The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

French Letter

24
The Champs-Élysées runs up to one side of the Arc de Triomphe, and down the opposite side is the Avenue de la Grande Armée, down as far as Porte Maillot and the bus out to Beauvais airport. This street attracts less tourists, perhaps because you’ll mainly see motorcycle showrooms here.
 
But back in 1928 those showrooms sold cars and at least one American tourist passed by. So the story goes, the visitor stopped at dealerships along the Avenue de la Grande Armée and honked the bulb horns on various cars. The garage-owners’ reactions haven’t been recorded for posterity – just the honking, which you can hear on a piece of music this passer-by, George Gershwin, subsequently wrote. (Strictly speaking, Gershwin wasn’t a tourist – already famous, he had come to Paris to immerse himself in the city’s music scene.)
 
An American In Paris, the filmInstead of a miniature Eiffel Tower or carefully-stashed bottle of wine, Gershwin’s Paris souvenirs were those car horns – he brought back several to New York and added them to the orchestra for the première of ‘An American In Paris’ in December 1928. The idea of the horns was to add to an overall mood of being in Paris, what one would hear while strolling along the boulevards. (Car horns still hog the ambient noise in this city, Parisian drivers being as impatient as they are reckless.)
 
As the circus-like parping of bulb horns suggests, ‘An American In Paris’ is more whimsical than Gershwin’s masterpiece, the epic ‘Rhapsody In Blue’. But that’s just as accurate a representation of being a U.S. ex-pat in 1920s Paris. The title of Ernest Hemingway’s definitive account of this time and place, ‘A Moveable Feast’, gives an idea of the dynamism and socialising on display. The likes of Gertrude Stein held court here, attended on by Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Henry Miller – and Josephine Baker’s cabaret show caused a sensation. (James Joyce was also here, of course, soon to be joined by a young assistant called Samuel Beckett.)
 
‘An American In Paris’ inspired the 1951 Hollywood musical of the same name, starring Gene Kelly. The composer was already dead, so the film features existing songs by him and his lyricist brother Ira, like ‘I Got Rhythm’ and ‘’S Wonderful’. The centerpiece of the film is an 18-minute dance sequence to an arrangement of Gershwin’s ‘An American In Paris’, in which a daydreaming Kelly passes through scenes from various styles of French painting.
 
Despite Kelly being in top form, the musical is contrived and unengaging. (What’s more, its Paris scenes were filmed on Hollywood sets and the ‘Parisian’ supporting characters speak very stilted French.) Still, the film beat Brando’s ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ to win that year’s Oscar for Best Picture. It also won two Oscars for its music, but these went to the arrangers rather than posthumously to Gershwin. (‘Rhapsody In Blue’ would also inspire a celebrated film: it features in the opening sequence of Woody Allen’s ‘Manhattan’.)
 
Gershwin’s composition was back in the news in 2008 when the New York Philharmonic played it during their historic performance in North Korea. Unfortunately, we won’t know what Kim Jong-Il thought of this slice of Franco-American frivolity; the North Korean leader didn’t show up for the concert. (Nonetheless, we have a disturbing mental image of Kim Jong-Il honking the bulb horn of his old-fashioned jalopy driving through Pyongyang.)
 
Here's the New York Philharmonic with the liveliest thing to hit North Korea since someone invented a new shade of grey back in 1958. Note how the bulb horn part goes to the young guy with the funkiest haircut (37 secs) - a recent graduate on that instrument, no doubt:
 

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21

In the same way as the summer transfer window gets us excited for the forthcoming new football season, so the April-May period of festival line-up speculation and announcements starts us planning for a summer of music. You in Éire are already dreaming of torrential rain, horrendous traffic jams and alleged campsite riots (allegedly).

But for those of you looking to head off foreign for some sunshine with your live tunes, here begins our annual overview of the French summer festival line-up.

Eurockeennes 2009The busiest weekend for French festivals is the first weekend of July, when traditionally there are THREE big events simultaneously – Solidays in Paris, the Main Square Festival in the northern town of Arras and Eurockéennes in the eastern city of Belfort. Today we’ll look at Eurockéennes, which takes place from Friday 3 to Sunday 5 July. (We'll feature the other two in due course.)

