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: "Were 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."
CJBollands 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
"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 its way. Since then, Ive 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
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 Dolces Shaddap Your Face - combined
with electronics and programmed beats.
"At the same time, we used a live drummer and somehow we
couldnt prevent that rock-element sneaking in. Believe it
or not, I played more guitar on Magnus than I ever did for dEUS,"
However, Barmans alliance with CJ Bolland provided a means
to free himself from classic rock song standards, the old verse-chorus-verse-chorus
But even though beats dominate the album, most tracks still contain
an awful lot of song in them, as he explains.
"I cant get rid of it, I guess. That instinctive drive
to mould everything into songs. Even on a drumnbass
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.
"And because wed 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,
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 dont,"
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
"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 thats 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 wed 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
"Were 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.