The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

French Letter

17

So, did you head along to Naive New Beaters at ALT on 6 June? As we mentioned, that NNBs show was the entrée to the main course of Let's French, the annual Dublin festival that celebrates France's national music day on 21 June.

Let's French 2009Let's French 2009 features a mix of live concerts and music films. It all starts tonight (18 June) with a screening of Daft Punk's Interstellar 555 at the Denzille Cinema on Denzille Lane. Later, the first concert of the weekend is by Parisian hip-hop crew DSL at the Andrew's Lane Theatre.

Tomorrow night (19 June) there's a special concert at the Royal Irish Academy of Music in honour of... Jacques Brel. (Yes, Jacques Brel was Belgian. You can take this up with the Let's French people yourself.) But the real treat is a screening at the Denzille of the film of Serge Gainsbourg's fabulous 1971 record 'Histoire De Melody Nelson', the greatest French album ever. A series of colourful and trippy videos for each track, featuring a too-cool Serge and a groovy Jane Birkin, it's a fantastic time capsule.

For any early risers on Saturday morning, at the crack of noon there's a screening of Louis Chedid's musical 'Le Soldat Rose' at the Denzille Cinema, then a family open mic show at the Alliance Française at 2 p.m. That night's concert at Twisted Pepper is the festival's centrepiece - electropoppers Housse De Racket.

On Sunday, Fête de la Musique day, there's another full journée of events. Have your brunch at La Mère Zou while listening to jazz. Then head to the Denzille Cinema again fro an afternoon double-bill: Jacque Demy's children's fairytale classic 'Peau d'Ane' with music by Michel Legrand and (for dragged-along fathers) starring Catherine Deneuve, followed by Alain Resnais' 'On Connais Le Chanson', a romantic comedy where characters sing along to classic French pop hits.

Finally, on Sunday evening there's a free Fête de la Musique concert at The Village featuring French singer-songer Marie Cherrier and Dublin's favourite French rockeuse Lauren Guillery.

Full details are on the Let's French website. Here's Housse De Racket with their 2008 single 'Oh Yeah':


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15

Happy Bloomsday! We hope you’ve been dipping into the great book today, perhaps even visiting the Martello Tower or other Dublin locations.

Guitar tuned to 'The D-E-A-D': James JoyceAs you may know, ‘Ulysses’ was published in Paris by Shakespeare and Co. – not the hip boho bookshop across from Notre Dame but the original store near the Odéon. And Joyce lived here for many years, finally leaving only because of the Nazi occupation.

There are flashes of Paris thoughout ‘Ulysses’, mainly because Stephen has just returned from the French capital as the story begins. He recalls meeting shady exiled Fenians in dark café-bars, remembers seeing wealthy traders on the steps of the Bourse, and he wants to put lemon in his tea. ('O damn you and your Paris fads', says Mulligan in exasperation to him.)

But what if Joyce had set ‘Ulysses’ in Paris rather than Dublin? It could have been done. There’s a famous tower here – not Martello but Eiffel. The Seine is as ‘snotgreen’ as Dublin Bay but you wouldn’t want to swim in it. Eccles Street, Bloom’s home, corresponds on the map to Le Marais, the traditional Jewish quarter of Paris. Stephen could expound his literary theories in the Sorbonne – perhaps blathering about Joyce to American academics. For Sandymount Strand in Dublin you have in Paris the banks of the Seine, where Stephen can stroll in contemplation and Bloom can do obscene things while spying on a young girl. (This is generally what goes on along the Seine most days and nights.) And for Night-town there’s Pigalle or Rue Saint Denis or the side-streets near Boulevard Haussmann or… lots of other places that we’ve been told about.

Tonight at the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris, Terence Killeen will discuss music in Joyce. Of course, CLUAS readers will already be experts on this subject, having read Rev Jules’ fine article on Joyce’s influence on popular music.

