Thursday, February 21, 2019

Birth of the Zeuhl

We'll take a two-day hiatus pass from the Black History Month shindiggery for two consecutive birthdays for two absolute iconoclasts of the Universe, both of whom stand astride decades-long careers altering the DNA of the music of our world.
Today we have an artist, percussionist and composer whose résumé includes some of the most striking and creatively unprecedented music of our epoch.
He's been a part of many projects and records, but the one for which he is most known is something for which there is no analog in the music of our age.
I get the gravity of such a statement, given that we live in the era that contains access for all to the most music anyone's ever had or heard. But I stand by it, and here is why.
I can't think of anything like it, what he did. To take the band concept and create an entirely fictional language with which to tell a unified story that no one can really understand the words to, yet everyone seems to understand and enjoy, simply has nothing in the annals of art history with which to compare it.
It's quite a testimony to the power of the music of Magma that they've gone on telling the tale of Kobaïa for almost five full decades, almost purely on the impetus of their sound and the compelling-yet-inscrutable mythos our birthday boy constructed out of while cloth for them to inhabit.
Did I mention he's one of the world's living drum deities, and a percussion powerhouse that hits with a precision that belies the trance-inducing effect of his grooves?
If I had to describe it in words, I'd call his drumming style something like being hypnotized... with a sledgehammer. The way he bounces from impossibly intricate jazziness to 5000 herds of oncoming elephants in a quarter of a bar makes his playing instantly recognizable from one fill, no easy feat for the noisy blokes at the back of the stage.
If I had to describe the music of Magma and of their guiding beacon, Christian Vander, I'd say they and he are where the religiously-intense music of John Coltrane, the nonsense syllabic squawk-forms of Kurt Schwitters, and the Progressive Rock of the 1970s meet. 
At the home of Robert Heinlein, which in this fantasia is in the catacombs beneath the Metropolitan Opera. Where they all do LSD. With Isaac Asimov.
But back to the basics of what appears to be linear, temporal reality for a moment. It seems Christian Vander is 71 today, and although Magma bootlegs and archival material are often notoriously dodgy -- this has to be one of the most audience-taped bands ever to trod the stage -- I have one of the best ones here today after a couple of minor repairs.
This hour of prime Kobaïan uplift dates from my personal favorite period of theirs, 1978. This is the most funkafied Magma there is, somewhat owing to their by-this-time former bass player -- yes he is a monster of basstly proportions -- Jannick Top. 
Who by the time of this performance had recently left to do his own Zeuhl-Fusion group, but whose fat-bottomed rejoindering of Vander's bonecrushing, "Elvin Jones armwrestles John Bonham for control of the kit" drumstyle took Magma deliciously towards The One for their 1977 and '78 records.
I guess I should also say that if you are unfamiliar, Zeuhl is the genre of music that sprang up in the wake of Magma, where dozens of unaffiliated bands began to play in the same way and add their adjunct mythologies to what Vander initiated.
Magma
Halle des Brasseries
Bar-le-Duc, France
9.27.1978 

01 Rétrovision (Attahk)
02 The Last Seven Minutes 
03 Hhaï
04 Ourgon et Gorgo
05 Nono
06 M.D.K. (excerpt)

Total time: 58:29

Christian Vander - drums, percussion & vocals
Stella Vander - vocals
Klaus Blasquiz - vocals
René “Stündehr” Garber - vocals
Lisa Deluxe - vocals
Michel Hervé - bass
André Hervé - keyboards & percussion
Jean-Luc Chevalier - guitar
Maria Popkiewicz - vocals

spectral analysis indicates a pre-FM source, possibly recorded for French radio
359 MB FLAC here
The origin of this tape is unknown, but it goes to 20kHz so I'd speculate it may have been, like many others in their heyday, captured by French radio in a small club somewhere in the vicinity, and is here sourced from the pre-FM reel. But it's incomplete, so it might just be a soundboard dub of some kind.
I didn't change anything, except smoothing over a couple of channel dropouts and getting a better channel balance on one of the tunes. 
The Carl-Orff-by-way-of-ancient-Plainsong vocals, the bizarre Godzilla-steps-on-Paris basslines, and all the storming, Crimson-and-Coltrane ferocity of Magma are all writ large here, as is the Catherine Wheel batterie of our birthday lad, born this day in 1948 and probably somewhere adding to his unparallelable, utterly unique and multifaceted project/object as we type.
I shall return like The Itch tomorrow with someone even more magnificently bonkers than this guy, so be on Thee watch. And HBD and many more to this guy, whose music of which I and millions more will always stand in awe. Wainsaht!--J.

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