The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

04

"Two waves diverged in the ocean, and I,
I rode the one less surfed,
And that has made all the difference"

Robert 'Waimea' Frost 

Ok, I am being cheeky but I have never been that gone on roads. Suffice to say that I am just back from a surfari in a seldom surfed part of Spain which most surfers would say is not worth a visit. More fool them because from beginning to end it was an exquisite experience.

There are trips where nothing goes right, my surfari to Portugal last October being one such example, and there are trips where nothing goes wrong, as if God himself was your route planner. The first inkling that we were on to a winner was when we were in Arrivals and this dude comes up to me and says, “Hey, you guys are surfers right, listen I am a surfer too, lets exchange numbers and I’ll show you around”. It turns out he was in the US Navy, had served two tours in Iraq as a paramedic stitching up the wounded in theatre and as a reward was now living in Spain. He was also as good as his word, staying in contact with us all week, bringing us to ‘locals only’ spots off the beaten track, taking us on a sherry crawl (Muscatel Pasa, it’s the best) and regaling us with stories such as the time his upper lip was cut in two by a glass wielding thug in a bar and how he calmly talked his way past the bouncers holding him aside, knocked the guy out and then went home to stitch up his mouth with Superglue, which he informed us had been developed by the US Military to cope with war wounds. He also gave us a cast iron way to deal with heavy locals at breaks you want to surf; just paddle into the middle of them with a six pack of high quality beer on the deck of your board and hand them out whilst asking how many of the surfers in the water were actually locals, all the time keeping a big smile on your face.

Probably the highlight of the trip surf wise was when I got up at 7:30am one morning and strolled to the nearest break ten minutes away only to discover beautiful, empty, green, glassy waves. I rushed back, woke up one of my compadres and, realising we didn’t have the ticket to the car park where our rental car was stashed (it was with the guys in another hostel who were asleep and had their phones off) but did have the key itself, we decided to simply change in the car park and then walk across the town in our wetsuits with our boards under our arms, past amazed locals, to the break which we surfed alone for two perfect hours before getting out and, dripping wet, walking back past more amazed local cops and tourists to the car park and an incredulous security guard. I think we even whistled the theme to, “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly”, as we strode. Sweet as. When our other mates picked up the many messages we had sent in a futile attempt to dial them in on the action, they were both gutted and surprised as I am not known for going on dawn patrol. To be honest, I don’t do mornings…ever.

When we were not surfing we were enjoying the wonderful tapas, the crisp cervesa, the incredible warmth and hospitality of the gaditanos, the constant sunshine which produces a magical, luminous quality of light and the sight of endless numbers of beautiful Spanish Senoritas (very gorgeous but also very Catholic). All of this was sound tracked to Van Morrison’s ‘Astral Weeks’, an album of rare genius that I had the deep satisfaction to introduce to my circle of friends when we were in our teens; I think one of my musician pals even blurted out, “Astral Whats?” at the time, a lapse that he has never lived down. I tell you one thing, there is nothing like sitting on a warm sandy beach somewhere distant, after a surf, watching the sun go down as the local honeys catch the last rays of the day in front of you, with ‘Sweet Thing’ playing on the earphones, mixed in with the sound of waves breaking on the shore. It’s what Brian Wilson used to write about. Simply sublime.


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04

Having loved their latest album "Wincing The Night Away", we went to see The Shins live at the Elysee Montmartre last Sunday night. It was fairly boring, a big disappointment.

In truth, I should have expected as much when lead singer James Mercer came on stage - short hair, trimmed beard and shirt-and-tie set making him look like Babydaddy's brother in the civil service. Finicky retuning between every song, almost no interaction with the audience (it was his lackeys - sorry, bandmates - who fulfilled that obligation) - in short, the image of a humourless muso completely at variance with the joyous, romantic impression his lyrics and melodies give.

