is a former architecture student turned film-maker and musician, who
makes songs from a combination of new sounds and old samples. He works
under the name Pablo Nouvelle, out of a love of the French
cinematic nouvelle vague of the late 1950s and early 1960s. All his
interests are brought to bear on the song and accompanying video to Is
It OK? his first single, from earlier this year. It has the feel of one
of those stylish and existentially vague French movies starring Jean
Seberg, although we can't quite recall whether the actor went to the
bathroom in broad daylight in A Bout De Souffle, as the female
protagonist does here at 2'01".
Is It OK? features someone called Fiona Daniel singing torchily over
music that a decade-and-a-half or so ago might have been termed
trip-hop, or a bit more recently chillout. On his latest single, You Do
Me Wrong, Nouvelle dispenses with the living singer and uses instead a
sample of a deceased one, and of course the results are just as
"soulful". It helps that the vocalist in question is Marvin Gaye, the
lift from Ain't That Peculiar, specifically the part where he sings:
"You do me wrong but I'm still crazy about you." Nouvelle totally
transforms the Smokey Robinson composition which, because of the
quintessential finger-clicking Motown backing conveyed the idea of
someone scorned but hopeful of a happy outcome to his feelings. In
Nouvelle's hands, it becomes a funereal lament, and smothered as it is
in hiss and crackle seems even more like someone out in the cold,
casting mournfully back to when he felt the intense heat of love.
Like Avalanches and DJ Shadow before him, he applies hip-hop production
techniques to classic pop and soul recordings, cutting and
recontextualising to startling effect. "It was like looking behind the
curtain of hip-hop and understanding where it all came from," says
Nouvelle, a fan of Donny Hathaway and the XX, Marvin and Wu-Tang Clan.
"That changed my life."
He's no one-trick pony, though. On Be True To Me, the B-side of the
current single, the opening chords are from a more recent piece of music
– To Build A Home by the Cinematic Orchestra featuring Patrick Watson –
although once again the vocal sample is of mid-1960s vintage, and it's
Marvin again: this time, I'll Be Doggone. And once more, Nouvelle
locates the sadness in an uptempo Motown number, ripping it out of its
original exuberant context and forcing you to reassess the original
lyrics. It's not just 1960s soul he's obsessed with: on the B-side to
his debut single, a track entitled In Your Arms, it's the 1980 duet by
Billy Preston and Syreeta, With You I'm Born Again, that he places at
the heart of his song.
He's currently working on a debut album, and deciding which label to
sign to, which could have implications with regard to his future
direction – a major would have to be worried about an album full of
liberal steals and plunderphonics. But it would make a fabulous listen.