Inside Track: The Weeknd

On his Facebook, Soundcloud and other social media pages, Montagnese describes what he does simply thus: “I paint sounds.” All sounds recorded and sourced in the “real world” serve as basic starting points for him to paint with and on, a bit like ‘found objects’ in art, and the painting takes place entirely ‘in the box’, where Steinberg’s Cubase functions as his canvas, palette, paint and brush. It’s how Montagnese approached his debut solo album, History Of Man (2013), which contains experimental electronic music in a similar vein to Aphex Twin and Autechre. It’s how he approaches his work with other artists on a rapidly lengthening credit list containing names such as Florence & the Machine, Lady Gaga, Drake, Wiz Khalifa, MIA and, of course, the Weeknd. In all these cases, Montagnese has managed to marry commercial adroitness with an experimental approach to painting sounds. This was most ear–catchingly in evidence on the Weeknd’s US number-one single, ‘The Hills’, which combines a catchy melody with heavily treated vocals and all manner of sonic weirdness.

The album from which the single was taken, Beauty Behind The Madness, has proved a stunning commercial success, reaching number one in dozens of countries and gearing up to become one of 2015’s biggest albums. Montagnese had a hand in the making of seven of the album’s 14 tracks, and also executive–produced the entire album with Tesfaye and Jason ‘Daheala’ Quenneville. Also involved was legendary pop producer Max Martin, the driving force behind the first big hit off the album, ‘Can’t Feel My Face’. In a sign of the Weeknd’s omnipresence, that single was eventually bumped off the US top spot by ‘The Hills’ after the latter song had spent months roaming halfway down the charts since its June release.

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