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:

01

Firstly New Yorkers White Rabbits combine strong vocals and catchy hooks seamlessly. Switching flawlessly from piano to jagged guitars and acoustic tracks throughout their second album ‘It’s Frightening’ shows that it’s probably time to believe the hype.

The soulful vocals of Blue Roses, aka Laura Groves, show similarities to The Joy Formidable’s Ritzy and a nod to 60s girl group The Shangri-La’s.  She’s self described as “writing songs for instruments I can't play yet and making choirs out of my voice” with songs adorned with tambourines and memorable lyrics. ‘Anyone Who Knows What Love Is’ wouldn’t sound out of place in the backroom of The Cavern in the 60s. A rare glimpse of an artist whose songs may be new, but appears to hold nostalgia for the past without sounding like a distempered tribute act.

Preparing to tour with White Lies and Enter Shikari are Scottish hopefuls Twin Atlantic. At times drawing comparisons to You Me At Six and Biffy Clyro as a result of their heavy rock sound intertwined with pop rock a la You Me At Six. ‘What Is Light? Where Is Laughter?’ is a highlight, and your ears will thank you for listening to it.

Though all three currently don't have plans to tour in Ireland as of yet there's always hope! Closer to home, Irish indie favourite Fionn Regan will be touring Ireland in March and will be playing in Vicar Street on the 13th of March. The dates are as follows:

  

          5th March      Electric Avenue        Waterford  

     6th March      Dolan's                    Limerick

7th March     School of Music      Cork

 10th March   Nerve Centre           Derry

     11th March   The Empire              Belfast

  12th March   Roisin Dubh           Galway

          

Overall, this year is looking good for Irish live music. Additionally, Happy February!


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31

Excellent news for the French music scene from Los Angeles last night. At the 2010 Grammy Awards, 'Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix' by Phoenix won the prize for Best Alternative Album.

Best Alternative Album, Grammy 2010

The other nominees? 'Everything That Happens Will Happen Today' by David Byrne and Brian Eno, 'It's Blitz' by Yeah Yeah Yeahs, 'The Open Door EP' by Death Cab For Cutie and 'Sounds Of The Universe' by Depeche Mode.

Ironically for an 'alternative' award, this Grammy win will surely be significant in terms of Phoenix's continued progress to American mainstream success. Your correspondent finds this album to be a slight disappointment - but Phoenix are still a great band. To them we say: chapeau!

Le jour de gloire est arrivé also for David Guetta, who took home a Grammy for his remix of 'When Love Takes Over' featuring Kelly Rowland.

Other winners last night include Kings Of Leon ('Use Somebody' - Record of the Year!), Bruce Springsteen (Best Rock Vocal Performance), Green Day (Best Rock Album), AC/DC (Best Hard Rock Performance), Lady Gaga and Beyoncé. Full details of winners and nominees are available at www.grammy.com.

In Irish news, the 2010 Grammy shindig featured Imelda May's duet with Jeff Beck on 'How High The Moon' as part of a tribute to the late Les Paul. Meanwhile, U2 were nominated for three awards but didn't win any.

From their Grammy-winning album, here's Phoenix with 'Lisztomania':


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25

What? Three weeks without the Gainsbourg-Birkins appearing on this blog? Luckily, and coinciding with the John Lennon biopic 'Nowhere Boy', we have the release of 'Gainsbourg: Vie Héroique' - the film by esteemed comic strip artist Joann Sfar of the life of France's greatest ever pop star.

We brought you a sneak preview last November. Noting the startling resemblance of Eric Elmosnino and the late Lucy Gordon to Serge n' Jane, we worried that the film would get stuck in a rut of impersonation.

Our fears were justified - 'Gainsbourg: Vie Héroique' is a fawning and superficial treatment of a fascinating and complex man.

Serge of un-enthusiasm: the disappointing 'Gainsbourg: Vie Héroique' by Joann Sfar

It starts well, establishing themes and motifs. Young Lucien Ginsburg is insolent, artistic, charming, indulged by his mother - and Jewish in 1940s Paris. With the clever device of marionette-like alter-egos preying on Lucien's vivid imagination, Sfar captures the latent creativity and volatility of the future artist-provocateur. Lucien avoids the worst of Nazi occupation (i.e. deportation and death) by leaving Paris for a provincial boarding school and feigning non-Jewishness - at one point hiding in the woods for three days to avoid a local round-up. A key early scene has Lucien almost charming the clothes off a still-life model from his art class - here is the charisma that would make Juliette Greco, Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin fall for a man who was far from being a hunk. Seducing the ladies, evading the Nazis - he charms the viewer too, as do the rich colours and Lucien-esque energy of these opening scenes.