The concert opened with the first four songs off the album, in the same order and reproduced note-for-note - always a sign of overseriousness at work. The huge crowd (about a thousand people, I guess) seemed fairly sedate from where I was standing - only a rockin' encore cover of 'Girlfriend' by Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers brought people to life i.e. a bit of jumping and excitement.

But then, Richman is a master live performer who writes all his songs with a view to entertaining a concert audience. By contrast, The Shins seemed to think they were playing in the Louvre and we would just watch in reverential awe. Only guitarist Dave Hernandez seemed to get into the rock n'roll spirit - pulling rawk poses, talking to the crowd and (best of all) chopping out some killer riffs. I'd like to see HIS band if he ever has one.

And it was all over at 10pm! Now I know there are curfews in some Paris venues but it didn't help dispel the final verdict of a thoroughly boring night out. So out we spilled onto Pigalle, the seediest street in Paris, like leaving midnight mass in Temple Bar.

The concert was filmed for eventual DVD release - probably with the title "Yawning The Early Evening Away". Get the album; leave the tickets.

Anyway, you can judge for yourself - here's 'New Slang' (the song that Natalie Portman in the film 'Garden State' says will change your life) live from the Elysee Montmartre last Sunday:



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03

Very impressive show by Nina Hynes at the Flèche d'Or in Paris last night, performing tracks from her new album 'Really Really Do' (featuring her backing band The Husbands). You can read a full review in the CLUAS gig review section. Nina Hynes

Despite recurring technical problems, the songs sounded great - catchy, dreamy pop songs along the lines of Saint Etienne and Goldfrapp. The album promises to be one of the best Irish releases of the year.

Having surmounted the sound problems during the show, afterwards she was well able to deal politely with your blogger interrupting her while she was chatting with a former collaborator of hers - none other than Hector Zazou, the esteemed French electronica producer most famous for his 1995 album 'Songs From The Cold Seas'.  In fact, Nina is a former Paris resident herself, having spent several summers here in her late teens.

Now based in Berlin, Nina's in the middle of a short jaunt around Europe, taking in all the major rock capitals: Berlin, Paris and next stop The Stables in Mullingar on Sunday 8 April, followed by shows in Dublin (13 April at The Sugar Club) and Cyprus Avenue in Cork on 1 May.

Check out Nina's new material, tour dates and snazzy white outfits at www.ninahynes.com or www.myspace.com/ninahynesandthehusbands


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03
(This is the first entry in my new blog which will cover music and related technology stuff)
 
 
 
Muse.ie logoBack in 1999 when I started CLUAS the most visible music website in Ireland was www.muse.ie. At that time it was run by Eircom's digital publishing division (christened with a - of course - cooler than thou name: 'Rondomondo').
 
Remember, this was the time before the dot com bubble burst and those working for this new interweb thing were going to become masters of the universe. Or something like that. Ronodomondo somehow persuaded some moneyed (but gullible) people to hand over loadsa dosh to help them get a place on the frontline of this, er, new world order. Rumour has it that the Rondomondo boyz'n'gals then - holy Batman - splashed a good wad of it on flash offices and even flashier dot com furniture, all necessary for the cause of course).
 
Anyway, roll the clock forward now to early 2000 and in strides the pin to burst the dot com bubble, neatly pricking Rondonmondo on its way. So before you could double-click your gold-plated mouse it was farewell to muse.ie. Until now that it is.
 
Yes, the muse.ie domain name was bought by an Irish company called MediaSpace who last November announced they would be 'shortly' relaunching Muse.ie website. The launch date kept getting pushed back, until a few days ago when it was finally launched.
 
However at the end of January I managed to find a rear door to the muse.ie site that was wide open from where I could sneak in and see the site as it was at that stage in its development. It was looking good even then but there were clearly a number of rough spots to be sorted out. One of these rough spots however is not just still in place but was exploited by one of the site's first users. Read on…
 
On my first visit to the new version of muse.ie my eyes were drawn to the first album review they published . A review of a new release by someone called Vanessa Holmes (no, I'd never heard of her either).

