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:

06

At the moment, Burger King are running television advertisments for a new food product called 'Dark Whopper' which they claim is inspired by 'Spider Man 3'; adman speak for a hamburger inspired by a turkey. Few films I have seen this year have matched Spider Man 3 for sheer lack of quality and that includes the lousy 'Idiocracy'; a satire on stupidity that manages to be even dumber than the people it has set out to parody.

'Spider Man 3' is the latest in a series of movie adaptations of comic book characters that attempts to give their subject some, er, depth. Hulk, Batman, Superman and Spidey himself have all befallen attempts to give them greater emotional range and the results have been, without exception, 'Hamlet' as re-written by the script team behind 'The OC'; and in Spider Man's case complete with the Ghost of Banquo as played by Willem Dafoe. I won't bore you with the details but the fight between Peter Parker and Harry Osborn in Osborn's penthouse is more reminiscent of a backstage catfight between two drag queens at the Miss Alternative Ireland contest, "Take that you bitch!", than it is a punchup between two super strong alpha males, and Parker's dark side is revealed when he starts to dress like a 16 year old Goth fan complete with eyeliner and floppy fringe.

I am not surprised though. I had feared the worst when I learned that the soundtrack to 'Spider Man 3' contained a track  by Snow Patrol, a band into whose every song you could insert the lyric, "Mummy / I have wet the bed / Again" and it would fit perfectly. Try it yourself sometime. It would appear that the continuing march of Girly Man culture, which has all but destroyed modern guitar rock, has now got a firm hold on the action movie too. Pity.

 

 


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04

The news that English enviromental charity Surfers Against Sewage have pulled the plug on their 2007 fundraising Surfers Ball on the basis that it was losing money, despite its popularity, raises the question whether charity gigs are really for charity ?

Listed by The Sunday Times as one of the top summer events to attend, atrracting crowds of up to 4,000 revellers and featuring live bands such as Razorlight and The Darkness just as they were on the cusp of chart succcess there is no question that the SAS Surfers Ball was one of the big social events in the English calendar but the spiralling costs involved in mounting the event meant that the charity was using its own funds, raised from other charitabe work, to underwrite and subsidise what was intended to be a fundraising event in its own right.

The simple economic fact is that the money that is raised for the named charity at the average charity gig is simply the net profit after costs, if there is any profit to begin with. Far from being first in line for a cheque, the charity is often last in the queue after all the supplier's costs are deducted. Yet, each week the Irish press is full of advertisments for charity balls and charity gigs for a host of worthy causes but when you read the after gig coverage you wonder who the real beneficiaries of the event are. Here is a brief excerpted media report of the backstage atmosphere of one high profile charity concert in Ireland, "Food was smoked salmon on brown bread and chicken wings carried around on platters. The venue was decked out in thick carpets, leather sofas and big gilded mirrors. Heavy velvet curtains separated the VIP bar from the main room." Hmm.

It's something that Surfers Against Sewage have been aware of and have decided to take positive action on since, if any charity event is not working first and foremost for the goal that the charity is devoted to, then it is pointless to continue with it. As they say themselves, "We are clear that we cannot run the event again unless we are confident it can raise significant funds for SAS. We can never allow ourselves to reach a position where our campaigning work may suffer as a result of us having to subsidise an event such as the Ball".

Maybe its time to say goodbye to the fundraising gig and hello again to just sending the charity the money in the post. I certainly dont want my hard earned donation to get turned into smoked salmon canapes for some Z list celeb.


To learn more about Surfers Against Sewage and to support their invaluable enviromental work:
http://www.sas.org.uk/


 


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03

Last night, BBC Two broadcast a powerful film and inspiring film on the ongoing ecological threat to Hawaii entitled, "Hawaii - Message in the Waves", featuring contributions from a number of Hawaiian surfers, such as musician Jack Johnson, who are playing an ongoing role in protecting the ecological riches of Hawaii.

One of the sequences showed Johnson touring Hawaiian schools to teach young children about the importance of sustainable development by employing his skills as a musician though simple songs such as "Reduce, Re-Use, Recycle" to bring that message home.

