The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

30

1 May sees a free open-air concert in Paris in support of Segolene Royal, once a French au-pair in Dublin but nowadays the socialist contender in this Sunday's decisive final round of the French presidential election.Campaign posters for Segolene Royal (posted over those of her rival, Nicolas Sarkozy)

The Stade Charlety in the south of the city is expected to be full for an afternoon- and evening-long series of performances by big names from France's chanson francaise scene, none of whom are famous abroad, though. Cali, Renaud, Benabar and Olivia Ruiz (to name the bigger names taking part) make the sort of bland, lyric-heavy skiffle-pop beloved by the bobos (bourgeois bohemians) of Paris. Only rapper Disiz La Peste, writing mainly about France's continuing social and racial problems, promises any sort of abrasive social commentary or spiky sounds.

Meanwhile, Ireland's general election takes place in three weeks - and it's hard to imagine the big names of the Irish singer-songer community mobilising themselves in a similar way, even though (for instance) US military intervention or Israeli-Palestine tension bring out the Victor Jara in the most modestly-talented of acoustic-bashers.

If Irish musicians insist on being political from time to time (although, like our hero Oscar Wilde, we wish they would stick to art for art's sake), couldn't they emulate their French and American counterparts in voicing their opinions on unglamorous domestic subjects (in Ireland: the health service, political sleaze, Traveller-Settled tension) rather than hopping on the bandwagon of this month's fashionable faraway protest issue?


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30

... can be heard here. The Stripes are even more Led Zep than ever. Magnificent!

 


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30

One of the more interesting of the music prizes on offer is the ShortList.

The list this year is remarkable in that it's virtually a distillation of the past 12 months of our CLUAS discussion board faves!... Band of Horses, Beirut, Joanna Newsom, Cat Power. All CLUAS discussion topics over the past months and all very much in with a shout of winning.

For those of you unfamiliar with the "rules" of Shortlist, any album released in the U.S. in 2006 is eligible for nomination as long as it had not been certified gold for domestic US sales of 500,000 or more. The list is chosen by a random selection of musicians - this year that selection really is a fascinating combo. We will have a winning album chosen by Franz Ferdinand, KT Tunstall, Gary Lightbody (Snow Patrol), last year's winner Sufjan Steven and Wayne Coyne (Flaming Lips front man) amongst other luminaries. A long list of 61 has been whittled down to the following:-

1.     Band of Horses - Everything All the Time
2.     Beirut - Gulag Orkestar
3.     Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - The Letting Go
6.     Hot Chip - The Warning
9.     Spank Rock – YoYoYoYoYo
10.   Tom Waits - Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards

For me, the standout is the Tom Waits magnum opus which is rewarding me every time I play it. But if we assume that a living legend really doesn't need another award, then it becomes a quite tricky decision. I'm disappointed that Midlake and Beck didn't make it from the long list as they made, in my opinion, the best albums of their careers. I love the Bonnie Prince record, but it's not the best he's made (you need to go back to 2002's I See A Darkness for that). Cat Power is a little one-paced... Band of Horses have a long way to go. Regina Spektor's Begin To Hope is wildly uneven as the CLUAS review pointed out.

I reckon it will boil down to a straight choice between Hot Chip and (the wildly over-rated?) Joanna Newsom. And Newsom will win. 


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27

If I had to chose one stand out live performance from many years of concert going then, bearing in mind that I have been privileged to have had the chance to see many of the greats such as John Lee Hooker, Lou Reed, Sir Peter Maxwell Davis and Frank Sinatra live, it would have to be the performance by Ensemble Modern & Synergy Vocals of Steve Reich's "You Are (Variations)" and "Music for 18 Musicians" in the National Concert Hall on Sunday 19th February 2006 in the presence of the composer. Reich is often lazily described as the Father of Minimalism but, it would be more accurate to say that he is a composer who values rhythm over melody. This is most clearly seen in his 1970-1971 masterpiece "Drumming". Commentators often state that Reich's trip to Africa in the summer of 1970 inspired the piece which is in four parts that are played without a pause and may last from 55 to 75 minutes in performance depending on the number of repeats but Reich himself points out that’s what that trip to Africa provided was, "confirmation. It confirmed my intuition that acoustic instruments could be used to produce music that was genuinely richer in sound then that produced with electronic instruments." Commentators also mistakenly point out that the piece is also influenced by his study of Balinese Gamelan Semar Pegulingan and Gameland Gambang at the American Society for the Eastern Arts in Seattle and Berkley, California but this study period did not occur until 1973, two years after the completion of 'Drumming". 

