French Letter Music Blog

French Letter

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La vie en rock - the best French music, how Irish acts are getting on in France, and other Parisian pop/rock reports from's lad in Seine.
By aidan on Saturday, July 24, 2010
'Gainsbourg', Joann Sfar's disappointing biopic of France's greatest ever pop star, opens in Irish cinemas on 30 July.

You'll remember that we reviewed it in detail here when it first came out in France back in January. Just to recap: the first half-hour featuring the boy Lucien Ginsburg is energetic and promising, but the rest of the movie (focusing on the adult Serge Gainsbourg) is merely a series of clumsy caricatures with no character development or motivation. Ever wondered how the worldwide scandal and fame of 'Je T'aime (Moi Non Plus)', still pop's most notorious...
By aidan on Thursday, July 22, 2010
Your Paris correspondent finds it the most over-hyped and over-rated Irish album of recent years, but what do we know? Everyone else in Ireland can only rave about Villagers and 'Becoming A Jackal'.

Conor O'Brien of Villagers busking in front of Amelie's greengrocer, Abbesses, Montmartre, Paris, France (Still image from video by Le Hiboo)

This party line has also been adopted by our UK neighbours: Conor O'Brien's recent appearance on 'Later... with Jools Holland' was this week followed up by him popping up on the Mercury Music Prize shortlist for 2010. (Only a begrudger and player hater would dare suggest that he's the token Irish act on the list.)...
By aidan on Thursday, May 20, 2010
Your correspondent predicts that from next week French electronica will have yet another global star. His name will be Arnaud Bernard, his first name reversed to give the nom de pop of Onra.

Broth of a boy: Onra

How do we know this? Well, because next Monday (24 May) Onra will release his new album, 'Long Distance'. It's brilliant, and it should make him very popular indeed.

Truth be told, Onra (right) isn't a complete unknown. He became something of a cult hero on the blogosphere with his 2007 album 'Chinoiseries'. The title is a French-ism that suggests 'Chinese stuff' but actually means 'bureaucratic red tape', and the music was inspired by old Oriental pop records he picked up while visiting Vietnam, his father's homeland.

Now back in Paris, Onra's attention has turned from east to west. 'Long Distance' is drenched in...
By aidan on Sunday, May 16, 2010
At first glance, Parisian four-piece Gush seem like a French equivalent to Kings Of Leon. The band members are all related - brothers Xavier and Vincent Polycarpe plus their cousins Mathieu Parnaud and Yan Gorodetzky. Also, their fashion sense is more back-woods than Left Bank: shaggy hair, vintage leather and the sort of long-sleeve, round-neck, three-button T-shirt that Grizzly Adams would wear as an undergarment.


But soundwise Gush (right) don't follow the Followills down the road of southern-fried blues-rock. The four French lads are certainly retro, but their thing is post-Beatles pop and folk-rock - say, the very early Lennon or McCartney solo stuff, later Beach Boys or a bit of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. The storming semi-acoustic rocker 'No Way', reinforced with steely harmonies, shows the strength of those influences to best effect. Still, don't discount the novelty of Frenchmen who actually sing and write melodies.

By aidan on Friday, May 14, 2010
French summer music festivals tend to be smaller than their international counterparts. There's certainly no Gallic event that compares in size to Roskilde, Sziget, Werchter or Glastonbury. La Route du Rock, for instance, only ever has around two dozen acts.

Eurockeennes 2010

Perhaps the biggest summer music festival in France is Eurockéennes, which takes place on the first weekend of July near the eastern city of Belfort. This year's...
By aidan on Sunday, May 9, 2010
Back in 2007 we introduced you to Tender Forever, a Bordeaux electro act based in Oregon, USA.

Melanie Valera, a.k.a. Tender Forever

As you might recall, Tender Forever is not a group but the nom de pop of Mélanie Valéra (right) - yes, a mere 'de' short of sharing her name with the dominant public figure of 20th century Ireland. (Our non-Irish readers will know Éamon de Valera as the baddie in the film 'Michael Collins'.)