But suddenly Sfar jumps ahead to the adult Ginsburg and soon-to-be Gainsbourg (played by Elmosnino) who is now clumsy around women, troubled by dark thoughts and insecure about his art. What happened to charming young Lucien? Sfar offers no explanation and thereby breaks the narrative thread.  He seems overeager to finish the hard work of character exposition and get to the good stuff: Serge playing his hits and frolicking with naked babes. (Sfar repeatedly makes the sexist faux-pas of showing Serge fully-dressed while his lady friend is nude. Perhaps to - ahem - redress this, during the later Birkin years there are some full-frontal shots of Elmosnino.)

From here on in, the film is reduced to variety-show impersonation that will please French audiences but bore the rest of the world. (Even Sfar is at it - he makes a cameo as balladeer Georges Brassens.) Anna Mougalis, as a smouldering Juliette Greco, has an appealing few minutes but is essentially a plot device to push Gainsbourg into leaving his wife and children for the pop star life. Former model Laetitia Casta struts on as Brigitte Bardot as if simply because we're at the point in the film where Gainsbourg writes 'Initials B.B.' (Rather witlessly, this is the music that plays as she enters.) Likewise, Gordon as Birkin appears on cue but personality-wise is as flimsy as her dresses. All the female characters in this film are one-dimensional and serve only to signpost certain points in Serge's life.

Speaking of signposts, too often Sfar hastily moves the film along with clunking story-marker scenes that reveal his background in attention-deficit cartoons. You should write an innuendo-laden song sung by an innocent young girl, fellow artist Boris Vian suggests to Gainsbourg - cut to Serge slithering up to prissy France Gall and proposing 'Les Sucettes'. On a beach in Jamaica a young boy sings 'La Marseillaise' to Gainsbourg: next thing he's recording a reggae version that incites violent protest from French ex-paratroopers. Most ridiculous of all is when old Mr Ginsburg, almost face-to-camera, breathlessly informs his wife (and us): 'He wrote a saucy song for Brigitte Bardot but her husband won't let them release it so now they must split up!' Potentially interesting episodes like the reaction to 'Je T'Aime (Moi Non Plus)' are left to wither on the vine.

As for the portrayal of Gainsbourg himself, Elmosnino is engaging and exact. However, with Lucien now grown up as Serge there's no further time or space allowed for character development. For instance, we never get any insight on Gainsbourg's creative vision or processes - he just heads over to the piano and starts playing fully-hatched 'Comic Strip' or 'Le Poinçonneur Des Lilas'

Worse than that, Sfar clearly idolises Gainsbourg so much as to present his most unappealing moments as mere character colour or even as virtues. Every time Serge does something bad, Sfar rewards him. Serge walks out on his wife and two young children: this is his doorway to stardom while his young family are never heard of again in the film. Gravely ill from years of abuse, Serge calls the press to his bedside and chainsmokes triumphantly while on a drip. A drunken Serge fires a gun in front of young Charlotte and makes poor Jane lose the rag: next thing he's single and pulling a sultry young model in a nightclub. (Birkin and Charlotte also immediately disappear from the movie.) Right away Serge bullies this new girl: she just cosies up to him as a sugar-daddy and lovingly bears him a son called Lucien.

The original Lucien reappears in the film's climax, a concert disrupted by those reggae-hating ex-soldiers. The young boy had sung a few bars of the French national anthem earlier in the film - its reprise here, as French people young and old sing as one before turning on Serge, is heavy-handed symbolism. Yes, yes, they love him and hate him, he's both French and an outsider: Sfar seems to think this vignette will suffice in capturing the complexity of Gainsbourg and continuity of Ginsburg. In fact, it just feels like over-compensation for an hour of French pop star impersonations.