In another sequence, we were taken to the most northerly Islands in the chain which, although declared a national park and protected by law, also contain some of the dirtiest beaches in the world as various forms of throw away plastic products from other countries, some dating back to the 1960s, wash up on the shores there after years of circling the Pacific ocean. This rubbish is also leading to the decline of Albatross numbers in the area as chicks swallow a variety of plastics such as cigarette lighters, toys and toothbrushes leading to starvation as they subsequently have less space in their stomachs for food or water. One of the contributors spent an hour walking across one of the beaches collecting detrius from the decaying carcasses of a number of these chicks and then laid it out neatly on the sand. The results were horrifying as the contributor simply explained that we are all responsible for this rubbish.

In a third sequence, dolphins were filmed playing a favourite game of theirs where they race through the waves, balancing a fallen leaf on their fins and passing it from dolphin to dolphin except now they play the game with discarded plastic bags. Depressing and inspiring in equal measure, this programme encouraged viewers to each play their part in making this world a cleaner place to live in for all creatures great and small and pointed out that it is a privilege to play in our oceans and that privilege comes with responsibility. It is a form of stewardship that the Ancient Hawiians understood very well and that Hawaiians of today through the the rediscovery of old values are beginning to realise is still just as relevant.

Image Credit: Albatross © Rebecca Hosking

 


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01

We scoured the internet looking for what France's internationally-famous popstars think of the current presidential election. Not much luck, though - we're none the wiser on how Daft Punk or Sebastien Tellier will be voting. Superstar DJ David Guetta and sweaty old rocker Johnny Hallyday are both supporters of conservative candidate Nicolas Sarkozy, and we're fairly sure that the globetrotting Manu Chao would vote against 'Sarko' and his heavy-handed immigration policy.
Pocket billiards: Air, not so keen on female politicians
However, we eventually found a recent interview that Air gave to Playboy magazine while promoting their latest album "Pocket Symphony". Here's the collected wisdom of Nicolas Godin and JB Dunckel on the possibility of socialist candidate Segolene Royal becoming France's first female president:

Godin: Women are worse than men with power—they feel they must outdo men, like Margaret Thatcher. And despite being a Socialist, Royal is like a conservative as well.

Dunckel: She’s pretty but I don’t like her politics—you get the feeling there are people controlling her behind the scenes. The best politician is a good looking man who is quite clever and sane.


So much for the French Enlightenment. Even the journalist - a writer for the world's leading skin mag, remember - found their views "indicative of a sort of Gallic machismo".

We say: w*nkers.


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01

Rosario Dawson - sawn off at the thigh...During the utlimately rather forgettable 300, I found myself thinking about the trailer I'd just seen for Grindhouse, a double bill directed by Robert Rodriguez (who made the heroic Sin City) and Quentin Tarantino (do we need to list his triumphs?). The gorgeous Rosario Dawson as a stripper with a machine gun for a leg. A grizzly looking Kirk Douglas wearing an iconic eye patch. Again. The trailer was so gloriously over the top - a quick scan round the audience revealed many a popcorn muncher elbowing his partner or mate, mouthing "what the f*** is this?!".

I've been annoying my partner about this film for months.

And, now, the release in Australia (and Ireland) has been postponed. Indefinitely. The box office takings of the movie in the US have been disastrous - a measly $12 million in its opening weekend (over Easter - traditionally a strong movie-going period). Considering the movie had a reputed budget of $100 milliion, this represents a flop of titanic proportions.

