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World Music Features

Nouvelle Vague converts '80s new wave songs into bossa nova

Nouvelle Vague

By Tad Hendrickson
Published June 1, 2005

France's Nouvelle Vague takes a different approach to stealing from the past. Instead of aping the originals, they seasoned already great post-punk songs with a loungey bossa nova spice.

Those who pay attention to the current rock scene will tell you that the jagged guitars and angular rhythms of post-punk bands like Gang of Four are being regurgitated whole by bands like Franz Ferdinand, Radio 4 and the Futureheads. Other bands like Interpol steal liberally from the Cure and the Chameleons.

While these bands are slender, shaggy and cute enough to catch the attention of fashion editors, the French duo Nouvelle Vague takes a different approach to stealing from the past. Producers Marc Collin and Olivier Libaux met up in 1998 and hatched a plan in which they’d re-record some of their favorite post-punk songs, keeping the basic chords of the song and the lyrics, but instead of aping the original, they seasoned these already great songs with a loungey bossa nova spice. Just to make their intentions clear, the name Nouvelle Vague is the French translation bossa nova, which in English means new wave. That the songs draw from new wave, post-punk and punk genres is really beside the point.

Collin and Libaux, both old enough to remember the songs when they initially came out between 1979-85, didn’t want to butcher the songs or meticulously resurrect them for new audiences. They simply wanted to revisit some old favorites while adding their own new wave twist.

“When I met Marc Collin in 1998, he was the first guy I found who had the same musical ground,” explains Oliver Libaux from his home in Paris. “He was the first guy who I played new wave with, or shared my favorite new wave CDs. When we talked about new wave it was the first time I could talk to someone who was an absolute fan of new wave.”

At the time, electronic music had reached a zeitgeist where acts like Fatboy Slim, Underworld and the Chemical Brothers were some of the biggest draws in Europe and making huge inroads into America. This music touted itself as modern and the next step beyond rock; these two closet cases looked back wistfully and found support in their common love.

We could say again that we were fans of the music. So when we listened back to the Cure and other albums we could feel the creativity of this period. The truth is we have a very strong relationship with this music. But we know we made something very original, so we are ready for all reactions to the music.”

It was the duo’s original intention to record Brazilian musicians and singers, but after using singer Eloisia to record “Love Will Tear Us Apart” it dawned on the two that it would be harder than they had initially thought to find Brazilians in Paris. At the time, the project wasn’t signed so there wasn’t any label to step in to fly them to Rio or hire musicians to come in. Things came into focus when singer Camille came in and did a great job on four songs. Born in 1978, she was French and, like Eloisia, she also didn’t know the songs, so a Nouvelle Vague theme evolved.

“Bringing in these singers made us understand that it was okay that they didn’t know the original,” Libaux points out. “They weren’t afraid to sing a punk song or whatever, and that helped Marc and me. These girls came with freshness and spontaneity. We showed them the lyrics and I played it on my guitar. These girls took the songs and made their own indentation.”