Surfing seems to attract more than its fair share of bongo bashers and bores who drone on endlessly about "Bali and Indo" so you could say that "Drumming" would appeal to them on some level but that doesn't alter the fact that it is a wonderfully complex and rich composition and ironically it has become a touchstone for succeeding generations of pecussive composers who work with electronic instruments. Indeed, Reich's own record company Nonesuch Records even produced an album entitled "Reich Remixed" in 1999 featuring remixes of excerpts of "Drumming" by both Fourtet and Mantronix Maximum Drum Formula but these are but a pale shadow of the original. In addition, Reich's influence can be clearly heard on the Arcade Fire track 'Keep The Car Running" where the opening mirrors that of the opening of "Music for 18 Musicians"

Anyway, to give you an easy to digest sample of Reich's muse here is a 1min 7sec clip of a live performance of his piece "Clapping Music" courtesy of YouTube.

Clapping Music (1972)
two musicians clapping
published by Universal Edition (London)
both musicians amplified

Details courtesy: www.stevereich.com

After which you can enjoy an excerpt from his 1983 work "Eight Lines".

Eight Lines (1983)
for ensemble
2fl(=picc).2cl(=bcl)—2pft—strings(2.2.2.2.1)
For performances where the concert hall has a capacity of greater
than 200 the flutes (but not piccolos) & clarinets/bass clarinets and pianos
must be amplified

 


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26


 A Monday night and an RMB350 ticket price to a rock concert in a club over a karaoke bar, next door to a dim sum restaurant. The taxi driver knew the dim sum restaurant – that’s how I found the club. Rushing to get there early, expecting big traffic jams – it’s Sonic Youth – you get a jolt on remembering hey, this is China and no more than one percent of this city of 17 million know who or what Sonic Youth are or that they’re playing in China’s capital tonight.

For those in the know, inside the Star Live, it was an it-event. Local godfather of yaogun (rock n roll) Cui Jian arrived wearing trademark red star baseball cap and army fatigues with a gaggle of wrinkling maybe groupies (his early 1990s period?) in tow. Like many of the local musicians he was in the house to see what he can learn. Down on the stage there were glitches, like when a blonde, catty looking Kim Gordon was left swearing after the mike failed to work for half her first song. She recovered and danced and demanded attention like a grunge goddess should.

"We've waited a long time for this," said shaggy haired guitarist Thurston Moore by way of greeting. He’s surely one of the few rock stars who changes his guitar but not the strap – the man is too tall. A lot of the pre-concert banter among the foreign fans was worries the group would go all experimental on Beijing and send everyone home. They didn’t. After opening with Candle from Daydream Nation and then followed it with another crowd pleaser, Incinerate. For much of the rest of the way it was mostly the best of the rest of the band’s long career, including plenty more from well received Daydream Nation album. To signal their approval the crowd dispatched a pair of long johns, of the kind beloved of most Chinese men, to the stage. There was plenty of applause and a couple of crowd surfs when Thurston got back to the mike for more head-bopping stuff. Like Teenage Riot for the first encore.

The band dedicated Kool Thing to "our friends Carsick Cars," adding, "sorry you couldn't perform." Local support act Carsick Cars had mysteriously been blocked from playing. Ministry of Culture’s orders, said the doorman when we asked on arrival at the venue. Others whispered it was something to do with Sonic Youth – not Carsick Cars – having played the Free Tibet concerts. A youthful love-them-or-hate them group of Beijingers, Carsick Cars even got a mention in the state press, as the locals lucky enough to play for superstars Sonic Youth, which made the late ban an even ruder surprise for the group, which learned their trade off bootleg Sonic Youth albums in Beijing school dorms.

