very pub itself, and enjoyed our conversation. That’s an achievement in itself, really, for I’m bad at conversation at the best of times, especially in noisy pubs with people I don’t know. My grateful thanks to the pair of ’em for tolerating me!! Eventually we toddled over to Cadogan Hall, the concert venue. It was well-kept and seemed to have a staff of… I was going to say ‘hundreds’, but I should not exaggerate. It had a staff of Several, all well trained in the art of standing primly next to doors. At the merchandise table I bought an actual souvenir t-shirt. Then we went foraging for edible comestibles. Filled bagels and packets of crisps eaten in a side room at a plush concert venue - this was beginning to feel like a really fancy school choir outing!

But then it was time to start moving nearer the auditorium. The foyer was now abuzz with creatures. ’Twas the usual massed ranks of Black T-Shirt Wearers in various states of preservation, interspersed with fascinating kohl-eyed women and hip young fellers with Nice Hair… even the occasional Secretly Alternative Accountant, slick-suited, fresh (or not) from the office. In other words, just like all concert audiences ever (only the logos on those black t-shirts change). I have to admit, though, passing amongst my fellow Zeuhlites, I had that ‘walks into a room, draws approving glances, IS A ROCK STAR’ feeling. It helps to have dressed in the style of an errant member of the band circa 1974, I’d say!


I was hunting about for one specific Not-Even-Secretly-Alternative Accountant - the very excellent Andy, he who first made me aware of Magma in the first place. He was rather well-camouflaged (as ever, he was Advocating Dark Clothes) but I found him eventually, queueing for the bar. I don’t suppose we had ever spent more than an hour in close proximity hitherto - occasional online conversation and even more occasional loitering before and after concerts is about the size of it - but now we discovered we had adjacent seats. Cue happy cries of “Holy shit!” and “Fate!” We were in the second row, near the centre, with a fine view of the stage. As we sat there, notes on recent and forthcoming musical experiences were exchanged, and then at last it was time for da Zeuhl Wortz Mëkanïk.

Some bands would start gently with something Highly Digestible, but this is Magma and so they hit their audience between the ears immediately with the implacable ninja-precision of Köhntarkösz. I’ve heard live recordings of this darkly-elegant, patiently-cruel piece (probably the closest Magma will ever get to minimalism) that make it all a bit nice and jolly and friendly… but not this time, oh no. The word ‘Magma’ conjures up visions of intense heat under unbearable pressure, but there is something glacially cold and unrelentingly, creepingly steady about Köhntarkösz. Imagine a semi-dormant volcano underneath Iceland, or some other unseen geological threat to human happiness. To bring out the maximum effect of this sparse, measured piece, it must be played with superhuman precision. I would have to say they managed that superbly on this occasion. There is a part near the end where a four-note figure is made to grate repeatedly against a three-note figure, over and over and over and over, in a way that makes your brain go “Whaaat?!” in the most delightful way. That cannot work if the playing is lax and sloppy. But here, thankfully, was Scrupulous Discipline, all perpetrated with the sort of sneering ease that you’d expect from a soloist of the Franz Liszt type, say. That is not easy to achieve in an ensemble situation, but these are the moments when you remember that Magma isn’t so much a band of individuals all vying for their little moment in the spotlight - this is a sort of musical hive mind affair, it’s a machine in motion.

They followed that up with - oh wow - Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh! I have wanted to hear that played live for ages; they have played it an awful lot during 40-plus years of touring, but I came along at the point when they seemed to have had enough of it forever, so I was not really hopeful of ever hearing it in person. So, yes, wouldn’t it be terribly easy to feel horribly jaded, having to play that thing over and over? Certainly it was played with the efficient fluency of deeply familiar music that has been ingrained into the muscle memory, but absolutely not with any feeling of ennui or complacency. Where Köhntarkösz is calculating, cold and weirdly organic - like an inevitable natural process larger than you, puny human - MDK has that seductive, warm, passionate, community-sing, oratorio feel. Definitely this came across - again, it was a precise, clean performance, but there was real relish in it, real celebratory happiness, which the audience amplified.

