Monthly Archives: February 2010

Things don’t start when you show up and stop when you leave #1: Exchange Dublin

Without claiming to be an expert on Dublin history (or even the history of Exchange Dublin, really) I have, through design and accident in roughly equal measures, acquired a lot of loose information about the origins and history of the city I have lived in for my entire life. So, for want of anything else to do, I thought I might do a short history post, with illustrations for the easily bored.*

The crux of this is about where Dublin was actually founded.

*With the benefit of retrospect, this is not particularly short, and the easily bored might prefer 98% of other things.

Click to make it bigger.

Point 1: Exchange Dublin is on the corner of Exchange Street and Essex Gate.

That’s just past the Turk’s Head and the Czech Inn in Temple Bar West, the less touristy stretch of Temple Bar that extends beyond Parliament Street up to Fishamble Street by Christ Church.

Point 2: It does not front directly onto a river.

But that doesn’t mean it never has.

Click to make it bigger. Red = Poddle, Blue = Camac, White = Dodder, Green = Tolka, One that looks like a river = Liffey.

Point 3: There is more than one river in Dublin.

Everyone knows about the Liffey. Behind the leading group of hangovers, the weather and the French football team, the Liffey features quite heavily in the complaints of Dubliners, being supposedly filthy, despite being the only river in a capital city in the EU in which salmon can still live. But that’s irrelevant here. There are other rivers. The Dodder runs through Leafy Suburb, Dublin 4 before meeting the Liffey at Ringsend. The Camac, largely underground, runs through Clondalkin and Inchicore before hitting the Liffey at Heuston Station. The Tolka runs through Blanchardstown and ends up in Dublin Bay without hitting the Liffey at all. But the river we want is Dublin’s great lost landmark, the sadly culverted Poddle.

Point 4: Culverted means underground by man’s design, which the Poddle is.

The Poddle starts out in Tallaght, flows through Templeogue, Kimmage and Dolphin’s Barn (the hilariously malapropistic name of which could easily be another post some day) before going underground. It flows under the Liberties, where folk memory of it forms a part of local consciousness according to the “Dublin in the rare auld times” type literature of the mid-20th century. It comes down by Dublin Castle, where it once formed a small lake that might be the city’s eponymous ‘dubh linn’ (black pool). It then flows roughly down the lane next to the Olympia Theatre before meeting the Liffey at Wellington Quay.

Click to make it bigger. Poorly Photoshopped river = rough line of old school Liffey-Poddle confluence, green spraypaint = salt marshes.

Point 5: When rivers aren’t walled in, they do mad stuff as they approach the sea.

Both the Liffey and the Poddle had broad, marshy areas at the end of their courses. The confluence of the Liffey and the Poddle was thus particularly marshy. Pretty much all of what was reclaimed in the 17th century as Temple Bar was once marsh or estuarine mud. Basically, the Liffey was in effect a lot wider, and a river called the Poddle used to visually exist.

Point 6: Exchange Dublin, or at least the site of it, used to front onto a river.

Two rivers, actually, or the confluence of the Poddle and the Liffey. If you can imagine that the Liffey was wide and its banks were boggy and reedy, and the not-insignificant Poddle was stumbling the final few hundred feet from a lake to meet up with it, then you can probably get a picture of how much further back you had to go to actually build.

Viking, pleased to have found a river confluence.

Point 7: Vikings like river confluences.

They’re protected on two sides by water, so they only have to defend the inland side. In Dublin, conveniently, the inland side of the Liffey-Poddle confluence happens to feature a large hill, the beginning of a trans-national ridge traditionally called the Esker Riada. They built a fort on it.

Point 8: Not everyone can live in a fort.

Time Team-style excavations at Exchange Street revealed the existence of what are called, in technical, boring, Wood Quay-era archaeological parlance, Wallace Type 1 houses. They more than likely date from the mid-to-late ninth century. That’s the 800s.

Point 9: The Vikings founded Dublin in the 800s to have somewhere to park their boats and rest while they harassed anyone who had something worth taking.