In summary, 'Gainsbourg: Vie Héroique' is an entertaining half-hour drama about young Serge that's spoiled by the 90 minutes of plastic telefilm tacked onto it. Go see it only if you're as uncritical a Serge fan as its director.

Here's the trailer:


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24

CLUAS on the move from Arizona to NebraskaTwo weeks ago I undertook one of the biggest tasks in the last 4 years of CLUAS: I moved the entire website to a new hosting company.  It's a move that sees us abandon the arid desert of Arizona for the flat plains of Nebraska... 

For the last four years we were hosted by the Arizona-based company Crystaltech and they served us well. However in the last 6 or so months I have seen that CLUAS needs a hosting company that really understands the Content Management System we use ("DotNetNuke", also known as DNN). DNN is a very sophisticated piece of kit and is simply becoming more and more critical to CLUAS and its operation. 
 
There is one hosting company - PowerDNN - who are fully focused on hosting just DNN websites. Their tech support team know DotNetNuke inside-out, which is exactly when I need to ensure our website is maintained in the right environment and, when problems crop up, that I can contact a support person who knows DNN. PowerDNN - based in Nebraska - fit the bill and are now, I am pleased to say, the new home of CLUAS.com.
 
They are a bit more expensive than our previous company (and we even get less diskspace and database space than we had with Crystaltech, something that has been debated elsewhere) but I think the benefits will outweigh these factors that are less critical in our case.
 
I got to see the expertise of PowerDNN almost immediately during this move: there were a few problems that reared their head in the migration but all was soon solved thanks to the excellent help of Joe, a senior engineer at PowerDNN, who dropped all tools for a period to ensure some rough spots were ironed out and that CLUAS was soon up and running with PowerDNN.
 
Moving the site to these DNN experts in Nebraska brought some immediate benefits. For example, an utterly head-wrecking problem that I have been trying to fix for 6 or so months is now fixed. The problem was that since August 2009 CLUAS users who, during login, clicked the 'remember me' option (which should keep them logged in to CLUAS on that computer for 7 days) would instead find themselves being logged out after a really short period of time, sometimes even minutes. This was a major frustration for writers publishing new articles, or users posting entries to the discussion board, as sometimes they'd be logged out before they 'd finished writing their content and their work would be lost. Thankfully this problem is now a thing of the past.
 
Another benefit I am seeing is a pretty big reduction (it could be as high as 50%) in the load time of pages on CLUAS. I'll wait another week to see if these fast speeds continue to hold up. If so one of Ireland's fastest music websites will have just gotten even faster. Look out for a blog entry from me about it next week with nifty nice graphs and stuff.
 
So, in the meantime can you step aside for Bruce Springsteen and his homage to Nebraska, CLUAS.com's new home...
 

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22

MIDEM, the annual global convention for the music industry, takes place this Sunday to Wednesday (24-27 January) in Cannes on the French Riviera. The major players in the business will gather for conferences and workshops on subjects such as digital media, artist management and various aspects of law - you can download the conference programme (pdf, 2 Mo) and list of speakers (pdf, 9 Mo) for more information.

The MIDEM 2010 site also currently features a 2-part video interview with Ed O'Brien of Radiohead which is worth checking out. (Unfortunately, the page title at the very top of the screen calls him 'Dan O'Brien'.)

Music From Ireland, the body that promotes Irish music at such international events, will be in Cannes for MIDEM - they'll be sharing a stand with IMRO and distributing an excellent 20-track CD of Irish music featuring Villagers, Dark Room Notes, Adebisi Shank, Super Extra Bonus Party, O Emperor and more. You can listen to the compilation online at the Music From Ireland website.

If they have time in between conferences and networking, the attendees will also be listening to live music - MIDEM features its own exclusive programme of concerts (pdf, 0.9 Mo).

Were we being sensationalist, we could suppose that these are the anointed acts from which the execs and whizz-kids will cook up the ad soundtracks and corporate tie-ins and carefully-crafted buzzes of 2010. In any case, MIDEM is an ideal showcase for any act with ambitions of world domination, however fleeting. So, who's playing at MIDEM 2010?

Run, Lisa, run! Ms Hannigan, photo from the MIDEM 2010 programmeOnly one Irish artist is on the bill. Lisa Hannigan appears with her band in a showcase at the Carlton Hotel on Monday night. (She doesn't feature on the Music From Ireland compilation CD, though.)

