Gilles Bousquet, or as he’s better known, Mr Flash, seems to be very content with the direction his music is taking at the moment. It has been nearly two years since his long-awaited debut album, Sonic Crusader, a brilliantly crafted collection of genres that showcased his experience and talent as a producer. A past D.J who has traveled the world and recently moved to LA, Gilles Bousquet is beginning to see his life and music with fresh eyes. Although currently involved in several new projects, including a brand new album and producing for a new band, the vision he is particularly excited about is called, Alpha Century, a project that Gilles hopes will engage people with music in a new way and allow them to think differently about the world around them.
On a typical cold, English day back in March I contact Gilles. He has just taken his daily, morning run and precedes to talk behind sunglasses in the backdrop of LA sunshine, a place he now calls home. “I have wanted to live here since I was 18 years old so to finally move here is a huge thing for me,” he tells me with a smile. “But I don’t think I was ready to do it before now. The music here is completely connected to the path I want to take, it’s a conclusion for me and I wasn’t aware of that travelling around the US at 18.”
Gilles was born in Aix en Province, a city in the South East of France and has spent most of his music career so far in Paris after discovering his love and direction in hip-hop: “At first, I was frustrated because my initial goal was to play Jazz.” Gilles grew up playing drums to absorb his energy as a child. “I soon accepted I wasn’t good enough.” His route into the industry was atypical and he never “expected to become a professional musician”, admitting that he was expelled from Le Conservatoire de Musique in Aix en Province that himself and his brother both attended. “I was too young to be in that formal, traditional environment and so I always assumed music, as a career, wasn’t really possible.”
It was his change in perspective that allowed Gilles to find his passion in music and make the jump from amateur to professional. Before his career began to build in music, Gilles had spent 10 years in the film industry as a technician, thinking that his storyteller expression and outlook could only be told through moving pictures. But, after being offered a position at Virgin Records to create music covers, he made the transition from film to music. At this point, Gilles points out, “I had experience using photoshop and so I took a friend’s advice to take the job. I ended up working at Virgin Records for around two years and it was during that time that I learnt the basis for music production.
After meeting French hip-hop group TTC, Gilles realised the genre of music that really inspired him to produce. “I had grown up surrounded by hip-hop and collecting albums, but, at that time, I was too young to see the influence it had on me.” This is the moment he started to see music as a career and not just a hobby. He started working with TTC and others in the French hip-hop scene, including, Company Flow and Mike Ladd, who he produced a 7-inch record with entitled: Le Voyage Fantastique, back in 2001. Although French labels were not overly interested in their sound, hip hop was building momentum as a strong genre across the pond in the UK and TTC and Mr Flash soon signed with NinjaTune for their first album together, entitled, Ceci N’est Pas Un Disque, which Gilles considers a “miracle.” He recalls: “My career in the music industry really took off from there and shortly after, I met Pedro Winter (Daft Punk’s prior manager) and although the house/techno scene wasn’t something I was particularly into, Pedro listened to some of my recent work and asked if I would be the first artist signed to his new label, Ed Banger.
“So, do you think, in a way, it was music that chose you?” I ask him.
“Yes, I ultimately think that if you’re creating music you really have to give something, even if it’s fun, you just have to create your own world for your own music.” His attraction to music and his previous time spent in the film industry was due to his desire to tell a story: “I need a scenario”, he told Seventh Hex back in 2014, “doing an album is like building a movie and trying to generate something beautiful and homogeneous.” (1)
This was a good moment to talk about his second album, Fluid, an element that seems to capture his fresh perspective, too. “Fluid is based on an organic element with the idea that everything, when we look at life as a whole, is temporary and fun; I wanted to do something that took a lot less time than Sonic Crusader.”
“Yes, that took over 10 years to finish. What was different this time round?” I inquire.
“Sonic Crusader was my first album and you always have that worry that the fans won’t like what you are doing and so you push yourself and the pressure builds. This time round, with Fluid, because it’s a recreation for me, I feel I am starting from scratch, the goals are different. I wanted to do something fun and do it quickly so I worked on it for about a month in the South of France and it should be released, hopefully, by the end of the year. There will be people featuring on it and probably me singing on it, too.”
This time round Gilles chose to leave Ed Banger. “I needed a new energy and start, I think life is too short not to start new adventures. He further explains this concept to me: “For me, music acts as the story of my life, a movie without the picture and perhaps the reason I am choosing to work on a project like Alpha Century is to take that notion even further.” His recent shift in perspective about life and his music becomes clearer when I ask him about the music scene in Paris: “In France we think about music but we don’t live the music. We are great at creating classical studies and movements but it takes a while to explain what we are doing and why we are doing it.”
He adds, “The French are magicians when it comes to writing books about how to do things. I think English people, especially in the states, are not creating rock, they are rock. Everything that they are doing is rock or rap, or soul; they are living their dreams and not dreaming about living.”