Next up was a little something called Slaǧ Tanƶ. This was played in an embryonic form at my first ever Magma concert, and has been evolving over the last few years, emerging in recorded guise on a recent mini-album. It’s an odd beast, this. I think it definitely benefits from being performed live, as does all Magma music - for almost anything can be achieved in a studio setting, and precision in the studio has a whole other meaning from precision on the stage.

To elaborate, Magma’s music is made from very simple forms, arranged in complex ways. It’s not like the fiddly, virtuosic show-off stuff that you immediately associate with notions of ‘progressive rock’; that is the exact opposite - complicated forms arranged in simple ways. Instead, Magma uses the method of jazz, with the instrumentation of rock, the emotion of R&B and gospel, and the zealous certainty of all spiritual music. And just to confuse matters further, there is also the… how to put it? - the angularity and structural trickery of ‘serious contemporary composition’. So what you arrive at is a strange amalgam in which sometimes, very simple jagged forms are stacked, offset against one another, repeating over and over, now aligning, now slipping out of sync. Then at other times you have passionate sentiment, sumptuous harmonies, long passages of ecstatic chanting. Occasionally there are solos, but not in the ‘politely take turns to show off, now bring back the melody’ way - more like the ‘our bass guitarist is a caged beast, let’s let him off the leash for precisely seven and a half minutes’ way!

Slaǧ Tanƶ is incredibly dense texturally: there is hardly any light and air between the layers here. It’s like a really exciting bit of Burgess Shale… fully teeming with googly-eyed extinct creepy-crawlies, smooshed evenly by time and gravity into matte monochrome lamination. ‘That bit’ in a Magma piece (there is always ‘that bit’) where something discordant is being yelped repeatedly over horrid quantities of bass, propelled by a thoroughly bad lot of brutally nasty drumming, is exploded to become basically The Entire Piece. This cannot work unless it’s done meticulously - obsessively so. So much is blaring away all at once that it would sound like aural mud without sufficient finesse. As I said above, it’s difficult to appreciate this on the studio album, because these days, any engineer with sufficient skill can make this kind of thing spaciously listenable with a few laptop clicks. But to make it work onstage is far harder. Well, y’know, I reckon they nailed it!

Now was the time to troop off stage in order to troop back on again for an encore. We got Zombies, and it was yet another unaffectedly-correct performance - though I think something more emotional might have been a nicer choice. (Kobaïa would have been perfect, or perhaps Hhaï…)

Anyway, they left us happily bludgeoned and desiring more (pleasant punishment!).

In the row in front, a young man, possessed and captivated, had engaged in ECSTATIC HEADBANGING during the entire concert. Now, afterwards, he turned round and I saw in his face that twinkly-glow that does happen to people upon experiencing the full force of Live Magma. I am convinced that there is a neurological phenomenon going on here. As I’ve mentioned often in previous Magma-related ramblings, I think it’s their use of forms and techniques from spiritual music. If you went to a really ecstatic, psychologically manipulative church service, you could feel that same feeling. Or if you attended a shamanic ritual with days of dancing and drumming and chanting. Even the thematic content goes towards this effect: the chosen people, the search for the far-off promised land, the invocation of prophets, visionaries and the Supreme Being. So it’s not at all surprising that people get a whole-body, soul-included, unmedicated high off of this stuff. (Actually, two chaps in the front row were passing an e-cigarette apparatus back and forth during the concert - not sure what was in it, but I’m sure if this were 1975 rather than 2015, it would have been… something other than just nicotine!)

As the audience drifted out, dazed, elated, I stood there with Andy, mulling over what we’d experienced. I’d say we were both… pleasantly overwhelmed. The ecstatic boy from the front row stood nearby, visibly buzzing. I congratulated him on his contribution: “Excellent dancing!” A joyous gabble of happy words poured from his mouth. Ah, I thought, giving him a kindly once-over. He looks like he could do with a hug. “Can I give you a hug?” I said - surprising myself considerably, because I am not a hugger (unless I love you a lot and know exactly where you’ve been). But there was something in that place that made me feel both thoroughly confident and exceedingly benevolent. So, I hugged a nice boy from Germany: I bet you would have done the same, if you’d been Me There Then. …I will say he didn’t appear to mind.