Now in its 20th year, Eurockéennes is perhaps the French festival that’s best known internationally. This is certainly due to the size and quality of its line-up, but also because of its location; Belfort is close to Switzerland and southern Germany so it’s within reach of Euro-railers and backpackers throughout central Europe.

The 2009 programme has marquee names and cult heroes galore. The Friday night features The Prodigy, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Alela Diane, Emiliana Torrini, Hockey, Diplo, The Ting Tings, La Roux and The Kills, while that night’s headliners are French rappers NTM. Saturday has Kanye West, Pete(r) Doherty, Friendly Fires, Tricky, Passion Pit, Peter Bjorn & John, home favourites Birdy Nam Nam and Austrian chanteuse Sophie Hunger.

Finally, on Sunday you’ve got Slipknot, Glasvegas, Mos Def, Tinariwen, Florence And The Machine, adopted-Irishpeople Rodrigo y Gabriela and The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart. But that final day belongs to three heavyweight French acts: Phoenix, Yuksek and Laurent Garnier.

Any questions?

How much will Eurockéennes cost me? If you book on the festival website, you can get a three-day pass (including four days of camping!) for €88 and a one-day ticket for €39. These prices don’t include booking fees, putting-ticket-into-envelope expenses, etc. but that’ll hardly be much. That three-day pass looks like great value.

How do I get to Eurockéennes? Well, Easyjet fly to nearby Basle-Mulhouse airport, and the French national rail company is offering special fares for three-day ticketholders.

Full details of the line-up and practicalities are available on the Eurockéennes website's English page.

From Saturday Night Live recently, here’s another fab new Phoenix track: off the forthcoming ‘Wolfgang Amadeux Phoenix’ it’s ‘Lisztomania’. What’s with all the classical composer references?
 


 

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16

This Saturday (18 April) is World Record Store Day, when punters are encouraged to support their local music dealers. It’s a good opportunity to tell you about our favourite French record shops – and encourage you to tip us off about ones we haven’t discovered yet.

High-street record shops in France are quite good, with breadth and depth to their stock. Should you find yourself in a busy shopping area in a French city, chances are you’re close to an outlet of FNAC, an excellent chain of home entertainment and multimedia stores. Their music space is usually divided into large sections for rock, French, jazz, classical, urban and world music, and each section has its own information desk where the staff (in their distinctive green and yellow waistcoats) tend to be quite knowledgeable. The FNAC on the Champs-Élysées in Paris is open until midnight, like the neighbouring Virgin Megastore (also very good) – there’s something magical about being in a record shop late at night, as if all the best music only comes out after dark. And because the Champs-Élysées is a designated tourist zone, both stores can open on Sundays.

As well as being a fine store, we also commend FNAC for their Indétendances series of samplers and summertime Paris concerts, giving valuable mainstream exposure to up-and-coming French acts of various styles. And the larger FNAC stores have a dedicated space for live performances – in particular we recall a full-on, plugged-in, amped-up set by Grenoble band Rhesus at the FNAC near Montparnasse one Saturday afternoon.

Gibert Joseph on the Boulevard Saint Michel in ParisEven better than FNAC, in our view, is Gibert Joseph (right), a book and music seller that can also be found in many major French towns. In Paris, you can find Gibert Joseph halfway up the Boulevard Saint Michel, the record shop at number 34 a few doors past the bookstore. (Warning: don’t confuse Gibert Joseph with Gibert Jeune, the virtually-similar group of bookshops around the fountain in Place Saint Michel.)

Gibert Joseph’s main virtue is that they sell new and second-hand music side by side. You can even find the latest releases marked with a yellow sticker that says ‘Occasion’, the French term for second-hand, at discount prices and shelved beside new copies at full price. Gibert Joseph has the best alternative music section of any French high-street chain. They also have live sessions. And, if you’ll forgive the digression, the bookstore has new and second-hand English reading material on the fourth floor, though we should also mention the small second-hand English bookstores nearby around the Odéon.

