Magnus: (lat.): adj. 1. great ; 2 high; 3. long; 4. wide; 5. plenty; 6. considerable; 7. old; 8. aged; 9. important; 10. weighty; 11. difficult; 12. dangerous; 13. strong; 14. magnificent; 15. loud; 16. grandiloquent; 17. boasted; 18. exaggerated; 19. rich; 20. mighty; 22. cunning; 23. proud; 24. noble
gOD is great, after dEUS and The Prophet comes Magnus. Magnus is a joint dance project of Tom Barman - heart and soul of Antwerp rockers dEUS - and CJ Bolland - DJ-producer and key figure in the international techno scene.
"First one to call Magnus a side-project will get his teeth kicked in by me personally" Barman grins. The message is clear: we're not talking about a quick inbetweenie here, but a close and successful encounter between two musicians with radically distinct musical backgrounds, who took it to a recording studio in search of a common sound.
C.J.Bolland's interest in electronic music started at a very young age. His inspiration came from artists as diverse as Jean Michelle Jarre to Kraftwork. Although world renowned as the master of Techno C.J. has experimented with all aspects of electronic music not only on his own albums but also on remixes for pop and underground artists alike.
Electronic music is not altogether a new thing for Tom Barman either : "In the eighties, my record collection consisted mainly of electro pop tunes. At a certain moment, I moved on to other genres, but halfway through the nineties my interest in electronic music returned after hearing releases from James Lavelle and his Mo-Wax label. However, I always felt that the typical 4/4 beat in dance music was too restrictive, too monotonous. Personally, I thought the electro scene became interesting again when DJ Krush and DJ Shadow came up and when breakbeat started making it's way. Since then I've been listening to techno, house, drum'n'bass intensely. Magnus is a synthesis of all those influences."
The Magnus' debut album aims to hit body rather than mind and is totally dedicated to rhythm. Tom Barman calls the opener - un-coincidentally called "Rhythm is deified" - a declaration of intent, while the moody closing track "Assault on Magnus" should be regarded as the "hangover after the party".
Magnus stands for funky. Which means party. Magnus is an uptempo-cd meant to be played loud, if possible at club-volume so you can get your feet on the floor and shake your booty. "It was meant to be a clubbers-record". The theme is movement. Our point was: laconic, bluesy and simple lyrics - in the sense of The Beatles' "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" or Joe Dolce's "Shaddap Your Face" - combined with electronics and programmed beats. At the same time, we used a live drummer and somehow we couldn't prevent that rock-element sneaking in. "Believe it or not, but I played more guitar on Magnus than I ever did for dEUS" says Tom.
Barmans alliance with CJ Bolland was a means to free himself from classic rock song standards, the old verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure. But even though beats dominate this album, most tracks still contain an awful lot of "song" in them. "I can't get rid of it, I guess", says Barman. "That instinctive drive to mould everything into songs. Even on a drum'n'bass track such as 'The Soft Foot Shuffle' we ended up working in a very melodic way. In every song we wanted to build up a certain tension towards the end. In all, it was a very liberating way of working. Pure fun. And because we'd decided not to squeeze our songs in a certain genre-mould, we allowed ourselves to invite a variety of people in the studio. We picked the best musician for each little bit we wanted to record."
Guests on the Magnus CD are, a.o. Mauro Pawlowski, Tim Vanhamel (Millionaire), bassplayer Tomas De Smet (Zita Swoon, Think of One), drummer Didier Fontaine, Anton Janssen, David Eugene Edwards (16 Horsepower), singer Angelique Willkie (ex-Zap Mama) and the Sissy Spacek Singers, the three heavenly voices that previously featured on the dEUS single "Nothing Really Ends".
The delivery of this debut album was not an easy one however. Recordings started in November 2000, but were interrupted because Tom & C.J. were too busy working on other projects. Meanwhile, Barman wrote and directed "Any way the Wind Blows", a full length feature movie that received much critical acclaim in Benelux and in the worldwide film festival circuit. C.J., between international D.J. performances, remixed such artists as The Black Dog, Zita Swoon, The Moon.. etc., produced the new Plastyk Budha album, wrote sections of the music score for the Australian movie "One Perfect Day" and launched his techno label "Mole Records".Tom toured the European continent with his friend Guy Van Nueten on piano for a series of acoustic shows and was spotted behind turntables on hip parties all over the place. "DJ-ing really helped me to develop a feeling for which songs work on the dance floor and which ones don't" Barman admits "Call it a testing lab".
In fact, Magnus originally started out as a three piece, but soon Peter Vermeersch - composer, tenor sax and clarinet player of X-legged Sally and Flat Earth Society - was obliged to step out, due to a busy agenda. "We were forced to continue as a duo" Barman says "But Peter was kept up to date of our progress and still managed to write some arrangements for copper and strings. Therefore, his presence is still prominent on this album".
Working in the studio is described by Barman as a process of trial-and-error. "You start out with half an idea and from there you build up, puzzling and constructing, looking for the right match. The thing is: it takes an awful lot of time to work that way, so that's why it took so long to finish this album. Usually, I started out with an idea at home, then handed it over to CJ and let him do his thing in the studio. Then we'd get together [ other commitments permitting ] and finish it off. This way of working in a studio, following our impulses, was an incredible luxury, and it was fun too."
It is true that CJ Bolland was responsible for the technical side of this project, but creatively and on a production level, both felt they were very complementary to each other. Magnus helped them grow closer together , musically. "We're both stubborn" says C.J. "and we had many a difference of opinion but primarily we learnt a lot from each other". "CJ is big on his techno. He loves hard, uncompromising beats" Barman explains "But then again, he's the one who produced the last dEUS single, "Nothing Really Ends", which was a rather Cohen-esque ballad. He's certainly rekindled his sensitivity for other musical genres. For myself, I discovered that making "regular" dance music is absolutely not my thing, I simply can't do it. I need to put layer onto layer, create some sort of a depth and no matter how hard I try I seem to need to work with song structures. That way I don't lose my concentration".
One of the pleasant surprises when listening to the Magnus CD is that Barman, since The Ideal Crash, clearly has evolved as a singer. "I discovered a new range with my voice" he agrees "which has nothing to do with vocal acrobatics, but rather with timbre. I realise now that there are still many more skills to be learned, other possibilities to improve my voice and get the most out of it. 'Jump Needle' was strongly influenced by the sort of percussive panting that you find on Michael Jackson's nineties recordings."
Two of the tracks on the album also feature on the soundtrack of Any way the Wind Blows.
"In fact, I meant to keep my music and the movie completely separated" Barman emphasizes, "but when we were editing the film I got stuck with a song from the Art Ensemble of Chicago and then it turned out that 'Summer's Here' was based on the exact same rhythm. At a moment like that, you get the feeling that there is a gOD indeed."
Precisely that makes the circle round, because the year 2004 will bring us a new dEUS &
C.J.Bolland album. Hallelujah.
By Dirk Steenhaut