The Bodhisattva Beat
Music and Life

Romantic Warriors II: A Progressive Music Saga About Rock in Opposition

In 2010 Adele Schmidt and José Zegarra Holder gave us “Romantic Warriors: A Progressive Music Saga.” Believe it or not, there is much more to progressive music than can be covered in a ninety-five minute film. Thus the decision to continue as a series. Zeitgeist Media’s first prog documentary was primarily a love letter for fans of the genre. The second installment gets more specific and focuses on the sub-genre known as Rock in Opposition (now also known as Avant).

The first installment was just about the prog scene in general. The artists used were primarily whoever was available at the time. The primary difference here is the historical significance of the Rock in Opposition movement and the bands that started it. You can’t tell this story with just anybody, you must go to the source. The movement was founded in the late ‘70s by European bands Henry Cow, Stormy Six, Univers Zero, Etron Fou Leloublan and Samla Mammas Manna. It is important to mention that of these bands and their contemporaries were direct offspring of Magma. You can hear the influence in every one.

It is a very interesting sub-genre. The music itself was, and is, very challenging in its blending of jazz, rock and classical. Then there is the aspect of this collective going against the status quo of the music industry. Imagine prog with a punk attitude. Here is what gives this film broader appeal. The tale is independantly compelling.

The filmmakers do a nice job of explaining the origins through interviews and archival concert footage. Then it is smoothly carried along through time up to the present. José is the guide as he talks to musicians, fans and other notables in the prog community (who was that Italian lady?). The Skype interviews threw me off at first, but this is the digital age. The story is complete and well rounded. Even though a few artists have more focus than others, there is no feeling that anything has been left out. The coverage of the Once Upon a Time in Belgium (a conglomeration of Univers Zero, Present and Aranis) performance at the end provides a comforting look at the current health of the scene.

Chris Cutler of Henry Cow was the mastermind of the original organization and he provides the real insider view. I was shocked to find out that Giorgio Gomelsky had been working with The Yardbirds and The Rolling Stones before he took on groups like Soft Machine, Gong and eventually the Rock in Opposition concerts. The family lineage was borne out with people like Daniel Denis, Dave Kermann and Joris Vanvinckenroye all working together. What it takes to do it was revealed by one young musician talking about having to be in four or five bands to pay the rent.

The star of the movie is Magma’s Christian Vander. His insights and philosophy tell more of the story than anyone else could hope to explain. After all, it all begins with him anyway. He explains how in 1969 they were not interested in flower power, and wanted to express the reality of the turbulent times. Vander also has the best line at the end when he talks about people always saying it is not possible and says, “It is always possible.” Like Frank Zappa Magma is a category all on its own, which Vander named Zeuhl. Nevertheless he is the godfather of RIO.

Narrowing the field served Adele and José well the second time out. I liked the first film but this one is much better. There is a tangible story line with characters and motivations most people can relate to. It also helps that this particular sub-genre is remarkable even within the prog world. You don’t have to actually like the music to find the subject matter interesting. Perhaps that will be enough to gain “Romantic Warriors II” a wider audience. It certainly deserves it.

Documentary by: Adele Schmidt and José Zegarra Holder

Available for purchase

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3 Responses to “Romantic Warriors II: A Progressive Music Saga About Rock in Opposition”

  1. Excellent write-up as usual! As I said on FB, it complements my review, which is probably a bit too wordy :P… Hope to see you at ProgDay!

  2. I really enjoyed the first film, but this one hit me where I live. It was great listening to the uber concise Chris Cutler and amazing Christian Vander (both drummers!) discuss the challenges facing musicians when they want to do something outside the box (and try to make even a very modest living through their art) Henry Cow and their love of Robert Wyatt gave me a sense of musical community as a late teenager in search of exciting new forms of sound. I only wish there was some coverage of Debile Menthol as well. But, overall, a fantastic and engaging film! Keep ’em coming!!

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