If you crave the real independent music store experience in Paris, simply go out the door of Gibert Joseph, cross the Boulevard Saint Michel and you’ll find rue des Écoles, home to small second-hand shops like Crocodisc. The nearby O’CD has become successful and opened many branches, but at a price: like many small record stores in Paris, it now stocks more DVDs than music.

Then, further along the street, turn right and go up rue de la Montaigne Saint Geneviève. At the very top, just before you come up behind the Panthéon, you have La Dame Blanche, which specializes in jazz and classical music on vinyl. Even if you don’t do the wax, some of those old classical LPs have wonderful sleeves – dig the scary head on young Daniel Barenboim! Half the pleasure of visiting record stores is simply flicking through the stock and finding an album cover that’s surreal, kitsch or slightly troubling. (Another digression: round the corner from La Dame Blanche is the Bombardier, a very nice English pub with filling meals and football on TV.)

But what’s the best record store in Paris? Well, our choice is well outside the city centre – you’ll need to take the metro to Belleville in the east and then push your way through the busy streets of this ethnic, working-class area. Suddenly you’ll fall across Place Saint Marthe, a quiet cobblestone square that has boho cafés on one side. On the other side is the record store, Ground Zero.

Ground Zero record store near Belleville in ParisGround Zero (left) is small and homey – we know it’s a converted house because there’s still a sink in one corner. Like Road Records in Dublin, it stocks the latest indie releases and correctly assumes that you already own the essential classics. Their main trade is in the sort of alternative guitar pop that attracts shy, bookish male punters who then shuffle timidly up to the girls behind the counter.

And, crucially, it sells product from local acts – you’re likely to find records by Paris-based singers and bands displayed in boxes on the counter. In particular, Ground Zero seems to be a favourite of the extended Herman Dune family, who have performed in-store sessions there.

So, this World Record Store Day your correspondent will head for Ground Zero near Belleville in Paris to buy albums and give the twinkly eye to those shop assistants.

On our rare trips outside Paris, we’ve made sure to look for local independent record shops. Should your holidays take you into deep France, we have two recommendations: Planet R in Saint Lô in Normandy and Sofa in Lyon. And there are Gibert Joseph record shops in Versailles and Lyon – we’ve been there, we know that they exist.

If you know any other good record shops in France, especially outside Paris, or if you have a memorable record-buying experience from your school tour or last holiday here, tell us about it with a comment below. Live from Ground Zero in Paris, here's Herman Dune and Julie Doiron singing 'With A Fistful Of Faith':


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11

Your correspondent took a rare trip out of the French capital recently. We went to Lyon, the second-largest city in France and only two hours south-east of Paris by high-speed train.
 
LyonOutside of France, most people probably know Lyon for the recent success of its football team. But the city is renowned as a centre of gastronomy. This demanded rigorous investigation, so your blogger duly ate his own body weight in fantastic local food. (We recommend boudin noir, the Lyon equivalent of black pudding but a zillion times nicer. Next time we'll have the andouillette, a kind of sausage.)
 
The centre of Lyon is a commercial strip of concrete slabs and the usual high street stores. The old part of town, Vieux Lyon, leads uphill to two uncanny reminders of Paris - a kitsch, oversized white church like Sacre Coeur atop Montmartre and a replica of the top half of the Eiffel Tower. But apart from that Lyon has its charm. We stayed in Croix Rousse, a quarter that's home to artists and small bars still defying the smoking ban.

As usual in a new town, we looked for record shops. There's a local branch of Gibert Joseph near Bellecour as well as large stores like Virgin and FNAC - but for small independent music dealers in Lyon you should head for the streets around the town hall, where there are a handful. Our favourite was Sofa on the rue d'Algerie, which stocks mainly vinyl and non-rock sounds such as hip-hop and electronica. (To our joy, in the world music section we found 'I Am Brazil' by the Redneck Manifesto. We prefer to believe that it wasn't misfiled because of the title and that Irishness is fiercely exotic to the Lyonnais.)

Anyway, we survived away from Paris and it gives us the opportunity to tell you about an upcoming festival in Lyon. Nuits Sonores takes place on 20-24 May in venues around the city.

