It is with great sadness that we learned Olivier Libaux of Nouvelle Vague has passed away at 57. The legendary musician brought a new artistry to the cover song, moulding existing sounds and sentiments into new genres and sonic exploration. Nouvelle Vague made the announcement via Instagram and Facebook.
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A founding member of the band Les Objets and Uncovered Queens of the Stone Age, Libaux created Nouvelle Vague with Marc Collin in 2004, covering punk and new wave songs arranged in bossa nova style and sung by young chanteuses.
“Before Nouvelle Vague I don’t think that there were that many cover bands, actually,” Libaux told Spill Magazine. “Cover band in my memory was a band playing on a Saturday night the top ten songs or the classics… In France not that much good music was happening.” Libaux and Marc Collin, both producers with broad musical knowledge, soon invented their unique formula: new wave equals bossa nova equals Nouvelle Vague. Their self-titled debut, Nouvelle Vague, sold 500,000 copies worldwide and caused a sensation between both old school fans and new discoverers. The revered album covered Tuxedomoon’s In A Manner of Speaking, XTC’s Making Plans For Nigel, and Guns of Brixton by The Clash, among other post-punk and new wave classics.
Libaux’s approach was as cinematic as it was playful, taking cues from movie soundtracks and the films themselves. The surprising juxtaposition of raw punk sentiment and dreamy Sergio Mendes-style compositions proved especially bizarre, such as their sultry rendition of the Dead Kennedys classic Too Drunk To Fuck, which transformed into a drowsy storytelling that sounds like an outtake from a kitschy Ann-Margret flick. This endeavour transcended novelty and whimsy, however, with Nouvelle Vague’s poignant arrangements. “David Lynch, Joel and Ethan Coen, Stanley Kubrick, even Sergio Leone…I like to “see” landscapes when I record music, like scenes in a movie. I wish that the listener can enjoy the pictures, the ambiance,” he said in a 2019 interview with Essentially Pop. “I do believe that a cover must appear like a proper original track…This way, the new version can surprise the listener, bring unexpected emotions. The process is always the same: remove all the original arrangements, reach the heart of the song, imagine another landscape for the song, another atmosphere, then record the new version, and see how it goes.”
Les Objets, founded by Libaux and Jérôme Rousseaux in the early 1990s, was influenced by British indie pop, particularly The Smiths and The Monochrome Set, sung in French. Olivier Libaux defined 2007’s Imbécile as “a kind of farewell to English pop.”
Libaux went on to do authorized covers of Queens of the Stone Age in 2013 with his unique spin. Uncovered Queens Of The Stone Age, performed by an all-female roster, featured dreamy singers like Katharine Whalen (Squirrel Nut Zippers), Skye (Morcheeba), Emiliana Torrini, Alela Diane, and many more. For instance, Libaux’s version of the jangly No One Knows, performed by Inara George, transformed into a haunting chanson, reminiscent of a Bond theme. (The band’s Josh Homme loved the “unusual tribute.”)
As of now the cause of death has not been disclosed. We extend our sincere sympathies to Olivier’s loved ones.
Celebrate his beautiful work with these offerings: