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:

13

French summer music festivals tend to be smaller than their international counterparts. There's certainly no Gallic event that compares in size to Roskilde, Sziget, Werchter or Glastonbury. La Route du Rock, for instance, only ever has around two dozen acts.

Eurockeennes 2010

Perhaps the biggest summer music festival in France is Eurockéennes, which takes place on the first weekend of July near the eastern city of Belfort. This year's four-day event will have around 80 acts - plenty of whom are top-quality marquee names. And the festival's spectacular lakeside setting guarantees a memorable experience.

The first day, Thursday 1 July, is a starter ahead of the main course. To serenade punters as they arrive from all round Europe, those enjoyable Icelandic electropoppers FM Belfast will play in one of the festival campsites.

Real business begins on Friday 2 July. Jay-Z and Missy Elliot bring the bling-bling of genuine rap/R n'B superstars, while Charlotte Gainsbourg supplies some home-grown glamour. Also on the bill that day and night: Hot Chip, Foals, Kasabian, Patrick Watson, The Black Keys and our own Two Door Cinema Club in what seems to be their now-fortnightly French gig.

Saturday's notional headliners are The Hives but the real draw that night will surely be The Specials, The XX and Broken Social Scene. A strong French side for that day's line-up features Vitalic, Emilie Simon and General Elektriks. Further down the running order are Memory Tapes, also worth catching.

A quaint Eurockeennes tradition is to make the last night's headliner a real stinker, to cater for those who need to skip out early for the last bus or train. Last year it was Slipknot; this year it's Mika. But the rest of Sunday's line-up is stuffed with quality. Massive Attack and Martina Topley-Bird are on trip-hop duty; LCD Soundsystem and Empire Of The Sun serve up electro-pop, an Ethiopiques show should sound blissful on a summer afternoon, and there are some indie gems like Health, Fuck Buttons and The Middle East to be found here and there.

A weekend pass costs only €95 and a single day's ticket costs just €39. Camping on the festival site is free for ticket-holders to a limit of 12,000 people. If you book early enough to get a cheap Queasyjet flight to nearby Mulhouse, you could be lucky enough to secure your entire festival weekend in sunny France, travel included, for less than the price of an Irish festival ticket. (In addition, there are special bus + ticket packages to bring punters from most major French cities.)

Full details in English are available on the Eurockeennes 2010 website. Here's 'The Songs That We Sing' by this year's biggest French name, Charlotte Gainsbourg. Neighbour of ours, don't you know:


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10

In the ever impressive line-up of bands coming over to perform in Dublin the most recent additions are Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett’s Gorillaz who’ll be playing their first ever Irish show (finally!) in the 02 on the 22nd of September, and hotly-tipped Mancunian electro duo Hurts will be playing in Whelan’s on the 20th of May. While I’m sure they’ll get the obligatory comparisons between themselves and Joy Division, chiefly due to the fact that they are from Manchester and are musicians with a fondness for synthesisers, their music isn’t quite that easy to read which makes it all the more interesting.

Lately I’ve been search through my CD collection to find some hidden treasures that I’d forgotten about in the intervening years since I bought them, and started listening to PJ Harvey’s ‘Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea’ again. Very rarely can anyone make what appears to be quite vicious and intimidating singing sound equally as endearing as it is confusing.

After listening to the album and reminiscing I decided to look up what she’s doing now, and found a recent video of her performing her new song on The Andrew Marr Show. While I’m not too sure about the song, I was oddly pleased about the fact that Gordon Brown was watching from one of the monitors. I wonder what he thought? The song is called ‘Let England Shake’.


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08

Back in 2007 we introduced you to Tender Forever, a Bordeaux electro act based in Oregon, USA.

Melanie Valera, a.k.a. Tender Forever

As you might recall, Tender Forever is not a group but the nom de pop of Mélanie Valéra (right) - yes, a mere 'de' short of sharing her name with the dominant public figure of 20th century Ireland. (Our non-Irish readers will know Éamon de Valera as the baddie in the film 'Michael Collins'.)

