It’s come to my attention that I have yet to feature any Zeuhl on this site. Magma, like Cardiacs and YMO, are one of those bands for me where just getting all the albums isn’t enough; I need to get the solo albums, the offshoots, and all stuff that lists them as a big influence. Magma are an easy band to follow this way, since everything too Magma-esque is often tagged as Zeuhl, and in many cases feature a few ex-members of the band. Zeuhl is a difficult genre to really pin down; you need to have some combination of strong, repetitive bass lines, loose n’ wild drumming, a sense of improv, and fevered chanting in a made-up language, though honestly I feel it’s more of a “I know it when I hear it”-type thing. For example I do think that Area ought to qualify, though I’ve heard they can’t because they sing in Italian. In the loose sense I would describe Zeuhl as an offshoot of prog rock, a little jazzier and a lot wackier, with less structure and more spirituality.
Unfortunately there isn’t a whole lot of it out there. ProgArchives lists 8 of their top 20 Zeuhl albums as being from Magma, and if you include live albums, that number goes up to 11. I know that Magma are one of the greatest bands that ever existed, but come on. The problem is that practically no one else who plays this sort of music can expect to sell any records. Thus, you wind up with a lot of one-shot bands that just went nowhere, leaving behind these obscure and difficult-to-find albums that some small group of people will inevitably claim is the best thing ever put to tape.
Weidorje are one such band. As you may know, Magma was never very stable, turning around most of their lineup on what seemed like a yearly basis. A lot of this had to do with Christian Vander constantly moving the band’s goalposts; 1976 album, Udu Wudu, went in a direction that was more fusiony and bass-heavy, and just like that, Vander decided to turn the band into some kind of alien funk outfit. Thus, two members of the band, Bernard Paganotti (bass) and Patrick Gauthier (keys), decided to split off and continue in that direction themselves (not the first time this has happened, by the way).
The band only released one album, which is unfortunate. Though it is based off Magma’s Udu Wudu sound, it is a better album than that one. There are only three tracks – “Elohim’s Voyage” (16:33), “Vilna” (12:20), and “Booldemug” (7:10), and all three are excellent. Right away it’s apparent that Paganotti is some sort of bass god, perhaps as much as Jannick Top, the other famous bass player from Udu Wudu. He’s got that same dirty, fuzzed out tone that all the other Zeuhl greats have, with a tendency to let the notes ring out. It’s almost got a repetitive, funky quality to it, but the tone is more metal than funk. All three tunes are led by either bass or keys; “Elohim’s Voyage” has a doomy bass line that anchors what would otherwise be an upbeat marching tune, while “Vilna” runs off a spritely keyboard line. “Booldemug” is a bit of both, at twice the speed. This music would feel heavy and oppressive if it weren’t so melodic; there are horns all over the place, and vocals that sing along wordlessly (“hey, ya hey ya hey”, “doot doot doodle doo” or “vill, vill, vill, vill, villna”).
Essentially the album sounds like Magma minus Vander, which is not necessarily a bad thing. For one, it’s a lot more palatable than Magma tends to be; all of these tunes tend to hold onto their grooves rather than constantly moving around, which I suppose is the result of having a bassist writing the music rather than a drummer with a big Coltrane obsession. And for two, there’s no shrieking, no shouting, no interjections to throw you off. This isn’t to take anything away from Vander, but you’re either in or you’re out on the guy, and he certainly doesn’t make his music easy to like sometimes. Weidorje is a great introduction to the genre for other prog-likers, as I think it shows what Zeuhl is capable of when you don’t exactly want to bounce off the walls. Though the group floundered out of the gate, the album was at least well-known enough to get two CD reissues. The 2008 contains a couple of live tracks, presumably of pieces of what was to become a second album. The music itself is great (even though it’s too poorly recorded to want to listen to more than a couple lines), but It sounds like there was about 15 people in the room, and unsurprisingly they never got the chance to release them. What can I say? 1978 was a bad year to be playing this kind of music.
Thus, the frustration that comes with getting into an album like this. Both Paganotti and Gauthier would release a few solo albums afterwards – Paga is particularly good, but Weidorje is in a league of its own. It’s a great album in spite of some pretty obvious shortcomings – the production isn’t great, and the vocals seem like an afterthought, but it all holds together better than most Zeuhl albums do, and I’m including Magma here. If you’re a fan of that group, this is a must hear.