At the court of Louis XV in 18th century France, there was a character who amazed everyone by pretending to be several centuries old. He went by the name of Saint Germain. As we enter into the 21st century, the person we’re concerned with today is just as impressive, but claims to be only 30 years old and is neither a swindler nor an aristocrat, but rather a maestro and a handyman. Ludovic Navarre, alias Saint Germain, pioneer of the French Touch, the new electronic music of France, has become an indisputable and respected reference on the international music scene. Without him, Daft Punk, Air and Dimitri From Paris would probably still be playing parties out in the French sticks…
His album Boulevard, released in July 1995, sold over 200,000 copies worldwide and has achieved classic status. It was elected Record of the Year in England and was also nominated for the Dance Music Awards in London alongside artists like Goldie, D’Angelo and Michael Jackson… Not bad for a “weird little Frenchie.” Since then Ludo has gained further renown with his remix of the Cape Verdean Boy Ge Mendes and the synthesized and historical Pierre Henry.
But Ludovic cares nothing about honors, prizes and other academic awards. A reserved and taciturn denizen of the Paris suburbs, he’s never happier than back in his home studio, playing around with his samples and loops. It was there in 1991 that he created his brand of fusion music blending techno with jazz and blues, and ambient, house and dub. Far from being a simple slapdash commercial sound collage, it is instead a slowly matured blend, a dexterous mix of machines and instruments, roots and modernity.
His involvement in music happened almost by chance. Early on, our bedroom composer dreamed of a career in sport. As an adolescent, his passionate interest in sailing, windsurfing, skiing and the like was cut short by an accident. Instead he got into computers and worked as a DJ at the occasional party. With a friend, Guy Rabiller, he composed his first pieces under the name of Sub System. Even at this stage, his overriding concern was to avoid sounding like anyone else. “At that time, techno rhythms were invariably played at 150 bpm [beats per minute]; this tempo had become a straight jacket. So I began taking everything more slowly…” He put out a number of EPs under a variety of pseudonyms: Deep Side, Soofle, Modus Vivendi, LN’s, Nuages, and D.S. He soon dropped a straight techno style in favor of a more sensuous, melancholy musical approach. From this time on, a new cardinal point was added to the New York/Chicago/Detroit axis: Paris.
But Ludo doesn’t bother about labels, or about the techno scene, which in his opinion is too often governed by concern for industrial output, demagogy, a quick buck and cynicism. He has attained his own dream: to record and more particularly play with other musicians on stage such as the Transmusicales Festival in Rennes in 1995 and the Printemps de Bougres Festival the following year. He has found a jazz outfit in Saint Germain, and since the album Boulevard, the group has permanently featured Pascal Ohsé on trumpet, Edouard Labor on saxophone and flute, Alexandre Destrez on keyboards and Edmondo Carneiro on percussion. “I’m not a musician,” says Ludo modestly. “I’m best with a computer mouse. After Boulevard in fact, I was thinking about giving up music. I felt I’d got it all wrong.”
Today, after a five-year layoff from recording, Ludovic Navarre is back with a new album, Tourist, on the prestigious Blue Note jazz label. About this project, scheduled for U.S. release on September 12, 2000, Ludo sparingly offers only a few details: “There will only be four purely house tracks. The whole record will be a continuation of my work, with machines, live and sampled sounds.” Guest artists include Jamaican guitarist Ernest Ranglin and percussionist Idrissa Diop.
While awaiting the release of this album, you only have to listen again to older tracks like “My Mama Said,” “Walk So Lonely” or “Prelusion” to realize that Ludovic Navarre’s music transcends fashions and trends. It must have something to do with the name: The counts of St. Germain simple never age.