The PR opportunities in Ireland would have been wonderful - an electronica version of 'Amhrán na bhFiann' to close the next Fianna Fáil Árd-Fheis; a residency at Áras an Uachtaráin; a photo op where she symbolically defends a packet of Boland's cream crackers against an English stag party. (As she's now domicile in the States, her American connection would grant her immunity.) And she's tall, skinny and dark-haired - are we sure they're not related?

Alas, Mélanie Valéra will have to rely on her music to make an impact in Ireland. Fortunately, her music is good. 'No Snare' is the third Tender Forever album: another likeable collection of idiosyncratic alt-folk-flavoured electronica.

The title may suggest an animal trap but is actually inspired by an absent drum sound, according to the Tender Forever MySpace page:

NO SNARE is less a rejection of things that have been, as it a reconfiguration. Take away the snare and there isn't a loss, just a new song. As we pass through the flood of moments that is our lives we make a constant stream of decisions as to what to hold on to and what to let go of.  But it is always our life, even as it changes radically.

Valéra's lyrics tend to be as heartfelt, contemplative and personal as that teenage-poetry blurb suggests. And her pick n' mix of pounding rhythms creates a sense of emotional urgency, which gives her songs a human warmth not always evident in electronic music.

Check out les chansons de Valéra at her MySpace page. Here's our favourite of her new songs, what has all the comely maidens dancing at the crossroads -  the excellent 'Like The Snare That's Gone':


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02

One of France's bona fide pop legends has just released a new album. 'La Pluie Sans Parapluie' (in English, "the rain without an umbrella") is the twenty-sixth studio album by Françoise Hardy.

Françoise Hardy

You might recognise the name from her 1994 collaboration with Blur on 'La Comédie', a reworking of 'To The End'. However, like with Serge Gainsbourg (of whom more later), there's a lot more to Hardy than a sole Franco-English duet known in the U.K. (For one thing, she had a UK Top 20 hit in 1965 with 'All Over The World'.)

First, though, some vital Françoise Hardy trivia for your next pub quiz:

Factoids aside, we reckon Hardy was one of the first female singers to become successful with her own compositions - her 1962 debut single 'Tous Les Garçons Et Les Filles' sold half a million copies. Her early style was somewhere between US folk and French chanson, often played simply on an acoustic guitar or piano.

Rare for a pre-electronica French act, Hardy made a concerted effort at success in the UK - she released three albums of songs in English, mostly containing translations of her original French songs. The third of these albums, 'If You Listen' from 1971, captures the late-'60s-early-'70s pastoral-folk-pop vibe: it's quite good. (You can picture students of that time listening to it in their bedsits.)

As for her best ever song, you might know it as a cover version. 'Comment Te Dire Adieu' was a 1990 hi-NRG disco hit for Jimmy Somerville and June Miles Kingston. Hardy's version was a French chart success in 1969 - and was itself a cover version.

Before 'Comment Te Dire Adieu' there was 'It Hurts To Say Goodbye' - a typically maudlin and manipulative slushfest by Vera Lynn. Apparently, Hardy heard an instrumental version, liked the melody and asked for some French lyrics from none other than Serge Gainsbourg. Words done en français, Serge then decided to sort out the music.

Even by the dizzyingly high standards of Gainsbourg's work at that time, 'Comment Te Dire Adieu' is magnificent. Like all great pop songs, its apparent simplicity hides a satisfying depth and complexity. The original's slushy melodrama is replaced by clipped arrangements that have an edgy sang-froid; listen just before the first verse for the pedal cymbal that hisses like a cobra. Serge's trademark symphonic strings infuse the song with glamour and a slight hint of feeling - but only a slight hint. Hardy remains impeccably poised and aloof throughout - even her spoken-word middle section is delivered matter-of-factly, like a dispassionate voiceover. (Compare it to the except of dialogue from Charlotte Gainsbourg used as the intro to Madonna's 'What It Feels Like For A Girl'.)

