The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

01

Warning: 
This blog entry starts out with a flimsy but deceptive rock music angle to lure a reader in. This is a trick. Because - before you know it - it descends full-on into all sorts of political stuff.

Whether the widely derided Rock the Vote initiative had any impact in terms of getting greater numbers of younger voters to vote is something we will probably never know. I for one have my doubts that they did succeed on this front. But in an earlier posting on Rock The Vote I lamented how the initiative did not have any chance (or apparent willingness) to address what are two other key barriers to getting a greater proportion of 18-30 year olds voting, namely:

  • Not being registered to vote (or being registered to do so in another part of the country from where you live / work / study),
  • The (since time-eternal) imposition of the party in power of a week day election.

Now it's not very rawk'n'roll but indulge me a bit here as, below, I delve into the latter of these two points.

The deal is that Ireland is completely out of step with the vast majority of other European countries in terms of when elections are held. Our elections (and referenda for that matter) have always been held on week days, putting a downward pressure on the level of turn out. But take a tour of continental Europe and you'll fine the vast majority of other countries hold their elections on a weekend: France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Portugal, Finland, Romania, Iceland – I could go on - all hold their elections on a weekend. That the turnout in these countries - young voters included - is higher than a weekday Irish election (or referendum) will come as no surprise (sure 84% of the entire French electorate, in between reading entries on Aidan's French Letter blog, turned out not once but TWICE to vote in each of the two rounds of their recent Presidential elections, and both rounds were - bien sûr - held on a Sunday).

I think that even if Rock The Vote were carried out properly (which as a minimum that would mean not launching at the last minute nor having an inane dependency on pointless YouTube clips) is not on its own going to cut the mustard. So what to do? Let me stick my idealistic but naïve political neck out here and say that the only way to be sure it is going to happen is (sharp intake of breath) to get it engraved into the law of the land. Maybe it's piece of legislation that is required, or maybe an amendment to the Constitution – I sure haven't a clue. Either way it ain’t going to happen overnight, if at all. But if there is to be any chance some new stuff must happen. And start to happen now.

Key to it must be to building up some sort of momentum and visibility for weekend voting and why it's a good thing (greater participation in the democratic process, greater mandate for elected politicians, more yuff votes being cast meaning greater interest from politicians on youth issues, bring us in line with our sophisticated continental cousins, etc, etc). If all this becomes more visible, more prominent in our (cough, splutter) national conversations, you never know, the occasional elected politician (or upstart seeking to steal the seat of a sitting chancer politician) might take a bit of notice. They might see it as a potential vote winner, or an issue to embrace in order to differentiate themselves from other vote chasers they're up against. Or so goes the thinking. In fact imagine this was done years ago, we this week could have had FF, as they shadow-box their way towards piecing together a coalition, sitting down with an independent TD who says FF could count on him or her on the condition that they legislate for weekend elections.

Talk etc is fine, but might there be an opportunity in the coming month or two to actually do something? Here's my thinking. Some of the biggest universities in the country (the NUI colleges & TCD, stuffed with plenty of Irish yuff last time I checked) actually have their own political voices in the Oireachtas. Between them NUI & TCD elect 6 senators to the (60 seat) Irish Senate and voting to fill these 6 seats for the next sitting of the Oireachtas closes on July 24th (graduates of these universities each have a postal vote). Now I am fully aware that the Irish Senate does not strut about the place with the same legislative power as the Dail, but – hey – it could be a start.

As a TCD graduate I have a vote (and in the last weeks candidates’ publicity materials have already started to choke up my letter box) so I'm going to give something a whirl. I’ve decided my vote for this year's TCD Senate election will be determined on the basis of who (if any!) among the candidates is committed to supporting legislation for weekend elections and will progress 'the cause' if elected to the Senate. They may be powerless to do anything of real impact - I honestly don’t know - but I am going to drop an email to each candidate, asking for their position on 'the cause' and see how each responds.

