Magma: live in concert (pt. 2)


Dear Matthew:

That was certainly a prog rock band.

Now, I’m not ready to give up on prog just yet. There’s got to be something out there I can really get into. Maybe I should finally give these King Crimson guys that everyone keeps talking about a spin. But Magma is definitely not for me.

There’s no arguing that Magma are talented. The tone their bassist gets out of his instrument is incredible. Their drummer’s vocal solo in what you informed me was your favourite Magma song of all time would put any classically trained tenor in the world to shame, and his drum face is amazing. There were definite moments in the set that I enjoyed. But there’s only so far that raw talent can take you in terms of making music that’s actually enjoyable for (most) people to listen to. Sure, it’s very technically impressive that you can play in weird keys and modes and flawlessly stick to bizarre time signatures and invent an entire language in which to sing. But that means you end up with music with no riffs to ride on, no grooves to lock into, and no vocal hooks to lodge in people’s brains.

In other words, you end up with probably the least accessible music I have ever heard.

I expressed this sentiment to you after the show, and you didn’t disagree. And indeed, the lack of accessibility doesn’t seem to have prevented Magma from growing a solid fanbase over the years — a substantial portion of the crowd were nodding/singing/otherwise moving in a way that suggested rather intimate familiarity with the material. So what’s the missing link here? What am I not getting?

You’ve said that you don’t like not liking things because it makes you feel ignorant, and that’s kind of how I’m feeling about this. I found myself asking myself the same thing you asked of Beardyman: ‘What is this music even for?’ Since everything is so abstract and non-traditional, they could be just standing there making shit up for an hour and a half and I would have no idea. In calling these guys out, though, I feel kind of like the guy who complains that his three-year-old could paint a Jackson Pollock.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s telling that I was at the same venue less than a week prior to see the Ting Tings, who are about as diametrically opposed to Magma as you can get while still actually playing drums and stringed instruments. Maybe going to a show with the intention of intellectualizing it afterward is a flawed approach, especially when an MC comes out before the show and explicitly instructs the audience to not try to intellectualize the show. But the more I think about it the more I realize: apart from virtuosic performances, that show had almost none of the elements I appreciate in live music, or even music in general.

But that’s not what a band like Magma is going for, is it.

— Matt


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