Just as remarkable as Gainsbourg's arrangements were his new lyrics. Already known as a provocateur, and with pop's most notorious single soon to follow, Serge had the ingenious idea of making nearly all the lines rhyme with '-ex'. As the '-ex' rhymes become more imaginative, the song progresses towards a seemingly inevitable encounter with the most taboo '-ex' word of all. (Even today, how many mainstream English-language pop songs feature the word 'sex'? Not the meaningless 'sexy' but the blunt 'sex'?) What's more, in French 'sexe' is the word for the reproductive organ. One can imagine the listener (and the censor) of the time wondering where this song would go.

(Had this song been released in the UK, it would have been banned by the BBC for an unacceptable '-ex' word: a piece of product placement in the third and final verse.)

'Adieu' is something of a definitive 'goodbye forever', where 'au revoir' means 'until we see each other again'. In English, of course, we can use 'goodbye' to mean both 'adieu' and 'au revoir'. Here in glorious colour is the ultra-cool Françoise Hardy of 1969 with 'Comment Te Dire Adieu'. Goodbye:


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29

Nasal mucus - British and Irish people know it as 'snot', while our north American friends speak of 'boogers'. Note how the European term is a collective noun while the US/Canadian word is countable; this suggests that-

CLUAS gaffer: What are you on about, you eejit?

Your correspondent: Why, it's the intro for a post about a French singer and his cracking new tune. Our readers will want to know the cultural and linguistic backgrou-

CLUAS gaffer: Just post the bloody tune, alright? And keep it respectable - I'm staying at Silvio Berlusconi's villa this weekend and I don't need you embarrassing the site!

Boogers

Right. Umm... Stéphane Charasse is from Tours in the picturesque Loire region of central France. A former DJ on local indie radio station Radio Béton ('béton' is the French word for 'concrete'), Charasse makes idiosyncratic indie music under the nom de pop of Boogers. His second album, 'As Clean As Possible', is out now.

The lead-off track from 'As Clean As Possible' is a real charmer. It's called 'I Lost My Lungs'. The happy-go-lucky vocalising at the start might remind you of 'Widths and Heights' by Manchester electro-folkie Magic Arm. Charasse's monotonous spoken-word verses - so typical of French male singer-songers - are outweighed by the snappy, melodic arrangement around him. In particular, the guitar parts - funky clipped chords in the verses and a fizzy rising scale in the middle section - are positively joyous.

Charasse has found a novel way to promote his new album - concerts on the train. Boogers will perform on the TGV from Paris to Nîmes on the afternoon of 27 May and on the Paris-Lyon service on 2 June. Both appearances will be followed by a showcase at the local FNAC record store, depending on the timely arrival of his train.

You can find more info and tracks on Boogers' MySpace page. Here's the video for 'I Lost My Lungs', set on a train station platform:


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26

Saturday the 17th of April was Record Store Day, an initiative which is now in its fourth year that encourages people to support their local independent record shop. This was of course a day marked in the calendar of indie music shop owners everywhere and it was also an ample opportunity for me to wander around Dublin City having a look in some of my favourite record shops, and discovering some new ones.  Most impressive was Road Records, a favourite of mine. The staff donned suits for the occasion and chalked the logo for Record Store Day outside the shop.

And besides the great atmosphere there was another reason to get excited about Record Store Day - limited edition vinyl releases. There was interesting array of releases this year; a Factory Records compilation featuring the likes of Joy Division and Happy Mondays, The Beatles 'Paperback Writer / Rain' 7” and Blur’s first single since 2003 (and this time including Graham Coxon!) ‘Fool’s Day’ were among some of the must-haves. Luckily for those of us who couldn’t get the Blur vinyl in time the song is now available as a free download here.

