Magma just finished a short UK tour by a three day residency at Shoreditch’s Cafe Oto. This provided the ideal tie in for The Doc’N’Roll Film Festival to present a screening of the recently released documentary about the band’s first Chinese tour in 2015. Louder Than War’s Craig Chaligne reviews.
After releasing their latest studio LP “Slag Tanz” in early 2015, Magma then embarked on an extensive reissue programme of their back catalogue on Vinyl. As a companion to this, two documentaries about the band are seeing the light of day. One “To Life Death and Beyond: The Music of Magma” is a rock documentary with famous musicians expressing their love of Magma’s music. “Nĭhăo Hamtaï: Magma, first Chinese tour” is a completely different proposition. The director Coralie Van Rietschoten chose to film the band during their first Chinese tour that took place last year. Far from being just a tour documentary, it shows westerners discovering China for the first time and presents China and its idiosyncrasies with a poetic eye.
The film is cut into three parts, one for each city that the band visited: Shenzen, Beijing and Shangai. The band collaborates fully to the proceedings as Stella Vander provides some audio commentary and the Magma’s music is featured extensively throughout (even in the non-musical moments). None of the band members had ever been to China prior to this visit and seeing them get to grips with Chinese food or what looks like a permanent ban and all cigarette lighters illustrates well the gap that still exists between Eastern and Western cultures. Coralie’s keen eye for details show China as a country trapped between traditions and today’s modern world of technology and information.
The documentary also proves the universal appeal of Magma’s music. The fact that their lyrics are in Kobaian, a fictional language created by Christian Vander, enables them to bypass the language barrier that affects most French acts when they try to play abroad. During the Q and A (hosted by uber Magma fan Steve Davis), Stella Vander said she was surprised by the fact that the Chinese outnumbered the expats in all three cities they played. The highlight of the tour was playing in front of an artistic community in Beijing, a wild guitar solo by James McGraw from that show is one of the most striking scenes of the film. On another note, Christian’s surrealist sense of humour is caught in the trains between Beijing and Shangai where he insists on washing everything with a small cloth, including the glasses of the sleeping keyboard player Jeremie Ternoy. There is also some insight into the process bands have to go to play in China. Magma’s lyrics were examined for several months to see if there was no hidden meaning behind them. It is funny that the storyline of “Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh”, Magma’s 1973 masterpiece didn’t cause any troubles as it is about a nation that rebels against its tyranic leader.
The documentary is available from Seventh Records, Magma’s label.
Official website for the film: www.nihaohamtai.com.