The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

French Letter


Israeli band Izabo begin an intensive month-long French tour this week, including a semi-residency at our favourite Paris venue, La Flèche d'Or.

The Tel Aviv-based four-piece play an addictive blend of psychedelic '60s rock and idiosyncratic '90s Britpop, all sounding like a mix of Talking Heads and Space (that much-underrated Liverpool band of a decade ago), and spiced up with some distinctive Middle Eastern vibes.

Their first album, 'Fun Makers', is appropriately titled - it fizzes with energy and (as they say in these parts) joie de vivre. The band are currently preparing their second album, to be called 'Superlight'.

Izabo's French tour comes at a time of Parisian interest in modern Israeli society. Eytan Fox's movie 'The Bubble', currently showing in French cinemas, depicts the life, loves and partying of a group of Tel Aviv's bright young things. Its depiction of inter-ethnic and same-sex relationships has inspired much curiosity and comment among the French cultural media.

You won't find any overt political comment or social reflection in Izabo's music - just good-time pop that subverts the common western perception of Israel.

No news of any Irish dates for the band as yet, but you can check out some of their tracks on their MySpace page; here's the appropriately cartoon-style video for the catchy 'Morning Hero':

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It's an understatement to say that France and Germany have 'history' - and that's even just thinking about football (for all of Zizou's heroics in 1998, Seville in 1982 still touches a raw nerve here in France).

All of which makes it surprising that the current idols for French teenage rock fans are Tokio Hotel, a four-piece band from Magdeburg in Germany. Even more amazing is that this is a group that sings in German.

Tokio Hotel trade in the same teen-angst nu-metal as Linkin Park, and we presume they're also singing much the same type of self-pitying lyrics. The group's image centres around singer Bill Kaulitz's distinctive hairstyle and heavy make-up. All around France, parents are asking the time-honoured rock question: C'est un mec ou une fille? (Is that a boy or a girl?).

Singing in German has so far not hindered the band's success in France. Their first two albums Schrei and Zimmer 483 have both gone top ten in the French charts, and the videos for their singles 'Durch Den Monsun' and 'Ubers Ende Der Welt' enjoy heavy rotation on French music television. They recently appeared before 600,000 people at the massive free Bastille day concert on the Champs de Mars (the park beside the Eiffel Tower) in Paris.

With a heavily-mascara'd eye on world domination, the band has just recorded their first album in English: 'Scream' is a compilation of tracks from their first two records, and it's due to be released in the UK in August. You may be hearing more about Tokio Hotel very soon.

In the meantime you can watch the video for 'Ubers Ende Der Welt' and learn how to say in German 'I hate you!', 'I won't do my homework!' and 'Daddy wouldn't buy me a pony':

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The talk of Paris this week is cycling. Not le Tour, though, but le  Velib' - the new public bikes introduced by the mairie (city hall) last Sunday, following the example of Lyon (where the scheme has been in place for a couple of years).

All around the city, at intervals of a few hundred metres, there are rows of bikes, available to use for a subscription of €1 daily, €5 weekly or €29 for a year. The first half hour use is free but then you must pay €1 for the next half hour, and so on. A €150 deposit dissuades you from keeping or trashing the velo.

With such charges, the scheme is aimed more at short-hop commuters rather than tourists. Still, technically it's possible to cycle free for a whole day - if you change bicycles every half hour. Strategic planning comes in handy.

As it happens, most of Paris is within 20 minutes cycling range - from the Arc de Triomphe to the Bastille (the west-east axis) is fairly flat, but Montmartre and Saint Michel are on hills. In particular, cycling up Montmartre would be a bit of a slog - the bikes (right) are built to be durable and at 22kg are quite heavy as well as being unattractive. And all are girls' bikes!

Also, Parisian drivers are notoriously homicidal, and there aren't many cycle lanes in the city centre.

Still, the initial take-up has been a huge success and everyone is talking about using them this summer. Look out for them next time you visit Paris.

Could something similar work in Dublin, Cork, Belfast or Galway?

