Magma

Magma came to my attention via an occultist friend of mine who has given me awareness of bands and artists too numerous to mention, but too essential to wonder how ever did without them in my life. Magma was formed at the tail-end of the ’60s by French drummer Christian Vander, which includes the distinction of the language of many of their songs being a fictional construct created (and often sung) by Vander himself: Kobaïan. Vander tells of the genesis of Magma as a result of an unsettling “vision of humanity’s spiritual and ecological future” of a ruined Earth and thus many of their albums tell the tale of the planet Kobaïa settled by human beings and their struggles when other Earth refugees make their way into the presence of the established Kobaïan people.

This sort of esotericism meets progressive rock meets the psy-fi of Timothy Leary seems like a pre-emptive set of soundtracks for the modern metaphysical counter-culture, does it not? Christian Vander once stated in an interview: “It is difficult to define what music is. Music is life. Music contains all secrets of life. It is man’s clearest way of expression. Music can contain both life and death. Music is an extension of your self, of your way of expression.” When it sounds this good then I think one wouldn’t think twice about joining the cult.

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Magma are sometimes slotted into convenient genre crates such as progressive-rock or jazz-fusion but their sound became known as Zeuhl (a Kobaïan word meaning “celestial”) , which other French bands of the ’70s became associated under that tag. Zeuhl is science-fiction rock opera, mad improvisation, elegant choral arrangements and stately combinations of common instruments into a sensitive and moving whole. I sometimes wonder if Pink Floyd happened to be listening…..

In 1970 they released their debut album Magma, which later was later re-released as Kobaïa. Vander had wanted to fill the void left by the death of grandmaster John Coltrane, so jazz expositions permeate the first foray into Kobaïan vocals which actually sound like a kind of African-American devotional groove at that point in time. Three years later their Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh was released and cemented Zeuhl as a wonderous story-telling experience of a future that may yet be revealed, but in a tongue that perhaps was still yet to be understood by anyone.

This performance from 1977  (Paris) illuminates this very clearly:

( Part 2 | Part 3 | and to show that they continue to excel, a performance of the same album from 2000)

With the drizzles of estoterics (for example, this effervescent paean to 19th century French mystic Eliphas Levi) and the extraterrestrial operatics, the exotic talent of the group as a whole are not overshadowed given the extent which they can channel the raw elements of rock, jazz and the universality of rhythm into raucous excitement. These snapshots in time typify the sport of journey that Magma can enthrall audiences and expose potentialities of unbridled creativity. Especially when Mr Vander leaves the drum kit to one side or to another and takes the microphone on his own psychic trip.

Unfortunately they never found the commercial success they might well have deserved for their ingenuity, thus disbanding in 1977 yet persisting in various offshoots until 1983. Vander managed to pull the group together again in 1996, with their sound having drawn in a new generation of fans. With the release of Félicité Thösz last year, Magma still continue recording and performing and inspiring to this very day.

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Dälek

Given that this blog is named after a Dälek song, then my own personal etiquette insists that this unique hip-hop treasure is the first post off the ranks.

Dälek proved a recent smokey addition to the regular listening routine of 2011; I was sold on the first hit. Instantly involving, demanding and distinctive, there is indeed a next level of noise above the beats and lyrical prose that has an eerie combination of education on history and reality, calls to arms and the occasional emotional  punch equivalent to a good Twin Peaks scene. A random journey through their catalogue will inform one to just how richly diverse and musically revolutionary the world of hip-hop can really be, if you’re willing to look in the first place.

Dälek (pronounced ‘Die-a-leck’) are a duo comprised of producer Oktopus and lyricist MC Dälek, who have been operating since releasing their premiere EP Negro Necro Nekros in 1998, taking a few cues from the trip-hop aesthetic that was soaring at the time. Since then their signature sound has become elegantly soaked in shoegaze and industrial textures, seamlessly mated with classic hallmarks of hip-hop cut-scratch sampling. One is treated to potent hip-hop beats, distortion soundscapes that only an army of guitars could achieve, middle-eastern and Indian music sample infusions and pensive ambient discourse.

But if you really want potent lyrical discourse, MC  Dälek serves it up in spades. Words of gritty urban seething, mystic unlocking through forgotten tongues, togetherness and ponderous utterings. Heady and exciting stuff, much of the time. As their (properly-enunciated) name suggests, Dälek are particularly concerned with the vitality of language and lament the loss of ancient tongues and untainted culture. To which these songs will attest….

With their  love of musical experience spanning quite wide, Dälek has ventured readily outside the realms of hip-hop to produce, re-produce and tour with other acts of seemingly incongruent genres, such as Isis, Godflesh and even Tool. On the excellent Deadverse Massive vol. 1, the depth of their remixing and collaboration (intermingled with some Dälek specials) is spread as a sweet mesmerising chutney over the platter of your beat sensibilities. A superb example their recreation of Enon’s whimsical pop-rock single In This City into a slow, atmospheric pot of poignancy.

Their full train of tracks possesses a depth charge of  tunes for almost any occasion or state of mind, with the tracktimes trucking between 3-4 minute attention grabbers to their 44 minute Untitled album from 2010.

So if you’re really loving hip-hop, or just curious and open, take a ride through the Dälek catalogue. As one Youtube commenter has said: “Under rated.. under appreciated.. under dog.. under ground.. people who know: know.”

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