In 841, actually. Not 988, as the city authorities tried to make everyone believe in order to stir up tourist revenue. Something did happen in Dublin in 988 – it submitted, not for the first time, to an Irish king – but it definitely wasn’t founded. In 841, as far as we can tell given that the Vikings didn’t have much time for writing themselves, a bunch of Scandinavians parked their boats at the Liffey-Poddle confluence and built houses.

Point 9: Can you see what I’m getting at yet? Are you still reading? Or scrolling to see where it’s going, at least?

We could call the guy who built a Wallace Type 1 house at the Liffey-Poddle confluence Olaf or Sitric, but for the sake of poetry and personal preference we will give him another popular Hiberno-Norse name, Iarnknee (iron-knee). It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that young Iarnknee, having been overpopulated out of Scandinavia, decided to join a fleet to make a living taking livestock and treasure from the foolishly underarmoured Irish and their embarrassingly over-endowed priests.

It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Iarnknee was on such a boat in 841 when his superiors for whatever reason decided it would be a good idea to over-winter at the as yet non-location that became Dublin. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility, is what I’m saying, that Iarnknee was one of the founders of Dublin, and that his house was one of the first civilian dwellings in the history of the city.

Conclusion: Exchange Dublin is where Dublin started.

I uttered this sentence, in this form, a few weeks ago in Exchange and the people who were there at the time initially thought I was being all Goebbelsy about how great the place was. I wasn’t. It’s not all that unlikely that Dublin literally did start roughly where Exchange is. Which is kind of cool to think about.

I will become outrageous.

Some degree of suspension of disbelief is pretty much compulsory when you go to see Xiu Xiu. You will stand there as Jamie Stewart and band, which in this iteration is just Angela Seo, set up equipment, look confused, tweak knobs and ask the soundman in polite California English whether the monitors are turned on. After a few minutes, there’ll be a thumbs up to the soundman.

And then the curtains raise. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Stewart goes from 0 to something approaching Noh theatre in about 3 seconds flat. With the self-confidence of someone who’s been declaiming self-loathing over alternating pop, noise and silence for about a decade, he opens with the quietest song imaginable, plucking sparse chords and whispering with a violently pained expression on his brow.

Whelans drops to silence. You can hear Kasabian or Primal Scream or whatever, drifting in ambiently from the front bar. Stewart is impervious. Audience obedience and rapt attention established ab initio, it just means that when the noise does come (and the noise will always come), it’s going to wreak that much more damage.

This happens with Gray Death, the opener and first single off Dear God I Hate Myself. It’s hard to describe the absolute presence of Xiu Xiu live – I can say they’re intense, they’re heavy on a gravity’s pull type level, they’re absolutely earnest, but it doesn’t conjure up what it’s actually like.

Listening to my new favourite lines in the Xiu Xiu canon, “If you’re expecting consolation, I will become outrageous/If you expect me to be outrageous, I will be extra-outrageous”, I thought of two things. One, this is a different type of outrage to Ashley Cole’s pants and Iris Robinson’s Calvinist satan incarnate. It’s an obsolete concept, but a lot of Xiu Xiu’s appeal is in what is DOES, beyond thought, in the hackles it raises once you’ve submitted to the desolate self-pity. Two, I tried to think of what various friends would think if they were there. Would they be as bowled over by the sheer weight of the thing, or would they just think he was being ridiculous?

Right after Gray Death came the title track of the album. If those friends weren’t able to take Gray Death, they definitely wouldn’t manage Dear God I Hate Myself, the lines of the chorus elongated to differentiate them from the recorded version as if to say “I am not just singing this, I am saying it”. It actually approaches being hard to watch at times, but if it’s not cathartic for Stewart, it’s cathartic to watch.

Without Caralee McElroy (who left to play in Cold Cave), Ches Smith and Devin Hoff (who are possibly just not on this tour), a set of only new material wouldn’t have been that surprising, but lo, there was Boy Soprano. And there, absolutely rampant in its noisy new incarnation, was the closest thing Xiu Xiu have to a hit, I Luv The Valley OH!