I do note though that 2 of the 3 sitting TCD Senators (David Norris and Shane Ross) manage to land generous and regular lumps of coverage for themselves in various Irish meedja outlets, nice potential platforms they could leverage to raise awareness of 'the cause' – if they so desired... Anyway watch this space for any update on what I hear back from the candidates.

Any graduates of NUI out there think this is worth pursuing? If so maybe drop a line to the Senate candidates on your ballot paper and ask them where they stand on this question (your letter box should by now be getting clogged with their propoganda)? Or - more likely - you'd prefer to ask them if they would introduce legislation to ban writers of music blogs from spouting on about politics...

Anyway, there does end the political stuff. Back to some rock and roll, courtesy of Aidan's aforementioned French Letter blog.


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Posted in: Blogs, Promenade
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01

The following is just in from CARVE magazine and I am sure that there are enough budding journos on Cluas to ensure that one of you takes this prize.

"The average human being lives for 2,000,000,000 seconds. We’ve teamed up with Swatch to make sure that you live life to the full this summer and take every opportunity to seize each and every second.

A brand new Swatch Seize the Second van will be touring the length and breadth of the country throughout the summer, visiting a range of music festivals along the south coast. The van will offer festival goers a selection of great summer giveaways as well as the opportunity to take part in a series of impromptu Seize the Second games and activities in an amazing party atmosphere.

We would like to offer one lucky reader the chance to be crowned official Seize the Second reporter of 2007. The winner will be given the chance to experience each of the summer festivals the Seize the Second tour bus will be visiting and report back, with all reviews being posted in the Carve Online website.
Prize will include transport and accommodation for 2 people, plus tickets to festivals.

The Swatch Seize the Second van will be visiting the following UK festivals:
• Beach Break Live , Polzeath Beach – 11th – 14th June
Oceanfest, Devon – 15th – 17th June
• Ripcurl Boardmasters, Newquay – 10th – 11th August


To win this once in a lifetime experience, all you have to do is write 200 words about the best time of your life by 7th June. You've only got a week so hurry up!"

http://www.orcasurf.co.uk/carve/competitions/carve_competitions_seize.htm


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Posted in: Blogs, Sound Waves
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01

There have been so many Irish acts playing in the Paris region lately that your blogger, despite his best intentions, hasn't been able to see them all.

We caught Duke Special and Nina Hynes, of course, but we didn't see The High Llamas, Leanne Harte or The Immediate, who we fear took our absence as a snub, causing existential problems that saw them breaking up on their return to Eire. Sorry about that.

Anyway, we promise to be more diligent - with immediate effect. Neosupervital play at the Fleche d'Or in Paris tonight (1 June). 

We'll be there; report to follow. Promise.

 


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01

"My candidate for the worst movie-star director of all time has to be Clint Eastwood. Because he's still a big star and he stays on budget, Hollywood continues to indulge his directorial fantasies, yet in nearly 40 years of half-assed attempts at directing he has never developed a style of his own. Every directorial chop Eastwood displays was stolen from Don Siegel or Sergio Leone - real filmmakers who taught him what little he knows. Clint's only original theme, present from Play Misty for Me all the way to Million Dollar Baby, is that of a paternalistic white male who exercises the power of life or death over a woman: invariably, he chooses to kill her." Alex Cox, May 25th 2007

Isn't that one of the best Hollywood Sacred Cow assassinations of all time?

It's from a recent Alex Cox column in the Film and Music section of the Guardian newspaper. Alex Cox, for those of who may not be up to speed on your bitter independent film directors, is British and is best known for his 80s low budget output - Sid 'n' Nancy, Repo Man and, perhaps, Straight to Hell starring the late great Joe Strummer. I know him best for his simply brilliant  early 90s late night BBC2 slot, Moviedrome, where he introduced his favourite movies and seemed to have free reign. For young impressionable movie fans like yours truly, Moviedrome's diet of sexy, sometimes violent, but always intriguing cult films was manna from heaven. He's probably more responsible for this blog than anyone.