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In August, Paris is relatively deserted. Parisians and tourists alike all make for the beaches and campsites, leaving the city free for those staying in the city. Except for the last weekend of the month, that is, when the place gets flooded with pop stars for the Rock En Seine festival on 24-26 August.

Just a short ride on the metro out of the centre of Paris (and for your blogger a direct bus line from apartment door to venue gate), the picturesque Parc de Saint Cloud is on the banks of the Seine.

Almost as attractive as the setting is the line-up: all three days feature indie-big-hitters and cult heroes. Friday's headliners are Arcade Fire, appearing at their millionth French festival this summer (it's now a running joke for French music fans: 'mon Dieu, not Arcade Fire again!' Also on Friday are Mogwai, The Hives, Dinosaur Jr, Dizzee Rascal, Biffy Clyro and Unkle, and others.

Tool and the reformed Jesus And Mary Chain top Saturday's bill, but the real treat will be our fellow Paris-resident Jarvis Cocker. There'll also be some CSS, Amy Winehouse and Fratellis that day.

Finally, Sunday's star turn is Bjork, following up what was by all accounts a fantastic Glastonbury appearance by her. Kings of Leon, Enter Shikari and Bat For Lashes are also appearing that day.

The full line-up is:

Friday 24 August: Arcade Fire, The Hives, Emilie Simon, 2 Many DJ's, Dinosaur Jr, Albert Hammond Jr, Mogwai, Dizzee Rascal, M.I.A., Unkle, The Shins, Noisettes, Biffy Clyro

Saturday 26 August: Tool, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Les Rita Mitsouko, CSS, Alpha, Erik Truffaz, Jarvis Cocker, Amy Winehouse, The Fratellis, Puppetmastaz, Terry Poison, Hellogoodbye

Sunday 27 August: Björk, Kings Of Leon, Faithless, Craig Armstrong, Just Jack, Kelis, Bromheads Jackets, Patrick Wolf, Enter Shikari, Devotchka, Bat for Lashes

A three-day pass for all that costs just €98.00, a one-day ticket costs €42 and a single metro ticket costs €1.40. Booking and further info in English are available on the Rock En Seine website.

Of the festival's French acts, the most notable names are '80s cult heroes Les Rita Mitsuoko (more on them in another post), our faves Pravda - and Emilie Simon, whose 2006 album 'Vegetal' was a smashing bit of electro-pop (and certainly the greatest ever concept album about plants). Here's the extravagant video for the wonderful rock-out of 'Fleur De Saison', one of our top French tunes of last year:

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Two typical 'French Friday'-goers, last FridayWhat with their national music day on 21 June and their national holiday last Saturday, it seems that the French party harder than the Irish. And they'll still be at it this Friday!

'French Friday' is a regular club night at Thomas House on Thomas Street in Dublin on the third Friday of every month. July's edition takes place this Friday night, 20 July. Entry costs zero euro and zero cents.

You can enjoy the best of French indie and electronica on the ground floor. Hopefully some of our recent suggestions (Pravda, Constance Verluca, Vanessa and the O's, Plastiscines and the like) will make the playlist.

Meanwhile, down in the basement, if you fancy a more traditional night out there'll be Celtic sounds courtesy of Breizheire, the Breton community in Dublin.

More info is available from the French Friday website or from Forum Irlande, the forum of Dublin's heaving French population.


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First of all, it's not called 'Bastille Day' in French - it's simply la fête nationale or le 14 juillet. And there isn't even an event at Place de la Bastille in Paris (ironically, the column with the gold figure that now stands there commemorates the defence of the restored monarchy against an unsuccessful revolution in 1830).

The focal point of the French national holiday is the morning's military parade on the Champs-Elysées. This year there will be a contingent of Irish soldiers marching down the boulevard, along with troops from the other EU nations.