So, for the day that’s in it, here’s the Joyce-esque genius of Kate Bush and her Molly Bloom-inspired ‘The Sensual World’. The Fairlight production may be a bit dated but the track is still thrilling:

 


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01
June is a special time for live music in France. Cities and towns across the country will celebrate the annual Fête de la Musique, the national music day, on 21 June by staging free open-air concerts. A few days later, Solidays in Paris will kick off the French summer festival season.
 
French communities around the world are organizing their own Fête de la Musique events. In Dublin, this means the Let’s French festival, now in its fourth year. We’ll tell you more about it closer to the time.
 
Naive New BeatersAs an appetizer for the main event, Let’s French is putting on a pre-festival show: Naïve New Beaters (right) will appear at Twisted Pepper in Dublin on Saturday 6 June.
 
Who are Naïve New Beaters? Well, there are three in the band: vocalist David Boring, guitarist Martin Luther B.B. King and keyboarder Eurobelix. The band has just released their debut album, ‘Wallace’ - a mish-mash of electro, rock and rap.
 
We're not impressed by it, though. Boring’s semi-rapping vocal style, delivered in a Californian accent, can get a bit tiresome. Sometimes you can hear in there Thin Lizzy-style twin-lead-guitar riffs, the epitome of dumb fun. But more often than not, Naïve New Beaters are irritating.
 
Nonetheless, you can find out more about them by heading along to Twisted Pepper on Saturday night or visiting the Naïve New Beaters MySpace page.
 
The best-known track from ‘Wallace’ is their 2008 single ‘Live Good’ – we find the video more entertaining than the song:
 

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26

The summer of 2006 must have been an exciting time to be young and French. Springtime student protests had caused the Chirac/de Villepin government to retreat on controversial employment reforms. Les bleus were heading for the World Cup Final and Amélie Mauresmo was winning Wimbledon. Former Dublin au pair Ségolène Royal was shaking up the presidential election race. And a guitar band from Versailles looked dead certs to become global rock megastars.

PhoenixAs it turned out, those protests gained little in the long term. The French football team lost the final so controversially that Mauresmo’s victory the previous day has been virtually forgotten. Royal lost the 2007 election to conservative Nicolas Sarkozy and (like Sarkozy, in his own way) is now more a celebrity than a politician. And that Versailles band, Phoenix (right), are still only big fish in a small indie pond.

But their 2006 album ‘It’s Never Been Like That’ was a cracker and it at least gained them a larger cult following in North America. They are still the only French rock band with a worldwide audience and credibility anywhere near electro acts like Air, Daft Punk and Justice. And their style of music has become a reference point: if any band mixes too-cool-for-school indieness with lovelorn melodic retro-pop, then they sound like Phoenix.
 
So, in this uncharted territory for a French band, Phoenix have just released their new album. Three years on, will it see them finally close the deal and break through to mainstream success?

It will not. ‘Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix’ has at least two excellent singles and rarely puts a foot wrong, but on the whole it leaves you with a sense of disappointment. How come?

Well, a great deal of the problem with the new Phoenix album is that it sounds so much like Phoenix. Most of the tracks on this record wouldn’t sound out of place on their previous album. Thomas Mars’ idiosyncratic vocal style, singing melodies so undulating and jerky that they’re almost out of sync with the rest of the song, sounds familiar by now. Was that all we saw in them?

And now other bands are picking up their sound – we recently mentioned French rivals Pony Pony Run Run, whose single ‘Hey You’ does the Phoenix thing better than Phoenix.

Those two fine songs we mentioned above, ‘Lisztomania’ and ‘1901’, are the opening tracks here and give the album a deceptively strong start. A failing of Phoenix, one reason why they aren’t filling Enormodomes or headlining summer festivals outside France, is that they’ve never written a killer radio-friendly chorus – but ‘Lisztomania’ has a memorable hook (though not as catchy as PPRR’s ‘Hey You’). By sheer force of concentrated Phoenix-ness is ‘1901’ so good. Third track ‘Fences’ is a pleasant bit of disco-indie, but The Virgins sewed up this genre last year with their brilliant single ‘Rich Girls’.

