Record labels have been dressing up musicians in magical and sometimes ridiculous clothes for many years, while audiences have basked in the glory of the latest disposable brain tickler. But there is a growing chorus of people who have taken to the internet to “undress” mindless pop stars exposing what’s left: shallowness and vanity, and at the same time, revealing the music industry’s greed and ostentatiousness. These individuals recognize that musicians have been swindled and are merely pawns in the big-money world of music. Gonzales has openly identified all of this for years, and his voice is finally being heard. The people are shouting that there is a new Emperor in town. And the Emperor doesn’t show up naked. He wears a robe. “Der neue Kaiser” – that’s what the German issue of Rolling Stone recently called Chilly Gonzales in a four pager about his rising fame and the future of music.
“Not classical music is outdated. It’s those young people sitting in basements with their guitars and drums, who wait for a rock star career”. With two sentences, Chilly Gonzales declares Rock ‘n Roll finally dead – almost 20 years after Lenny Kravitz made an ironic and misunderstood song about that topic. But Gonzales means it – and states his opinion in a certain magazine called Rolling Stone. Anyone who knows a bit about Chilly Gonzales instantly realizes that he hasn’t turned into a classical music snob. On the contrary. He wants music to move forward and not to get stuck in Woodstock mud.
The leading music magazine starts the praise with describing his increasing fame in Europe. There is almost no capital or major city in the “Old World” that hasn’t freaked out over his show and escorted him off stage with standing ovations. Rolling Stone: “He cracked the Belgian capital. For the third time in 24 months.” Actually, one could feel over the years, how reactions during the shows alone have changed. When I saw my first show in Paris, he played at Cine 13, just weeks before the World Record attempt. It was almost like an insider tip. I bought the tickets at short notice – compared to today, where I usually purchase a ticket the minute a concert is announced to ensure a good seat or a seat at all. The audience back then consisted of hardcore fans, but there was an atmosphere of respect and coolness at once. People laughed, clapped, snapped, whistled, engaged, but they kept their cool. This past July, almost 5 years later, I saw Chilly Gonzales playing in Stuttgart at a Jazz festival. It was in a modern amphitheatre, outdoors, with the sun setting, the wind gently blowing and a flight of excitement buzzing through the air – an excitement that is somewhat new. People discuss in advance what he will play and if he will wear his bathrobe (he always wears his bathrobe). A couple can’t believe that they really have seats in the 2nd row. A man in his 50s doesn’t only euphorically bounce up and down on his chair, but also takes pictures almost every second. Others sneak close to the stage to “secretly” make some shaky cellphone shots. There was also the Kölner Philharmonie show around New Year’s Eve 2012; the whole concert hall was in awe and frenetically honoured Gonzales (read the review here: http://www.sologonzales.com/chilly-gonzales-in-cologne/ ).
According to Rolling Stone, part of the hype results from a current “virtuoso trend”, meaning the mating of electronic and classical music on one hand, and the return of musical knowledge as the basis of successful music on the other. In Chilly Gonzales’ case both are true. He collaborated with Boys Noize for his “Ivory Tower” album/soundtrack, and certainly gained experience in the electro world during his experimental Berlin years. What is much more important when we speak of Chilly Gonzales is that he re-thinks and re-invents pop music by using classical composing rules and knowing the science and mathematics of music in order to elevate the music of yesterday into today and the future. That’s what makes his approach so different from classical music in the bombastic rock ballads of the 80s and 90s that just “sampled” classical pieces. Whereas Rock ‘n Roll slowly died the retro-death, Chilly Gonzales belongs to an elite group of pop innovators. It is also people like Olafur Arnalds or James Blake, who have paved the way for a new niveau in pop music by using all the tools modern sound and music engineering has to offer to fine-tune, sculpt and rebuild classical elements. They have thought music forward and found the contemporary key to ‘open’ people up. Much like Chilly Gonzales, who seems to have *the* musical formula that directly connects with those parts of the brain responsible for evoking certain sentiments. Listening to his or Arnald’s and Blake’s music is like filling the bath tub with emotions, taking a deep breath, diving in and floating.
Rooting in classical music first and foremost stands for the understanding and application of musical science. At least in the “Western World”, you cannot “get” the music of today without “getting” the music of yesterday. So coming back to the quote at the beginning, it is not enough for a career in the music business to know three chords on the guitar or be able to play all AC/DC songs backwards, then sit in the basement and wait for the day when a muse purses her lips to kiss your hairy back. Inspiration comes from experience, knowledge and maybe a certain sense for “audio aesthetics”. Something Chilly Gonzales most definitely has. It is also – and maybe equally important – his personality that makes him “the new emperor”. Usually, when you attend a concert, the artist tells you what songs he or she performed or maybe a little story behind it. Chilly Gonzales’ shows are orchestrated, and not only when he plays with his string quartet. The level of interaction is beyond compare, as well as the level of education framed by humour and entertainment. All of this considered, nobody would question why Chilly Gonzales has become en vogue, and why he is a sought-after collaborator. His contributions to the albums of Daft Punk and Drake have caused the most fuss lately. Not less delightful is the latest news is that he worked with La Roux on her new album, as Rolling Stone reveals. One can rest assured that while this is being typed, he already is pulling new strings. Rock ‘n Roll is dead – long live The Emperor!