Then in the evening all Parisian eyes turn to the Eiffel Tower for a huge fireworks display. There will also be a massive free concert by '70s icon Michel Polnareff, who lived in self-imposed exile in L.A. for thirty years before returning to France this year for a series of lucrative nostalgia shows. However, Paris on the night of 14 July is a nightmare - drunken aggression, crowded public transport, firecrackers in the metro (in these terrorist-threatened times, scarier than you'd think). All in all, just like every Saturday night in Temple Bar (We'll watch the fireworks from La Défense, home of the Grande Arche and glass skyscrapers).

Tonight (13 July) in most towns there is the traditional bal des pompiers or fireman's ball. Every fire brigade station hosts a ball (these days, more like a disco) where French women go to leer at French firemen. The bal traditionally ends in drunken lewdness, lechery and fighting - again, just like Temple Bar.

If you feel like joining in the celebration... well, we've given you a great French soundtrack over recent times: new music from Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Pravda, Ultra Orange and Emmanuelle, Justice, Plastiscines, Manu Chao, PacoVolume, Naast and Constance Verluca,  classics old and modern by Vanessa Paradis, Serge Gainsbourg, Yannick Noah, Amel Bent, Edith Piaf and Vanessa And The O's, and even some adopted French sounds by Malajube (from Quebec) and the resolutely ten-fingered Django Reinhardt (Belgian).

However, we've forgotten France's most-loved rock icon. So, for the French national holiday, singing 'Allumer Le Feu' ('Light The Fire') live at the Parc des Princes in 2003: ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls.... here's Johnny!!!!

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There seems to be a trend among female singers in Paris at the moment: sounding like Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground.

In the last twelve months there have been three noteworthy albums drawing on the Velvets' distinctive droning guitar sound and the spoken-word vocal style of Reed's solo records.

We've already mentioned Ultra Orange and Emmanuelle - the group fronted by Emmanuelle Seigner (right), the French actress and wife of Roman Polanski. The band's eponymous album was released earlier this year, led off by VU-esque single 'Sing Sing'.

Keren-Ann (left) is not French - she was born in Israel and raised in the Netherlands. However, she moved to France at age 11 and her early albums were in French - which is why she's filed among the French singers in Paris record shops.

Her self-titled fifth album was recorded in Paris and New York - indeed, its opening two tracks, the singles 'It Ain't No Crime' and 'Lay Your Head Down' sound heavily influenced by Reed's 'New York' album.

As for Keren-Ann's record, it's a fine album of intimate folk-flavoured songs that also draw heavily on Leonard Cohen.

However, trumping both Emmanuelle and Keren-Ann is one Vanessa Contenay-Quinones (right). Her band Vanessa And The O's (featuring James Iha of the Smashing Pumpkins on guitar) released a fabulous album last year called 'The Story Of O'.

It's a veritable VU tribute album; not only does Vanessa sound like a more tuneful Nico, but she also drops numerous Reed references into her songs. There's even a track called 'J'Attends Lou' ('I'm Waiting For Lou').

If grabbing the attention of the great man was her objective then it's certainly worked - Vanessa has recently been recording tracks with Reed in New York.

From 'The Story of O', here's a very glamorous-looking Vanessa posing around London in the video for the unbearably catchy 'Bagatelle', the best French single of 2006:

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Our favourite French radio show is 'C'est Lenoir', presented by Bernard Lenoir on France Inter. It's an hour of the best alternative music, with live sessions from every decent act that visits Paris (Elvis Perkins did a fantastic acoustic set recently).

One of the cult hits of the show so far this year has been a glorious little track called 'Les Trois Copains' ('The Three Friends') by a French singer-songer called Constance Verluca.

It begins as a deceptively twee piece of acoustic folk about feeling blue, before it suddenly changes gears and launches into an unforgettable chorus of "Vive le chocolat, le heroïn et la vodka! Vive le chocolat, le heroïn et la vodka!". Dare we say that the song itself is just as addictive?

Listen to 'Les Trois Copains' on Constance's MySpace page. We think it would sound perfect on Pearl's Sunday morning show on Phantom.