Complete with its scream “OH!”

Couldn’t really ask for more, except for maybe an encore. Jamie doesn’t seem to do encores though. His wave goodbye seemed enthusiastic, grateful and extremely spazzy, but when he and Angela did eventually re-emerge, it was to plug shit out.

Still, this is something properly unique, still in its prime. So no complaints here.

Here is Angela Seo making herself sick to the strains of Dear God I Hate Myself. It was taken off YouTube (scroll down, February 6th).


Transcript: Xiu Xiu

Xiu Xiu play Dublin tonight. They’ve been one of my favourite bands since mid-to-late teenagedom, and I narrowly missed interviewing Jamie Stewart for Analogue two years ago, but it did eventually happen for Totally Dublin. Ongoing thanks to Dan for putting me on phone lines to geniuses once a month. The cut version of this is in the current issue Totally Dublin, still in racks near you for free (if you are in Dublin, which you obviously might not be).

Can I especially draw your attention to the part about a Spencer Krug collaboration, which is a follow-up from this Sunset Rubdown interview.

I thought I would jump right in. I listened to Gray Death and there’s a line in it that struck me. “You expect me to be outrageous, I will be extra-outrageous.” What do you think of that as an introduction to Xiu Xiu?

It’s a little self-serving for me to say that it might be. It’s probably not wholly inaccurate. It kind of comes more from some advice that my dad gave me. He was in music and said that the regret that he had was not feeling like he had ever took things too far, and before he died he advised me to try to take things too far in music. So it’s sort of a bit of an homage to his advice I guess.

With the title of the album, and having a picture of yourself on the front of it, it seems kind of confrontational. Was that the intent?

I think the intent was just to express feeling that way sometimes. Maybe in some ways it’s… I guess right now… how to put this… extreme negative emotion is sometimes looked down upon as being ingenuine. So in addition to being an autobiographical comment, it’s an attempt to make extreme negative emotion something that doesn’t necessarily have to be hidden away.

Do you think that, with extreme negative emotion being something that’s been around a while with Xiu Xiu, you’ve had a problem with people interpreting you as theatre rather than something serious?

People are free to interpret thing any way that they want. I know that it’s not that, and there’s nothing I can do other than to be honest in my own attempt at expressing that. I guess that comment about trying to be open about extreme negative emotion isn’t really a response to people sometimes perceiving Xiu Xiu as being theatrical as opposed to genuine. It’s more a comment on a greater societal perception as opposed to perception of Xiu Xiu.

And what do you think about the perception of Xiu Xiu as confessional? Is that accurate, or is it something else?

Oh, yeah, all of the songs are about something real that is happening. And almost by definition, saying something that is honest is confessional.

So would you say you’re writing to get past real experiences or problems, or is it something different to that?

It’s more an attempt to document them. I don’t really feel cleansed for having wrote a song about something. It clarifies an issue, but it doesn’t make it go away. It gives the energy behind it some place to go, but it doesn’t make it go away.

When Women As Lovers, on the attendant press release or whatever, it said that it was the most accessible album to date “on a human level”. That kind of stuck with me. Is the new album yet more accessible, or have you moved away from that idea?

At the risk of betraying a friend, I didn’t actually write that line about Women As Lovers. I don’t know if I necessarily agree with it. We’ve never done anything to attempt to be accessible. We’ve really pointedly played around with pop structures and pop types of songs because we like pop songs, but the point of that is not to be accessible, it’s to make the music that reflects what we’re interested at the time. I would say that Dear God I Hate Myself’s arrangements are extraordinarily influenced by pop music, and whether that makes something accessible by default, I don’t know. The point is not to try to be accessible, it’s to try to be as good as we can be.

And how has Caralee leaving effected the band?

Um, not very much. With the exception of the very start of the record, she wasn’t very involved despite several attempts on my part to get her involved. She made it pretty clear she wasn’t interested in working on it. She hasn’t really been involved with the band since the last tour that we did, which would have been 2008.

And it hasn’t changed the way you work at all?