The PR opportunities in Ireland would have been wonderful - an electronica version of 'Amhrán na bhFiann' to close the next Fianna Fáil Árd-Fheis; a residency at Áras an Uachtaráin; a photo op where she symbolically defends a packet of Boland's cream crackers against an English...
By aidan on Monday, May 3, 2010
One of France's bona fide pop legends has just released a new album. 'La Pluie Sans Parapluie' (in English, "the rain without an umbrella") is the twenty-sixth studio album by Françoise Hardy.

Françoise Hardy

You might recognise the name from her 1994 collaboration with Blur on 'La Comédie', a reworking of 'To The End'. However, like with Serge Gainsbourg (of whom more later), there's a lot more to Hardy than a sole Franco-English duet known in the U.K. (For one thing, she had a UK Top 20 hit in 1965 with 'All Over The World'.)

By aidan on Friday, April 30, 2010
Nasal mucus - British and Irish people know it as 'snot', while our north American friends speak of 'boogers'. Note how the European term is a collective noun while the US/Canadian word is countable; this suggests that-

CLUAS gaffer: What are you on about, you eejit?

Your correspondent: Why, it's the intro for a post about a French singer and his cracking new tune. Our readers will want to know the cultural and linguistic backgrou-

CLUAS gaffer: Just post the bloody tune, alright? And keep it respectable - I'm staying at Silvio Berlusconi's villa this weekend and I don't need you embarrassing the site!


Right. Umm... Stéphane Charasse is from Tours in the picturesque Loire region of central France. A former DJ on local indie radio station Radio Béton ('béton' is the French word for 'concrete'), Charasse makes idiosyncratic indie music under the nom de pop of Boogers. His second album, 'As Clean As Possible', is out now.

By aidan on Sunday, April 25, 2010
Our regular readers know by now this blog's taste in pop. Catchy and swaggering, please - and if it's dark and electro-fied too, so much the better. We find that in France it's the boy-girl duos who do this best - Pravda and John & Jehn, for instance.

Pink Noise Party

Joining that esteemed company are Pink Noise Party (right), a Paris pair comprising Joy Buckley and Syd Rey. (Pink noise is a sound frequency just lower than white noise, and is a feature of analogue keyboards.)

What do we know about them? Well, perusing their MySpace page...
By aidan on Friday, April 23, 2010
Rock en Seine might be familiar to you, by name at least. Last year the annual Paris summer festival earned its place in rock history/pub quiz trivia when Oasis split up mere minutes before they were due to go on stage.

Indeed, Rock en Seine has had recurring problems with its choice of headliners. Two years in a row, Amy Winehouse cancelled at the last minute. Such are the perils of booking tabloid-friendly big-name rock stars.

Rock en Seine 2010

It seems that the festival organisers have learned their lesson: this year Rock en Seine goes for weekend-wide credibility rather than putting all their eggs in one basket-case.

And they've done well - Rock en...
By aidan on Sunday, April 18, 2010
Conor O'Brien popped over to Paris last week, playing a solo set as support to Wild Beasts at the Maroquinerie.

Conor O'Brien/Villagers live at the Maroquinerie in Paris, April 2010

(As it happens, it was three years ago this week that his former band, The Immediate, played one of their last concerts at the same Paris venue.)

A packed house saw and heard the Villagers man (right) run through tracks from his forthcoming album, 'Becoming A Jackal'. O'Brien was armed with a three-quarter sized acoustic guitar...
By aidan on Saturday, April 17, 2010
Two Door Cinema Club aren't the only Ulster band making a big impression in France this season.

And So I Watch You From Afar live in concert

Choice-nominated Belfast post-rock foursome And So I Watch You From Afar (right) have done their Gallic chances no harm at all after a storming show at the Flèche d'Or...
By aidan on Sunday, April 11, 2010
You might remember our former blogging colleague Key Notes and his epic Dublin Marathon run last year. (Sample sentence: "It was now all about ignoring the pain in my right knee (akin to replacing your knee joint with a testicle and running on it for 12 or so miles), and just finishing the race.")

