The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

Entries for 'Aidan Curran'

Bibendum, the Michelin ManClermont-Ferrand, in the heart of France, is famous as the home of Michelin. Its local rugby team is cursed with the tag of perennial losers, having reached the final of the French championship 9 times (including the past two seasons) without ever winning. Their best-known player is flying blond winger Aurelien Rougerie (right, looking a bit out of shape).
The city is something of a music hub. Le Monde recently called Clermont-Ferrand "the new rock capital of France" and estimated that 7.5% of all French rock bands are based in the area. Regular readers will recognise our favourite clermontois band, acoustic duo Cocoon.
The latest folk-pop act from Clermont-Ferrand goes under the weighty name of St Augustine. The 6-piece group take their nom de rock not from the saint but from Judas himself, Bob Dylan – in particular, from the song “I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine” on the album “John Wesley Harding”.
Francois-Regis Crozier of St AugustineBut we Dylanophobes needn’t worry, for St Augustine make melodic, unpretentious folk-pop. They have just released their first E.P. and called it “In A Field Of Question Marks”, a title which we reckon is more poetic than the entire works of Zimmerman.
It’s a lovely record, tuneful and melancholic. Singer François-Régis Croisier (left) has an Antony-esque falsetto tremor in his voice, and Edwige Mazel adds a subtle layer of cello to the sparse arrangements.
You can listen to songs from “In A Field Of Question Marks” on St Augustine’s MySpace page. Our favourite track is called “Icelandic” but a more appropriate song for our times may be “Rainy Country”.

No videos for their tracks yet, but here’s a very arty snippet of film that features extracts of the band onstage at the recent Printemps de Bourges festival. As Saint Augustine once said, “To sing once is to pray twice”:

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The last few years saw an explosion in the number of summer music festivals big and small, not just in Ireland but across Europe.

However, the boom seems to have ended this season. Just last weekend we heard of the Dysart Festival in Kilkenny, which had to drastically re-cut its cloth. Then in Britain there was the now-infamous Zoo8, where the line-up was decimated when it emerged that acts were not guaranteed payment.

Mainland Europe, relatively unscathed by the credit crunch, hasn’t escaped the financial problems in the music industry. In France, one famous summer festival seems to be in serious trouble.

La Route du Rock 2008La Route du Rock is a three-day event that takes places every mid-August in Saint Malo, a quaint fortified town on the coast of Brittany. With a line-up that always features the season’s hippest alternative acts, it’s the traditional summer holiday for many French indie kids. This year’s event, the 18th edition, features Foals, The Dodos, Pivot, The Notwist, The Ting Tings, Menomena, Tindersticks, The Breeders, Sigur Ros and others.

As an independent event without corporate sponsors or mainstream marquee names, La Route du Rock needs 14,000 paying punters to break even. However, with the 2008 edition just a few days away, word on the boulevard is that only 8,000 tickets have been sold – a potentially catastrophic shortfall. Unless 6,000 extra indie kids miraculously manifest themselves in Saint Malo this weekend, the festival doesn't look likely to reappear in 2009.

La Route du Rock has been in a precarious position for some time. Since 2006 the festival has run a series of winter concerts in February, straining its flimsy finances even more. Last summer the organisers took a chance and booked a big-name act, the reformed Smashing Pumpkins. The gamble backfired. Only 10,000 fans came to Saint Malo – not enough to turn a profit - and the festival’s indie reputation took a bashing.

Even with generous public support from the local council and regional authorities, La Route du Rock is in difficulty. Festival director François Floret admitted to financial problems in an interview this week with regional paper Ouest France. “La Route du Rock is in danger,” he said. “We’re in a very delicate situation and we hope to attract at least 14,000 fans to get out of it.”

Since the start of this year, the festival website has featured a message from the organisers calling on donations from the public. In the open letter, entitled "Pop Is Not Dead?", the organisers blame their financial woes on increased competition, administrative costs and especially on the increased fees charged by acts seeking to recoup revenue lost with the fall in CD sales.

"Having examined more conventional methods of financial support," the letter reads, "we are today obliged to consider what seems to us to be the last resort: call on our loyal fans [...] A donation, a subscription, whatever the name or the amount. (Radiohead let us fix the price for their last album on the Internet; what price La Route du Rock...?)"