There are several reasons for thinking that she'll be a hit at MIDEM. First, she's very good. Second, the programme notes mention her collaboration with Damien Rice - a ready-made media angle and sales pitch for the execs. ("If you liked Damo, you'll love..." and so forth.) Third and finally, in her photo in the programme (right) she looks stunning. Let's hope MIDEM is the start of a successful 2010 for the Meath lady.

The host country has a few familiar names. All-girl punk-poppers Plastiscines will be hoping to build on their US exposure to date, despite their awful second album. The Gallic retro-pop of Diving With Andy will charm anyone not scared off by the band's appalling name. (Your correspondent may yet run an English For Pop Music workshop at MIDEM 2011.) And we featured Toulouse's PacoVolume a long time ago - one good song ('Cookiemachine', like an acoustic Super Furry Animals track) and little else.

Anyone else you might know? Dreadlocked English singer-songer Newton Faulkner. Swiss chanteuse Sophie Hunger. And that's it for us - unless you follow featured countries Japan, Taiwan and Korea.

There's a MIDEM fringe - local Irish bar Morrison's is hosting a Canadian night on Tuesday 26 January. Fans of the maple-leaf music scene may be familiar with Jason Bajada, Matthew Barber, Danny Fernandes, Jully Black and Plants And Animals. Given the high quality of Canadian music in recent times, the plastic Irish pub looks like the place to be in Cannes this MIDEM-time.

But we're cheering on Lisa Hannigan here: g'wan Oirland! Here she is with a song named after a city at the opposite end of France from Cannes - 'Lille':


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21

Yes, I still live in the dark ages, emerging from my cave to run to the nearest music shop to buy the latest indie CD as opposed to downloading mp3’s. I just have to get the CD, with the booklet and plastic casing. I probably won’t ever get used to this modern music technology (temporarily ignore the fact I actually write for a music website) because mp3s just don’t seem real to me.

An issue I have with CDs is how deceptive they can be. You wander in to your nearest music shop, and you see the CD in the shop looking so endearing. You sample 1 or 2 songs - it’s amazing! But then you bring it home and all hell breaks loose when you realise it’s not what you thought it was, much like a drunken night in Bangkok, I’d imagine.

This is something I’m sure has happened to everyone at some stage (the decpetive albums, not Bangkok), not that it makes it any less irritating. Here are some prime examples:

Green Day - 21st Century Breakdown
‘21 Guns’ was just about bearable before radio stations began playing it for every second of every day.  Admittedly I thought for the most part ‘American Idiot’ was pretty good, having loved their music from the release of ‘Nimrod’. So I somewhat reluctantly bought 21st Century Breakdown to find quite possibly the most boring and predictable CD of 2009 encased within its plastic shell. I actually can’t listen to this album anymore.

The Killers - Sam’s Town
Still a bit baffled as to why I bought this album in the first place, I’ve never really been a fan of The Killers. Well, I liked ‘When You Were Young’ and ‘Read My Mind’, but found that they were pretty much the only tolerable tracks on the whole album. I got caught up in the hype, only to realise this album is of about as much importance to me as a sock I lost when I was a toddler.


Jack Penate - Matinee
I bought this on the merits of ‘Second, Minute or Hour’ and ‘Torn On The Platform’.  Not the worst debut album I’ve ever heard, not the best either. I got my hopes up about this one expecting it to be packed full of catchy quirky indie music but instead it consisted of maybe 4 good songs and the rest seemed to be added filler just to make the collection of songs an actual album. Not all is lost though, I loved his latest album ‘Everything Is New’.

This is just a dip in the ocean, I could write about this for days. No really, I could. I don’t expect albums full of singles or amazing hooks, filler just irritates me in a way that can never be adequately expressed. Now, go and look at your CD collection or, for the really modern readers, iTunes library, and recall your disdain at purchasing that 30 Seconds to Mars album a few years ago. There’s a tenner you won’t see again!


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19

You might remember us telling you about Two Door Cinema Club when they toured around France last autumn. By now you know them well: plenty of daytime radio airplay and rave reviews have seen to that.

