The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

Blogs

From 2007 to 2010 CLUAS hosted blogs written by 8 of its writers. Over 900 blog entries were published in that time, all of which you can browse here. Here are links to the 8 individual blogs:

02

I'm looking forward to tomorrow night at D-22: a release party for the latest by Xiao He, one of the most enduring names in Chinese folk and art rock. Less ostentatious and written-up than their indie and punk counterparts, China's folk musicians fall between those who consciously ape westerners like Bob Dylan in their work, and those who mine for influences the native folk singing traditions of rural China, a style that was particularly popular in the early years of the Communist regime which took power in 1949: tales of peasant struggles, these are the stuff of Woody Guthrie but without guitar accompaniment. 

Busker/recording artist Yang Yi, a friend of Xiao He, has turned out tunes that draw much on the local traditions but he also borrows heavily, one of his songs instrumentally a near carbon copy of Dylan's The Times They Are A Changing. His guitar work with Beijing's veteran art rockers Glamorous Pharmacy - which also released an album this year - travels in Europe have made Xiao He far more an avant-gardist - songs like Macerata posted on MySpace sample sheep bleats and horns. Which ought to make tomorrow night's get together at D22 very interesting.

 


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01

The law of diminishing returns states that, despite the continued application of effort/skill towards a particular project, there will undoubtedly be a decline in effectiveness.  Somebody should tell Mark Kozelek, a man who has managed to combine productivity and critical acclaim so easily that it would be easy to hate the guy out of sheer jealousy.  Thankfully, it's impossible not to like someone who can release an album of AC/DC covers!

Over the course of his career, Kozelek has produced no less than 13 studio albums; six with Red House Painters, three with Sun Kil Moon and four under his own name.  On top of this Kozelek has released numerous live albums including, earlier this year, Lost Verses.

It is this rich musical tapestry that Kozelek will bring to Andrew's Lane Theatre on July 23 with tickets available for €20 from WAV Box-Office, City Discs, Plug'D Records, Cork, Tickets.ie and Ticketmaster outlets nationwide.

However, thanks to Word of Mouth, Key Notes has a double pass to give away. To be in with a chance of winning, just email your name to keynotesatcluasdotcom with 'Lost Verses' in the subject line.  As usual, the winner will be drawn at random and Key Notes' decision is final.  This competition will run until July 30.

Red House Painters: Down Through


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01

Recently on NPR’s All Songs Considered I got acquainted with Zee Avi, a Malaysian folkie whose cover of the Smiths' First of the Gang to Die I've since listened to a dozen times. It's maybe because I'm not well enough acquainted enough with the local scene to appreciate its treasures, but from what I've seen Malaysia is a fairly conformist land of malls and pop, a larger and slightly poorer version of neighbouring Singapore. As universal as she is impossible to categorise musically, Zee Avi, 23, grew up in a middle class family in Malaysia's westerly territory of Bornep, famous for its jungles. She taught herself guitar amid the jungle tranquil, far from the high-rise tropical capital, Kuala Lumpur. After school in KL however Zee Avi went off to study fashion design in London. Her rise to a deal with a US indie label is remarkable: back home after her London time, Zee began posting fooling-around videos of her and guitar, performing self-composed songs like Honey Bee. An online following led all the way to Raconteurs drummer Patrick Keeler, who recommended her to Brushfire Records, the label owned by Jack Johnson. Now Zee Avi is on tour in the US, opening for Pete Yorn.

 
I'm listening to her on MySpace, since Youtube remains blocked in China music fans here can't follow her and similar phenomena there.  

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29

Alan Dawa Dolma is her name, a mouthful for a pop star. But this ethnic Tibetan - from China's southwestern Sichuan province bordering Tibet - has become the most successful Chinese artist in the lucrative Japanese popular music market. She got to number three in the Oricon weekly charts - the Japanese music-sales-statistics-collecting equivalent of Billboard - with her 9th single since moving to Japan in 2007: 'Kuon No Kawa.' The uber-urbanised Japanese have a penchant for ethnic fare and travel to remote territories.  Maybe that helped Alan Dawa to win a 2006 audition of 40,000 hopeful Chinese artists by Japan's Avex Trax label. The Japanese have taken to artists playing the erhu, a mournful Chinese fiddle. Alan Dawa was a child prodigy of the instrument and has since mastered the piano, though the songs she's recorded, mostly written by Japanese producers, are mainstream smiley pop affairs.