Nuits Sonores 2009 in LyonNow in its seventh year, Nuits Sonores is a popular and well-respected electronica and indie gathering. This year's programme features established acts like Carl Craig, Laurent Garnier, Miss Kittin, Holly Golightly and Dan Le Sac. The hipper-than-thee festival-goer will note the presence of Tiga, the Montreal-born DJ whose name is being dropped by other electronica acts the world over.

Miss Kittin is from Grenoble, so she won't have far to go for her Nuits Sonores show with The Hacker on 24 May. The pair have collaborated on a new album called 'Two' (their second long-player together, you see) and it's a superior set of melodic electro-clash floorfillers.

Before Lyon, Miss Kittin and The Hacker will be in Dublin on 3 May. Because they're French, this inevitably means their Dublin show is on at the ALT, the little Gallic musical enclave in Ireland. And, says Miss Kittin's MySpace giglist, later this summer they'll be in Paris, Madrid and... Naas! Of course, this is for Oxegen but at least they won't be shouting "'Allo, Dublin!"

(We feel bound to tell you that 'Naas' resembles a French word pronounced 'nazz' and which means 'very uncool'. If at Oxegen they tell you "You're Nazz!" and start giggling, now you're in on the joke and you can tell them to f**k off. It'll be gas.)

Miss Kittin and The Hacker are definitely not 'nazz'. Check out some of those 'Two' tracks on Miss Kittin's MySpace page, including '1000 Dreams', presented below in homemade video. Thanks to the Scottish community in Lyon:


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30

French turntable team Birdy Nam Nam have attracted a lot of international attention recently, as much for their sound as for the fact that there are four of them mixing and twiddling together where normally such things are a solitary pursuit.

Birdy Nam Nam - Manual For Successful RiotingIn a way, this is quite odd. No one remarks on the fact that four rock musicians can combine as a group. Jazzmen tend to gather in fives, sixes or more. And what about the Berlin Philharmonic? There’s a hundred of them!

What’s more, in the studio Birdy Nam Nam probably don’t record live together but in individual takes and overdubs, like most rock bands. So, their onstage innovation counts for little down the coalmine of making albums. Like for most rock bands, in fact.

Fortunately for Birdy Nam Nam, the ends are just as impressive as the means. ‘Manual For Successful Rioting’, their second album, has just come out and it’s a cracker. Top-quality turntablism married to dancefloor electronica of considerable depth and imagination, it will make their name internationally. And, in our parish notes, anyone who was at their show in A.L.T. in Dublin last December will give a wry smile at that title. [Don’t go there, croissant boy! - CLUAS Legal Department]

Perhaps a more telling title is that of ‘Trans-Boulogne Express’, the 2007 track included here. That allusion to ‘Trans-Europe Express’ is a clear nod to Kraftwerk, the spiritual forefathers of this album, and marks a slight change in direction from the hip-hop-isms of old. Clinical beeps and blips, control-freak loops, distorted voices: the sonic template is Teutonic audio engineering at its finest. But, like the legendary German foursome, Birdy Nam Nam infuse their electronica with humanity and wit – mostly with the old-school rapping of Newcleus on ‘Shut Up’ but also with the soul and jazz samples that flash like lightning through this record. Crucially, you can dance to it too; producers Yuksek and Justice are old hands at that game.

And, of course, in places they sound positively French. The strangest track here is probably ‘Homosexuality’, a Jarre/Air-style exercise in swooshing retro-futuristic synths under a vocoder-ed voice that repeats the title. (We don’t know if there’s a point being made there; if so, it’s above our heads at least. That said, we could suggest some innuendo about the title ‘Trans-Boulogne Express’, but perhaps we’d best keep that to ourselves.)

Hardcore fans may be disappointed that this record is closer to carefully-crafted studio electronica than turntable cut n’pasting, but the BNN live experience can only enhance the thrill of this music. Until they land at your local venue, check out their MySpace page for tracks. And here they are on video, painting a model of the word ‘RIOT’ over and over. It must be art:

 


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25
In the National Gallery in Dublin, up the right hand stairs from the Shaw Room all the way to the top floor, in the same space as the Monet and Picasso, there used to be a painting by a relatively unknown French artist called Jean-François Raffaelli. The painting was of the Pont Alexandre III, the bridge across the Seine in Paris that connects the glass-roofed Grand Palais exhibition hall to the gold-domed Hôtel des Invalides where Napoléon’s remains are housed.
 
