Live Music + Gig Reviews

Celestial Mass: Magma + JP Massiera + Chrome Hoof @ Barbican, London

6 October 2009

This night of bizarre space-age experimental Francophile prog-rock, curated by Andy Votel, began as an existential mission to chart the galaxy’s outermost reaches. Ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in space… As we rocketed our way through the heavens we began to realise the importance of our singular mission. Votel’s line up was an intriguing mix of cosmic prog from the analogue and post-digital age.

The music itself had roots in the late ’60s – most notably the 1968 Paris student uprising and Neil Armstrong’s “small step” of 1969. For sure, it was going to be a weird ride.

We began to suspect as much with the arrival of Chrome Hoof, a crack unit of silver-clad musicians looking like the bastard children of Funkadelic. Fronted by what appeared to be Grace Jones‘ less restrained sister, they began to unleash fiercely untamed disco-edged experimental rock that soon troubled the building’s foundations.

Suddenly the audience were no longer in a concrete monolith of London but were speeding rapidly to the heart of Venus on a UFO belonging to a space-age death cult.

In order to temper the audience’s already blown minds, the second half of Chrome Hoof’s set saw them joined on stage by JP Massiera, a highly prolific producer once referred to as the French Joe Meek and credited with being the forerunner of Gallic sci-fi sounds. The captain of the ship had arrived and, in tribute, Chrome Hoof began to play some of his back catalogue. But with just a token amount of knob-twiddling and screeching to do he appeared rather discombobulated and had arguably beaten us to another planet already.

After an interval the audience took stock, accepted their interstellar destiny and settled down for the second half of their journey. Headliners Magma would be drawing on their 40 years of producing choral sci-fi rock; the spaceship was placed in calmer, more serene hands with a selection of epic and sweeping space operettas.

If you closed your eyes you could see yourself approaching heavenly bodies and sundry other galactic phenomena. Though their performance was impressive, Magma possibly suffered a little in comparison to the psychotic benchmark set in the first half. But overall Celestial Mass was proving to be a gargantuan trip, taking us to strange places.

As the night drew to a close, Magma gently landed the good ship Barbican on the surface of the strange planet of Kobaia – the subject of most of their early output. As we filed out of the ship our bodies were still at home, but our minds were thousands of light years away.

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Celestial Mass: Magma + JP Massiera + Chrome Hoof @ Barbican, London