A list of the movies shown on Moviedrome with some of Cox's characteristically dry intros can be found here. What a list! Opening with The Wicker Man, through to Barbarella, Five Easy Pieces, Get Carter and Badlands, Moviedrome was a movie education. I note that in the 1992 season, Cox showcased a Play Misty for Me directed by Clint Eastwood... ahem...

Cox's assassination of Clint Eastwood may be tongue in cheek (maybe?). But there is definitely some truth in the observation that Eastwood is a director without a signature note. Unlike his contemporaries (Scorcese, De Palma etc) who's movies are identifiable almost from the opening reel, Eastwood's movies cannot be regarded as the work of an auteur. Eastwood's movies are watched almost out of duty (except for the truly wonderful Unforgiven).

Anyway, as Cox is an inspiration for this column, I thought it appropriate that I assassinate my own Sacred Cow. And I invite you all to do the same below.

Lars von Trier. Even saying his name makes me feel bilious. I've walked out of two movies in my life (I've also been marched out of a movie... but that's a subject for an entirely different blog) - one was Out of Africa (I was young and bored). The other was The Idiots, a movie about idiots, directed by an idiot, made for idiots. Von Trier's movies are pretentious, affected, disheartening, wilful, empty, intellectually bankrupt and just plain threatening. Letting his actors stay in character (i.e. actors pretend to be spastic for our entertainment) for hours on set, he even claimed this technique as his own even though the great Robert Altman, in honour of whom this blog is named, had been doing it for years. Yet this sadistic man has devotees all through the movie-loving world. He sagely agrees that he is difficult with his actresses as this extraordinary interview with Newsweek describes under the headline, Meet the Punisher.... Couldn't have put it better myself.


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Posted in: Blogs, Short Cuts
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31

Pair o' strikers: French punk-pop duo PravdaNamed after the Communist Russia news organ and not the Northside Dublin bar, Pravda (right) are a duo of Mac from Paris and Sue from Bordeaux.

They make sneering, arrogant, cooler-than-thee punk-pop which owes so much to Pil, Siouxsie And The Banshees, Joy Division and The Buzzcocks that they've probably had to take out a third mortgage by now.

Of course, that doesn't matter because they sound brilliant. More impressively, they combine pop thrills with haughty Parisian cool, which we wish more French acts would do instead of trying to be sensitive artistes. But there you are.

Listen to some Pravda tracks on their MySpace page - we recommend 'Je Suis French', a song that looks down on you like the peasant you are.

Also, have a look and a listen to the video for their single 'Body Addict':


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31

The best French album ever is Serge Gainsbourg's 'Histoire De Melody Nelson' from 1971, a concept album about an older man's infatuation with an underage English girl (from Sunderland!). Despite this dodgy premise, it's actually a thoughtful and dreamy record.

The album is a showcase for the trademark Gainsbourg sound - soulful basslines, acoustic guitars and swooning symphonic strings. Air built a career from it; acts from Radiohead to Pulp to Massive Attack have been profoundly influenced by it. Gainsbourg's daughter Charlotte drew heavily on her father's style for her fine 2006 album '5:55'.

Jane Birkin (Gainsbourg's partner and co-vocalist), whose heavy breathing and groaning had caused 'Je T'aime (Moi Non Plus)' to be banned by radio stations and condemned by the Vatican, only has a short cameo on this record. This time her sound effects were confined to her horsey laugh, but she features on the album cover. Trivia: on the day the photo was taken she was pregnant with Charlotte but had not yet told Serge.

The highlight is 'Ballade De Melody Nelson', a short but gorgeous little song which opens with one of pop's greatest basslines. Then Gainsbourg croons like a tragic hero and the whole thing is over in less than two minutes.

