The Swiss DJ and producer on the intricacies of his mesmerising new album, Obsolete.
Back in 2012, emerging artist Pablo Nouvelle burst onto the scene with his internationally acclaimed eponymous album, later making waves with his simmering and self-assured EP “You Don’t Understand”.
Since then, the Swiss architecture-student-turned-DJ (also filmmaker and producer) has been honing his soulful electronic sound – all textured production, layered with a smorgasbord of samples, old and new.
From piercing Tanzanian 50s vocals, to heart-rending neo-classical compositions, all imbued with unique body-shaking percussion – it’s unlike anything you’ve heard before.
And now, the artist has dropped his brand new album Obsolete – a considered and riveting new chapter – deftly exploring mankind’s non-sustainable way of living and the universal urge to escape.
We caught up with Pablo Nouvelle below…
You were an architecture student – what made you make the swap to music?
Architecture and I, we never really got along. She pretended to be something she was not and I couldn’t fulfil her high expectations. What I love about music is the constant process of building something out of nothing. It’s very immediate. Be it in the studio whilst creating, or on stage in an exchange with the audience. I find the act of spatial building still very fascinating, but architecture happens too often in between too many compromises and is way too long-winded.
You’re also a filmmaker – how does this education and inform your sonic process?
Maybe it gives my arrangements more of a narrative dramaturgy, not minding traditional song structures too much. Maybe it pushes me to create soundscapes that are extra cinematic. But honestly, I don’t know. The influence is subtle, metaphysical and hard to capture with words. What I love about filmmaking is, it has so many angles to it. Especially as an animation filmmaker you are the story, the actor, the music, the set-designer – everything. You create a complete world with all its dimensions. I love to think about music in a similar way. Rhythm is movement and movement is life.
Your songs mix old and new samples – can you tell us any unusual or niche place that you sample any of these gems from?
I love sound libraries for filmmakers. Foley sounds from the kitchen can become the drum. Ambients from the Tokyo train station may appear in a break. Watches, bicycles, nature, everything can add an interesting texture to your sound. If not, old jazz records played in reverse or the taboo no producer wants to admit: splice is kind of nice.
You’ve said before your aim is to kill the idea of the “frontman” – why is this?
That was more of an internal, personal urge to find a musical direction for Obsolete (as well as for its forerunner Atlas Internet Cafe), as I wouldn’t want to kill any frontman or woman out there in the wild wild world. It was important for me to strengthen my profile as a producer and become independent from featured singers. That also enables me to play solo sets without the constant feel, something or someone is missing. It’s interesting how our idea of a frontman is linked with it being a singer. When we played band shows we challenged this concept, as everyone in the band was singing – except me, the actual frontman.
You’ve been doing Instagram livestreams – do you think it’s important for artists to adapt quickly to a new way of performing during this time?
I think to adapt is the only way for an artist, and for any kind of human being to stay alive. This doesn’t mean you have to jump on every hype that comes a long and I am curious to see, if we still get this overwhelming amount of streaming gigs once we are 4 or 5 weeks into this situation. For me at the moment it’s a good way to stay connected with my audience and showcase the new songs from Obsolete that are being released today. I can’t wait to get back into the real world again and hug every single person that comes to my shows.
Do you prefer performing large live gigs, or is it more about the songwriting process for you?
For me, nothing can top the excitement of creating new music. Which doesn’t mean that I am not into live performing too. Five days studio work, two days gigging per week correlates with how much I love both sides. I am blessed with the versatility of my job. Even calling it a job feels weird. There are weeks where I rehearse with a live band, prepare a DJ set, compose music for a TV advert, a podcast and produce an out of space electronic pop album of a befriended singer. No day is the same and I am very grateful for being able to do what I love most.
Who do you make music for?
It’s a two-sided thing. Of course I make the music for myself. Spending most of my time making music, it defines who I am. But whenever I hear or see people being touched by what I do, this means a lot to me and if I might have helped someone through a tough time, then all those doubts and second guessing was well worth it.
What is your album Obsolete inspired by?
We travelled the UK to find a visual story for the two albums Atlas Internet Cafe and Obsolete (which back then had no title yet). We did various little live sessions and filmed a crazy amount of bits and pieces here and there. Then we heard about those oil rigs that since the oil crisis a few years back weren’t profitable anymore. So we drove up to the Scottish highlands and found a natural harbour where they dropped those massive obsolete oil rigs. What an incredible symbol for our throwaway society.
What was the biggest challenge putting it together?
I rather think of pleasures than challenges because the whole process was very straight-forward and a lot of fun. I collaborated with the legendary Bondax on three songs as well as James Yuill on the song called “Oh Would You Be There”. Since 2012, when the same friend who helped me film and photograph the oil rigs for the artwork, introduced me to Bondax, I’ve been a big fan of their work. To have them as partners in crime on this release means a lot to me. And, it was just a ridiculous amount of fun creating music with those two guys.
What’s next for you/what are you excited by?
My tour got postponed to October. Maybe play some festivals in summer? Who knows. But I am actually not angry at the idea, that the people can live with the album for a bit and then in autumn come to the shows and dance along the songs they hopefully spent the whole summer with. There are already various studio projects in the making, one of them is a collaboration album with the English singer Favela. Couldn’t be more excited about it!