And last but not least are the in-stores, the one which I was most excited about was Villagers, but he was unable to be there as he was stranded in Belgium because of the unforgiving volcanic ash. I did get to see Heathers' in-store in Tower Records, it was the day after their Late Late Show performance, and their music was as striking as ever. Here's a video of their most popular song so far, which I'm sure everyone's heard on the Discover Ireland ads, 'Remember When.'


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24

Our regular readers know by now this blog's taste in pop. Catchy and swaggering, please - and if it's dark and electro-fied too, so much the better. We find that in France it's the boy-girl duos who do this best - Pravda and John & Jehn, for instance.

Pink Noise Party

Joining that esteemed company are Pink Noise Party (right), a Paris pair comprising Joy Buckley and Syd Rey. (Pink noise is a sound frequency just lower than white noise, and is a feature of analogue keyboards.)

What do we know about them? Well, perusing their MySpace page the following facts present themselves:

  • They're both quantum physicists, meeting in university at a class that Syd was teaching and Joy taking.
  • They build their own keyboards, using parts from old synthesisers.
  • They give underwater performances.
  • They have a gig this August at a festival in Balaclava near the Black Sea port of Sevastopol, scene of the (in)famous Charge of the Light Brigade in 1854.

Even if none of that is true (though quantum physicists are quite welcome to become pop stars), Pink Noise Party are already far more interesting, imaginative and creative than most bands. So far, so good!

But what about the tunes? Well, they're synth-y and slinky - those home-made analogue keyboards have the retro vibe of Roxy Music and the disco-tronic glamour of The Human League. Taut guitar riffs put the swagger into tracks like 'X Buddy' and 'Golden Blond Pulsar Trance' (quantum physicists, remember), while 'Pesky Girl' has an industrial harshness. And the songs have melodies and choruses, stuff most French bands seem to consider contemptible.

Which is not to say that Pink Noise Party haven't been thinking about their art. Back to their MySpace blurb to see how they see themselves: "They describe their music as l’art consomme de melody pop [...] Their lyrics are in turn introspective or committed, pondering in particular on the frantic tempo of post-modern western lifestyle."  Oh dear.

But anyway, you only have to listen to their tunes, not make dinner-table conversation with them. Check out the Pink Noise Party MySpace page to hear some of their fine tracks. Here's the only video we've found of them - from a show earlier this month at L'International in Paris (a regular haunt of your correspondent), it's 'By Numbers':


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22

Rock en Seine might be familiar to you, by name at least. Last year the annual Paris summer festival earned its place in rock history/pub quiz trivia when Oasis split up mere minutes before they were due to go on stage.

Indeed, Rock en Seine has had recurring problems with its choice of headliners. Two years in a row, Amy Winehouse cancelled at the last minute. Such are the perils of booking tabloid-friendly big-name rock stars.

Rock en Seine 2010

It seems that the festival organisers have learned their lesson: this year Rock en Seine goes for weekend-wide credibility rather than putting all their eggs in one basket-case.

And they've done well - Rock en Seine 2010, on 27-29 August  in the Parc de Saint-Cloud on the edge of Paris, looks much more impressive than recent editions. Mainstream and alternative music fans alike will find much to enjoy.

That said, the first day doesn't appeal greatly to your indie-kid correspondent. Blink 182, of all people, top a bill of '90s nostalgia acts - Cypress Hill, Skunk Anansie and Underworld. Foals, The Kooks and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club fill out the field.

Day two makes up for it. True, the headliners are another '90s heritage act - Massive Attack - and a safe-hands rock band - Queens of The Stone Age. But LCD Soundsystem, Two Door Cinema Club (for their monthly French concert), Kele Okereke (of Bloc Party) and Jonsi (of Sigur Ros) bring a breeze of cool freshness that should clear the flatulent stink of Paolo Nutini.

On the third day: Arcade Fire, Roxy Music, Beirut, Eels and Wave Machines. Oh yes.