Muse.ie album review section

The review itself had a pungent fishy odour about it. First up, it read like a very badly written press release ("You can here samples of the CD album right now at…"), then the very generous rating by the reviewer (a whopping 9/10) raised my eyebrows a notch or two. (Update: the review has since been removed by Muse.ie from the site, however here is a screendump of the original review that allows you to read it in its entirety).
 
I decided to dig a bit deeper. The review was written by "millimills2000" and her muse.ie profile gave a load of information about her, including a link to her myspace page. And it was here that my worst fears were confirmed. Scrolling down the MySpace page I found a comment left for "millimills2000" by none other that the esteemed artist who was the subject of the review in question - Vanessa Holmes - which Vanessa signed (wait for it) "Love Always, Your Niece Vanessa"…

Muse.ie: Vanessa Holmes comment

Well there you have it. Up and coming bands of Ireland, take note - the time has finally arrived to mobilise your Aunties to your cause! Muse.ie is here, the 21st century platform for Aunties (and sure Uncles too, why not?) to publish their glowing reviews of their nieces' and nephews' carefully crafted musical art. Just get them to sign up for a free muse.ie user account and global domination of music markets is yours for the taking.
 
Yes, yes, yes, excuse the facetiousness of the last paragraph. What is going on here is that muse.ie is allowing anyone to publish any review of any act they want without any editorial intervention. This is crying out to be abused and so it was as soon as it was out of the traps. Now - to their credit - Muse.ie seem to be aware of this as in the last 24 or so hours as they changed the title of the reviews section (where the offending article appears) from "Reviews" to "Your reviews". Even so is it really sensible to present yourself as a music magazine (with an appointed Editor who previously oversaw NME Ireland) but then allow any review of any act written by absolutely anyone to be published without as much as a momentary check by a lowly sub-editor? This functionality should never have seen the light of day and should - IMHO - be dropped.
 
(ASIDE: We on CLUAS have in the past had similar attempts by bands - or those close to them - to submit glowing reviews of themselves but we were able to screen them before publication. A propos, I invite you to also savour my all-time favourite rejected review submitted to CLUAS).

Despite all the above I have to say muse.ie is impressive in its ambition and the richness of its functionality. Will it be a success? I genuinely hope it will (it'll be a darn good place for me to steal new ideas for CLUAS and, sure, a rising tide floats all boats does it not?). It will certainly attract a good number of Irish music fans.
 
I do however note that Muse.ie wants bands and fans to create their own webpages, upload their own music and videos. Sound somewhat familiar? Will users and bands really want to maintain yet another profile page on muse.ie in addition to their own websites, MySpace & Bebo pages and blogs? Only time will tell.
 
In the meantime, be sure to call up your Aunties before muse.ie pull its Auntie-friendly review submission service!
 

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31

Nina Hynes and her band The Husbands are playing in Paris on Monday 2 April at La Flèche d'Or, for many reasons the best live music venue in the city.

First of all, it's free - and unlike other 'free' music bars in Paris you're not constantly being harrassed by aggressive floorstaff into continually buying an overpriced 'consommation', the obligatory drink often imposed instead of a cover charge (for this reason, stay well away from the Guinness Tavern near Les Halles, no matter how much the guidebooks rave about its great live bands). In other words, you can just come for the music. The staff are chilled out and friendly - even the doormen.

La Flèche d'Or, Paris Secondly, the music is usually great - three or four young, up-and coming bands from France or elsewhere before a DJ comes on at midnight. The current Paris fad is for Franz Ferdidand-like art-school indieness, sung in English - but there's room for punk, guitar pop, techno and even Balkan and Turkish folk music (courtesy of a recent show by French actor Tcheky Karyo). Walking up without checking who's playing is a no-risk way to have a good night out.

And the venue itself is impressive. A former train station, it's large and spacious, with room to move and breath. But be warned - no doubt for an authentic rock n'roll experience, the toilet (singular and unisex, like in most old French bars) is of 'Trainspotting' quality.