 Alan Dawa Dolma

A devout Buddhist, Alan, as she's known is also practised at the traditional Tibetan wail, a demanding high-pitched style synonymous with Tibet. The tunes are used to sell goods in mainland China, where Tibet in the popular mindset is a mystical, pure-aired Chinese province. Recently I've spotted posh Beijing hotel the Opposite House using Ban Ya Ka La, toiletries marketed in a Tibetan style but made in Shanghai, and only the latest in a wave of cash-ins on Tibetan themed products in China.


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29

By day three of Solidays your correspondent was conscious of not spending enough time on French performers. In the two previous days we had just seen The Dø – and they’re only half-French. So we resolved to make up for lost time and fit in as many native acts as time and good taste would allow. Fired by renewed vigour and a sense of mission, your blogger rolled out of bed at the crack of noon and shuffled over to Longchamps.

At the time when most folk are sitting down to Sunday dinner, the final day of the festival weekend was kicked off by John & Jehn. We’ve already raved about this London-based French couple and their mishmash of rock, folk and electronica. Today they were a revelation.

Since that eponymous first record came out they’ve darkened their image and their sound to something closer to the Velvet Underground. Jehn has cut her girlish tresses into a sharp black bob à la  Karen O, while John now sports the type of weedy moustache worn by the louche and the seedy. Today they glam up and rock out; John’s guitar sound tears around VU/Bowie territory, while Jehn’s retro keyboarding has a Roxy Music vibe. Songs like ‘1,2,3’ and ‘20L07’, ostensibly about love, now sound like they’re about sex. Their first album was charming; on stage they’re swaggering.

Next up happened to be another French act to whom we’ve given favourable notices: Syd Matters. The acoustic folk-pop of Jonathan Morali is quite lovely and definitely worth your attention – in particular, ‘Everything Else’ sounded blissful.  That said, on a hot and humid afternoon the sound had a soporific effect; many people were lying on the grass and dozing off. We hope Morali took it as a compliment.

We must confess that we lapsed in our drive for all-out Frenchness and didn’t check out chanteuse Izia. Instead we went to hear some puppets rapping, and it was uproarious fun. Puppetmastaz had a whole marquee bouncing around to chassis-shaking beats despite the heat; you’d be surprised just how much fun it is to hear a bunny swearing in a thick Bronx accent. One criticism: quite reasonably, the French crowd got restless during lengthy between-song dialogues in breakneck American accents. Just make the bunny rap and say ‘motherfucker’, okay? That’s all we want.

More in our occasional series, ‘What The French Like’ – last week it was musette punks Java and today Mouss & Hakim. The pair are former members of a band called Zebda that had some success with a sound that mixed traditional French and ethnic sounds with a rock attitude and vigorous politics. The English-speaking world, politically centrist, usually finds ‘engaged’ music naïve or even self-important. But we often forget that in the 2002 French presidential election millions of people voted for the extreme-right Jean-Marie le Pen– and even while Mouss & Hakim were on stage, 39% of voters in a northern town called Hénin-Beaumont were giving their democratic preference to his daughter Marine in local elections there. In France, music is culture and culture is politics; we’re only just now slowly beginning to understand this country. (We should add that, even without listening to the words, Mouss & Hakim make a fine sound.)

I can see my house from here: Manu Chao liveBut our thirst for French music has its limits. We weren’t prepared to see middle-aged cartoon punks Les Wampas when across the site there was the superior dancefloor indie of Metronomy, now a foursome and without Gabriel Stebbing. And they were fantastic, rocking a lot harder than they do on record or than they did as a three-piece when CLUAS reviewed their Dublin show in June 2008.

The new rhythm section (Gbenga  Adelekan on bass and former Lightspeed Champion drummer Anna Prior, perched on a lofty riser) are forceful yet supple, while core duo Oscar Cash and Joseph Mount are agreeably eccentric - their uniform of grey shirt and over-the-shoulder light-bulb was at once strict and idiosyncratic, like their material. Older songs like ‘Trick or Treatz’ were a pleasant surprise to those only familiar with their second long-player, ‘Nights Out’ – and that album’s standout track, ‘Heartbreaker’, was ferocious and energetic. It was our personal highlight of Solidays.