"Conventional" corporate backing would seem to be a non-runner. As the festival's identity depends on its independent ethos, commercial sponsorship would be the nuclear option.

At the time of writing, La Route du Rock 2008 is still due to begin this Thursday, 14 August.

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Under legislation from 1996, France’s commercial radio stations are bound to a language quota where 40 percent of programming, including song lyrics, must be in French.
Despite this restriction, France’s biggest airplay hit so far in 2008 is in English. What’s surprising is that it’s not an R n’ B import from the States or a trans-Europe floorfiller. Just as unexpectedly, the song in question is a modest folk-pop tune that was written, recorded and produced in Paris.
Micky Green“Oh” is the debut single by Micky Green (right), who is female despite the male name. Born Michaela Gehrman in Sydney in 1985, she worked as a model in her native Australia before coming to Paris.
In the French capital she made a demo on her computer, with a rhythm track that consisted mainly of her tapping a pen on her table. The finished article, an album called “White T-Shirt”, keeps this organic feel; its sparse arrangements depend heavily on fingerclicks and basic vocal harmonies.
With this simple homemade vibe, Green shares the happy-clappy boho-pop sound of Yael Naim, another who came to Paris and launched a successful English-language career.
Like Naim’s “New Soul”, soundtrack to a computer advertisement recently, Green’s “Oh” seems made for marketing. Its hum-along intro has the summer-meadow freshness of your fabric softener. Or maybe it’s the carefree joie de vivre of you in your new car, winding through country roads with your gang of bright young things in the back. (No doubt the marketeers will know exactly what this tune could sell.)
Aside from its product-shifting potential, we’re surprised that “Oh” hasn’t become a radio hit in Ireland or the UK yet. Apart from an appearance at a festival in Tokyo, Green’s summer shows are all in France so perhaps the international push isn’t starting just yet. But surely a tune as radio-friendly as “Oh” will get heavy promotion and ad-work before long.

Anyway, judge for yourself. Here’s the rather murky and overcast video for Micky Green’s “Oh”. There’s some swearing at the start – and it’s a French video so there has to be a bit of film-acting:

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It’s a busy period for your CLUAS correspondents, away on dangerous assignments in exotic settings. Beijing Beat is undercover at the Olympics, subverting Chinese totalitarianism while checking out the women’s volleyball. Key Notes is backstage at Ireland’s music festivals, his Wonka-esque golden wristband granting him access to all manner of rock n’roll debauchery with people in skinny-fit jeans. And Sound Waves is surfing, an activity so hip it even makes Bundoran glamorous.
The CLUAS Paris correspondent returns to Ireland.However, your Paris correspondent (right) is slacking off as usual. We’re back in Ireland for a couple of weeks.
Since our last Irish tour, a lot of things have changed here. You’ve swapped a media-friendly prime minister for a dour, pudgy finance minister. You’ve fired a hysterically incompetent native-born football manager and replaced him with a sixty-something Italian. Ireland: are you England in disguise?
Also, the weather is terrible and everything is ferociously expensive and terrible value. But fair play to you all, you’ve accepted it well. Not one word of complaint have we heard from you.
Well, we really ought to have been covering the Interceltique Festival in Lorient. This year, Ireland is principally represented by The Chieftains and Moving Hearts. So, that should be enough Irish people there, with no need for us to tag along.

Last year’s Irish headliner was the forever-cool Sinead O’Connor. Here she is performing ‘Paddy’s Lament’, and giving plenty of love to France from Ireland:

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Research from France has found that the louder the music in a bar, the more you will drink.

The claim is made by Nicolas Gueguen, professor of behavioural science at the University of Bretagne-Sud in Brittany, in a paper entitled “Sound Level of Environmental Music and Drinking Behaviour: A Field Experiment with Beer Drinkers” which has been published in the journal “Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research”.

Researchers visited two bars for three Saturday evenings in an unidentified city in the west of France. The subjects, 40 males aged between 18 and 25 years of age, were unaware that they were being observed.

