Artist Profile: Para One

We speak to the French artist on Passion, ‘90s French ghettos & pursuing his dream

It's midday Sunday and pissing it down with rain in London. Jean-Baptiste appears on my screen - he’s Skyping me from his home in what looks like sunny Paris. Jean-Baptiste de Laubier is an exceptional, eccentric, electro-pop disco jockey who goes by the name Para One. Inspired by ghetto French rap, his roots lie in hip-hop with the group TTC. 

 

Next month Céline Sciamma’s award-winning film Girlhood is due to be released on DVD. Jean-Baptiste produced the music for it and as a soundtrack connoisseur I was keen to understand how he’d masterminded this particular one.

 

He told me the soundtrack was a product of Céline's ideas. A soundtrack he said can make or break a film, because music is more important than image in terms of narration. Jean-Baptiste refers to Michele Chion’s work, who wrote a lot about how sound is a more significant storyteller than image.

 

“It worked because she’s my best friend.”

 

But according to Jean-Baptiste, integral to producing powerful music for a film is having the right chemistry with the director. He graduated from film school ten years ago where he’d met and worked with Céline. He produced the soundtrack for her film, Water Lilies which remains Jean-Baptiste’s proudest piece of work to date. Adapting to another’s ideas was "liberating" he remarked, but ultimately “it worked because she’s my best friend.”

 

Throughout the past two decades for Jean-Baptiste music had taken precedent over film directing and he explained how the release of his first album in 2006, Epiphanie meant that he simply didn’t have the time to work on features. Sitting down to write a script he says, is a much longer process than producing a track. “If you have an idea for a film, you better have a good idea because you’re going to live with it for three years” he remarks jokingly, but no less seriously.

 


 

"I would really regret not doing it”.

 

But things have just changed for Jean-Baptiste, as it’s revealed that for the first time in 20 years he’s been working on a dream project - his first feature film. He is producing the music and directing it while Céline guides him on the script: “I decided to take the time to make that feature happen, because it’s what I’ve always wanted to do in the first place and it’s so important for me. I would really regret not doing it”. Eager to know what this feature was about, Jean-Baptiste said “let’s keep it a secret for now”, with a potential release date of mid-2017.

 

Moving onto his past involvement with ‘alternative’ French hip-hop group TTC, Jean-Baptiste quickly snubs the alternative label. “To this day we don’t like the term alternative. At the time popular French documentaries about our scene in early 2000 assumed that we liked that term, but we just wanted to do rap music. While our radical production ideas were seen as 'crazy' by people - and we certainly weren’t your usual rap group - we just wanted to be normal rappers making rap music for people who didn’t normally like it.”

 

While American rap remains king of the scene, I was interested to find out what was so attractive about French hip hop. Jean-Baptiste explains how there was a very specific movement in France in the '90s. While it’s all about gangsters, “they’re not the same kind because of cultural differences. This rap was about everyday life in the French ghetto – exactly like the film La Haine depicts” he said.

 

While Jean-Baptiste didn’t grow up in a French ghetto, he tells of how he would hang out with ‘the guys from the bad neighbourhoods’ on a day-to-day basis. He described the lifestyle as extreme with lots of violence and French rap typically reflected that.

 

But TTC didn’t want their audience to identify with gangsters, “we just wanted to bring the fun and the poetry into what we were doing. That’s why a lot of people related to it and felt accepted in that movement, because they were not from the ghetto and they felt touched by what TTC were doing.”

 

I personally first engaged with Para One’s sounds when I came across his second album Passion. It grabbed me because of how uniquely listenable it was and even more so, I was intrigued by the artwork.

 

 

Jean-Baptiste explains how his first album Epiphanie was a patchwork compilation of his work throughout the years; the appropriate 'French wave' was happening in 2006 and he felt rushed to release it. But this meant with the album that followed, Passion, his approach was different: “I took my time and wanted to produce some kind of self-portrait that would reflect all the music I have loved over ten years and all of my life.” Jean-Baptiste depicts this project as his “happy place – very quiet and peaceful”.

 

The thinking behind choosing Jim Buckel’s 1992 hyper-realistic, surrealistic artwork chosen for the album cover begins to make sense. Hinting at escapism, the image is magical and engrossing. The attached logo Jean-Baptiste tells me is relatively meaningless, existing predominantly for contrast purposes, but reminiscent of the album covers from the '90s which he and Marble Records partner Surkin loved.

 

"Some people are surprised that I change my style all the time, but I see the coherence behind it and hope other people will in the long run.”

 

Jean-Baptiste’s music is so versatile it’s expectantly unpredictable, from South African choirs to electro-pop and classical sounds, the creative boundaries sound limitless. He explains this is because “when it comes to music I like to constantly expand the spectrum as much as possible. Meeting other artists like we did in South Africa accelerates this process but my variety reflects the way I see music. It should be very open. Some people are surprised that I change my style all the time, but I see the coherence behind it and hope other people will in the long run.”

 

While many artists “sell out” to adhere to the mainstream in order to raise profile, popularity and profits, Jean-Baptiste hasn’t done this as Para One, yet he’s a big name on the electro-pop scene. The secret he says, is sincerity:

 

“While people can obviously relate to promotion and marketing and big machinery, on a personal level I think you’re moved by someone you can relate to."

 

He adds, “After 20 years making music and DJ'ing it finally pays off, because I feel like this consistency and trying to keep it very sincere if I can and if people can relate to it in the end it works out I guess. Hopefully.” he adds.

 

Jean-Baptiste explains how his first album Epiphanie was a patchwork compilation of his work throughout the years; the appropriate 'French wave' was happening in 2006 and he felt rushed to release it. But this meant with the album that followed, Passion, his approach was different: “I took my time and wanted to produce some kind of self-portrait that would reflect all the music I have loved over ten years and all of my life.” Jean-Baptiste depicts this project as his “happy place – very quiet and peaceful”.

 

The weirdest tracks he’s produced is when he was part of the band Fuckaloop ten years ago with a friend. While co-producing TTC, in the spare time waiting around for the rappers who were late everyday they experimented in the studio and ended up recording hours of music, which Jean-Baptiste is convinced must stand as "one of the longest iTunes album ever".

 

With regards to sound waves, he says there’s a new wave coming every one or two years, “which you could say is annoying but at the same time, it brings new sounds and ideas to the table."

 

Jean-Baptiste tells me he’s just signed to Ed Banger records. For Para One, up next will be a transition between Elevation and his first feature film “because the album will be an introduction to the fictional world of that film. That’s why Elevation is so spiritually rooted. It's going to be world music, uplifting music and hopefully a mixture of both."

 

What’s unique about Jean-Baptiste’s approach his he isn’t fazed by populism, but rather surfs the sound waves as they come and integrates a style of choice. His priority is to invest his energy into opportunities that present fresh sounds and ideas. But what I admire most is Jean-Baptiste’s only boundary - an ever inflating circle of ideas that isn’t afraid to pop.

 

Follow Para One here: Soundcloud / Facebook / Twitter