If there was ever a hard-to-define musician, that person is Chilly Gonzales. Even the name hides who he really is. While it's not unusual for rappers to hide behind an alter ego or two (we're looking at you Eminem/Slim Shady/Marshall Mathers III), Jewish-Canadian Jason Beck went the whole hog and changed his name legally to his onstage moniker, a name he literally picked up on the street.
He has crossed musical genres like a blind jaywalker, starting off in his homeland as a pop-rock musician before moving to Germany (in part to play off his religion) where he reinvented himself as a talented rapper, producer for Peaches and Feist and then as a pianist. In his latest guise, he has released an album of piano instrumentals, broken the piano playing world record after a 27-hour marathon in Paris and had his music used on the iPad advert.
We caught him at the Borderline as part of HMV’s Next Big Thing series of gigs. Plentiful signs through the venue ask the audience to be quiet during Gonzales' set. Being the Borderline, this advice of course went out of their metaphorical windows the second Chilly in his tartan bathrobe mounts the stool at his upright joanna and gets into his swing during the first piece, an instrumental number from his latest album Ivory Tower.
Gonzo doesn't so much play the piano as attacks it, bobbing up and down, his hands stabbing the keys and his long fringe bobbing every which way as sweat pours off him. His grudge rap against superstar rapper and "musical rapist" Drake is a highlight and earns brownie points for offhandedly rhyming "because I am famous" with "fucked in the anus". He tells us that "it ain't over 'til Beth Ditto sings" but the set finishes after 45 minutes with The Gossip singer nowhere in sight; happily this louche act will be back in London headlining Koko in May.
Sole support act The Robot Heart posed the unspoken question on everyone's lips: does the world need another Snow Patrol/Shins/Turin Brakes clone? Um, no.
Borderline image (c) Manfredo Behrens.
You can follow our coverage of HMV’s Next Big Thing 2011 here.