Which is not to say that the festival’s big-name act was an anti-climax for us. Not only was it a Frenchman, in line with our policy of the day, but he was born and raised just beside the festival site in the comfortable suburb of Boulogne Billancourt. With this in mind it became slightly surreal to hear Manu Chao – for it was he – sing and speak in Spanish, never mind play the third-world revolutionary.

But there’s no doubt of his ideological sincerity or the immense pleasure of his live shows. So Chao’s recent material is a bit samey (enough with the police siren effects - how about an ice-cream van jingle next time?) and perhaps at moments even a bland ethno-tourist version of Caribbean/South American music. It’s still fresh and evocative and great fun – for such a politically vocal performer, Chao (above right) is good-humoured and never resorts to Bono-esque craw-thumping speeches. (Since three paragraphs ago, we’ve become more appreciative of the fact that Everything Is Political In France.) And it all sounds fantastic on a summer night in a park by the Seine.

Then afterwards all 50,000 people got out of the site and set off straightaway for home in metros and cars, and the next day no one phoned any radio shows to complain. Life is good.

[Part one (with Hockey, Magistrates and The Dø ) is there and part two (Friendly Fires, Alela Diane, The Virgins, Amadou & Mariam) is here.]


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29

I'd not watched it in several months but yesterday evening's Culture Express on China Central TV (CCTV) 9 - the English channel - was as poor as anything I've seen broadcast in China. Bland, cheap and lacking much in the way of genuine culture, the half hour show's longest item was a report on Cameron Diaz getting her star on the Hollywood walk of fame. No word of Michael Jackson't death: It didn't seem to matter that the rest of the world was mourning the death of a pop star. But most galling is that the show seems to ignore all of the interesting things - there are many - happening in Chinese traditional and modern arts. The show's amateurish graphics and boring scripts suggest either laziness or lack of money. Strange that it would be the latter, given the huge sums of government money being spent on international-looking English media to burnish China's image.  


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28

There have been numerous media reports of surges in internet traffic once word was out that Michael Jackson had died. For example, the spike in traffic that hit Google was so out of the norm they thought they were being hit with an automated attack.

Michael Jackson - traffic surge on CLUASCLUAS too saw a surge in traffic as soon as word was out that The King of Pop had passed away. In our case this was due to our 2005 article on Michael Jackson's fall from grace ("Michael Jackson: demon or demonised? Or both?") that Aidan Curran authored. It alone was visited a whopping 1190 times last Friday (see graph, the spike you see is for the number of page views the article had on Friday). A huge increase when you consider, according to our web stats service, that in the year before Jacko passed away, this article was visited an average of 8.6 times a day.

Over the weekend the traffic kept flowing to the article, and by Sunday evening it had been visited a total of 1820 times over four days (see table below). This is just another example of how CLUAS.com's focus on optimising its pages for search engines can, when you least expect it, deliver a result.

Visits to Michael Jackson article on CLUAS
Day Visits
Thursday June 25 110
Friday June 26 1190
Saturday June 27 274
Sunday June 28 246
Total 1820

 


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28

We believe that you in Éire have been getting all het up over the queues and the wait to get into and out of Slane recently, with a general consensus that Something Must Be Done. Well, let us share our experience. To get in on the first day of last year’s edition of Solidays, the first big music festival of the Paris summer, the average wait was two hours. “Il Faut Faire Quelquechose,” said Jacques le Frenchman. And so it turned out: to enter this year’s Solidays last Friday we had to endure a queue of almost two whole minutes. And then waiting three minutes for the metro home! No doubt you’ll be in and out of Slane just as fast next summer.

Anyway, day one at the Longchamps racecourse and the first act we fell upon was Hugh Coltman, the Paris-based Englishman whose line in jazzy pop/poppy jazz is doing quite well for him here in his adopted city. It’s rather bland coffee-table fare for a sun-drenched festival, though. More in the spirit of the occasion were Lexicon, a pair of L.A. rappers much in the style of ‘Licence To Ill’-era Beastie Boys. If you’re not being too cerebral about it, then you’ll have a good time with them.

This year’s festival had a definite strand of electro-pop running through it. Magistrates are an Essex four-piece who sound like they’ve toned down the Ibiza-isms of Klaxons or injected a bit of white-boy funk into Hard Fi. They’re worth checking out if you happen to be passing their stage at some other festival, which we know is damning them with faint praise as much as comparing them to Klaxons or Hard Fi.

