The worst thing you could call Thomas Roussel? A contemporary classical-music composer. Not that it’s libellous – there’s far worse than being lumped in with geniuses such as Steve Reich –, it’s just that it would rather miss the point of his music. With Prequell, the Frenchman isn’t trying to popularize classical music by making it seem cool; he Music POP’S SYMPHONIC PREQUELL Thomas Roussel – alias Prequell – has just brought out a stunning first album, The Future Comes Before, which takes pop music to a new dimension, mixing orchestras with a swirl of trip-hop, rock and R’n’B. By Thibaut Wychowanok simply makes pop music, but develops it in a highly idiosyncratic way, particularly through his use of orchestras and huge, majestic ensembles of strings and percussion.
The insatiable monster that is pop music has been conquering new territory ever since its début, so it’s hardly surprising to see that after swallowing up rock, punk, rap and R’n’B it should be setting its sights on classical music. “Can pop still be renewed? Is it still possible to produce innovative music that’s never been heard, neither electro nor pop rock?” wonders Roussel while putting the final touches to his first opus. “It was with these questions in mind that I started the Prequell project two years ago. I went back to the roots of my musical identity. I sought inspiration in my orchestral training, in my admiration for certain film soundtracks and in the extreme creativity of Craig Armstrong, Massive Attack and Björk."
This first album, The Future Comes Before, puts the orchestra to work in the name of something completely other than classical music. Guest appearances from the young Anglo indie scene carry this UFO towards a hybrid musical style in which entirely different galaxies crash into one another. Each track is like a dazzling comet carried by the power of the orchestration and shaken up by a swirl of trip-hop, rock and R’n’B influences. We travel from steamy, sensual planets (Part XIV with Rae Morris, Part XI with Fyfe and Part IX with Shy Girls) to ethereal moons straight out of Star Wars, all the way to constellations worthy of Adele, Sam Smith or Woodkid (Part VII with the intense vocals of Cruel Youth), crossing purely instrumental asteroid belts along the way.
Where the orchestral references are concerned, it’s evidently to the great movie soundtracks that Roussel looked, from John Barry (James Bond), John Williams (Star Wars) and Thomas Newman (Skyfall) to Hans Zimmer (Interstellar). Moreover he engaged the services not only of Isobel Griffiths’ renowned orchestral ensemble but also the London Symphony Orchestra (Star Wars, Harry Potter and the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band). And the same demanding precision can be found on the technical side, the recording having been overseen by the legendary Stéphane Reichart (Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life), the mix by Steve Fitzmaurice (U2, Depeche Mode and… Sam Smith) and the mastering by Randy Merrill (Adele’s Hello and 25). In the casting alone, the ambition is clear.
From runway-show music for Chanel and Dior Homme, adverts that already use tracks from the album, to an extraordinary performance this summer for Paris’s Olympic bid and another for the reopening of the Hôtel Crillon, what more could we wish for Roussel? How about a Grammy Award? Too many of his partners – from Steve Fitzmaurice to Randy Merrill – have already won one for it not to seem more than plausible.
The Future Comes Before, by Prequell, out on 13 October.