Those in situ for the 8pm Carsick Cars slot were left waiting till 9.30pm, when Sonic Youth took the stage. Noone had thought to put a poster up on the door or to send a someone out with a bullhorn – a common sight at Chinese tourist sites and train stations. It was one of those elephant-in-the-corner moments when the powers that be in China put their foot down and no one wants to talk about it. It’s probably also down to the lousy service and lack of customer awareness that characterizes a lot of restaurants here.

Anyway, the lack of an opening act left time to buy beer and the red t-shirts with a masked Asian-looking nurse’s face which were produced by the concert’s local production company Split-T. Left overs from the band’s Nurse tour, said someone in the know. A steal for foreigners at RMB100 (ten euros) but you’ll get three tshirts in some of Beijing’s markets for that.

All the musicians present, like Xiao Rong from punks Brain Failure, were delighted that Sonic Youth were in Beijing. But most were all agreed the band wouldn’t be making any money off the dates. “Flight cases,” says Xiao Rong. Brain Failure travel take their guitars as carry on luggage and borrow amps and drums when they tour. Sonic Youth and NOFX, which played Beijing shortly before, carry a few trailer loads of gear wherever they fly. Payable if you have a string of dates in 5,000 – 10,000 capacity venues, but not in China where the clubs the band played fit no more than 2,000 people.  

Still, this was probably the first time Beijing has filled a decent venue for a decent international rock act. Suede played a third-filled Chaoyang Gymnasium in 2003 and the following year Deep Purple were giving away tickets outside another fairly ill-suited venue -the Worker's Gymnasium - for their loss-making show. The Rolling Stones and James Brown in the past year played money-mad Shanghai, to 90 percent expat turn-outs.

Despite some local press and blogs calling the crowd at 80 percent Chinese, the Sonic Youth Beijing show was more like 60 percent foreign, 40 percent local. The security took tickets and then employed elaborate infra-red torches to check people back in after a trip to the toilet.

What it all means is hard to tell. Consider that a full day’s music at Beijing’s Midi experimental music festival (of which more anon) costs RMB50, the show was more a came-and-be seen moment rather than a came-and-conquered-China event. It was a great show, but my favourite memory is of local lecturer and music guru Michael Petis – he runs the D-22 club and hired Sonic Youth as a house band for a club in New York in the 1980s – waiting outside with a spare ticket to pass on to one of the many Chinese musicians who couldn’t afford the ticket price.


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26

From after-show beers and bowls of jiaozi in Beijing to budget hotel rooms, stuffy tour buses and MTV appearances in America, Brain Failure have come a long way. After ten years of swinging their way up the greasy pole of Chinese rock, Brain Failure are international rock stars, complete with lyrics worthy of parental advisory stickers and exhaustion-induced tour cancellations.

Now singing in English, they’ve been on MTV, ABC and numerous Japanese TV stations. They’ve even been on Chinese national TV. The Brain Failure boys took some time of from their China Tour to do a fashion shoot for Trends Magazine, a local glossy lifestyle magazine promoting the gentrification of China. Looking cool, hair-gelled and, well, rock stars, the Trends-endorsed Brain Failure also feature posters given away to early buyers of the band’s Beijing To Boston DVD produced by American label Interpunk.

Despite their poster-boy status Brain Failure haven’t given up entirely on the anarchaic spirit of punk as represented by the Sex Pistols and the Ramones. There’s a line “Won’t you see my daddy in the KTV” sung to sound suspiciously like a request for late night oral fooling about. Naughty but nice. The Clash it ain’t but the band does address deeper issues: like the alienation and stigma of being a Chinese punk rocker, in ‘No Dirty Punx’ and the excitement and bewilderment of pre-Olympics Beijing: ‘2008.’