More acts will be revealed in June. At the time of writing, there are no French artists booked for Rock en Seine. None at all. No doubt a token 'new bands stage' will be cooked up for appearance's sake at least.

A weekend pass for the très tasty Rock en Seine 2010 costs a trifling €99, and can be booked online from FNAC and other French ticket-pushers. The festival site is at the end of a Paris metro line and even has the LUAS passing by. On-site camping is available for three-day passholders and must be booked online: €45 for a two-person tent-space and €90 for the four of you.

Full details, including online ticket and campsite reservations, are available in English and French at the Rock en Seine website.

No French acts yet, so for the moment this is as French as Rock en Seine gets - LCD Soundsystem's 'Daft Punk Is Playing At My House':


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17

Conor O'Brien popped over to Paris last week, playing a solo set as support to Wild Beasts at the Maroquinerie.

Conor O'Brien/Villagers live at the Maroquinerie in Paris, April 2010

(As it happens, it was three years ago this week that his former band, The Immediate, played one of their last concerts at the same Paris venue.)

A packed house saw and heard the Villagers man (right) run through tracks from his forthcoming album, 'Becoming A Jackal'. O'Brien was armed with a three-quarter sized acoustic guitar that had the soundhole taped over, giving a dull yet warm effect.

However, the stripped-down show shone an unflattering light on O'Brien's material. With no backing or arrangements, his songs sound like typical Irish male singer-songer fare - hook-free tunes and laboured lyrics. In particular, O'Brien's words stood out for unforgiving attention. He seems too fond of the rhyming dictionary - for example, there's a "shackles/jackals" groaner and one of his female characters is called Laurie only because the next line's rhyme is "life story".

Elsewhere it's all tired emotional shorthand like 'truth' and 'love' and 'light', delivered by O'Brien with grimaces, closed eyes and a Hansard-esque quiet-to-loud delivery. There's no room for an emotional response from the listener - O'Brien's facial contortions and facile lyrics tell us what we should be feeling.

Villagers are being hailed by some as the next big Irish thing. However, on the evidence of this acoustic set and the full-band recordings O'Brien is more like Whelan's lock-in version 2.0.

Earlier in the week, O'Brien was in London to appear on 'Later...' with Jools Holland. From that show, here's Villagers with 'Becoming A Jackal':


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16

Two Door Cinema Club aren't the only Ulster band making a big impression in France this season.

And So I Watch You From Afar live in concert

Choice-nominated Belfast post-rock foursome And So I Watch You From Afar (right) have done their Gallic chances no harm at all after a storming show at the Flèche d'Or in Paris last Wednesday.

The previous title-holder in rocking the Flèche was Ted Leo, whose shuddering 2007 juggernaut of a show can still be heard echoing in the toilets. ASIWYFA smacked down the gauntlet with a set that was loud, swaggering and uproarious fun.

Fun is the key. Post-rock can be cold and cerebral; hard rock is often crass and cheap. But ASIWYFA-rock is built for jumping and roaring and headbanging and air-punching. The sizeable crowd, mostly French as far as we could hear, went mad.

It helps, of course, that ASIWYFA come across as committed and likeable. Rory Friers flung himself around the stage and even down the front of the crowd. And the impish Tony Wright seemed genuinely chuffed at the ecstatic reaction of the Paris crowd. Two songs in and he thanked the crowd for coming: "Merci pour l'arrivée!" - which actually means "Thanks for the finishing line!"

Fortunately, there was a whole night of rocking out ahead - and ASIWYFA will certainly go a long way further in France.

No footage from the Flèche online yet, so here are And So I Watch You From Afar at the Damnation Festival in Leeds last year with 'If It Ain't Broke, Break It'. Rock!


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Nuggets from our archive

1999 - 'The eMusic Market', written by Gordon McConnell it focuses on how the internet could change the music industry. Boy was he on the money, years before any of us had heard of an iPod or of Napster.