A double bill of Rodriguez' Planet Terror (a zombie horror flick) and Tarantino's Death Proof (a car chase cum serial killer cum god knows what else) complete with spoof trailers, Grindhouse was shot as a homage to the cheap 'n' nasty, violent, pornographic low budget movies of the 60s and 70s. It sounds a winner, doesn't it? Both directors, now firm friends, have made careers of taking scenes and dialogue from movies and directors they love, and putting a new milennium spin on them. Reservoir Dogs owed much to Ringo Lam's 1987 Hong Kong thriller, City of Fire. Rodriguez's El Mariachi was a Western that was indebted to John Woo who, in turn, was a disciple of Sam Peckinpah. Tarantino took pop culture to new heights in Pulp Fiction especially and even if you didn't get all the film or genre references, the movie was so much fun that you could not help being swept along. So what's gone wrong? It seems to me that the problem with Grindhouse is that the whole movie is a reference to a genre that is not held in such high esteem. And didn't Tarantino and Rodriguez already make a grindhouse movie with From Dusk To Dawn with it's vampires and violence and a vamping Salma Hayek. Reports of American cinema goers leaving halfway through as they did not know it was a double bill are probably exaggerated, but are symptomatic of the movie's many problems.

Rumour has it that Grindhouse will, ironically, now be split into its constituent parts and released as two separate movies. Tarantino's effort, Death Proof, will apparently be showcased in Cannes (where he controversially won the Palm D'Or for Pulp Fiction) while Rodriguez's effort is in limbo. 

All I am is massively disappointed. There have been few cinema events this past year and now Harvey Weinstein, in his wisdom, has decided that America's indifference to this challenging movie will be reflected worldwide. Has Tarantino really lost the plot? Or does he deserves studio support since Weinstein's powerful position in Hollywood owes much to Reservoir Dogs. Maybe Grindhouse is too much of an in-joke for a mainstream audience ($100 million for such a movie does seem ridiculous) but godammit, it needs to be seen!

 


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30

1 May sees a free open-air concert in Paris in support of Segolene Royal, once a French au-pair in Dublin but nowadays the socialist contender in this Sunday's decisive final round of the French presidential election.Campaign posters for Segolene Royal (posted over those of her rival, Nicolas Sarkozy)

The Stade Charlety in the south of the city is expected to be full for an afternoon- and evening-long series of performances by big names from France's chanson francaise scene, none of whom are famous abroad, though. Cali, Renaud, Benabar and Olivia Ruiz (to name the bigger names taking part) make the sort of bland, lyric-heavy skiffle-pop beloved by the bobos (bourgeois bohemians) of Paris. Only rapper Disiz La Peste, writing mainly about France's continuing social and racial problems, promises any sort of abrasive social commentary or spiky sounds.

Meanwhile, Ireland's general election takes place in three weeks - and it's hard to imagine the big names of the Irish singer-songer community mobilising themselves in a similar way, even though (for instance) US military intervention or Israeli-Palestine tension bring out the Victor Jara in the most modestly-talented of acoustic-bashers.

If Irish musicians insist on being political from time to time (although, like our hero Oscar Wilde, we wish they would stick to art for art's sake), couldn't they emulate their French and American counterparts in voicing their opinions on unglamorous domestic subjects (in Ireland: the health service, political sleaze, Traveller-Settled tension) rather than hopping on the bandwagon of this month's fashionable faraway protest issue?


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30

... can be heard here. The Stripes are even more Led Zep than ever. Magnificent!

 


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30

One of the more interesting of the music prizes on offer is the ShortList.

The list this year is remarkable in that it's virtually a distillation of the past 12 months of our CLUAS discussion board faves!... Band of Horses, Beirut, Joanna Newsom, Cat Power. All CLUAS discussion topics over the past months and all very much in with a shout of winning.

For those of you unfamiliar with the "rules" of Shortlist, any album released in the U.S. in 2006 is eligible for nomination as long as it had not been certified gold for domestic US sales of 500,000 or more. The list is chosen by a random selection of musicians - this year that selection really is a fascinating combo. We will have a winning album chosen by Franz Ferdinand, KT Tunstall, Gary Lightbody (Snow Patrol), last year's winner Sufjan Steven and Wayne Coyne (Flaming Lips front man) amongst other luminaries. A long list of 61 has been whittled down to the following:-

1.     Band of Horses - Everything All the Time
2.     Beirut - Gulag Orkestar
3.     Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - The Letting Go
6.     Hot Chip - The Warning
9.     Spank Rock – YoYoYoYoYo
10.   Tom Waits - Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards

For me, the standout is the Tom Waits magnum opus which is rewarding me every time I play it. But if we assume that a living legend really doesn't need another award, then it becomes a quite tricky decision. I'm disappointed that Midlake and Beck didn't make it from the long list as they made, in my opinion, the best albums of their careers. I love the Bonnie Prince record, but it's not the best he's made (you need to go back to 2002's I See A Darkness for that). Cat Power is a little one-paced... Band of Horses have a long way to go. Regina Spektor's Begin To Hope is wildly uneven as the CLUAS review pointed out.