The video, which you can watch here or below, is just as wonderful, like a message from Planet Groovy. Birkin twirls like a true early-Seventies hippychick, while Serge is just untouchably cool:


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28

The music business has been truly stirred and shaken, and nowhere more so than China, where a handful of state sector of labels are having to co-exist with international majors who have snapped up most of the bankable stars. But everyone is being screwed by piracy. Now, into the gap has stepped Access China Media Solutions, a Chinese company specializing in developing music and gaming technology for mobile phone. Formed as a joint venture between Japan-based software developer Access Co., Ltd., and Seattle-headquartered Melodeo, Inc, in early 2006, the company develops technologies and solutions designed to enable the secure delivery of music and video for the Web and mobile phone.

 Melodeo’s success at delivering music content to mobile users in the US, and its credibility in the music world – the company’s Senior Director of Media Content is Dave Dederer, founding member of rock band The Presidents of the United States of America - probably helped Access China to land an unspecified injection of cash lately from both Sony BMG and Warner. The deal means Access China Media Solutions builds a “platform” of secure technology through which the labels can sell their music downloads to PC and mobile phone users in China.

So Chinese music fans get a more cool, user friendly experience that other providers don’t offer. And music companies get “a secure, economically viable way to distribute their content in China and throughout the world,” as the press releases announcing the deal suggests they’ve been desperately seeking. “Piracy of both physical CDs and online digital music has made these efforts difficult over the past decade.” No surprise there.

Mobile phone networks are, goes the logic, more secure, and have a built-in payment system – you pay for your downloads in your monthly phone bill. Approached yesterday at a technology conference in Beijing Wayne Zhang, the bespectacled, quietly spoken CEO of Access China Media Solutions said the team-up will unleash a “new wave” in the world wide music business. “Together we have the content, proven technologies, and network operators' support to ensure that wireless customers can get their music and multimedia entertainment content the way they want it, whenever and wherever.”

Yet for all Zhang’s promise of nourishing “a vibrant, legitimate digital music business in China” and helping “…recording artists and songwriters by ensuring that they are properly compensated for their work,” the new Access deal seems to be mostly about building the advantage of the global players in China. Both of the big labels are already licensing music to web portals and mobile content providers in China.  

Sony BMG has said in a few thousand interviews and announcements that it’s “excited” about the market for distributing its international and Mandarin repertoire on mobile phones in China. The first of the major labels to open a Chinese representative office (in 2000) Warner was also the first to strike a deal with a Chinese mobile operator to distribute its whole catalogue – it struck an agreement with China Mobile in 2006.

Given Access and Melodeo’s software know how and the vast content banks of the two labels, the deal could be the key to the regional music market. China after all boasts the world’s largest mobile subscription base – almost 500 million users. Delivering digital music and entertainment safely and making money hasn’t always been easy though. While the country boasts nearly 500 million mobile subscribers it’s been a real headache to get everyone onboard: the operators China Mobile and second player China Unicom are often greedy about their slice of the fee from each play. Most mobile phones are made in China but handset and device manufacturers have proven stubborn and slow on innovating since low cost phones sell fastest (and are easiest to make) in China. Content providers, application developers and artists meanwhile have all got their own issues over slices from the pie. Content providers have been accused of ganging up to force lower prices on to labels and musicians.

Using a strategy that we’ve seen here before – China as a “potentially huge market” and a cheap testing ground (talent and business costs are cheap here but consumers’ incomes smaller) - if the arrangement is successful here it could be rolled out to other territories. But success is a big ‘if’ in China, where concepts like copyright and intellectual property remain foreign to many. Sony BMG and Warner will no doubt also be talking to the dozens of websites offering downloads for free and the thousands of Beijing shops jammed with bootleg CDs and DVDs will first have their say.


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Posted in: Blogs, Beijing Beat
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28

In other ways China is increasingly plugging into the worldwide concert network.  