For the purposes of consistency, the standard drink was a 25 cl. glass of draught beer (i.e. a half pint, the normal unit of beer consumption in France). Another criterium was the music being played: only current chart hits.


At random, and with the permission of the bar owners, the research team changed the sound levels between either 72 decibels, considered normal, or 88 decibels, considered loud. Each time, the researchers would observe one subject’s drinking patterns. After the observed subject left the bar, sound levels were again randomly selected and a new subject was chosen.

The results showed a link between loud music and the tendency of bar patrons to drink more and faster. At the normal decibel level, customers had an average of 2.6 drinks and took 14.5 minutes to finish each drink. However, when the music was loud, customers ordered an average of 3.4 drinks and took less than 11.5 minutes to finish each one.

Guéguen has two possible explanations for his team’s findings. "One, in agreement with previous research on music, food and drink, high sound levels may have caused higher arousal, which led the subjects to drink faster and to order more drinks," he says.

"Two, loud music may have had a negative effect on social interaction in the bar, so that patrons drank more because they talked less."

In other words, loud music gets you excited but stops you having a conversation, so you channel your energy into drinking. The results are consistent with findings of psychological manipulation in advertising and supermarket environments.

However, Professor Gueguen makes a more serious point. Over 70,000 a year die in France because of chronic alcohol consumption, and drinking is linked the majority of fatal car accidents. "We have shown that environmental music played in a bar is associated with an increase in drinking," he said. "We need to encourage bar owners to play music at more of a moderate level, and make consumers aware that loud music can influence their alcohol consumption."

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A review of the album 'Year Of The Husband' by The Dudley Corporation

Year Of The Husband by The Dudley CorporationReview Snapshot: The Dublin trio return at last, bringing us a mixed bag of well-written alt-pop songs (yay!) filled out with Radiohead-style post-rock noodling (nay!). Likeable and interesting, it’ll charm you at times – but you’ll hardly get swept off your feet.

The Cluas Verdict? 7 out of 10

Full Review:
The more sentimental indie fans among you may find it charming that The Dudley Corporation story has gone from “The Lonely World Of…” to “In Love With…” and has now reached marriage. “Year Of The Husband” is named for the fact that the three Corpo members (Dudley, Joss and Mark) all got married during the making of this album.

Not that it’s a slushfest of marital bliss, but “Year Of The Husband” certainly has a romantic tint to it, with plenty of lovelorn lyrics and sweet arrangements. However, the album’s frequent tempo changes, post-rock blurriness and shifts from quiet to loud will remind most listeners of serious, unromantic Radiohead. This is most clear in the prog-experimental “Leave A Last Kiss” and “We Angled Our Shadows And Cast Them in Stone”.

Guests on this album include Nigel Farrelly of The Waiting Room and Carol Keogh of Automata and The Tycho Brahe/Tychonaut, and Keogh contributes significantly to the record’s standout track, “Step-Out”. The contrast between her clear, distinctive voice and Dudley Colley’s indie slurring gives this rock-out a solid structure that’s lacking in the more impressionistic tracks elsewhere on the album.

Indeed, the quality of this record increases significantly when The Dudley Corporation drop the abstract noodling and deliver more focused material. A simple song like “Vapour Trails” suddenly takes off with a shimmering slide guitar lick that captures the restless escapism of the title and lyrics.

Having opened with the uptempo alt-rock chugging of “The Lens Begins”, the album closes in a much quieter setting. Another reference point for this record is the U.S. slowcore of Low, and the two closing tracks, “Aliens” and “Don’t Give Up, Stupid”, are slices of melancholic Americana that are much more satisfying than the band’s Radiohead-isms.

So, while this album features a good handful of quality alt-rock tunes, there’s a nagging sense that its more experimental stretches are just filler. You’ll like “Year Of The Husband”, but it’s best just to stay friends with it.

Aidan Curran

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Back in the summer of 2006, when this blog was still an old-fashioned monthly column, we predicted world domination for Versailles band Phoenix (below right). They had just released their splendid third album, "It's Never Been Like That", and looked set to capitalise on the exposure they received from featuring on the soundtrack to Sofia Coppola's "Lost In Translation".

