Fans of the 70’s period of music referred to as Zeuhl, Progressive Rock and Rock in Opposition had a rare opportunity to see Magma in San Francisco, Ca last Wednesday. Fans hold the band at a ranking atop of their field and many might proclaim them the best rock band in the world if not the longest lasting one. At the moment the tour was announced posts started appearing on the internet and the band certainly lived up to, if not exceeded their reputation as the founders of Zeuhl.
Magma emerged as one of the strongest bands during what Chris Cutler refers to as Rock in Opposition in his book “File Under Popular” on November and Autonomedia books. Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to see some of the remaining contemporaries of this field including individual and session performances by Chris Cutler (Henry Cow, Art Bears, Cassiber), Fred Frith (Henry Cow, Art Bears, Skeleton Crew, Cosa Brava), Zeena Parkins (Skeleton Crew, News from Babel, Elliot Sharp’s Carbon, No Safety, Cosa Brava) and Dagmar Krause (Henry Cow, News from Babel Art Bears), Univers Zero, Plastic People of the Universe, Albert Marcoeur, Guigou Chenevier (Etron Fou Leloublan), Lars Holmer (Samlas Mammas Manna), Richard Teitelbaum (Musica Elettronica Viva) Pere Ubu, Bratko Bibič (Begnagrad/Nimal), Tom Cora (Nimal/Skeleton Crew) Heiner Goebbels (Cassiber) and other remarkable bands from this era.
According to Cutler, Magma are highly influenced by Classical Composers such as Stravinsky and Orf. Other bands such as Cutler’s Henry Cow as well as Art Zoyd and Univers Zero were also heavily influenced 20th Century Classical composers. Perhaps in a much greater perspective, Magma are positioned alongside other progressive rock enigmas such as Can, Faust, Soft Machine, Captain Beefheart, Present, Heldon, Gong, Stormy Six, Keith Rowe/AMM, Henry Cow and Quiet Sun/This Heat.
Imagine my surprise to find they were to do a rare US tour that included the bay area! I bought tickets immediately because although I wasn’t sure if it would/could sell out or not, I knew I didn’t want to risk missing a show with this much promise and anticipation. During my formative years it wasn’t easy to find Magma recordings but Attahk will always remain atop my list of favorite recordings from my formative years. They always had such a deep catalog and every song title and description seemed to take us to an alternate universe filled with spacey and celestial themes. The term Zeuhl is from Vander’s visionary language he invented to express musical ideas. This language is called Kobaian.
Magma were formed in 1969 in Paris, France. Over the decades they’ve released over 30 recordings both studio and live and are touring to support their latest recording Šlaǧ Tanƶ (on 7th Records). Šlaǧ Tanƶ was released in January of 2015 and is an EP.
Christian Vander is a classically trained drummer who founded the band in 1969. There were many musicians who’ve been members of Magma over the years one of the higher profile profile alumni of the band is composer Yannik Top who started with the band in 1973 and played bass on a number of their recordings during the early to mid seventies. They’re recordings are influenced by Classical vocals featuring several several vocalists during their performances including Vander and his wife Stella Vander who first appeared with the band on the 1973 recording Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh.
On Wednesday April 8th, 2015, when the Endless Tour featuring Magma earthed at Slim’s in San Francisco, Ca., the band was introduced by local Punk icon Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys. Jello recounted being on the east coast one day and learning they were going to be performing in Pennsylvania. He said ‘he took every back road he knew and broke every traffic violation in the book to get there. On the way when he noticed he was still running late he had told himself if he were able to arrive and see 1 minute of music by Magma it would be a success. He finished by saying when he finally did arrive an hour late he rushed in and witnessed what was the best hour and a half of music he’s ever seen… And now (he went on to add) they’re in our town!’