La Flèche d'Or is in the 20th arrondissement (not far from Père Lachaise, all you Doors fans!), a direct metro ride from Montmartre on line 2, and there are some really great little bars and restaurants in the vicinity. Our own favourite is the Bar de la Reunion just down the street, where the pool table is red and the walls are covered in photos and texts of Spanish and North African poets.

If you like live music and you find yourself in Paris some night, here's where you should go.

* More info (for punters and bands) is available at www.flechedor.fr or www.myspace.com/flechedor

Contact this blog with discretion by email at frenchletter(at)cluas(dot)com

Check out Aidan's previous articles in the French Letter archive


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27

Recorded on 16 March 2007, below is Duke Special performing 'Freewheel' live on French music programme Taratata. The song is taken from the Duke's fairly wonderful 'Songs From The Deep Forest' album. 

Unfortunately, the clip ends just as the presenter calls Mr Wilson and the lads over for an interview - and as I haven't seen the full programme and haven't yet found a longer clip, I can't yet enlighten you as to whether they do a Damo Rice and speak in French!


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26

Muma’s World

Written off for dead, art rockers Muma has a new album in the works

 

In spring time

Teachers are all dead

Muma arrives in revelry

Smilingly

In darkness

Continuous dancing steps

Give out decadent looks

In the whole festival

The subsequent thing is up to you

"Dancing Step" by Muma

 

Muma Chinese rock bandJeroen Groenewegen spent six hours at Amsterdam airport convincing uniformed Dutch immigration police to release a band just off the afternoon flight from Beijing. A mix-up about the purchase of air tickets meant that Muma didn’t have time to get their visas right. The military police eventually let them go, after an awful lot of convincing. It was so rock and roll, the way Groenewegen recalls it. “Musicians are not known for their talents for applying for visas or arranging airline tickets. They just want to play their music.”

 

Fresh from the airport, Muma rocked the Melkweg, a club which has hosted a who’s who of international rock acts. “They gave a great show,” says Groenewegen, one of the organizers of Amsterdam’s China Festival in the autumn of 2005. While freeing the second band from the arrivals hall Groenewegen missed the first gig, by Chinese glam rockers Second Hand Rose.

 

A hall full of Dutch rock fans swayed to dark rockers like Dancing Step and Party. But you could hear a pin drop in the roomy Melkweg when Xie Qiang and keyboardist Feng Lei came to the piano for Fei Fei Rong. On the band’s Jelly Empire alblum the song comes across as a crackly love paen to Xie’s wife and baby, proof that Muma could be sweet as well as sour. There’s something about the Muma sound which in its maturity sets it apart from the band’s peers.

 

Maybe some credit is due to the foreign production teams - a previous album was mastered in Australia – but Muma has been more comfortable than most other Chinese bands at integrating, Radiohead-style, electronic and vocal tinkerings that other Chinese bands have use as add-ons to cover something lacking in their own sound.

 

Often compared to those dealers in darkness, Joy Division, Muma is still around because of its songwriting class. Like Xie Tianxiao, with whom they shared the stage at the 2006 Beijing Pop Festival, Muma is an act that stands on the quality of its songwriting. Penning mournful tunes of youthful love, break ups and reunions the band set a high mark with their 1999 debut album, Muma. Existential ponderings like Boggling became underground hits.

 

Nearly ten years together and doing press for their fourth album (it will be released in May) the original members of Muma met in Beijing in the mid-90s, when they studied at Beijing Midi Music School and swapped Doors and Joy Division tapes. Vocalist and guitarist Xie Qiang dropped a chance to follow his father into the railway company in Hunan province, hitching a ride to Beijing instead where, 17 and broke, he swopped slices of Guns & Roses and Iggy Pop with bassist Cao Cao, from Sichuan.

