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Magnus maintain they aint no sign project!


Feature: Jack Foley

MAGNUS is the keenly-anticipated 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 - but the first person to call it a side-project, gets his (or her!) teeth kicked in, according to Barman!

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."

CJBolland’s interest in electronic music started at a very young age, after he found inspiration from artists as diverse as Jean Michelle Jarre and Kraftwork.

Although world-renowned as the master of techno, CJ 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 Barman either, as he candidly explains.

"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.

Barman refers to the opening track, Rhythm is deified, as ‘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. Hence, the album is being billed as an uptempo CD which is 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," insists Barman. "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, I played more guitar on Magnus than I ever did for dEUS," he confesses.

However, Barman’s alliance with CJ Bolland provided a means to free himself from classic rock song standards, the old verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure.

But even though beats dominate the album, most tracks still contain an awful lot of ‘song’ in them, as he explains.

"I can’t get rid of it, I guess. 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."

Despite the positive vibe surrounding the album, and the energy, its delivery was not an easy one, however.

Recordings started in November 2000, but were interrupted because Barman and C.J. were too busy working on other projects.

Meanwhile, Barman wrote and directed the film, Any way the Wind Blows, a full-length feature movie that received much critical acclaim in Benelux and on the world-wide film festival circuit.

CJ, between international DJ 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.

Barman then 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," he 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," continues Barman. "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".

Once in the studio, itself, the recording process became something 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," he explained.

"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 has even been credited with helping them grow closer together , musically.

"We’re both stubborn," admits CJ, "and we had many a difference of opinion, but, primarily, we learned a lot from each other."

And while the partnership looks set to continue working for some time yet, fans of the artists in their more familiar guises had better fear not, for 2004 should also see new albums from both dEUS and CJ Bolland, to keep the fanbase amused.

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