An interesting perspective on different music environments, which sets up Gilles to start talking about the way he works. He reveals that producing for himself and others is something he has to separate in his mind. “It’s about letting go of your ego,” Gilles explains. “But at the same time, it is also about using your personality and listening to what other people want. You have to listen to their visions and then analyse what they truly want, but also find out what they don’t know they want yet. You have to both absorb information and infuse the elements they don’t see so that the person will discover something new. He smiles, “it’s like diving into someone else’s brain to try and bring something out of them, it’s something I really enjoy.”
Another project Gilles is working on at the moment, he tells me, is a band named, Faded Away. A three piece with a female lead vocalist, it’s “English New Romantics meets LA”, he explains. “We are working on an EP, which should be out by the end of the year.”
“I like to think I am good at working with precious moments, moments of sadness and melancholy for example, and that’s very positive, but I don’t like to work with misery because that is negative. There is so much hope and wonder in life.” It is this belief that pushed him to move to LA: “Turning 40 I realised I needed to make a change. The mood wasn’t great in Paris and after spending 15 years there, I was ready to leave, see another horizon.”
I let Gilles talk:
“I have discovered that everything I have done, all the places I have visited have all allowed me to grow in a way that I now perceive the planet and the people I meet, differently. I think I have been selfish before this point, I was living in my small world and I didn’t fully care about the world around me. I realised I couldn’t live the way I had previously dreamt knowing that we are living in a world of suffering, a world of inequality. It wasn’t that I was naive before but I began to realise what I didn’t like in my life and you have to deal with the fact that we are going to leave this world behind with a legacy of misery and destruction. This is probably the reason I am not married and don’t have children. I would like to have those things, but maybe, through my work, I am now finding a reason for that.”
The other side to Alpha Century is thinking differently about making an album. Gilles recalls: “When I was young, listening to an album was an activity. I remember being 11 years old and waiting in anticipation for the new David Bowie album and as soon as it was released, I went to the record store, bought it, took it straight home and listened to it for over two hours. It was about discovering the music, the images, and the new world Bowie had created.”
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Gilles’ memory highlights the huge shift in direction the modern music industry has taken. “No one seems to care about those elements anymore”, Gilles further explains. This is where Alpha Century comes in; a project that aims “to explore different methods of presenting music to people as well as deliver a message. It is still a project in the making, but Gilles is full of enthusiasm as he explains how it aims to put music to pictures and installation; a complex album, a way “to build an experience that people can dive into.” He ponders for a moment – “It is my idea to try and convey how we are connected to the planet with all the elements and as a human being and asking: “where are we going?”
Gilles admits: “I can’t say that I am not angry about some of the changes that the industry has faced, and I believe that it is the fault of musicians, too. I am partially in agreement of that and ask:
“What are you thoughts about the internet and how do you think it has affected the industry?”
Gilles becomes more serious: “I think that the internet has made artists lazy because the it has provided the proof that nobody wants to buy an album; music has therefore become more about singles, bunched together and then released just for artists’ to say they have created an album. But that’s a compilation, not an album because if you don’t have a vision or a project or you don’t want to tell some kind of story then why bother doing it?” He strengthens his argument by comparing music to writing a book, “you can’t only write the first page to capture people’s attention. However, streaming sites like Apple Music and Spotify can help people discover new music, which is a good thing.”
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“What do you think it takes to be a musician?” I ask.
“To stay a musician you have to be committed and concentrated to the goal to stay there as long as you can, and you have to work at that. It is a job that pushes you to question yourself and grow and then keep evolving. I do think we are partly responsible for what happened in the industry as artists.
“And your advice to new musicians?” I add.
“Don’t do it! Create something different. I couldn’t do anything else, I worked in a range of industries just to know if music was for me. I think that youth today think that art is cool and it’s cool to be cool, but cool is nothing. Making music is painful, it’s hard and it’s about suffering because you grow to the realisation that it is complicated, nothing is easy, you have to work and find ideas every day. It’s not fun.
IN THE PHOTO: DJ PRESS SHOT OF MR FLASH PHOTO CREDIT: © AN SZ + GB
We begin to talk about music of the past and what has changed. Gilles suggests:
“I think that all these music T.V shows make people believe that anyone can do it. People must accept that they have limits but, nowadays, people want to be everything and be everywhere. It is just not possible.
I fall silent for a moment thinking over what he had just said. It seemed to me that he was fully aware of the changes happening around him. His goal to remain grounded and focus on the ultimate issue of caring for the planet is perfectly captured in his final comment when I ask him how he sees himself:
“Ultimately, as musicians, we are here to make people happier, have a better life, provide something to cry to, make love to, or have fun to. We have to always be conscious of what we are doing and realise we are not that important. In knowing that, you become a lot more humble in your outlook. If people agree with that, as well as your visions, you have reached a goal as an artist.”
FEATURED IMAGE: MR FLASH PHOTO CREDIT: © AN SZ + GB