And that’s it for highlights. To mention this album’s fleeting nod to relative innovation, we note that ‘Twenty One One Zero’, the bit of loop-heavy stadium electronica that the band put on the web last year, briefly reappears here during an instrumental called ‘Love Like A Sunset Part I’. It gives way to ‘Love Like A Sunset Part II’, a very brief track which features three heavy acoustic guitar strums repeated. Then next song ‘Lasso’ resumes the classic Phoenix style.

It’d be disingenuous to present this as Phoenix maintaining their standards or refining their distinctive sound – quite simply, this album feels like a risk-free consolidation and the songs aren’t dazzling enough to blind you to this.

Of course, there’s the possibility that several million people who’ve never come across Phoenix before will hear this album and fall for it, or perhaps some well-chosen advertising placement will pierce the mainstream subconsciousness. But neither of these scenarios would make ‘Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix’ any better an album. This is still a fine band, oozing charm and talent, but they need to do something new with their music.
 


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13

Okay, so we might not have fancied their most recent album. But in the spirit of ‘G’wan Oirland’ and all that, we’re pleased to report that Bell X1 are playing a high-profile Paris show tonight (14 May), one that’s bound to win them great exposure and interest among French music fans.

Bell X1 at Les Inrocks Indie ClubFor the last concert on their current continental tour, the Kildare band are headlining the latest edition of Les Inrocks Indie Club, the regular band night hosted by Les Inrockuptibles, France’s best selling and most respected music and culture magazine.  The show takes place at La Maroquinerie, one of the best-known rock venues in Paris, and the line-up is completed by The Phantom Band, The Soft Pack (that fine Californian band formerly known as The Muslims) and local hopefuls Toy Fight.

You being fairly sharp, you’ll have noticed that the nationalities of the acts are given on the poster (right). G’wan Oirland!

One of the added benefits of headlining a show organized by a top-selling music magazine is that said top-selling music magazine invariably gives you plenty of glowing publicity and blurb and what have you. Thus Les Inrockuptibles have called ‘Blue Lights On The Runway’ “glacial et lancinant” – icy and piercing. (‘Lancinant’ is also the word in French to describe a sudden, shooting pain such as your correspondent’s recent running injuries.) We don’t see what they mean (unless they mean ‘painful’), but that’s the sort of language you find in French music reviews.

The band supported Nada Surf in France last year, but it seems their second-fiddle days are behind them now. With tonight’s high-profile Paris show and a Benicassim appearance to come, Bell X1 are really making a go of things here on the continent and perhaps they might return to Eire all inspired and creatively reinvigorated. Good luck to them.

Honestly, we really like ‘Neither Am I’ – especially ‘Man On Mir’ and this one, 'Pinball Machine':


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11

Did we, by any chance, happen to give the impression that the Solidays festival is happening in early July this year? It seems that we did: sorry. The annual Paris summer event is actually on a week earlier than last year – the weekend of 26-28 June. We know this because it says so on the CLUAS Foreign Correspondent (Paris) weekend pass. Yahoo!!

Solidays 2009We’re yahooing because the line-up has some cracking names on it. Sunday night headliner: Manu Chao! Saturday night: Amadou and Mariam! Imagine how cool they’ll sound on a summer evening – and even if it pours rain those two alone are worth the trip.

And if that wasn’t enough, the rest of the bill is studded with little gems. Friday night features Yuksek, Digitalism, Hockey, The Dø and Tony Allen. (That evening’s headliners are local rappers NTM, of little interest to us.) Warming up Saturday night for A&M are The Virgins, Alela Diane, Friendly Fires, Girl Talk, The Ting Tings (a hit at last year's festival too), Late Of The Pier and a host of other domestic acts. (Again, local headliners Keziah Jones and Benabar doesn’t excite us.)

Then, along with the boy Chao on Sunday you’ve got a trio of French Letter favourites: Cocoon, John & Jehn and Syd Matters. Plus, there’s Metronomy and the good-time Balkan folk of Emir Kusturica and the No Smoking Orchestra.