 

Now touring abroad as often as they’re at home in China, Brain Failure have the look of confidence and self-satisfaction about them. True, the band knows better than most other Chinese bands how to put on a show. A cloud of steam rose from a heaving, roaring crowd at the Club 13 recently as the band blasted through a 90 minute set of mostly new songs. It was part homecoming, part launch party for the band’s new CD, Coming Down to Beijing.

 

It seemed strange to hear lead singer Xiao Rong ‘s between-song banter in Chinese. Everything else about this outfit – and its songs – was American, including the lyrics, staccato blasts of cheeky, hoary English sung in a laboriously American twang by vocalist Xiao, whose trademark cropped and died leopard skin hairdo forms the cover art for the new CD.

 

The crowd loved it. Outside the merchandising stall did a brisk trade in band t-shirts, arm bands and CDs, all bearing the disctinctive bi-lingual Brain Failure logo in neatly chiseled script hanging over a diamond shape. Inside a group of Chinese and foreign girls at a table above the mosh pit wore their pink Brain Failure t-shirts tight, dangling cigarettes and arching forward to take photos.

 

On stage, the band looked cocky enough to deserve the attention of groupies. Bassist Ma Jilang goaded the crowd surfers near the stage to do their worst. Guitarist Dee Dee Wang Jian – the name appendage is a mark of respect to the Ramones – poses and drummer Xu Lin bangs his drums like a sledge hammer on bricks. Talking between post-show bottles of beer Xu explains how he soaked up plenty of sticks tricks from drummers and drum technicians – “I didn’t know what that term meant before” - during long stints playing and recording in the US and Japan.

 

Xu had the services of several drum technicians, credited in the album sleeve notes, when the band recorded at The Outpost, the producer being Ken Casey of Dropkick Murphys, a Pogues-inspired Irish-American punk outfit with a growing fan base in North America and Europe.  That’s good company to be keeping for an ambitious punk band. Brain Failure is one. "Coming Down To Beijing” features a guest appearance from Dicky Barrett of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, a cult favourite on American college radio.

 

Dropkick Murphys’ Mark Orell plays organ on "Fall In Love 2008" while horns were added by good friends and tourmates Big D & The Kids Table, with whom Brain Failure co-released a CD of both bands’ songs. Similarly, when Brain Failure played the Punk Spring 07' Festival, one of the biggest punk rock festivals in Japan it was with international names, and friends, the Dropkick Murphys, NOFX and Jimmy Eat World. A Japanese manager and record label, Bad News Records, have yielded the band plenty of gigs in Tokyo.

 

But how Chinese is Brain Failure anymore? Not very. And maybe that’s the point. After a decade playing Beijing’s limited circuit of rock bars, the band sees its future in more lucrative territories. Aside from singing in a language most of their compatriots don’t speak, the band recently hosted a show from legendary punk club CBGB's in New York which aired on MTV China, a show accessible to only a minority of fee-paying Chinese TV viewers. The band recorded new versions of two of their most successful songs for Turn on the Distortion, a CD only available in Japan.

The band has even succumbed to the classic proof of cock-rock stardom: burn – out. Some of the upcoming China tour dates were cancelled due to health reasons. “The band is resting and will be on the road in no time,” explained the group’s American press officer, Josh Smith to excuse a string of concert cancellations in late 2006. The group could be excused. After five months recording and busing around America with the likes of legendary carousers like the Dropkick Murphys, Against All Authority and Rat City Riot, the group deserved a rest.

 

 

 


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26

I just got a press release in for this CD and thought I would let y'all know about it. "Chairman Of The Board" is a compilation of rare surf soundtracks all but lost to the genre that created it. From 1964-74 film directors immersed in the surfing culture commissioned original music for their cinematic creations, much of which has been lost or gone unnoticed until now. Harmless Records will release this 19-track compilation on 7 June.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check out  www.myspace.com/surfthechairmanoftheboard for more info.


