The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011


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:


Recorded on 16 March 2007, below is Duke Special performing 'Freewheel' live on French music programme Taratata. The song is taken from the Duke's fairly wonderful 'Songs From The Deep Forest' album. 

Unfortunately, the clip ends just as the presenter calls Mr Wilson and the lads over for an interview - and as I haven't seen the full programme and haven't yet found a longer clip, I can't yet enlighten you as to whether they do a Damo Rice and speak in French!

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Muma’s World

Written off for dead, art rockers Muma has a new album in the works


In spring time

Teachers are all dead

Muma arrives in revelry


In darkness

Continuous dancing steps

Give out decadent looks

In the whole festival

The subsequent thing is up to you

"Dancing Step" by Muma


Muma Chinese rock bandJeroen Groenewegen spent six hours at Amsterdam airport convincing uniformed Dutch immigration police to release a band just off the afternoon flight from Beijing. A mix-up about the purchase of air tickets meant that Muma didn’t have time to get their visas right. The military police eventually let them go, after an awful lot of convincing. It was so rock and roll, the way Groenewegen recalls it. “Musicians are not known for their talents for applying for visas or arranging airline tickets. They just want to play their music.”


Fresh from the airport, Muma rocked the Melkweg, a club which has hosted a who’s who of international rock acts. “They gave a great show,” says Groenewegen, one of the organizers of Amsterdam’s China Festival in the autumn of 2005. While freeing the second band from the arrivals hall Groenewegen missed the first gig, by Chinese glam rockers Second Hand Rose.


A hall full of Dutch rock fans swayed to dark rockers like Dancing Step and Party. But you could hear a pin drop in the roomy Melkweg when Xie Qiang and keyboardist Feng Lei came to the piano for Fei Fei Rong. On the band’s Jelly Empire alblum the song comes across as a crackly love paen to Xie’s wife and baby, proof that Muma could be sweet as well as sour. There’s something about the Muma sound which in its maturity sets it apart from the band’s peers.


Maybe some credit is due to the foreign production teams - a previous album was mastered in Australia – but Muma has been more comfortable than most other Chinese bands at integrating, Radiohead-style, electronic and vocal tinkerings that other Chinese bands have use as add-ons to cover something lacking in their own sound.


Often compared to those dealers in darkness, Joy Division, Muma is still around because of its songwriting class. Like Xie Tianxiao, with whom they shared the stage at the 2006 Beijing Pop Festival, Muma is an act that stands on the quality of its songwriting. Penning mournful tunes of youthful love, break ups and reunions the band set a high mark with their 1999 debut album, Muma. Existential ponderings like Boggling became underground hits.


Nearly ten years together and doing press for their fourth album (it will be released in May) the original members of Muma met in Beijing in the mid-90s, when they studied at Beijing Midi Music School and swapped Doors and Joy Division tapes. Vocalist and guitarist Xie Qiang dropped a chance to follow his father into the railway company in Hunan province, hitching a ride to Beijing instead where, 17 and broke, he swopped slices of Guns & Roses and Iggy Pop with bassist Cao Cao, from Sichuan.


There’s Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd guitars and a lot of the lyrical darkness of Nick Cave and Tom Waits in Xie’s lyrics, all written in poetic form. There was religion in the mix too. Zhjiang-born drummer Hu Hu was a devout Buddhist taken to meditating before band practice.


After a debut gig in 1998 at the now-defunct Howl Bar the three southerners had a band and gigged in bars across town. “Music was a wall to keep out the more mundane things of life. We didn’t have any money, but we didn’t want to do covers in bars. Playing music is really too profound for that...” says Xie, who got his biggest gig at last year’s Beijing Pop Festival, opening for Placebo. Muma got the gig after after signing to the Rock for China label, a subsidiary of the festival organizer. That meant walking out on Modern Sky, the group’s long-time label, a topic the band is shy to discuss.


The third album “Pudding Empire” was the band’s coming of age. Slickly produced and packaged, but for the pointless alternative versions of the ballad FeiFei Run and the remix, the album has become a staple of most Chinese rock collections. It was also the most upbeat work by a band now older and, in Xie Qiang’s case, a father.


Whatever about the gloomy lyrics, it’s facile to present Muma as the voice of a new breed of angsty Chinese youth, as many local music writers have done. Well-coiffed and dressed in shades of beige, green and brown with jeans and stripey t-shirts, the band stand amidst urban weeds under a night sky in a poster inserted in the sleeve of Jelly Empire. Muma look like models for one of the cookie-cutter Hong Kong clothing brands beloved of China’s youth who, like many of their Asian peers, pass weekends in shopping centres and karaoke bars rather than reading Kurt Cobain or Nietzche.


Confirming the group’s respectability, Muma has also been usurped as the name of a Beijing toymaker supplying learning aids to school children. Literally, Muma in Chinese means wooden horse. The name represents that of a carrousel horse, says Xie. “It symbolizes the joy of one's childhood, as well as the way your mind moves all the time when you’re growing up.”


In that very Chinese fondness to put people and phenomena into generations, Chinese rock is three generational. Cui Jian and Tang Dynasty were the first generation. Dou Wei, He Yong were the second generation. Always influential, Muma stand with Second Hand Roses and Brain Failure as most enduring of the third and latest generation of stars. A new crop of bands like Carsick Cars, Retros and Lonely China Day are claiming ground and will likely be boxed off as the fourth generation of a still-nascent rock scene.