Pont Alexandre III in ParisThe Pont Alexandre III (right), named for the Tsar to commemorate the Franco-Russian Alliance of 1892, features four extravagant gold-leaf statues of winged horses on columns at each corner. Raffaelli’s painting shows them as fauviste blobs of gold above the blurred red and blue dots of passers-by below.
 
The rest of the bridge is impressive too: wrought iron figures, Art Nouveau lamps, imposing stonemasonry and a few more splashes of gold leaf. The Pont Neuf may be the most celebrated and historic bridge in Paris but the Pont Alexandre III is the most ornate and spectacular.
 
Tucked inside the dry arch under the Grand Palais side of the bridge, location for the night-time arms-dealing scene in 1998 action film ‘Ronin’, is one of the hippest music clubs in Paris. It’s called Showcase. In the same way that converted wine cellars make great concert venues (Dublin music fans can think of the downstairs room of the Isaac Butt across from Busáras, if it still exists) the low concave stone ceiling of Showcase creates an intense clubbing experience. The club is generally associated with the trendier Paris electronica and house DJs, but is often rented for corporate functions and promotional concerts. For instance, last September Iggy Pop performed there in a show to mark the centenary of Converse sneakers.
 
Inside the Showcase under the Pont Alexandre IIIUnlike other Paris music clubs and bars facing noise restrictions and complaints, Showcase doesn’t have too many neighbours. There’s the man who sleeps under the next bridge downriver, and houseboat residents upstream who should by now be used to the roar of quayside traffic and tourist cruises. In fact, it’s on a quiet route where your correspondent goes running.
 
Back in Éire, before the days of running along the Seine, your then Dublin-based correspondent would go to the National Gallery and sit in front of Raffaelli’s painting of the Pont Alexandre III. There, we would think about our plans for The Great Leap Forward, i.e. the move to Paris, and wonder if we would ever get there. (As if it were the far side of the Moon or something. In the end it was quite easy.)
 
It seems that we weren’t the only ones dreaming about Paris and that golden bridge. One of 2008’s unfairly-neglected albums was the eponymous debut by English dancefloor-poppers Friendly Fires. The record’s best track is ‘Paris’, where singer Ed McFarlane dreams of moving to the French capital with a friend.
 
And where does he find the glamour and excitement of Parisian nightlife? Why, under the Pont Alexandre III: “I’m gonna take you out to Club Showcase / We’re gonna live it up / I promise.” The lyrics name no other landmark of Paris: just this nightclub. And the song is exactly the sort of dreamy, adrenaline-rushing track to get the Showcase buzzing on a Saturday night.
 
Raffaelli’s painting of the Pont Alexandre III wasn’t on display last time we visited the National Gallery in Dublin. But the bridge is still here in Paris, with its nightclub underneath. And here are Friendly Fires with ‘Paris’:
 

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17
Sad and surprising news for Paris music fans today: La Flèche d’Or, the popular concert venue near Père Lachaise in the 20th arrondissement, will close in April. A report in Paris freesheet ’20 Minutes’ today appears to confirm the rumour that has been circulating through the Paris music scene in recent days, which was fuelled by the venue’s schedule only listing shows up to the end of next month. No date has been confirmed yet for the Flèche’s last night.
 
La Flèche d'Or In true rock n’roll fashion, the problem is that the Flèche is too loud. The venue has been the subject of judicial complaints by local residents about excessive noise levels at late hours. However, the cost of renovation to reduce sound emissions is prohibitive. “The latest estimates for constructing a venue within the venue are too high,” said the Flèche management in a statement. “We don’t have enough money for this work and we must close.” Previous remedial works last year have proved to be insufficient.
 