Two Door Cinema ClubWell, the Co. Down trio (right) will be back in France this springtime: not once, not twice, but three times in two months! They're signed to achingly hip Paris label Kitsuné, so the bosses' backyard gets their special attention.

Joking aside, French radio has been playing them too - most notably C'est Lenoir, the excellent and much-loved indie music show on France Inter. (Presenter Bernard Lenoir always takes care to mention that Two Door Cinema Club are 'irlandais'. G'wan Oirland!) Added to that, their shows last year were as part of a tour organised by French music magazine Les Inrockuptibles, who naturally gave them great exposure. So, these three appearances should prove popular with French alt-music fans.

First up for Two Door Cinema Club in France this spring: a show on 24 February at the Nouveau Casino in Paris, a lovely little venue in the trendy Oberkampf district. We reckon it'll sell out or go close enough to doing so.

Then in March the lads fall in for the France/Benelux leg of the European tour by Phoenix. These two bands have a similar sound, so fans of the Versailles foursome may very well come away as fans of Two Door Cinema Club too. Those French dates for this tasty double-bill: 21 March in Dijon, 22 March at the Olympia in Paris, 23 March in Grenoble and 24 March in Nancy.

Finally, after a spin around Germany and Scandinavia, Two Door Cinema Club will return to France on 17 April for a slot at the Printemps de Bourges festival. (Where is Bourges? Almost in the dead centre of France, directly south of Paris.) They share that night's bill with another French group who have an indie-disco vibe, Pony Pony Run Run, plus top DJ Vitalic and one-hit-wonder DJ Mr Oizo (him of the 'Flat Eric' yellow puppet/jeans ad). Also appearing in Bourges are Iggy And The Stooges, Emilie Simon, Archive and Rodrigo y Gabriela.

So, Two Door Cinema Club look set for a successful 2010 in France. You should know this tune of theirs by now - 'Something Good Can Work':


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16

Okay, so I’m not exactly a fan of rap music. I like Eminem and Jay-Z. That’s about as far as my knowledge of rap music expands. Surprise, surprise - I’m more partial to rock and indie music. However, when searching through linking MySpace profiles in a daze a few months ago I stumbled across London rapper Plan B’s profile.

The first track I heard was ‘End Credits’ which features the electro duo Chase & Status. It’s the theme track to the recently released film ‘Harry Brown’ and is so, so catchy. Not to the stage of irritancy, more appreciation of it’s brilliance.  Here’s a taste of how great the lyrics are: “When the blood dries in my veins/and my heart feels no more pain/I know I’ll be on my way to heaven’s gate.” And that’s only a snapshot, ‘End Credits’ is without a doubt one of  my favourite songs of 2009.

The video is also an intriguing affair. As expected, it features footage from the film Harry Brown (which, judging by the footage in the music video, is probably pretty good), with Plan B appearing in various different situations, one being in a police interview room and another in a pub surrounded by people who’ve been killed. At one stage he even levitates (yes, I know). If you look closely, Cook from Skins also makes an appearance!

As for his most recent single ‘Stay Too Long’, well, the jury’s still out on that one. Not really sure what to make of it. In the mean time feast your eyes and reward your ears by watching the video for ‘End Credits’.


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15

For reasons we don't need to dwell on, Franco-Irish relations took a bit of a dive at the end of last year. Croissant boycotts, au pair punishment beatings, burning effigies of Gérard Depardieu - just some of the violent Dublin street scenes broadcast around the world.

The Feeling Of LoveThankfully, this is all behind us now - French people can feel safe to visit Ireland again. Here's the first Gallic band to play in Ireland this decade.

The Feeling Of Love (right) are a trio from the eastern French region of Alsace. (Yes, that means they are Alsatians.) As you might have guessed, the name is ironic - they make squally, shouty Stooges/VU-style alt-rock with a hint of electro. What you lose in whistleable tunes, you gain in having your brains rocked out. Sounds like a fair deal.

To date, The Feeling Of Love have released one album, 'Petite Tu Es Un Hit', and a plethora of singles and EPs, with a second album due out in February. Of their songs, we like 'Handclap Girl' and the intriguingly-named 'Dad = Eat/Mum = Die' and 'Fat Bottom Against Fat Bottom'.