PhoenixAnd as singer Thomas Mars was going out with Coppola, there was a celebrity-gossip angle that was surely good for gaining mainstream attention.

Well, despite our enthusiasm and some glowing reviews in the UK and US music press, the album didn't break the charts. Still, Phoenix have built up a solid international fanbase from years of constant touring.

Time for some useful information:

Trivia (1): Phoenix formed to play as a session band for a remix of Air's "Kelly Watch The Stars".

Trivia (2): It was Mars, under the pseudonym of Gordon Tracks, who sang the vocals on Air's "Playground Love" from Coppola's screen adaptation of "The Virgin Suicides".

Trivia (3): Guitarist Laurent Brancowitz played with Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christos in a band called Darlin'. On their 1992 UK tour the band were dismissed by Melody Maker as "a bunch of daft punk". Wonder what ever happened to the other two lads?

Phoenix are currently in New York recording their as-yet-untitled fourth album, due for release in November. Before that, we can get a taster of what the new album will sound like. The band have contributed a new track to a promotional campaign for jewellers Cartier.

"Twenty-One One Zero" is quite different to the classic indie-popness of their last album. Opening with a Kraftwerk-esque loop, the track brings in an Eno-style ambient synth treatment, some pounding drums and a squally guitar. It all builds to an arena-friendly burst of energy.

Sound familiar? Well, we reckon it shares a lot with U2's "Where The Streets Have No Name". Are Phoenix planning to go all stadium-rock and turn a few dollars Stateside? Let's hope "Twenty-One One Zero", while diverting in its way, is just work in progress and they have some killer tunes in the bag.

You can check out the full five minutes-plus of "Twenty-One One Zero" on the special Cartier MySpace. As a preview, here's the first three minutes - and they don't even get to the track's two lines of lyrics. Hmmm:

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So you in Eire will get your first look at Sarko on Monday, as the president of France visits Dublin to ‘listen’ to your ‘views’ on the Lisbon treaty. Good luck with that.
(We remind you that the first Irish leader to encounter President Sarkozy was none other than Eoghan O’Neill, CLUAS gaffer, at a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe. You can read the full story here.)
No doubt some of our more politically-active readers will be welcoming Sarkozy with a spot of May ’68 street-protesting. Well, enjoy your day out but be thankful that you’re protesting in Dublin and not Paris. Otherwise, you could be facing a stretch in a modern-day Bastille. We shall explain:
France has a piece of legislation on its statute books, the French Press Freedom Law of 1881, which outlaws insults to the President. The last known enforcement of this law was in the mid-‘60s, when a heckler was arrested for booing General de Gaulle as he drove along the Champs-Elysées in the Bastille Day parade.
Don’t go thinking, though, that Monsieur Bruni is any cooler about these things than the old-timers. While Interior Minister, just until his election as President, Sarkozy is believed to have initiated the prosecution of several hardcore French rappers for the violent anti-police and unpatriotic nature of their lyrics.
In one high-profile case during 2006 and early 2007, two French MPs of Sarkozy's UMP party brought charges of incitement to hatred and sexism against a rapper called Monsieur R, whose single 'FranSSe' featured a video with topless dancers (female, of course) in front of the national flag, and whose lyrics inferred that France was a 'salope' (slut). The twin capital S in the song's title reflects the track's comparison of France's governing class with the Nazi regime. Monsieur R also raps that he 'pisses on Napoleon and General de Gaulle'. The charges against Monsieur R were eventually thrown out of court. 
An anti-Sarko poster in ParisA French rapper called Poison is flirting with similar prosecution. He writes anti-president lyrics such as "anti-Sarko / anti-right / Nicolas don't you hear? / We're anti-you".
Poison’s producer, Mosey, may then be indicted as an accessory. (We picked up that phrase off the TV. It sounds impressive.) Mosey happens to be none other than – ta-dah! – Pierre Sarkozy, son of Nicolas.

It remains to be seen if young Sarkozy will face similar court action for helping those who aren't tugging the forelock to his old man. 

And don't go dissing the French national anthem either. As Interior Minister, Sarkozy also introduced a law which makes it an offence to disrespect 'La Marseillaise'. If it is playing and Jacques le Frenchman isn’t putting his back into it, technically he’s facing a penalty of €7,500 and six months in prison.