There are still weekend tickets available at the ridiculously decent price of €48. The festival takes place at the Longchamps racecourse, conveniently located at the end of two metro lines and (more importantly) within an hour’s summer stroll of Chateau French Letter.

As we explained before, Solidays began as an AIDS awareness event (‘solidarity’ + ‘holidays’) before growing into a large and respected summer music festival. It still honours its origins: proceeds will go to AIDS charities and on the weekend the site will host information and advice tents. Full details are available on the Solidays website.

Manu Chao! From the 2005 compilation of his old band Mano Negra, here’s the fairly deadly uptempo version of ‘Out Of Time Man’: 


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06

This Friday, 8 May, is a public holiday in France to commemorate VE Day. Last Friday, 1 May, was a public holiday too, the French being a socialist people at heart despite the efforts of their bling-bling centre-right president.

And Ascension Thursday, 21 May, is also a day off - the French may be socialists in a secular republic but that’s no reason to let a holiday opportunity pass by. Basically, during May no one’s doing a tap of work over here.

It’s fitting, then, that the last weekend of this holiday-strewn month serves up the first important music festival of the French summer. Europavox takes place on 27-31 May in the central French city of Clermont-Ferrand.

EuropavoxWe’ve featured Clermont-Ferrand here before: bands like Cocoon and Quidam are at the vanguard of a thriving local scene that inspired Le Monde to call the city the French capital of rock. With the breadth and depth of its line-up, Europavox should put Clermont on the radar of the international pop community.

The first two nights are curtain-raisers featuring French stars Olivia Ruiz and Sliimy, the latter looking and sounding like a cross between Prince and Mika. Serious business begins on Friday 29 May – between three venues (Cooperative de Mai, Magic Mirrors and Le Cabaret) there are appearances by Maximo Park, I’m From Barcelona, Thecocknbullkid and Danish poppers The Asteroids Galaxy Tour, auteurs of the radio-friendly cracker ‘Around The Bend’.

Bloc Party are the main draw on the Saturday night in the Cooperative de Mai. But that same night in Magic Mirrors there’s a tasty show featuring French Letter favourite Emily Loizeau (even if we’re not crazy about her new album) and fellow piano-singer-songer Soap & Skin, one of many fine acts to emerge from Austria recently.

The final night features an impressive folk-pop bill: Herman Dune, Loney Dear, Lonely Drifter Karen… and our own Declan de Barra. G’wan Oirland! For something with a bit more BPM that night, the alternative is Vitalic.

While Declan de Barra is the only Irish act appearing in Clermont, throughout the five nights of Europavox there’s an impressive cast of acts from across the continent. The Scandinavian region is well represented, as you’d expect at any multinational popfest worth its salt – but there are also acts from Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic, countries not normally associated with Champions League-level music. (For instance, we’ve only ever heard of one decent Spanish band: punk-poppers Dover.)

Full details about Europavox are available on the festival’s website and MySpace page. Any Irish people visiting Clermont-Ferrand wouldn’t want to be too smug about winning the Grand Slam this year: rugby can be a painful subject for the locals during late May/early June, the time of the local team’s annual defeat in the league final.

But in the Europavox spirit of pan-continental pop fraternity, here’s Herman Dune, Frenchmen with Swedish roots, and their lovely ‘Try To Think About Me’ from a live radio session in Los Angeles:


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04

Your correspondent isn’t a man for the horses. You won’t find us in the bookies on Gold Cup day, nor studiously examining the racing pages of The Star in our local at lunchtime. In fact, as we can neither eat nor wear anything from them, horses have little relevance to our existence.

Yet even we’ve noticed the unmistakable equine trend in French pop recently. Last year we featured Poney Express and their excellent single ‘Paris De Loin’. That’s “Paris from afar” and has nothing to do with your loins. Then there's a band called Poni Hoax but they're fairly bad. (You'll have noted so far a serious spelling difficulty for these two bands with the word 'pony'.)