 

There’s Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd guitars and a lot of the lyrical darkness of Nick Cave and Tom Waits in Xie’s lyrics, all written in poetic form. There was religion in the mix too. Zhjiang-born drummer Hu Hu was a devout Buddhist taken to meditating before band practice.

 

After a debut gig in 1998 at the now-defunct Howl Bar the three southerners had a band and gigged in bars across town. “Music was a wall to keep out the more mundane things of life. We didn’t have any money, but we didn’t want to do covers in bars. Playing music is really too profound for that...” says Xie, who got his biggest gig at last year’s Beijing Pop Festival, opening for Placebo. Muma got the gig after after signing to the Rock for China label, a subsidiary of the festival organizer. That meant walking out on Modern Sky, the group’s long-time label, a topic the band is shy to discuss.

 

The third album “Pudding Empire” was the band’s coming of age. Slickly produced and packaged, but for the pointless alternative versions of the ballad FeiFei Run and the remix, the album has become a staple of most Chinese rock collections. It was also the most upbeat work by a band now older and, in Xie Qiang’s case, a father.

 

Whatever about the gloomy lyrics, it’s facile to present Muma as the voice of a new breed of angsty Chinese youth, as many local music writers have done. Well-coiffed and dressed in shades of beige, green and brown with jeans and stripey t-shirts, the band stand amidst urban weeds under a night sky in a poster inserted in the sleeve of Jelly Empire. Muma look like models for one of the cookie-cutter Hong Kong clothing brands beloved of China’s youth who, like many of their Asian peers, pass weekends in shopping centres and karaoke bars rather than reading Kurt Cobain or Nietzche.

 

Confirming the group’s respectability, Muma has also been usurped as the name of a Beijing toymaker supplying learning aids to school children. Literally, Muma in Chinese means wooden horse. The name represents that of a carrousel horse, says Xie. “It symbolizes the joy of one's childhood, as well as the way your mind moves all the time when you’re growing up.”

 

In that very Chinese fondness to put people and phenomena into generations, Chinese rock is three generational. Cui Jian and Tang Dynasty were the first generation. Dou Wei, He Yong were the second generation. Always influential, Muma stand with Second Hand Roses and Brain Failure as most enduring of the third and latest generation of stars. A new crop of bands like Carsick Cars, Retros and Lonely China Day are claiming ground and will likely be boxed off as the fourth generation of a still-nascent rock scene.

 

After that Amsterdam adventure Hu Hu left the band. Back in Amsterdam Jeroen Groenewegen remembers shepherding Muma through the delights and bureaucracies of Amsterdam. “I even had to fish one of the members of the band out of the Vondel Park. He had eaten so many mushrooms he thought he was dead.” Now that’s rock and roll.


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22

Have you had a musical experience that, over time, has festered in your mind until you reach a point where what you feel now is much more intense than what you felt at the time?

 

Well, let’s talk about Damien Rice’s show at the Enmore Theatre, Sydney, last month. Having had mixed Rice live experiences in the past, I was wary of his mood. On occasion, he can be a storyteller, an engager. On others he can be sullen and dismissive. But seldom, if ever, has an artist shown such disregard for his audience as Rice did that night in Sydney. He was surly, he turned his back to us. He refused completely to engage. His band played with a kind of cautious acceptance, reverentially bowing their heads at the appropriate times as if to let him know that they understand. The show only sparked to life when the band played a glorious Cold Water in near total darkness. How pleasurable it was to not have to look at him! When Rice had left the stage, Vivienne Long gently taunted him by pretending that he was the devil. The tension lifted, albeit briefly. He returned for the encore, a still prickly yet warmer set of songs that teased the audience by hinting at how good the show could have been.

 

           Separated at birth, according to Vivienne Long...