However, a subsequent ruling by France's constitutional council limits the law's application to official events and allows for an exemption in artistic or private circumstances. 

One final reminder: the French embassy on Ailesbury Road is French national territory. Now, anyone fancy scaling the wall, calling Sarko a “sale con” and singing ‘The Frog Princess’?

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Are you all enjoying work this Monday morning? Here in France today’s a public holiday – the national holiday, known to the English-speaking world as Bastille Day. (French people just call it “the fourteenth of July”.)
In Paris, celebrations begin with the morning’s military parade down the Champs-Elysées and conclude tonight with a giant free concert on the Champ de Mars, the park at the feet of the Eiffel Tower. That concert features the worst of French MOR blandness; bloodless singer-songers like Christophe Mae, Raphael and Rose who we’re not even going to link to here. The pièce de résistance is none other than James Blunt. Surely there’s a ceremonial guillotine available for the day that’s in it?
A concert to miss by miles, then. That said, it’s still a good idea to celebrate France’s national holiday with music. So, to help you party like it’s le quatorze juillet, we’ve made a Bastille Day playlist of French classics old and modern.
You’ll find the crème de la crème of great Gallic tunes that should have you dancing like young Parisians, i.e. very clumsily while leering sleazily and swearing in a faux-American accent. We’ve even planned for the way parties usually sub-divide into different groups for different rooms of your place. (If you live in a bedsit in Rathmines, then you’ll probably just be listening to Damien Rice. Alone.)
So, here’s what you’re doing tonight:
Dancing around the living room:
Hanging out in the kitchen:
Speaking softly in the bedroom:

Here's one of our favourites from that list. Serge Gainsbourg crooning like a tragic hero, Jane Birkin spinning like a groovy chick and pop's greatest bass intro... it's the fantastic video for 'Ballade De Melody Nelson'. Bonne fête!

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July 14 may well be the birthday of modern France, but modern French people prefer to celebrate July 12. Ten years ago today, the French football team won the World Cup, beating Brazil 3-0 in the final in Paris.

Robert Pires, Bixente Lizarazu and Zinedine Zidane celebrate with the World CupEven for non-football fans, this date now carries enormous emotional weight. The French side that night was a multicoloured mix of black, white and north African origins - an accurate cross-section of French society. Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the extreme-right Front National, had bemoaned the excess of non-white players in the French squad - completely misjudging the mood of the moment. There were optimistic hopes that the exploits of Zizou and co. would slay the beast of French racism.

This optimism was cruelly shattered in 2002. In that year's presidential election, five million French people voted for Le Pen and put him into the second round run-off against Jacques Chirac. As for les bleus, their World Cup defence was a disaster and they came home from South Korea after the first round.

Tonight at the Stade de France, scene of that famous victory a decade ago, the 1998 squad will play against an international selection managed by Arsène Wenger and Hristo Stoitchkov.

For French people, one piece of music evokes those dizzy heights of le douze juillet. Yes, football fans here get all misty-eyed whenever they hear that old disco classic, "I Will Survive".

Why has a feminist anthem from the 1970s become the theme to France's 1998 World Cup win? Well, anyone who's ever attended a French international rugby match will have heard a brass band in the crowd, playing 'La Marseillaise' and other motivational tunes. During the 1998 World Cup in France, these sports-loving musicians took to playing the trumpet refrain from a 1995 cover of Gloria Gaynor's hit, by the Hermes House Band. The French trumpeteers would throw in a few "Olé!" flourishes and break into a can-can rhythm, all to entertain the crowds.

It caught on, and soon French fans were singing along in "la-la-la" style and repeating that one line all through the night. By the time Didier Deschamps lifted the trophy, that single line embodied the joy and celebration of a nation.

Even today, if you find yourself at a French party or campsite and you wish to break the ice, just start singing the trumpet break to "I Will Survive". Here's the Hermes House Band version that captured the imagination of all France:

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Nuggets from our archive

2000 - 'Rock Criticism: Getting it Right', written by Mark Godfrey. A thought provoking reflection on the art of rock criticism.