A converted train station, La Flèche d’Or (meaning 'the golden arrow') opened in 2005 and quickly became a favourite of the city’s indie scene. Until recently, entry was free – and the nightly programme of evening live acts and post-midnight DJs was too good an offer to miss. It was a no-risk way of discovering new local and international music; punters could walk up and be guaranteed of four decent bands and a night’s clubbing afterwards. Prominent advertising inside the venue, particularly by one mobile phone manufacturer, was a source of income to offset the lack of entry charge.
 
Without paying a cent, Paris music fans saw cult or emerging acts like Dan Deacon, Ted Leo, Mystery Jets, The Posies, The Wombats and Menomena. The Flèche was the Paris venue of choice for visiting Irish acts, with Jape, RSAG, The Frank and WaltersNina Hynes, Neosupervital and The Immediate among those featuring there in recent years.  
 
The credit crunch, bane of every business, is not to blame for the venue’s imminent closure – not directly, at least. But a couple of minor factors have proved to be fatal for the Flèche.
 
A view of the Fleche d'Or StageTo howls of disapproval from its regulars, La Flèche d’Or introduced a cover charge of €6 last September – still excellent value (your entry ticket gets you a small beer at the bar) but an affront to the innate anti-capitalist principles of Jacques le Frenchman. The move coincided with the gentrification of the surrounding streets – across from the Flèche the newly-opened Mama Shelter hotel featured a bar/restaurant by ultra-hip designer Philippe Starck – and the new Paris taste for disco-flavoured indie chic. The crowd demographic shifted: now the indie kids were rubbing shoulders with young professionals using Blackberries. The quality of line-up decreased, as the Flèche seemed content to trade on its reputation and profit from its hipness. Competitors like L’International, in the lively Oberkampf area closer to the city centre, began attracting the original Flèche-goers with its own free concerts. Quite simply, La Flèche d’Or became uncool.
 
The smoking ban, introduced in France on 1 January 2008, is also indirectly responsible for the Flèche’s trouble with the neighbours. Because the building is perched over a disused train line, there was no space at the back for an outdoor smoking section. The only option was to use the front bar, with its prefab walls and canopy roof. And as Parisians smoke like chimneys, the smoking section was generally packed all night – which meant that most of the venue’s noise was now streetside, within earshot of local residents. When the area became more chic last year, so also the new neighbours proved to be less tolerant of the Flèche.
 
Your correspondent was at the Flèche d’Or last Friday night to see Kim, whose ‘Don Lee Doo’ was voted our Best French Album of 2008. Most other punters came to see drippy U.S. popsters Persephone’s Bees, currently featuring on a TV commercial soundtrack with their twee ‘Nice Day’. As usual for a weekend night, the place was packed. It’s unfortunate that a thriving music venture, rare in these times, will have to shut down.
 
When the Flèche closes, noise will be reduced and rents in the area will increase, thus feeding the gentrification of this corner of the 20th arrondissement. The nearby Père Lachaise, final resting place of Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde, already attracts tourists and will surely be promoted even more by the new hotels and restaurants. Rock fans visiting the late Door should spare a thought for the late (Flèche) d'Or too.

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14

Were it not for the fact that we usually put embedded videos and MySpace links in our posts as evidence, you could be forgiven for thinking that the CLUAS Foreign Correspondent (Paris) simply makes up half the French acts featured here.

Arch WoodmannYes, we appreciate that you have trouble taking seriously some of the music we write about.  For instance: today we'll be raving about a young Parisian singer-songer (right) who goes by the nom de rock of Arch Woodmann. Okay, says you, a rather odd anglophone name for a Frenchman but you continue reading nonetheless.

Then we tell you that Arch Woodmann's debut album is called 'Draped Horse Blue Licorne Argentée Feather Blue', and that's where we lose you altogether. You were willing to try Andromakers and take our word for My Internal Playground. But you're just not ready to go the whole 'Draped Horse Blue Licorne Argentée Feather Blue' by Arch Woodmann. Thanks all the same, like, but try selling it next door.

Anyway, for those of you still reading, Arch Woodmann's album is a fine one - a streamlined chassis of solid folk-pop songwriting, powered by an engine of American post-rock. There are even a few flecks of jazz in there.

