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Magma
Ekaterina Cultural Fund 
By Dena May Fisher
A veritable volcanic eruption took place in the Club Na Brestckoi last Saturday night: 9 members of the cult French group Magma unleashed a storm of violent and energetic musical talent during their first-ever Russian live performance. Highly original and deeply penetrating sounds and voices oozed from the musicians on stage, leaving the crowd to smolder and melt in their wake.

Magma, the brainchild of drummer and composer Christian Vander, was created in 1969 and has since been hailed as the most adventurous prog-rock band of the seventies. But the paradox of the geological magma is also that of the music of Magma – it is rock, but in a different form. In effect, Vander uses rock, jazz, classical, folk and Eastern European influences to create a music which defies definition.

This blurring of musical boundaries is key to the concept of Magma. The music is meant to surpass the limits of our human experience, inviting us to make a journey in space and time to the imaginary planet of Kobaia, set several centuries into the future. Vander had a vision of the spiritual and ecological decay of Earth, and so set out to tell the story of a group of enlightened humans who decided to leave their homes and create a new utopian society on the planet Kobaia. The planet’s new inhabitants eventually develop their own language and peaceful way of life, but are frequently dragged into conflict with Earth, whose people see their endeavour not as a new hope for the future, but as a threat…

I had no idea what to expect of Magma. Nevertheless, I headed eagerly off down to Brestckoi, armed with a notebook and a very open mind. I was one of the first to arrive, but was soon to be joined by a very mixed crowd. At 10pm the band members, all dressed in black, quietly and discreetly arrived on stage. We were then treated to 1 ? hours of some of the most challenging yet strangely beautiful music I have ever heard.

Magma played 2 pieces (you can’t really call them songs). The first, a piece called ‘A.K.’ written in 1972 but as yet unreleased, lasted 50 minutes. The second was their famous ‘Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh’. Both were sung entirely in Kobaian. The singers were amazing:
One male and three female voices mixed beautiful harmonies with dissonant chord clusters, hisses and trills, evoking a wide array of events and emotions. The musicians were all of the highest quality, although the bass guitarist in particular provided us with an absolutely stunning solo indeed. However the star of the show was undoubtedly Vander himself: The volcanic crescendos of his drumming were the core to the music and his energy was the fuel for the flames. He played like a man possessed - in trans - his face contorted with the effort and the feeling for the music both within and around him.

Magma has no official distribution in Russia (although pirate CDs are of course
available!) but that deserves to soon be put right. The 100 or so people in the audience included a few obvious fans, but the majority was, like me, unsure in the beginning then progressively consumed by the power of the performance. I can’t say I completely understood the music - I don’t think any first-timer could – but no one could deny that it was an outstanding show, which left many of us wanting to hear more.

Before the start, I spoke to Stella Vander, Christian’s former wife and current lead singer. She was sensibly dressed with nice hair and no make-up, well-spoken and articulate (we spoke in French) and from the start it felt more like chatting to a friend’s Mum than interviewing a rock star from the seventies! I asked her about whether or not there are differences between their current performances and those of 30 years ago. She answered:” There have been many different band members since the original line-up in the seventies. We have recently regrouped after having pursued other projects, because we realized that there is a new generation that wants and needs to see us live. But within the group, there is the same energy. On stage it’s just as powerful now as it was back then. It just takes us a bit longer to recover after the show, that’s all! Now, we don’t go to parties after we play, we go straight back to our hotel rooms and go to bed!!”

This was not to be the case on Saturday, however! As the audience clapped and whistled with the hope of an encore, Stella came back on stage and apologised, explaining that they had to rush to catch the night train to St Petersburg! As for Moscow, well, Magma came and went, leaving a trail of red-hot fans in their wake…

27.04.04
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