Who is Mr Flash? The best kept secret of the French Touch? The beat maker who ran with the TTC crew in the 90’s? The passionate collector of rare and bizarre records? The producer that was called in to help Sebastien Tellier build his blue musical cult? The man behind a handful of 12” with saturated contours on Ed Banger Records (Motorcycle Boy,Disco Dynamite, Domino) combining rock, hip hop and electro? He’s all of that, really. Here’s how:
Hailing from southern France and raised by a mother who was a fervent admirer of 70’s psychedelics and a father who was obsessed with jazz, Gilles Bousquet, despite studying the drums and classical piano and doing weekly jams with the family, never really entertained the idea, as a teenager, of pursuing a career in music and was leaning more towards working in the film industry. He wanted to become a film director and when he finished school he spent his time on film sets doing menial jobs before realising, seven years down the line, that it wasn’t for him: too many constraints. After all, his accomplishments would go through the medium of music. At the start of the 90’s, Gilles worked at Delabel, a sub-label of Virgin Records with its ears wide open on the emerging French Touch, where he met M, IAM and AIR who “weren’t anyone yet”. This was also the era of big mix: rap was huge, filtered disco was emerging, techno had just crossed the Atlantic from the US, and making music on your own had just become possible. Gilles bought an MPC, tortured a few of his brother’s analog synths, started sampling and, thanks to his neighbour Tido Berman (future member of TTC), began haunting open-mic nights organised by no other than Teki Latex. “This was the moment when I realised that you could share emotions more directly through music than through films”.
The rest is history: after Le Voyage Fantastique with Mike Ladd, a now legendary EP, Mr Flash embarked on the TTC adventure, producing their first singles for the British label Big Dada: “What I found interesting at the time was that we weren’t trying to copy American hip hop; we wanted to make it ours by incorporating the idea of French culture in the mix. That, to my sense, is what made TTC successful and what interested me in the project”. At the time, he wasn’t very interested in club culture – ‘Daft culture’ as he affectionately calls it – when he met Pedro Winter, who had just stopped managing Daft Punk and was thinking of starting a label. Mr Flash brought him Radar Rider, a mid-tempo hip hop track with psychedelic influences slashed with strident electronics. This was the first official release of the label Ed Banger, the start of a faithful albeit sparse collaboration with Pedro’s crew: only 3 EPs in 7 years and 1 collector mixtape called Mr Sexe, with erotic meanderings from French pop artists, confirming Mr Flash as the owner one of the best record collections in France! Between producing music for Mos Def (three tracks on the album The Ecstatic, among which the fabulous ‘Marvelous Times’ which was used for Obama’s campaign) and Kanye West, doing music for advertisements, producing Sebastien Tellier’s My God is Blue, and his many DJ sets, it took ten years for Mr Flash to deliver, at long last, his debut album. It isn’t surprising when you know what a perfectionist he is – he admits to having started the record over a dozen times.
Mr Flash’s debut album is titled Sonic Crusader (in reference to an article in Dazed & Confused on the start of Ed Banger), which perfectly illustrates his musical philosophy. 15 tracks – among which the classics ‘Domino’ and ‘Motorcycle Boy’ – resulting in a genuine sonic odyssey condensing all of Mr Flash’s obsessions: his passion for phat and melodic hip hop, his taste for cinematic and illustrative sequences, his influences of polished 70’s and 80’s productions like Prince, AC/DC, Herbie Hancock or Sun Ra, and electro notions nourished by new-wave and industrial music. The whole thing is enveloped in a cloak of musical grandiosity. A sonic crusade shaped like a rollercoaster of influences that Mr Flash orchestrates with subtlety, taking us in one fell swoop from the sweaty dumps of a club to the melancholy of California highways, sneaking us into the jungle and having us wake-up dressed as a modern crooner, before throwing us head first into the twinkling stars. In the end, it’s the perfect soundtrack to a film that’s never been shot.