Just to prove that we're not making all this up, here's the evidence:

(1) Arch Woodmann's MySpace page, where you can listen to tracks off (deep breath) 'Draped Horse Blue Licorne Argentée Feather Blue'. If you want to buy the album by post, cheques must be made out to a Mr Antoine Pasqualini; could this be the singer's true identity?

(2) From an acoustic session for a French music website called Sourdoreille (which translates as 'deaf ear'), here's Arch Woodmann with the just-as-fantastically-named 'Duities And Fruities':


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11
The French, not noted for false modesty, call it “la plus belle avenue du monde” – the most beautiful avenue in the world. Around Christmas when it’s strung with lights from top to bottom, or in springtime when the sun shines, you could well believe it. Parisians, however, tend to steer clear of the place. (Similarly, a true Parisian has never gone up the Eiffel Tower unless dragged there by foreign guests.) It’s not even in the centre of the city but towards its western edge, close to Porte Maillot where the Irish get the airport bus to Beauvais.
 
But for the rest of the world, the Avenue des Champs-Élysées (to give it its full name) is synonymous with Parisian glamour and French culture. Which is true, up to a point. Until the mid-19th century a few peasant hovels still lined the street; some Parisians see its souvenir stores and fast-food joints and maintain that this remains the case.
 
Yes, going downhill literally if not figuratively, the left side is thronged with tourists taking photos, buying trinket souvenirs and refuelling in overpriced restaurants. (The Champs-Élysées is not a place to go for food, unless you can afford to eat in Fouquet’s.) Down the less-crowded right you have your wealthier visitors flouncing into flagship designer stores like Louis Vuitton, now one of the main tourist attractions in Paris (especially for American R n’B divas, we hear). On Saturday nights and the wee hours of Sunday morning it’s the busiest street in Paris, as its nearby nightclubs fill and empty while fleets of taxis set down and pick up.
 
It gets even busier. Closed off, the two-kilometre avenue can welcome well over a million people to celebrate New Year’s Eve and any major French football success. Every year it also hosts the start of the Paris marathon and the finish of the Tour de France.
 
Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo in Godard's 'A Bout De Souffle' One of French cinema’s most iconic scenes (left) was filmed here: Jean Seberg in her ‘Herald Tribune’ T-shirt, selling newspapers and walking with Jean-Paul Belmondo in Jean-Luc Godard’s ‘À Bout De Souffle’ (known in English as 'Breathless').
 
But what makes the Champs-Élysées wonderful is its sense of history. After all, it runs from the Arc de Triomphe down to Place de la Concorde. And halfway down there’s the large statue of a true French giant, Charles de Gaulle, to commemorate his triumphant march down the newly-liberated avenue on 26 August 1944. In Greek mythology the Elysian Fields were the home of the blessed, but across the street from le grand Charles  a man of lesser stature currently resides in the Palais d’Élysées, official residence of the President of France. Every 14 July he reviews a military parade along the avenue to mark the French national holiday.
 
Of course, foreign leaders have led troops down the Champs-Élysées, and not usually to celebrate the glory of France. But we’ll skip over that for the time being.
 
If you visit Paris you should make your own little victory march down the Champs-Élysées. A sunny Sunday afternoon is the best time. Start at the top with the Arc de Triomphe and go down the right-hand side, where there are less people. We recommend that you stop for coffee and macarons in the Ladurée tea-room, where you have a great view onto the avenue. Visit Louis Vuitton if you like, of course, but if you want to buy music as your Champs-Élysées souvenir you can pop across the street to Virgin or FNAC, both of which are open every night until midnight. (Alternatively, the souvenir shops sell cheap Paris-themed compilations that feature out-of-copyright recordings of Edith Piaf, Josephine Baker, Charles Trenet and the like.)
 
Looking up the Champs-Elysees from Place de la ConcordeHalfway down, the buildings end and the Champs-Élysées becomes a park-lined avenue, an arena for strolling. The richer of you will turn right onto Avenue Montaigne and its exclusive boutiques, but if you continue down the Champs you’ll see the impressive glass roof of the Grand Palais exhibition hall beside the statue of de Gaulle. Then at the bottom of the avenue you’ll reach Place de la Concorde (formerly home to the French Revolution’s most infamous guillotine, where Sydney Carton does his ‘far far better thing’ at the end of ‘A Tale of Two Cities’), the Tuileries and the Louvre.
 