HockeyWe’re so cool about Magistrates because we’d much rather rave about Hockey (right). Where UK funk-pop tends to be stiff and slightly square, the US version as per Hockey is looser and sexier – though there’s an occasional bit of acoustic folk-rock thrown in to wreck your head. Still, singer Ben (in a mint-green headband/T-shirt combination straight from an '80s workout video) is likeably camp and eccentric on stage and the sense of fun is infectious. You should definitely try to catch them if you’re at Oxegen this weekend.

Mindful of this blog’s remit to report on French music, before Hockey we headed for the main stage to see some pleasant indie-pop by The Dø. That accented ‘o’ is only a mild inconvenience compared to how Björk-ly irritating singer Olivia Merilahti can be. Launching into their single ‘At Last’, it appears that her microphone isn’t working: the music plays while she mouths the words. After a first verse accompanied by whistles and boos for the sound engineer, she seamlessly starts the verse again in full voice. She was only pretending - probably to subvert the whole fascist hit-parade ideology, like, or maybe just to be wacky or even deliberately piss people off. What point she was making by balancing a folded towel on her head later in her set, we can’t say. If ever there’s a band you could like despite the singer, it’s The Dø.

You probably don't care that we skipped the French headliner, one half of rap duo NTM. (The other half was in jail.) More unforgivably for you, perhaps, we couldn’t stay for Yuksek or Digitalism, on at something like 3 a.m., because the trains stop at 2 a.m. and we had stuff to do at the crack of dawn next morning. For this unprofessionalism in not being willing to traipse home for two hours at night, the gaffer is deducting part of our CLUAS Foreign Correspondent Expense Account. And he’s sending us to Slane next year too.

[Parts 2 and 3 to follow.]


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28

One of the classic fears of festival-goers is that two of their favourite bands will be on simultaneously. You’ve waited months to see band X and band Y, the only two in the whole line-up you want to see, only for you to roll up to the field and find that they’ve been drawn to play at the same time. Oh, cruel fate! Heartless providence! Bloody festival organisers!

Your correspondent did not have this problem at day two of Solidays. Four acts we wanted to see: all four drawn one after the other on adjoining stages a mere summer stroll apart. Nice one!

The organisers may have done well on that front, but they could surely have found a bigger space than a marquee for Amadou & Mariam. Here’s music crying out for a main stage in the sun and sweltering heat! But that’s a minor quibble: A&M were fantastic. Dressed in metallic silver robes to complement Amadou’s gold spray-painted Stratocaster, they seem an odd couple. His is the dominant personality, with his flashy axe and guitar-playing shapes. By contrast, Mariam hardly moves, as if never told that a famous singer is expected to behave ostentatiously on stage. She stands stock-still while her facial expressions change between smile and sulk. But her clear, piercing voice is just as essential to the group’s sound as Amadou’s blistering guitar work.

An unexpectedly poignant moment comes when Amadou speaks about the festival’s objective – Solidays is an AIDS awareness event and Africa is particularly ravaged by the disease. Without any sentimentality, he sincerely thanks the audience for their solidarity: “Il faut preserver”, he says – we must save, punning on ‘preservatif’, the French word for a condom. In its own way, the pair’s music is just as life-affirming and celebratory.

Ed McFarlane of Friendly Fires (Photo credit: Shirlaine Forrest/BBC)On then to Alela Diane. The essential news to report is that even with drastically short hair she still looks hypnotically gorgeous. And she sang some songs too: those dreamy folk ballads from her two excellent albums, plus a faithful version of Neil Young’s ‘Heart Of Gold’. If she were a French speaker, she may have noticed the rather clever chant that spread through the crowd: “Allez la Diane! Allez la Diane!” Is there no way we can impress her?

The Virgins would understand: their lyrical world is hot with the struggle of trying to win over women way out of one’s league. Musically, they seem to have been weaned on ‘Miss You’ by The Rolling Stones and this is no bad thing. That mixture of funky basslines and skuzzy riffs is a winner. ‘Rich Girls’ has been something of a success here in France, but all their songs have the same hit potential. However, their encore is a cover of ‘Devil Inside’ by INXS. And Girl Talk, on late night here, drops the pounding riff of ‘Need You Tonight’ into his mix: are INXS cool now?