This year, all the CLUAS long-distance running responsibility fell on the shoulders of your Seine-side correspondent. And so this morning your blogger ran in the Paris Marathon for the second time. (You'll remember that Joe Strummer once ran the Paris Marathon, as well as the London equivalent twice.)

The 2010 Paris Marathon setting off down the Champs-Elysées.

By aidan on Thursday, April 1, 2010
After her successful L.A. double-act with Beck, Charlotte Gainsbourg is duetting again. But this time she's not straying so far from home.

The award-winning actress, now established as an indie pop star, will release a version of 'Je T'Aime (Moi Non Plus)', the notorious 1969-70 single by her parents, Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin. From 2 April, Serge's birthday, the track will be streamed on Charlotte's website and downloadable from online music-sellers; all profits will go to charity.

Serge and Charlotte Gainsbourg in 1986

By aidan on Friday, March 19, 2010
The story so far: Two French musicians toil away in semi-obscurity, resigned to life under the radar. Little do they suspect that someone is watching them. Now read on:

Some musicians are happy to be local heroes, cult artists avoiding the harsh media glare and 'Hello'-wedding of celebrity.

But no profile is low enough, no cult act obscure enough, no home-made CD-R indie enough to hide you from the CLUAS gaffer. He sees you when you're sleeping; he knows when you're awake.

And so your Paris correspondent received orders: find Natural Snow Buildings!

Natural Snow Buildings

So, Natural Snow Buildings (right) are a duo: he's Mehdi and she's Solange. They come from Bourgogne, the eastern region of France we know in English as Burgundy...
By aidan on Wednesday, March 10, 2010
The first of France's major summer music festivals to announce its 2010 bill is Les Vieilles Charrues. The annual trip to Carhaix in Brittany takes place on 15-18 July.

Les Vieilles Charrues 2010

You might remember that last year's event featured Bruce Springsteen in his only French show of 2009. This year's stars are not as legendary but still attractive enough to ensure a healthy turnout.

Top of the bill are Muse. Now, the English trio are playing two huge concerts at the Stade de France in Paris this June, so it might seem strange that they play another large French show only weeks later. However, Les Vieilles Charrues attracts fans for the unique experience of a festival in the...
By aidan on Sunday, March 7, 2010
The most prominent Irish act in France this month is Declan de Barra. The Waterford man is here for a series of shows around the country between now and May.

Declan de Barra

We've featured de Barra (right) on this blog before - he performs frequently in France, most notably a recent Paris show on the same bill as alt-country legend Josh T. Pearson. He's also been picking up good reviews from the native press.

Fans of acoustic singer-songering will certainly be impressed by de Barra's intensity and poeticism. So far he's made two albums - a 2005 release called 'Song Of A Thousand Birds' and its 2008 follow-up 'A Fire To Scare The Sun' - and alt-folk aficionados should check them out.

On his current spin around la hexagone, de Barra visits places such as Saint Brieuc, Lens and Saint Etienne. This Friday, 12 March, he has a show...
By aidan on Friday, March 5, 2010
Dateline: crack of dawn last Saturday morning. While you were snuggled up all warm in bed, your Seine-side correspondent staggered sleepily across town, up to the Gare du Nord and onto a train. Two hours later, we arrived at St Pancras station. That's how easy it is to go from Paris to London.

It was actually your blogger's first time there. The immediate reason for our long-overdue London debut was a match of rugby at Twickenham, so it was certainly a successful trip. But London made a big impression.

Paris is probably the most beautiful city in the world - and Paris knows it. The French capital can feel quite uptight and self-conscious, as if every Parisian believes he or she lives in the cold-blooded glamour of a fashion show. The sheer beauty of the place can be intimidating, like when you visit someone's new home and fear leaving mud...
By aidan on Wednesday, March 3, 2010
One of our favourite French acts are John & Jehn (right).

John & JehnWe've told you about them before - a French couple living in London and making dark, swaggering electro-rock. John plays Velvet Underground-style scuzzed-down '50s riffs on his guitar, while Jehn looks after the cool Roxy Music-esque analogue synths. We found their first album charming and simple. But then at the Solidays festival last summer we saw them live for the first time - they were sexy and sensational.