After that Amsterdam adventure Hu Hu left the band. Back in Amsterdam Jeroen Groenewegen remembers shepherding Muma through the delights and bureaucracies of Amsterdam. “I even had to fish one of the members of the band out of the Vondel Park. He had eaten so many mushrooms he thought he was dead.” Now that’s rock and roll.

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Have you had a musical experience that, over time, has festered in your mind until you reach a point where what you feel now is much more intense than what you felt at the time?


Well, let’s talk about Damien Rice’s show at the Enmore Theatre, Sydney, last month. Having had mixed Rice live experiences in the past, I was wary of his mood. On occasion, he can be a storyteller, an engager. On others he can be sullen and dismissive. But seldom, if ever, has an artist shown such disregard for his audience as Rice did that night in Sydney. He was surly, he turned his back to us. He refused completely to engage. His band played with a kind of cautious acceptance, reverentially bowing their heads at the appropriate times as if to let him know that they understand. The show only sparked to life when the band played a glorious Cold Water in near total darkness. How pleasurable it was to not have to look at him! When Rice had left the stage, Vivienne Long gently taunted him by pretending that he was the devil. The tension lifted, albeit briefly. He returned for the encore, a still prickly yet warmer set of songs that teased the audience by hinting at how good the show could have been.


           Separated at birth, according to Vivienne Long...

Now weeks later, when I reflect on the show  I feel a kind of bilious frustration. I’ll never see him again, I threaten. He’s lost me this time, I moan. Surely he knew that there were paying customers out there who would go home unsatisfied. This clearly wilful antagonism has got me thinking about what constitutes a great gig. I filtered through the live experiences that have stayed with me through the years. Is there a common theme? The Flaming Lips at Hammersmith Apollo, Sufjan Stevens (download some live Sufjan tracks here) at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, the Stones in the Olympic Stadium Barcelona, Solomon Burke at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Eels at the Metro Sydney, Gillian Welch Shepherd's Bush. Great gigs, great songs played with exuberance and not a little showmanship. Ray laMontagne, Richard Swift, Antony Hegarty – performers crippled by shyness and depression yet capable of transcending their vices to connect and thrill. Then there's Sleepy Jackson, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Ryan Adams - live performers of huge potential let down by egotism and negativity. Yet still those were memorable gigs, for the wrong reasons of course.


Rice can polarise an audience (like Adams) – the same show can inspire reverence and despair in equal measure, as can be seen by trawling the message boards of his website. My feeling is that he loves his songs, not his audience. He expects his audience to expend significant effort to listen - his band's reverential poses challenge us to bow our heads, to copy their body language, to succumb. He doesn’t want to earn our approval or acclaim. He doesn't seem to care. Indifference or perceived slights by his paying fans are met with overt resentment and not a little anger. Possibly this anger (immaturity?) is what drives him.

What is clear is that this challenging Irish performer can be even more intriguing on the nights he misses than on those he hits.

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Surfing Fender GuitarIn the late 1960s the legendary surfer and inventor of the body board Tom Morey wrote an article for ‘Surfer Magazine’ in which he opined that, “writing about surfing is drawing the sun with one colour”. In the late 1970s, Frank Zappa was quoted in the ‘Chicago Tribune’ as saying that, “rock journalism is people who can't write, interviewing people who can't talk, for people who can't read”. Somewhere between those two quotes lies the secret heart of this new column for Cluas.

Surfing is unique among sporting pursuits in its ability to not only to be artful but to also inspire art. You couldn’t imagine Apocalypse Now’s Colonel Kilgore raiding a Vietnamese village just so his boys could have a game of rugby now could you? And it’s highly doubtful that the Beach Boys would have become so iconic in American pop culture if they had decided to draw inspiration for their songs from the game of golf instead. Nope, there is just something about surfing that brings out the artist and art fan in everyone and right at the top of the list of art forms beloved by surfers is music. At present, all the major surfing magazines have regular music review sections and ‘Transworld Surf’ even has a regular feature where they ask pro surfers like Otto Flores and Zach Hartley what they are listening to on their iPods. It makes sense in way, all that time spent in cars searching the coastline for rideable waves, you have to listen to something from time to time other than your buddies discussing what exactly is the meaning of ‘epic’. And that’s not even getting into the huge amount of music used in the plethora of surf DVDs that are released every year; my favourite being the inclusion of U2s ‘Beautiful Day’ in the recent Aussie body board flick ‘The Road’.

Of course, we haven’t even begun to discuss the many famous musicians who surf such as Metallica’s Kurt Hammett, Pearl Jam's Eddie Veder and Westlife’s Kian Egan; nor the former pro surfers such as Jack Johnson, Donavon Frankenreiter and Jim White who have become famous musicians in their own right.

As for surfing’s continuing ability to inspire musicians who are not themselves surfers I point to Arcade Fire’s ‘Black Wave/Bad Vibrations’ from the recently released ‘Neon Bible’ album and Neosupervital’s single ‘Rachel’; both of which owe a debt to Brian Wilson, referencing as they do ‘Good Vibrations’ and ‘Surfer Girl’ respectively.

All of which is to say that in the columns that follow I will be exploring music, surfing and their interrelationship with each other. After all, they are both art forms which rely on waveforms to exist.

Stay stoked
Reverend Jules

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Nuggets from our archive

2006 - Review of Neosupervital's debut album, written by Doctor Binokular. The famously compelling review, complete with pie charts that compare the angst of Neosupervital with the angst of the reviewer. As you do.