The Marseillaise : Your latest album Party like a human goes back to soul and funk fundamentals. How does the title 1999 from Prince did he inspire you ?
Hervé Salters: It’s not the track itself that inspired the album, but rather its approach: that is to say, mixing ultra-festive music with darker lyrics that probe the anguish of the moment. By the time Prince had come out 1999, the world was afraid of the nuclear bomb. But truth be told, there have been other examples of this, like What’s going on by Marvin Gaye. This dark approach to neon music has always permeated General Elektriks, except it was a contrast that had previously been sprinkled on some tracks, while on Party like a human is entirely designed around this principle. It’s an album that questions the relationship of human beings with the planet. The big party mentioned in the record is the hardcore capitalism practiced in the West. A kind of crazy party that humans have created, that they can no longer stop and that destroys everything in its path.
1999 is also a pivotal year in your career : the moment you move to San Francisco…
HS: I was able to get along with the people from the Quannum Projects collective: the flagship of independent hip-hop in the San Francisco area. This allowed me to enormously nourish the music that I practiced as a keyboardist. As a fan of black American music, I measure my luck to have been able to tour with these people who represent the latest incarnation of progressive hip-hop, very organic and soaked in soul. The San Francisco rap scene is less known in Europe than that of Los Angeles or New York, but we must not forget that big artists have also come out of it like 2pac Shakur. San Francisco Bay is also a historic land of funk: huge groups like Sly and the family stone or Tower of power are from the city of Oakland. And hip-hop has drawn heavily on that.
Rapper Lateef the Truthspeaker, who will accompany you on stage in Marseille, is himself from Oakland…
HS: He’s an exceptional verbal athlete, a real freestyler that you can face anyone with a microphone: the representative of a form of hip-hop that you don’t hear much anymore. He will be with us on the stage of the Marseille jazz of the five continents, which gave me carte blanche. There will also be with us Leeroy, a rapper from the Saïan Supa Crew that I love. He doesn’t have the same flow as Lateef, but both find themselves on a precise technique and a syncopated sound. In addition to the usual General Elektriks quintet, there will also be a third guest in the person of jazz saxophonist Julien Lourau.
As for you, you rarely let go of your Clavinet C. What are its characteristics? ?
HS: Since I first put my hands on a Clavinet C in the 1990s, my rhythmic approach to keyboards has come true. It is a model that dates from 1968, with strings inside. They look like electric guitar strings, and when you press a key, a small pad below them taps the string, before its vibration is picked up by a microphone. It was Stevie Wonder who first grasped the rhythmic potential of this instrument. It was originally built by a German brand, Hohner, who released it as a sort of electric harpsichord for people to play Bach in their living rooms. As soon as he got his hands on it, Stevie Wonder turned it into a funk machine.
Your discography is also studded with a certain number of samples. What is your relationship to this process? ?
HS: I love the sample and its textures. It can be a note, a sound that we integrate into the general canvas of the piece. As if we were building a house of cards with sampled elements, then organic things that we play. I’m very fond of hip-hop from the 1980s and 1990s, which was based on the sample, before the anti-sampling laws made things more complicated. It’s a shame because it pulled the rug out from under a whole creative process that was akin to this art of sound collage. Today, if you don’t have a big budget like Kendrick Lamar or Kanye West, it becomes very complicated.