Their second album is due out...
By aidan on Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Despite the impression we give in this blog, the most celebrated music venue in Paris is not La Flèche d'Or or La Maroquinerie. Though it may seem strange to us, those busloads of tourists much prefer to visit the Opéra.

The Opéra in Paris

The Opéra (right) is not the only opera house in Paris. Nearby is the Opéra Comique, a charming little roundhouse. Over at Bastille, a modern venue of that name is equally large but ugly like a financial services centre. The Opéra we're talking about is actually called the Opéra Garnier, named after its architect. When you say "the Opéra" in Paris, everyone assumes...
By aidan on Thursday, February 18, 2010
Last summer we brought you on-site reports and reviews from La Route du Rock, the brilliant alt-music festival that takes place in Saint Malo every mid-August.

La Route du Rock, winter/hiver 2010

There are actually two annual La Route du Rock festivals - the 'summer' festival in August is complemented by a 'winter' version in February. And so La Route du Rock Collection Hiver ('winter collection' - how fashionable and French) 2010 happens this weekend, 19-21 February. (In France,...
By aidan on Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Last Saturday was another rough night at the Stade de France for Irish sport, as our rugby team lost badly to a French side that's good but hardly great. Your correspondent was there, shivering with cold and shuddering in despair beside the visiting CLUAS Album Review Air Traffic Controller (in Paris for an inspection of operations at Chateau French Letter).

As ever, though, national pride has been restored by Ireland's pop stars - always good for the Seine-side win that ever eludes our football and rugby heroes.

We mention regularly here Les Inrockuptibles, the weekly music and culture magazine with a quintessentially French taste for florid prose. Die-hard devotees of The Divine Comedy, in recent times Les Inrocks have given the rave to Duke Special, Carly Sings...
By aidan on Wednesday, February 10, 2010
On several occasions we've bemoaned the lack of good French-language pop. By 'good pop' we mean a tune you can whistle and hum and sing in the shower - and songs en français these days tend to be monotonous recitals of precious lyrics.

So, allow us to rave about a rare bit of catchy and melodic French music.

Let's get Bizet! Pascal, that is.

Pascal Bizet (right) is from Nîmes, the south-eastern city whose lasting contribution to world culture is the derivation of the word 'denim' - "de Nîmes". (The word 'jeans' is also French in origin - the earliest pairs of denim trousers were made in Genoa, which in French is called "Gênes.) Metallica fans will know of a 2006 concert DVD called 'Français Pour Un Nuit' that was filmed in the city's Roman amphitheatre.

By aidan on Tuesday, February 9, 2010
We've mentioned Emmanuelle Seigner on this blog before. The French actress released her first album in 2007 with the group Ultra Orange, and subsequently recorded a duet with Brett Anderson. Now her second album has just come out - and it includes a duet far more controversial than that with the Suede singer.

The album (right) is called 'Dingue', pronounced 'dang', which is French for 'crazy'. While her first album was heavily influenced by Lou Reed, this new record harks back to the classic '60s French pop of France Gall and Sylvie Vartan. Not being blessed with a great singing voice, Seigner never strays far from a low monotone - which is quite alright in France, because many singers do this.

By aidan on Monday, February 1, 2010
Excellent news for the French music scene from Los Angeles last night. At the 2010 Grammy Awards, 'Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix' by Phoenix won the prize for Best Alternative Album.

Best Alternative Album, Grammy 2010

The other nominees? 'Everything That Happens Will Happen Today' by David Byrne and Brian Eno, 'It's Blitz' by Yeah Yeah Yeahs, 'The Open Door EP' by Death Cab For Cutie and 'Sounds Of The Universe' by Depeche Mode.

Ironically for an 'alternative' award, this Grammy win will surely be significant in terms of Phoenix's continued progress to American mainstream success. Your correspondent finds this album to be a slight disappointment - but Phoenix are still a great...


Aidan Curran, based in Paris, has been writing for CLUAS since 2004. More info about Aidan...

Is your Irish band playing in France? Your French band playing in Ireland? Let us know, along with anything else you think we might be interested in.

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