Now weeks later, when I reflect on the show  I feel a kind of bilious frustration. I’ll never see him again, I threaten. He’s lost me this time, I moan. Surely he knew that there were paying customers out there who would go home unsatisfied. This clearly wilful antagonism has got me thinking about what constitutes a great gig. I filtered through the live experiences that have stayed with me through the years. Is there a common theme? The Flaming Lips at Hammersmith Apollo, Sufjan Stevens (download some live Sufjan tracks here) at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, the Stones in the Olympic Stadium Barcelona, Solomon Burke at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Eels at the Metro Sydney, Gillian Welch Shepherd's Bush. Great gigs, great songs played with exuberance and not a little showmanship. Ray laMontagne, Richard Swift, Antony Hegarty – performers crippled by shyness and depression yet capable of transcending their vices to connect and thrill. Then there's Sleepy Jackson, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Ryan Adams - live performers of huge potential let down by egotism and negativity. Yet still those were memorable gigs, for the wrong reasons of course.

 

Rice can polarise an audience (like Adams) – the same show can inspire reverence and despair in equal measure, as can be seen by trawling the message boards of his website. My feeling is that he loves his songs, not his audience. He expects his audience to expend significant effort to listen - his band's reverential poses challenge us to bow our heads, to copy their body language, to succumb. He doesn’t want to earn our approval or acclaim. He doesn't seem to care. Indifference or perceived slights by his paying fans are met with overt resentment and not a little anger. Possibly this anger (immaturity?) is what drives him.

What is clear is that this challenging Irish performer can be even more intriguing on the nights he misses than on those he hits.


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22

Surfing Fender GuitarIn the late 1960s the legendary surfer and inventor of the body board Tom Morey wrote an article for ‘Surfer Magazine’ in which he opined that, “writing about surfing is drawing the sun with one colour”. In the late 1970s, Frank Zappa was quoted in the ‘Chicago Tribune’ as saying that, “rock journalism is people who can't write, interviewing people who can't talk, for people who can't read”. Somewhere between those two quotes lies the secret heart of this new column for Cluas.

Surfing is unique among sporting pursuits in its ability to not only to be artful but to also inspire art. You couldn’t imagine Apocalypse Now’s Colonel Kilgore raiding a Vietnamese village just so his boys could have a game of rugby now could you? And it’s highly doubtful that the Beach Boys would have become so iconic in American pop culture if they had decided to draw inspiration for their songs from the game of golf instead. Nope, there is just something about surfing that brings out the artist and art fan in everyone and right at the top of the list of art forms beloved by surfers is music. At present, all the major surfing magazines have regular music review sections and ‘Transworld Surf’ even has a regular feature where they ask pro surfers like Otto Flores and Zach Hartley what they are listening to on their iPods. It makes sense in way, all that time spent in cars searching the coastline for rideable waves, you have to listen to something from time to time other than your buddies discussing what exactly is the meaning of ‘epic’. And that’s not even getting into the huge amount of music used in the plethora of surf DVDs that are released every year; my favourite being the inclusion of U2s ‘Beautiful Day’ in the recent Aussie body board flick ‘The Road’.

Of course, we haven’t even begun to discuss the many famous musicians who surf such as Metallica’s Kurt Hammett, Pearl Jam's Eddie Veder and Westlife’s Kian Egan; nor the former pro surfers such as Jack Johnson, Donavon Frankenreiter and Jim White who have become famous musicians in their own right.

As for surfing’s continuing ability to inspire musicians who are not themselves surfers I point to Arcade Fire’s ‘Black Wave/Bad Vibrations’ from the recently released ‘Neon Bible’ album and Neosupervital’s single ‘Rachel’; both of which owe a debt to Brian Wilson, referencing as they do ‘Good Vibrations’ and ‘Surfer Girl’ respectively.

All of which is to say that in the columns that follow I will be exploring music, surfing and their interrelationship with each other. After all, they are both art forms which rely on waveforms to exist.

Stay stoked
Reverend Jules


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Nuggets from our archive

2001 - Early career profile of Damien Rice, written by Sinead Ward. This insightful profile was written before Damien broke internationally with the release of his debut album 'O'. This profile continues to attract hundreds of visits every month, it being linked to from Damien Rice's Wikipedia page.