I reckon it will boil down to a straight choice between Hot Chip and (the wildly over-rated?) Joanna Newsom. And Newsom will win. 


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27

If I had to chose one stand out live performance from many years of concert going then, bearing in mind that I have been privileged to have had the chance to see many of the greats such as John Lee Hooker, Lou Reed, Sir Peter Maxwell Davis and Frank Sinatra live, it would have to be the performance by Ensemble Modern & Synergy Vocals of Steve Reich's "You Are (Variations)" and "Music for 18 Musicians" in the National Concert Hall on Sunday 19th February 2006 in the presence of the composer. Reich is often lazily described as the Father of Minimalism but, it would be more accurate to say that he is a composer who values rhythm over melody. This is most clearly seen in his 1970-1971 masterpiece "Drumming". Commentators often state that Reich's trip to Africa in the summer of 1970 inspired the piece which is in four parts that are played without a pause and may last from 55 to 75 minutes in performance depending on the number of repeats but Reich himself points out that’s what that trip to Africa provided was, "confirmation. It confirmed my intuition that acoustic instruments could be used to produce music that was genuinely richer in sound then that produced with electronic instruments." Commentators also mistakenly point out that the piece is also influenced by his study of Balinese Gamelan Semar Pegulingan and Gameland Gambang at the American Society for the Eastern Arts in Seattle and Berkley, California but this study period did not occur until 1973, two years after the completion of 'Drumming". 

Surfing seems to attract more than its fair share of bongo bashers and bores who drone on endlessly about "Bali and Indo" so you could say that "Drumming" would appeal to them on some level but that doesn't alter the fact that it is a wonderfully complex and rich composition and ironically it has become a touchstone for succeeding generations of pecussive composers who work with electronic instruments. Indeed, Reich's own record company Nonesuch Records even produced an album entitled "Reich Remixed" in 1999 featuring remixes of excerpts of "Drumming" by both Fourtet and Mantronix Maximum Drum Formula but these are but a pale shadow of the original. In addition, Reich's influence can be clearly heard on the Arcade Fire track 'Keep The Car Running" where the opening mirrors that of the opening of "Music for 18 Musicians"

Anyway, to give you an easy to digest sample of Reich's muse here is a 1min 7sec clip of a live performance of his piece "Clapping Music" courtesy of YouTube.

Clapping Music (1972)
two musicians clapping
published by Universal Edition (London)
both musicians amplified

Details courtesy: www.stevereich.com

After which you can enjoy an excerpt from his 1983 work "Eight Lines".

Eight Lines (1983)
for ensemble
2fl(=picc).2cl(=bcl)—2pft—strings(2.2.2.2.1)
For performances where the concert hall has a capacity of greater
than 200 the flutes (but not piccolos) & clarinets/bass clarinets and pianos
must be amplified

 


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26


 A Monday night and an RMB350 ticket price to a rock concert in a club over a karaoke bar, next door to a dim sum restaurant. The taxi driver knew the dim sum restaurant – that’s how I found the club. Rushing to get there early, expecting big traffic jams – it’s Sonic Youth – you get a jolt on remembering hey, this is China and no more than one percent of this city of 17 million know who or what Sonic Youth are or that they’re playing in China’s capital tonight.

For those in the know, inside the Star Live, it was an it-event. Local godfather of yaogun (rock n roll) Cui Jian arrived wearing trademark red star baseball cap and army fatigues with a gaggle of wrinkling maybe groupies (his early 1990s period?) in tow. Like many of the local musicians he was in the house to see what he can learn. Down on the stage there were glitches, like when a blonde, catty looking Kim Gordon was left swearing after the mike failed to work for half her first song. She recovered and danced and demanded attention like a grunge goddess should.