You can see them in Dublin on 13 February at Twisted Pepper as part of the Bodytonic series of shows. According to this plug on the CLUAS discussion board, tickets are only €5, which is excellent value for what seems like a great live band. (Hopefully there isn't an obligatory €10 pint inside.)

Check out some of their tunes at The Feeling Of Love's MySpace page. For a taste of their live show, here they are onstage in Freiburg playing 'Night Cold Dance':


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11

Exactly five years ago today, your blogger arrived in France to take up the position of CLUAS Foreign Correspondent (Paris).

In a scene similar to the opening credits of 'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air', we arrived outside Chateau French Letter, official residence of the CLUAS F.C. (P.), all our hopes and dreams packed into one small case. Our remit: report on the best of French pop, rock and electronica, all the while swanning around Paris thanks to the lavish CLUAS Foreign Correspondent Expense Account.

At first we could get away with submitting a leisurely monthly column, a mere distraction. But then blogging was invented. The CLUAS gaffer, a man with his finger on the technology pulse and a rectal thermometer just to be sure, decided that this new-fangled medium was just the thing for increasing productivity and guaranteeing return on investment. And so French Letter became a fast-acting, high-performance blog.

Your correspondent went along with this idea, figuring that we'd get a few months' worth of posts at best. Almost three years and over 250 posts later, we're still at it.

Alternative music doesn't have as wide an audience in France as in Ireland or the UK. No homegrown indie act would ever break into the mainstream or enjoy broadsheet ubiquity the way Florence And The Machine and The XX did in Britain last year. Hip indie bands from America play smaller venues in Paris than they would in London or Dublin, and mostly to indie-kid ex-pats like your correspondent - last November a double-bill of The Antlers and Cymbals Eat Guitars played to a three-quarters-full venue that each would have filled alone in Ireland. UK acts get greater exposure here because the Paris music press pays close attention to the London scene; the aforementioned Florence and XX will play large halls here very soon. A Libertines concert in Paris in 2003 spawned a whole movement of 'babyrockers' in thrall to London punk n'lager attitude.

Today's French music scene has split along linguistic lines. It's only a slight generalisation to say that alternative, artistically ambitious acts sing in English and mainstream or artistically conservative acts sing self-consciously poetic or socially-aware lyrics in French. To an outsider it seems that French people value lyrics over melody - consequentially a lot of French-language rock music is literally monotonous and tuneless. (Listen to Louise Attaque or Mickey 3D, two popular French bands, and then try to whistle one of their songs.)

Young French bands influenced by melodic UK or US indie-pop (such as the bands featured in this blog) usually write and sing in English. As well as escaping the weight of French lyric-writing's demands for overwrought, politicised verbosity there's also the obvious fact of English having a wider international appeal. In France, English is the language of ambition - and of cultural hipness. The excellent new evening show of popular indie station Le Mouv' is presented by Laura Leishman, a brash Canadian who speaks almost as much English as French on air. (Irish music fans will recognise how female Canadian indie DJs are de rigueur for indie radio stations.) Any day now, your correspondent is going to become extraordinarily hip and sought-after in Paris.

But then, Paris really isn't a musical city any more. Air, Phoenix, Daft Punk and Michel Gondry - the entire vanguard of French alternative pop culture - all come from Versailles. (It's no coincidence that Sofia Coppola, the partner of Phoenix singer Thomas Mars, made an indie-pop biopic of Versailles-based cake promoter Marie Antoinette.) Regional capitals like Bordeaux and Clermont-Ferrand have healthy music scenes that seem to thrive by being far from fashion-conscious Paris. And France's two hippest music festivals, Les Transmusicales and La Route du Rock, take place in the geographically isolated Rennes-Saint Malo area.

In short, there are plenty of great French bands - you just have to look very hard for them and expect them to be singing in English.

Anyway, enough of the sociological analysis - we're supposed to be celebrating! To Paris and France, thanks for five incredible years and the promise of more good times to come. Here's our fellow well-read, rugby-loving Francophile Neil Hannon with his most celebrated song about France:


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Nuggets from our archive

2003 - Witnness 2003, a comprehensive review by Brian Kelly of the 2 days of what transpired to be the last ever Witnness festival (in 2004 it was rebranded as Oxegen when Heineken stepped into the sponsor shoes).