Not really, she wasn’t all that involved with the writing. She was very involved with the touring and just did a small amount of writing, so it didn’t change too much. I mean there’s some things she’s very good at. She has a very cool voice, and it’s a drag not having her voice in the band any more, but aside from that the writing process hasn’t changed that much.

I’ve always wondered with regard to playing live, if it’s difficult for you to sing the songs night in night out, or if you have a detachment from them.

No, it is difficult. The point would be to not have a detachment from them. It would be the opposite of what I’ve always tried to do with this band. It gets exhausting for sure.

I’ve asked that question to a couple of different people and gotten different answers as to how earnest they are every night of a tour. So it’s interesting.

I try as hard as I can to be as honest as I can every single night. Sometimes that is achieved and sometimes it’s not, but the intent to do it is definitely there. It’s always going to be there. If I don’t hit it, it’s not because I’m not trying to, but you can’t always be exactly perfect in the way that you want to be, of course.

Okay, this question has a bit of a back story. A couple of months ago I interviewed Spencer Krug from Sunset Rubdown, and I had read while doing research for that, someone had asked him who he would like to collaborate with, and he mentioned you. So I asked him about that again, and he said that he’d met you and you’d talked about it, but I was wondering if that’s something that’s in any way still on the cards?

Yeah, I pretty recently sent him and Camilla some music, and I believe he e-mailed me back about it, but I haven’t had a chance to check it yet. So hopefully it’s on the table. It’s certainly in the works, but as to how far along it is I don’t know. It’s certainly something that I’m very interested in.

That’s cool. That’s something that I would be very much looking forward to hearing.

Me too, I hope it works out.

That’s pretty much all I’ve got, but to finish I thought in homage to Chocolate Makes You Happy I’d ask, what makes you happy at the moment?

Oh. Well, it’s really cold where I live right now, and I grew up in California so I’m not used to it being cold. And I’m really interested in birdwatching and I’m concerned about the birds that are in my yard, so I’ve began to put gallons and gallons of birdfeed in the grass. So my front yard is completely infested with the local birds. Looking at them every morning makes me pretty happy. However chocolate still makes me very happy as well.

And what keeps you awake?

What doesn’t keep me awake. I’ve had a bad time sleeping since I was a little kid. Horrible, horrible, horrible sense of anxiety every night.

Mixes by people for wolves.

Here’s a thing that started happening recently. Skinny Wolves are as close to true tastemakers as Dublin’s fair city has got, at least in their ability to make their crowd go out and listen to a band just because they’ve been booked, rather than the reverse. They’ve been soliciting mixes from people for a while.

There’ve been four so far, which you find on Soundcloud, with such eminent artists as School Tour, Logikparty and Crayonsmith.

The most recent one is from Niamh Angkorwat, with all kinds of stuff like Cocteau Twins, Homosexuals, Stevie Moore and Igor Stravinsky. Well worth a listen while you refresh Twitter over and over again, or whatever it is normal people do with their time.

I observe that, of the five blurbs for Angkorwat under that mix, four are by former Analogue writers, and the last one says “vaguely nauseating”. That’s raw data, put whatever meaning on it you wish.

Angkorwat was the second interview in the Interview Project.

Skinny Wolves are bringing Xiu Xiu over to play Whelans on Friday, by the way. Angkorwat and Crayonsmith are both supporting. Definitely go.

Dunno what the hell to do!

This is the front and back cover of Meaningless Friendly by So Cow, which comes out in two weeks in time for SXSW for some reason.

So Cow, featuring Mk. III line-up of Brian, Jonny and Gareth Averill (alias Great Lakes Mystery) on drums, are currently in New York, as far as I can tell. Last night they played a gig in a bowling alley or something. Catch them in an American town near you, if there are any American towns near you.

Coming soon: Q Magazine-style consideration of the album, track for track.

No, Monster Club.

Look at this video. Look at it.

Hey look

The blog looks different than it did yesterday. Also neat-looking entry pages now for the Interview Project and the End of Year imbroglios, up the top.