"We've waited a long time for this," said shaggy haired guitarist Thurston Moore by way of greeting. He’s surely one of the few rock stars who changes his guitar but not the strap – the man is too tall. A lot of the pre-concert banter among the foreign fans was worries the group would go all experimental on Beijing and send everyone home. They didn’t. After opening with Candle from Daydream Nation and then followed it with another crowd pleaser, Incinerate. For much of the rest of the way it was mostly the best of the rest of the band’s long career, including plenty more from well received Daydream Nation album. To signal their approval the crowd dispatched a pair of long johns, of the kind beloved of most Chinese men, to the stage. There was plenty of applause and a couple of crowd surfs when Thurston got back to the mike for more head-bopping stuff. Like Teenage Riot for the first encore.

The band dedicated Kool Thing to "our friends Carsick Cars," adding, "sorry you couldn't perform." Local support act Carsick Cars had mysteriously been blocked from playing. Ministry of Culture’s orders, said the doorman when we asked on arrival at the venue. Others whispered it was something to do with Sonic Youth – not Carsick Cars – having played the Free Tibet concerts. A youthful love-them-or-hate them group of Beijingers, Carsick Cars even got a mention in the state press, as the locals lucky enough to play for superstars Sonic Youth, which made the late ban an even ruder surprise for the group, which learned their trade off bootleg Sonic Youth albums in Beijing school dorms.

Those in situ for the 8pm Carsick Cars slot were left waiting till 9.30pm, when Sonic Youth took the stage. Noone had thought to put a poster up on the door or to send a someone out with a bullhorn – a common sight at Chinese tourist sites and train stations. It was one of those elephant-in-the-corner moments when the powers that be in China put their foot down and no one wants to talk about it. It’s probably also down to the lousy service and lack of customer awareness that characterizes a lot of restaurants here.

Anyway, the lack of an opening act left time to buy beer and the red t-shirts with a masked Asian-looking nurse’s face which were produced by the concert’s local production company Split-T. Left overs from the band’s Nurse tour, said someone in the know. A steal for foreigners at RMB100 (ten euros) but you’ll get three tshirts in some of Beijing’s markets for that.

All the musicians present, like Xiao Rong from punks Brain Failure, were delighted that Sonic Youth were in Beijing. But most were all agreed the band wouldn’t be making any money off the dates. “Flight cases,” says Xiao Rong. Brain Failure travel take their guitars as carry on luggage and borrow amps and drums when they tour. Sonic Youth and NOFX, which played Beijing shortly before, carry a few trailer loads of gear wherever they fly. Payable if you have a string of dates in 5,000 – 10,000 capacity venues, but not in China where the clubs the band played fit no more than 2,000 people.  

Still, this was probably the first time Beijing has filled a decent venue for a decent international rock act. Suede played a third-filled Chaoyang Gymnasium in 2003 and the following year Deep Purple were giving away tickets outside another fairly ill-suited venue -the Worker's Gymnasium - for their loss-making show. The Rolling Stones and James Brown in the past year played money-mad Shanghai, to 90 percent expat turn-outs.

Despite some local press and blogs calling the crowd at 80 percent Chinese, the Sonic Youth Beijing show was more like 60 percent foreign, 40 percent local. The security took tickets and then employed elaborate infra-red torches to check people back in after a trip to the toilet.

What it all means is hard to tell. Consider that a full day’s music at Beijing’s Midi experimental music festival (of which more anon) costs RMB50, the show was more a came-and-be seen moment rather than a came-and-conquered-China event. It was a great show, but my favourite memory is of local lecturer and music guru Michael Petis – he runs the D-22 club and hired Sonic Youth as a house band for a club in New York in the 1980s – waiting outside with a spare ticket to pass on to one of the many Chinese musicians who couldn’t afford the ticket price.


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Nuggets from our archive

2008 - A comprehensive guide to recording an album, written by Andy Knightly (the guide is spread over 4 parts).