The seven-continent Live Earth concert series which begins in Sydney, Australia, will hit Shanghai as well as Tokyo before going on to South Africa – count the carbon footprint of all those jet-flying tour crews. Part of a campaign led by the Al Gore-connected

Alliance for Climate Protection and other NGOs. Gore is a “Partner” of the Live Earth concert, language which makes the whole venture sound suspiciously like a corporate convention. Here’s more corporate speak: “Live Earth is being produced globally by Control Room, the firm led by Kevin Wall which has “produced and distributed” more than 60 concerts since its founding in 2005 featuring Beyonce, Madonna, Green Day and the Rolling Stones, among others. Is this Control Room’s way of dipping its toe into the China market? Interestingly, there’s a law in China which forbids artists performing on benefit gigs from getting paid. So while Al Gore’s connections may facilitate the mountain of licenses you need for a gig like this in China it’s going to be very interesting to see if and how the concert will make any money here. Considering that the currently very hot Linkin Park are scheduled to play, there will have to be money involved. The band has long had ambitions to play China, where it has a sizeable following, but will Live Earth be a repeat of the Great Wall concert a few year ago, at which ever-hot Alicia Keys and Cyndi Lauper played a disastrously under-attended and badly organized show in a stunning location? The money was supposed to come from the TV rights but quality issues mean that never got aired, and several lawsuits are apparently winding their way through US courts over fees and broken promises. I remember the Great Wall concert as much for catching the last acts sitting in one of the empty VIP armchairs up front - they emptied of invited Communist Party bigwigs and Army brass as the night wore on and got colder – so we wrapped up in the blankets provided and rued our paying 40 euros for the tickets when we could have picked up one of hundreds at the gate for about 5 euros. Tread carefully, Live Earth…


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Posted in: Blogs, Beijing Beat
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28

Only after the event did we find out about Leanne Harte playing at the New Morning in Paris last May 10, as support to (of all people) Mott The Hoople singer Ian Hunter.

It was by no means the Dublin singer-songer's first French capital concert. She was here on October 10 last to play an acoustic show at the Cafe de la Danse, to promote her self-titled debut album.

If, like your correspondent, you missed her show (and at least you probably have the excuse of not living in Paris), Harte has helpfully released a live recording with the Gershwin-esque title of 'An Irishgirl In Paris'. It features acoustic versions of songs from her debut, some new original tracks and a cover of 'Pretty Good Year' by Tori Amos.

From the aforementioned concert and live CD, here's Harte singing 'Hard To Grasp':


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27

Now that the Champions League final has closed the season, and with no tournament this summer, we football addicts must depend on the Tour de France, Kerry v Cork in the Munster Final, British Open golf and so forth, to keep us going until normal life resumes in mid-August.

The French Open tennis championship begins today on the distinctive red clay courts of Roland Garros in Paris. Fans here will no doubt hope for Amelie Mauresmo to provide a rare home victory.

One of those previous French winners, 1983 men's winner Yannick Noah, has since become one of France's biggest pop stars. After retiring from tennis he started performing rock songs and touring small provincial venues, often to mixed receptions of curiosity and derision.

He subsequently adopted a more successful sound of light reggae-pop, and his second career was born. Noah now headlines summer festivals and fills venues around the country, and is arguably more famous now as a pop star than as a tennis star (he also advertises a brand of underpants). His son Joachim, playing college basketball in the USA, is on the way to becoming a huge sports star too.

Born in Cameroon of an African father and white French mother, Noah sings mainly about social issues like racial harmony - though lyrically he tends towards self-help-book feelgood inspiration rather than angry polemic.

Still, he was a vocal supporter of Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal in the recent election and, along with other high-profile stars like footballer Lilian Thuram, he publicly criticised conservative candidate (and eventual winner) Nicolas Sarkozy's heavy-handed approach to immigration policy.

His biggest hit so far has been his catchy 2005 single 'Métisse', about taking pride in his mixed-race identity, which also features France's sharpest rapper, Disiz La Peste. Watch the video below:

 


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Nuggets from our archive

2002 - Interview with Rodrigo y Gabriela, by Cormac Looney. As with Damien Rice's profile, this interview was published before Rodrigo y Gabriela's career took off overseas. It too continues to attract considerable visits every month to the article from Wikipedia.