Among the predictions for the 2017 Coachella festival lineup were a variety of well-known artists from popular music genres, from R&B royalty (Beyoncé) to rock innovators (Radiohead). Like every year, the lineup reveal was not without some surprises. Perhaps most unexpected was the addition of Hans Zimmer, the German-born composer who has scored over 150 movies since the 1980s. And yet a closer look at Zimmer’s career reveals how his ability to push musical boundaries makes him a fantastic choice for one of the most popular music festivals in the world.
Rock elements are embedded in many of Zimmer’s compositions, such as the pounding rhythms behind Angels & Demons (2009) and the guitar riff in “Thunderbird” from Thelma & Louise (1991). Prior to his career in film scoring, the composer was part of London’s new wave scene, experimenting with synthesizers and keyboards, and collaborating with several European bands—most notably The Buggles. Zimmer made a cameo in the English duo’s music video for “Video Killed The Radio Star,” the first video that aired on MTV back in 1981. “I come from rock and roll, so I have to go back to my humble beginnings of that,” Zimmer said in a 2016 interview with the Associated Press about his “Hans Zimmer Revealed” live tour that will bring him to Coachella.
Those humble beginnings become grandiose at Zimmer’s concerts, which feature a full orchestra, choir and studio band. Johnny Marr of Morrissey contributed electric guitar for the European leg of Zimmer’s current tour, and Peter Asher (who performed at Levitt Pavilion Pasadena in 2016) of Peter and Gordon fame provides musical direction. Audiences at these shows are treated to scores that span Zimmer’s film composition career, from childrens’ flicks like The Lion King (1995) and Madagascar (2005) to action blockbusters like The Dark Knight (2008) and Gladiator (2000). Looking at the roster of films in Zimmer’s body of work, it’s evident how his music has touched so many across the world while serving as the backdrop to many of Hollywood’s highest grossing films.
The genre-crossing doesn’t stop at rock and classical music—Zimmer, who has won numerous accolades for his scores, most recently collaborated with R&B artist Pharrell Williams for the Motown-inspired, Golden Globe-nominated Hidden Figures soundtrack. Zimmer so far has won two Golden Globes for Best Original Score for a motion picture (The Lion King, 1995; Gladiator, 2001) and one Academy Award (The Lion King, 1995). With next week’s Academy Award nominations announcement, we will see if the composer will be in the running for another Oscar! In the meantime, take a look back at his career and listen to our Hans Zimmer playlist. Which of these pieces do you recognize?