Saturday night draws in with some quintessential Saturday night music: Friendly Fires are magnificent live. While guitarist Edd Gibson whips up a frenzy, singer Ed McFarlane (above right) dances uncontrollably around stage in intense bursts before delivering soaring lines laced with melancholy. As you’d expect, the highlight is their song about the city just outside the gate of this venue: ‘Paris’ is a gorgeous track and all the more wonderful by being heard within sight of the Eiffel Tower.

Walking back to the metro on the way home, looking out over the Seine and the Bois de Boulogne, we remembered why we love this city as much as McFarlane clearly does. Sometimes we forget.

[Part 1, featuring Hockey, Magistrates and The Do, is here. Part 3 will follow.]


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25

Should you ever find yourself in Paris and need to visit the Irish embassy, head to the opposite side of the Arc de Triomphe to the Champs-Élysées. The exact address, though, always raises a puerile snigger from English speakers; it’s on the corner of rue Rude and avenue Foch.

Fortunately for our battered national image, the name of that legendary army general is pronounced “fosh”. Monsieur Rude, meanwhile, was a noted sculptor – and in French ‘rude’ simply means rough or difficult, not vulgar or bad-mannered.

The other major Irish landmark in Paris has a more dignified and appropriate location.  Le College des Irlandais, or the Irish College, is situated on rue des Irlandais, or Irish Street, just behind the Panthéon and near the Sorbonne in the historic 5th arrondissement. The building, a former seminary, is quite beautiful – in particular, the quiet courtyard and small chapel are blissfully tranquil.

It’s no longer a college but home to the Centre Culturel Irlandais, the Irish cultural centre in France. Each year dozens of Irish Erasmus students stay in the student residences there, as do visiting Irish artists. Many of those artists visit the centre to give readings, recitals or exhibitions. The centre has an active and diverse programme that also includes screenings of Irish movies and language classes for would-be gaeilgeoirs.

Even this much would be enough for us to recommend the Centre Culturel Irlandais. But then they spoil us with their médiathèque, or multimedia library, which opened to the public early last year. Ex-pats and non-Pats alike can borrow the essential classics of Irish literature and Irish studies, read Irish newspapers and watch Irish movies on DVD.

The CD section of the médiathèque has always concentrated on traditional music - and now they’ve gone and stocked up on Irish rock to such an extent that they could offer a masterclass on the subject, with all the essential course material on their shelves. The library has bought wisely and well, and is a valuable resource for any Paris resident who wants to gain a complete picture of traditional, classic and modern Irish music.

Here’s a measure of their good taste: they have the big U2 records (‘Achtung Baby’, ‘The Joshua Tree’) but not their bland recent albums. You’ll also find My Bloody Valentine there – not just ‘Loveless’ but also ‘Isn’t Anything’. (Do you have both MBV albums?) And for more indie cred, you’ll find Whipping Boy’s ‘Heartworm’, ‘Troublegum’ by Therapy?, the first Undertones and Stiff Little Fingers albums, ‘Songs From The Deep Forest’ by Duke Special and a Microdisney compilation. Also, three of the first five from the CLUAS Top 50 Irish Albums 1999-2009 are there: ‘For The Birds’, ‘O’ and ‘Free All Angels’.

In fact, most of the main contenders for ‘Best Irish Album Ever’ are stocked – as well as ‘Achtung Baby’, ‘Loveless’ and ‘Heartworm’ there’s ‘Astral Weeks’ by Van Morrison, ‘Ghostown’ by The Radiators and Rory Gallagher’s ‘Irish Tour ‘74’. There are also plenty of albums from The Pogues, Thin Lizzy and Sinead O’Connor – in total, eight of the top ten Best Irish Albums Of All Time as voted by CLUAS in 2004.

Our point is that, with the breadth and depth of its collections and its busy programme of varied events, the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris puts to shame most public libraries in Ireland when it comes to promoting our art and culture. If you’re planning to stay in Paris for a while, you should pay a visit.

We'll take this opportunity, then, to play a song that deservedly resides with 'Ulysses' and 'Waiting For Godot' in the Paris pantheon of Irish culture - here's Therapy? with 'Screamager':


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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.