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26

Ok, I got a new DVD copy of this film cheap off Ebay a while back when I was flirting with the idea of moving up to a longboard and certainly this rather goovy, mellow, laidback flick did have a positive effect of my view of what longboarding entailed until, that is, I had to actually pick up one of those 9' 6" monsters and stagger to the beach with it under my arm. Nevertherless, 'Singlefin: Yellow" is one of my favourite surf flicks because it is actually attempting to be a film and not just a randomly edited collection of extreme surfing footage cut together to some rubbish speed metal soundtrack. The film is basically about a a 9'6" single fin, yellow, classic longboard shaped by west coast shaper Tyler Hatzikian who then sends it on to the first of a series of surfers with the message to surf the board until they are done before passing it on again. The board travels around the world, making it as far as Australia and Japan before it ends up in Hawaii in the hands of Bonga Perkins who surfs it in Pipeline before shipping it back to Tyler. Most of the surfers I know don't like the movie because it is too slow in pace and doesn't feature enough jacked up action but don't let that put you off. The best part of it is the soundtrack which is comprised of a series of tracks by underground West Coast artists and my copy of the film came with a free CD of the music used in the film. The artists featured include Euphone, Bluebird, The Dylan Group, Mighty Flashlight & Calvin Keys.

Anyway, here is the trailer for the movie .

 

 

 


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24

Oh dear. The Immediate’s appearance at La Flèche d’Or in Paris on 21 April was actually as a tacked-on fifth-on-the-bill opener for a show of four other bands - the Dublin group weren‘t even named on the official posters.Now you see them, now you don't: The Immediate

Even worse, they started much earlier than their advertised time of 9:00 - at 8:15, in fact. As a result, we didn’t see them at all. And, as the bar staff later told us, not many other people got to see them either. Eight to nine is evening-mealtime in France, and walk-up punters would still be at dinner either at home or in the restaurant.

So, be careful all you Irish bands visiting Paris and France: unless you’re at a festival, make sure that you don’t get landed with a dead pre-9pm timeslot!

As an aside, three of the other four bands on the night were great. The Wombats (from Liverpool) play energetic Arctic Monkeys-style pop but with a little bit more melody. Marybell Katastrophy are a catchy and interesting electro-pop band from Denmark with (blush) three ferociously photogenic Danish girls on vocals, guitars and synths. And Norwegian rap-funk-punk outfit Datarock were a blast: like a soundclash of ‘Rock The Casbah’, ‘Girls On Film’ and ‘You’ve Got To Fight For Your Right To Party’. Definitely three European bands worth listening to.

As for our own lads, they should have better luck on 24 April when they play a Dad Records showcase gig at a very impressive venue called Showcase, located under the Pont Alexandre III (the ornate gold-decorated bridge that leads onto the Invalides, Paris-lovers).

 

Did YOU see The Immediate play at the Fleche d'Or on 21 April? If so, contact our dedicated Missing Bands Unit at frenchletter(at)cluas(dot)com. Your blogger regrets that there is no reward for finding missing bands.


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24

Planning your summer holidays? Looking for a music festival in Europe? Thinking of coming to France? How about this for a line-up: Muse, Arcade Fire, !!!, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Cold War Kids, LCD Soundsystem, Art Brut, Lily Allen, Klaxons and others - all playing at the two-day Garden NEF festival at Angouleme in the south-west of France on 20-21 July.

Tickets for the festival are still available at the time of posting. If you only have cupla focail en francais, never fear - French ticketseller FNAC has an English-language online service where you can book your tickets in English. Tickets are €41 per night are €66 for a weekend pass.

Angouleme is in the south-west of France, not far from Bordeaux, Limoges or Poitiers. The TGV stops there, which means it's only 2 hours 20 minutes from Paris by train.

The full line-up is:

20 July: MUSE + LILY ALLEN + !!! (Chk Chk Chk) + COLD WAR KIDS + MUMM RA.

21 July: ARCADE FIRE + CLAP YOUR HANDS SAY YEAH + LCD SOUNDSYSTEM + KLAXONS + ART BRUT + ANIMAL COLLECTIVE. 

 

Feel free to contact this blog in the more intimate surroundings of frenchletter(at)cluas(dot)com. Your blogger regrets that he cannot "give Leaving Cert French grinds".

 


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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.