It was impossible in the scrum to locate Jules and Kyle, and later I found out I had also missed out on a rendezvous with the lovely Mike, a kind friend and musical-enabler whom I shall meet in person one of these days! Anyway, sans further social opportunities it was time for the traditional short Tube ride in fabulous clothes, and during this I had Andy’s company. He informed me he had recently celebrated an important anniversary - his first ever gig. (Hawkwind, with Lemmy on bass. Yep, that’s pretty hard to beat!) You never know, perhaps one day I’ll be celebrating the anniversary of this concert. Magma is always a bit of an Event, but this concert had a particular atmosphere - ‘the band were on top form’ doesn’t quite do it justice. For example, I looked over at Philippe Bussonnet, the Bass Guitar Genius, and instead of seeing his usual ‘stand very still, don’t look at the audience, preferably hide behind something’ vibe, I saw him facing the front, moving with the music, even (dare I say it) smiling. (Of course, he also did that Uncanny Telepathic Thing with Christian Vander - they form the ultimate ‘symbiotic rhythm section’!)

PLUS, I heard from Mike afterwards to say that despite having listened to studio-Magma and experienced live-Magma previously without being particularly convinced, Something Happened In That Room. He… ‘got it’. That works as a neat summary of the evening’s performing standard, if you ask me!

The following morning, I had the obligatory ‘encounter with fellow concert-goer in hotel lift’. The man in question regaled me with one of those important snippets of personal musical history - he had, it turned out, once been a student at Exmouth’s Rolle College, and had bought his copy of MDK on vinyl at a record shop in that familiar Devonian seaside resort. “They had to order it in specially,” he confided. “They’d never seen anything like it - must’ve thought I’d beamed down from the mothership.”

I suppose that’s the lovely thing about a Magma concert: it is a happy reunion of ex-passengers from that very same interstellar crèche.

Ok, enough! Did ya really read all of this…? If so, please award yerself a biscuit! :-)

Back home after the concert - what is this apparition?! Can it be an ill-groomed, poor man's Jerry Cornelius*?! (*Just pretend that camera is a disguised needle gun!)


( 10 confidences — Confide in me... )
May. 11th, 2015 12:12 am (UTC)
How lovely to read about true appreciation of music! :)
May. 11th, 2015 07:05 pm (UTC)
Cheers, dear heart! ;-)
May. 12th, 2015 11:29 pm (UTC)
Hey, I was at that April 8 concert! When I saw they were going to be in town, there was no way I was going to pass it up (I think the last time they were in the bay area was 1996 or something like that)
May. 16th, 2015 05:17 pm (UTC)
Well, absolutely! :-) How was it?
May. 12th, 2015 11:34 pm (UTC)
Incidentally, the last thing I posted on my LJ was actually supposed to be a comment on your Celestial Happenings post but somehow ended up in the wrong place. And I didn't notice until now (I don't check LJ very often these days)
May. 16th, 2015 05:18 pm (UTC)
I shall take a look!
May. 16th, 2015 12:25 pm (UTC)
The phrase "Advocating Dark Clothes" leads me to ask: Have you ever lived in a drum?
May. 16th, 2015 05:21 pm (UTC)
Hehe. Maybe I should try that, given the current level of Vander-enjoyment hereabouts. Meanwhile, I hear you've been having trouble with pigs and ponies...
Jun. 16th, 2015 12:08 am (UTC)
I have that same shirt! Got it at the Vancouver show, their first ever Canadian show. I wonder if you're aware of this: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/coralie/nihao-hamtai/description

In case you're wondering who I am, I used to live in Exeter and met you at the RIO show in 2009. :)
Jul. 14th, 2015 06:08 pm (UTC)
Oh, I somehow missed this comment - hello! :-) The DVD project looks cool; on the patron-perks front it'd be interesting to find out what Kobaian names CV might bestow on his avid fans.
( 10 confidences — Confide in me... )

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This journal is not a private diary, it is more like an occasional, imaginary column. Therefore, much of it is on public display. However, if you want to read my occasional attempts at creative writing, my Caution Elf tells me I should only show that stuff to my friends. You know what to do. :-)

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