Musically, the Champs-Élysées area is associated with can-can cabarets like the Lido and exclusive nightclubs like Regine's and the Queen. But there’s no concert venue here; just a couple of overpriced music bars on adjoining streets. Considering its popularity as a public gathering-place, it’s surprising that there doesn’t ever seem to have been a large open-air show on the Champs-Élysées. (The now-traditional 14 July free concert is held on the Champs de Mars, under the Eiffel Tower. And Jean-Michel Jarre, king of record-breaking concert crowds, held his giant 1990 Paris show at nearby La Défense.)
 
But there is one French song associated with la plus belle avenue du monde. Many French people immediately think of it when they visit the street for the first time – some even burst into its earworm chorus. (Sing it to any Frenchperson you meet and see what reaction you get.)
 
The song is called ‘Aux Champs-Élysées’ and it was made famous by a ‘70s cabaret singer called Joe Dassin, son of renowned director Jules Dassin who made 'Rififi' and its much-imitated break-in sequence. Your blogger first heard it in our French evening class back in Dublin, just before The Great Leap Forward and moving to Paris. The song has gained slight cult status from being on the soundtrack to Wes Anderson’s ‘The Darjeeling Limited’ but it’s still utter cheese – and what could be more French than that?
 

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08
Not that you’d know from reading this indie-pop-orientated blog, but Paris is renowned for dance music.
 
Generalising wildly, there are two strands of it. You’ve got your flashy, crowd-pleasing DJs like David Guetta and Bob Sinclar who are big in France but viewed worldwide as alcopop-flogging irritants. Then there’s your more cred electronica duos, Air and Daft Punk and Justice, who get greater international acclaim and cerebral critiques.
 
YuksekAnd, just as every late ‘80s/early ‘90s Irish band was labelled ‘The New U-Know-Who’, any promising French electronician is tagged as ‘The New Daft Punk’. Such was the case with Justice, and now it’s happening to an emerging DJ who looks like making it big in 2009.
 
(Why he’s not being called ‘the new Laurent Garnier’ or other French DJ is unclear to us. Incidentally, did you see the young kid from Lille being hailed as the new Zidane? Wow!)
 
Yuksek is the nom d’electro of Pierre-Alexandre Busson from Reims in the Champagne region of north-east France. He’s prominent these days for two current album releases. One is the new Birdy Nam Nam record, ‘Manual For Successful Rioting’ (a title that’ll bring a wry smile to anyone who saw them in action at the ALT in Dublin last December), which he produced. The other is his own first album, ‘Away From The Sea’.
 
‘Away From The Sea’ features Yuksek’s 2008 track ‘Tonight’, which is gaining the Frenchman a lot of floorplay and interest around the world. Indie kids will say: it’s closer to the classic and accessible dancefloor beats of Daft Punk than the darkness and distortion of Justice. As for his DJ credentials, others more dancefloor than us can take it from there. But your alt-pop blogger likes it.
 
As for his name, Yuksek is a Turkish word that means something like ‘a height’ or ‘a high level’. Apparently Busson wanted a non-anglophone DJ name, though he’s still gone for titles in English. Still, that strain of globalism hints at the international acclaim he’s due to pick up as the new sound of le French touch.
 
Yuksek will be at a Bodytonic night at the Twisted Pepper in Dublin on 8 May for a DJ set. We know now that when DJs do a DJ set they play other people’s records and not their own. So don’t go up and ask him for ‘Tonight’, alright? You’ll just be making an eejit of yourself.
 
If you want to hear Yuksek, off with you to his MySpace page. Meanwhile, here’s the video for ‘Tonight’:
 

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2002 - Interview with Rodrigo y Gabriela, by Cormac Looney. As with Damien Rice's profile, this interview was published before Rodrigo y Gabriela's career took off overseas. It too continues to attract considerable visits every month to the article from Wikipedia.