Giddy up! It's Pony Pony Run RunAnd now, doubling the horsiness as if to prove the point, here’s Pony Pony Run Run. (We feel obliged to tell you that French people generally speak English quite well. It’s just that sometimes they’re terrible at naming bands.)

From Nantes on France’s Atlantic coast, PPRR (right) are a trio comprising Gaetan, Amael and Antoine. They’ve just released their first single, ‘Hey You’, and it’s a cracker – catchy dancefloor pop that marries too-cool-for-school indietronica to a swooning pop melody. We’re not too far from Phoenix here, and that’s always good for us.

PPRR’s first album, with the no-less-terrible title of ‘You Need Pony Pony Run Run’, is due out on 15 June. You can hear a couple of tracks from it on the band’s MySpace page. They’re due to tour around Europe in the autumn of 2009 – that is, if they survive a support slot to (eek!) Simple Minds in Arles on 11 July.

Oh yes, as we were saying, ‘Hey You’ is a fantastic song - here’s a homemade video for it:


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01

Our regular readers will be familiar with Underground Railroad (below right), the London-based Paris trio whose fine US-style alt-rock earned them a place in our Best French Music of 2008 list. (Fight Like Apes fans may also have heard of them, the Irish band having toured the UK with them earlier this year.)

Underground RailroadWell, Underground Railroad have just released a new E.P., 'Pick The Ghost', to follow up on the favourable reaction to last year's 'Sticks And Stones' album. It continues the good work of their previous record and is well worth a listen. That is, once you get past the slightly irritating but mercifully brief opener, 'Breakfast' and onto the four other tracks of top-quality Sonic Youth/JMC-esque indieness.

Those four songs ('Homeless Town', 'Lots Of Cars', 'Monday Morning' and the title track) confirm a theory we have about this band: they're much better when resident blokes Raphael Mura and J.B. Ganivet leave the singing to guitarist Marion Andrau. At the risk of generalisation, female singers tend to use their vocal range more than males, who are often more conservative in their singing. Like on their smashing 2008 single '25', Marion's warm, melodic voice plays off the dark sonic squall behind her, to great effect.

In New York during April 2009, Underground Railroad will be playing with Cold War Kids in the U.K., Netherlands and France in May. No news of any Irish dates for the moment.

You can listen to tracks old and new on Underground Railroad's MySpace page. For want of a new video from them, here's last year's '25' - great song, terrible video:


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29

We told you a while back about the imminent closure of La Flèche d’Or, the much-loved alternative music venue in Paris. Served with legal injunctions by neighbours due to excessive noise, and faced with renovation works it couldn’t afford, the venue was due to close definitively tonight (30 April), the expiry date of the present lease on the site, a disused train station.

La Fleche d'Or in its current stateWell, La Flèche d’Or is still closing tonight… but it’ll re-open in August. French daily newspaper Liberation  reports that two established Paris live music promoters will take over the lease, spend the summer months carrying out the expensive and extensive works needed to placate the neighbours – and relaunch the Flèche in four months’ time.

The two promoters, Alias Production and Asterios Spectacles (in French ‘spectacles’ are live events, not eyewear) run two other successful Paris venues, La Maroquinerie and La Bataclan, and their new challenge is to make the Flèche reasonably profitable. Until last September the Flèche was free to enter and served up three or four live acts and a late night club. Even with the recent introduction of a compulsory €6 drink purchase, it was still a good deal for punters. Now, though, the new owners intend to supplement the €6 standard charge with occasional concerts by established names where entry will be €15, in line with the usual ticket price at the Maroquinerie.

Meanwhile, the Flèche d’Or’s current staff of 40 are still uncertain about their future.

The Flèche had a similar closing/re-opening drama in 2005, and bounced back with an increased reputation as Paris’s top indie-rock venue. This time, though, will the new Flèche still have the same atmosphere and spirit as the old one? Considering the gentrification of the surrounding area, not to mention the introduction of more frequent full-price shows, it looks unlikely. Still, as long as the current workers can keep their jobs and the new venue puts on decent live music, we won’t complain.

See you up at the Flèche in August, then.


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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.