A video-game-obsessed teenager from France landing a major-label recording deal isn't exactly a common occurrence, but then Hugo Pierre Leclercq builds his own worlds. His debut album as Madeon, Adventure, is an expansive, impossibly beautiful landscape that evokes sounds from electronic music's past and present—Rustie's jagged synths, M83's wide-eyed adolescent blow-outs, the tricky disco licks of French Touch, Flume's streamlined melodies—all coalescing into one of the most radiant pop albums in recent memory.
I met Leclercq early this spring in an expansive Chelsea loft rented out for a listening session. Decked out in a white T-shirt and leather jacket, his spritely face reminiscent of EDM titan Zedd's own woodland-nymph features, the 20-year-old producer was clearly excited to jam Adventure on the loft's swanky sound system. When I arrived, he was guzzling a sugar-free Red Bull, taking selfies with his hair and makeup artists.
Leclercq had his first brush with pop's big leagues at age 16, when he made an official remix of The Killers' “Smile Like You Mean It." Soon after, he struck internet gold with the über-mashup video “Pop Culture," a pan-sonic dance remix of 40 years of popular music—from Coldplay to Daft Punk to the Who—which currently has logged over 29 million YouTube views. Back then, his parents weren't fully aware of his musical aspirations, even when legendary British DJ Pete Tong stopped by to visit their family home in Nantes. “They had no idea who he was," he says. “My mother made him dinner, and I was like, 'Mom, be nice to him.'" A recording deal with Columbia followed shortly thereafter.
By 18, he was opening gigs for Swedish House Mafia, but now Leclercq is getting out from behind the DJ booth. His album features songwriting collaborations with electro-pop heavyweights like Passion Pit's Michael Angelakos and Foster the People's Mark Foster. Now, Leclercq is not the first EDM prodigy to forego the furry-boots set for electro-tinged indie-pop; Porter Robinson, a fellow genre auteur whom Leclercq met on the internet at age 12 and has remained friends with since, made a similar artistic shift on his 2014 debut LP, Worlds. But Leclercq is quick to point out that he and his pal Porter are mapping different trajectories for themselves: “[Porter made] a clear, defined intention to create a schism," he tells me, comparing their respective debuts. “[Adventure] feels like a natural progression from where I was."
Leclercq's reach has already extended far into the mainstream: he co-wrote several songs on Lady Gaga's Artpop LP (“I was a huge fan of hers for years"), and he's credited in the liner notes for adding “extra magic" to Coldplay's most recent album, Ghost Stories. “[Chris Martin] is a really perceptive songwriter," he says, citing the British rock giant, along with ELO and the Beatles, as unexpected sonic inspirations for his cybernetic music. “I don't listen to a lot of dance music, and I don't put my own music in that category at this point," he says. But there's no trace of bitterness about potentially being boxed in with other knob-twiddlers. “I'm fascinated by superstars," he says. “I don't want to be a superstar, but their scale of ambition is admirable to me. They're people that try to make music that resonates with the world." Leclercq speaks with deference to his elder idols, but when it comes to his music, his own boundless ambition is more than apparent.