Almost 17 years ago, Gonzales made his now-historic move from Toronto to Berlin in an effort to find an audience that aligned with his musical sensibilities. In many ways, Berlin became the spiritual birthplace of Chilly Gonzales – a persona that Gonzales imagined was “…a role model to some person that I’ve always wanted to be: my futuristic hero.” In the late 90s, Berlin was musically unique: a place where no one questioned the ‘ownership’ of hip-hop, which seamlessly blended in with other pop music, in sharp contrast to hip-hop’s then untouchable status in North America. Gonzales appeared to use his obscurity in Berlin to his advantage; honing and fine-tuning his image and message in Berlin spaces such as Galerie Berlintokyo. Recently, Gonzales announced his return to Berlin in conjunction with his musical friend and collaborator Boys Noize (Alex Ridha) for their very first live Octave Minds performance.
Octave Minds Live
Octave Minds is the groundbreaking collaboration between the Gonzales and Boys Noize that combines Gonzales’ deep emotional keyboard talents, with Boys Noize futuristic (even dystopian) electronic musical sound. The result is nothing like you’re heard before, and we provided a song-by-song review when it was first released. On the date of the performance (Sept 3), it will have been almost a year since the epinonimous album was released, and it will be interesting to see how the songs have changed since then. Many of Gonzales’ compositions that started ‘toned down’ in album format have morphed into bombastic live versions – often doubling and tripling in length. On the corollary, many of Gonzales’ studio albums became stripped-down “Solo Piano” versions, sometimes out of apparent necessity (he’s the only person on stage), and sometimes because stripping off layers of sound adds another dimension to the composition. For Octave Minds, we’ve never heard a ‘live’ version of any of the songs (Solo Piano or otherwise), which means that it will be very interesting to see which direction the live versions take. There’s also the possibility that new songs will be featured, or that Gonzales or Boys Noize will perform their own compositions outside of Octave Minds.
While practically anything is possible with recorded or sequenced components during a live performance, it’s more likely that Gonzales will try to play a majority of the piano sounds live (no easy feat given the compositions), while Boys Noize will likely use a combination of synths, pads, and sequenced sounds to complete the musical picture. Obviously Gonzales and Boys Noize have a great deal of performance experience and know what audiences respond to – in the case of Octave Minds, the juxtaposition of ‘analog’ piano and synthesized sounds is like ‘chocolate and peanut butter’, and their ability to dynamically read and play off the audience will make for an incredible performance. Berlin is still the world capital of EDM, which means that Octave Minds will face a very techno-savvy crowd, who appear to expect more than solo piano or straight-up DJ performances. It’s been some time since we’ve seen Gonzales play an instrument other than piano or bongos – there’s always the possibility and he’ll work his magic on drums or synths (or maybe even guitar). There will also undoubtedly be a large number of Gonzales’ original fans in attendance from his early days in Berlin, now ‘catching-up’ with their musical prankster.
Return to Berlin
The creators of Superman (Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster) wanted to develop an Übermensch who was fundamentally human, but not limited by societal, religious, cultural and moralistic norms. Gonzales likely developed and refined his superhero (or supervillan, as he put it) in Berlin to transcend his own limitations, and the limitations of music and culture. One school of Jungian thought urges us to confront our ‘shadow selves’ to move forward as human beings, while Freudian followers would claim that we are fundamentally driven by our id, which is constantly trying to bring out our ‘supervillian’. Supervillians are liberating in the sense that while a superhero has to abide by a set of moralistic rules, supervillians can do whatever they please and still remain internally consistent with their character – it’s even expected that a supervillian will act in unexpected and surprising ways. Supervillians are also driven by a sense of payback – in Gonzales’ situation, the early rejection of his musical values in North America appears to have contributed to his motives.
What happens when you catch-up, and possibly surpass your futuristic heroes? Does your persona also move into the future, or is a persona a motivating ideal ‘frozen’ in time? Like Superman returning to Krypton, Gonzales’ return to Berlin – birthplace of his superpowers – as part of an EDM performance feels like the completion of a large circle. With continued and increasing global success and acceptance by musicians and audiences, Gonzales’ underdog or outsider status has been slowly morphing into someone who is no longer “loved and hated in equal amounts”. Supervillians definitely feed off of negativity, and require it to grow and become more powerful. In retrospect, one can understand this supervillian aspect from Gonzales’ early outsider status. Gonzales provided a foundation on which to develop ‘character pieces’ – compositions and messages that follow a theme which even today underlies aspects of the songs on Octave Minds. One last fascinating aspect of supervillians: the better the supervillian, the better the superhero. As it turns out, we (the audience) are ultimately an entertainer’s superheroes.