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The most intriguing event in this week's Paris concert listings takes place tonight at our favourite live venue, La Fleche d'Or.

Lebanese Underground Party is a night of bands and DJs from the Lebanon, on the Lebanese Underground independent record label. Acts include rock bands Scrambled Eggs, Bamby And The Dogs, Domingo and Lumi, hip hop from Rayess Bek and DJ sets from Jade and Cocosuma.

There's no fundraising or overt political agenda to the night - just a celebration of Lebanese acts and the surprisingly active Beirut scene.

There are close historical and cultural links between France and Lebanon. The Middle Eastern state was a French protectorate between the two world wars, proclaiming its independence in 1943 while France was under Nazi occupation. Lebanon's judicial and educational systems are based on the French models, and French is one of the most popular school languages.

Until the start of the civil war in 1975 (chronicled definitively by Robert Fisk in 'Pity The Nation'), Beirut was known as the Paris of the East, such was its beauty and glamour. Today, like Belfast, it's trying to shake off its war-torn image - though recent violence has once again pulled the rug from under Beirut's reconstruction.


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Is it July again already? This year's Tour de France (which Jules mentioned a short time ago) has just begun... in London, on one of the Tour's regular showcase starts in foreign countries (including Dublin in 1998).

This weekend, France's sporting news centred on the British capital - although ultimately with a lack of French success. Apart from the Tour, at Wimbledon Richard Gasquet and Marion Bartoli exceeded pre-tournament expectations before both losing on Saturday. In the French media poor Marion's heroic march to the final has been eclipsed by the Tour circus in London - just as Amelie Mauresmo's victory last year was overshadowed by the World Cup Final.

Now that London is only two and a half hours by train from Paris, there's a real sense of the two capitals being closer together. French TV news now carries regular reports from London - not just recent headlines like the Blair/Brown transition or the foiled terrorist attacks, but also comparative reports on the cost of living, stories of French people in Britain, the adventures of Arsenal (now minus Thierry Henry but still with a large French contingent), new UK-side developments (there's considerable interest here in London's congestion charges) and the occasional 'and finally' story (for example, Damien Hirst's diamond-skull).

These days French people regularly zip over to London on the Eurostar - and many stay there. While the UK capital's rent prices are notoriously high, salaries in London are also higher than the heavily-taxed French pay packet. From this end of the tunnel, London often seems like the brighter light.

Coming in the other direction, London and its rock mythology have always exerted huge influence on the Paris music scene. Serge Gainsbourg recorded his greatest works in Swinging London. The Clash inspired every '80s French band to mix punk and reggae - usually with awful results (apart from Mano Negra, who were fantastic). And today The Libertines are the unlikely idols for the new wave of English-singing Paris bands.

As for le grand boucle ('the great loop', as the French call the Tour), it has perhaps lost a lot of its prestige and interest for many French people - not because of the omnipresent drugs scandals but simply because there hasn't been a credible French challenger in years (and no home champion since Bernard Hinault in 1985). That's hardly going to change this year - the local hope is national champion Christophe Moreau, who's probably too at 36 (to put that in context, retired 7-time winner Lance Armstrong is 35 this year).

Still, for anyone who remembers Stephen Roche collapsing on La Plagne in 1987 or Greg Lemond trumping Laurent Fignon by 8 seconds in 1989, the Tour is undeniably a great spectacle and something quintessentially French. In 2005 your blogger was across from the Eiffel Tower and watched Armstrong et al (within touching distance from us) coast leisurely into Paris before the final sprint up the Champs-Elysées. Last year the Tour even went through our suburb - though in a multicoloured blur that makes you understand how French painters invented impressionism.

To celebrate the great race, here's some, em, German electronica - Kraftwerk's 'Tour De France':

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Nuggets from our archive

2001 - Early career profile of Damien Rice, written by Sinead Ward. This insightful profile was written before Damien broke internationally with the release of his debut album 'O'. This profile continues to attract hundreds of visits every month, it being linked to from Damien Rice's Wikipedia page.