The Butterfly Effect of Charlie Nguyen Kim

By Sean Kehoe

The chaos theory states that something as small as the flutter of a butterfly’s wings can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world. If that is the case, watch out, because Charlie Nguyen Kim has spread his wings and landed in New York City.

Charlie Nguyen Kim is one of the most talented and creative musicians you may have never heard of. This award-winning, soft-spoken artist confidently drops beats for his projects but let’s drop a few names in your lap. Dior, Louis Vuitton, Nissan and Porsche are just a few of the major brands that have tagged Nguyen Kim with scoring their ads. He also works with Luc Besson, the renowned French film director, screenwriter and producer of such popular American films like The Transporter, Taken and Lucy, in designing soundtracks for his company, Europacorp. 

Born and raised in France, Charlie Nguyen Kim was given his first set of drums at age three. At age seven, he was given a guitar and was soon accepted into the highly prestigious National Conservatory of Music in France. Labeled a prodigy at age eight, his destiny had already begun to take flight. Growing up in Clermont Ferrand, Nguyen Kim had playtime but it was not like most children his age. His came in the form of hours of music played at school and then later at home with his parents. While his father had no formal training, he began to create the soundtrack that would shape his future: classical, folk, rock, punk rock and rap. Interestingly, what sticks with him and influences him the most is punk rock. He formed the band Butterfly, his first real foray into the punk rock scene, with his brother Andy. Andy played the drums while Charlie sang and played guitar. Bands like NOEFX, The Beastie Boys and Blink caught his ear and helped to evolve his songwriting skills, “I like punk rock because it’s extreme and pure with feeling.”

At age 24, he moved to Paris because he needed to make his own way and continue to grow. In honing his craft, he was able to land opportunities with the main television channels in France creating music for shows and commercials. His notoriety exploded and Louis Vuitton hired him to become their sole composer for all their campaigns. Soon Tag Heuer followed suit and by then he was flying on everyone’s radar including France’s most successful man in film, Luc Besson of Europacorp. Europacorp is the major film production company in the country so it only made sense that in wanting to continue to be the best, they had to work with the best. Besson gave Nguyen Kim his first opening in film and the two have collaborated on such French films as, Coursier, Banlieue 13: Ultimatum, Commis D’office and Intersections

Incredibly talented and driven, Nguyen Kim’s true passion is creating scores for the cinema. He appreciates the complexities of precision combined with action, emotion or love. It allows him to be graceful like a butterfly or draw out the raw emotion as he did during his punk rock days. However, whether he is involved with a 30-second commercial for Nissan or a 50-minute sequence within a movie, the creative process is generally the same.

“When I make movies for a brand or TV, my inspiration is movies. We will create a musical identity,” says Nguyen Kim. “Imaging is important to make the connection. It is inspiration to the work of the cinema strategy. We try to create some framework music. The end result is that each person will listen and will clearly know what is different.”

For a short commercial, it can be three to four days of work while the movies generally take a month depending on the deadline.

When asked if he could pinpoint a favorite movie he had worked on, without hesitation he responded, “My own.” He wrote the music for it two years ago and it is now being filmed. The movie, Les Notes de L’Esperance, which loosely translates into ‘The Notes of the Hope’, centers on a man who cannot communicate and does not know how to play music yet ultimately uses music to convey his emotions.  It’s a project that he said requires him to put himself into character in order to compose the music.  “I really know how to make a movie better with music. For me, the music will bring out the emotion in anyone.”  If his description does it any justice, listening to his work moves and inspires one to want to see more of his films. 

Having done all that he could to create a name for himself, the unmistakable work ethic that drove him to excel in France for ten years brought him back to the cocoon development process all over again to re-emerge somewhere else. That somewhere else is where the most colorful collaboration of people is: New York City. 

“In Paris, I had a comfortable life, but it became too easy for me. I came to New York to have a new challenge.” As he puts it, he wanted to “begin from zero.” “My aim is to develop my network and meet new clients. I really want to go to the (major) movie networks of America,” he explains. “I will try to do the same thing here, step by step.” Adding to those steps, he is managing seven to eight projects currently for three separate companies consisting of movies, television and brand work, learning English in the morning and working until 3:00 or 4:00 am daily while waiting for his Visa application to be approved. Nguyen Kim wants to stay rooted in New York for at least two or three years and has already made several contacts both here and in Los Angeles as well.

“I realized that I can work anywhere in the world I want, so I wanted to develop my network in America.” Home is where the heart is which is why he ultimately chose the West Village. “I really like the West Village because it’s like my quarter in Paris. I get a lot of inspiration here.”

In his down time, Charlie Nguyen Kim enjoys life. “Maybe I think about music too much,” he says.  So to have fun he has a side project that consists of (you guessed it) music.  Charlie and his brother Andy, a cameraman in France, have joined forces to create The Kim, an electro music band. That eventually evolved into what is now Kimotion, strongly influenced by California punk rock where there is power, a buildup and the melody is simple.  To get noticed, they sought out Yann Pissenem, artistic director and owner of the club, Ushuia Ibiza in France and handed him their demo. He was sold and as they say in France, ‘le repos est histoire.’  Kimotion has grown in popularity playing with the likes of David Guetta, Avicii, Afrojack, Robin Schulz, The Prodigy and a longer list of A-List electronic musical geniuses this past summer. Next April, they will be performing at the largest venue in Paris, Bercy, with a lineup that has not yet been set, but, rest assured, it will rise to the top. 

In the future, Nguyen Kim believes his work will speak for itself and he can eventually be more selective with his projects. For now, he will get back to the grass roots of reaching out to others in the various industries as he is hungry again.

“When you are an artist, you are never satisfied because when you create something, you will like it but then you will want to create something else.” Spoken like a man who will never rest on his laurels and will only be happy when he is flying high amongst his peers. 

Charlie Nguyen Kim has truly created his own butterfly effect. He is an unexplained phenomena often whispered about but never understood. From France to the United States, he is about to orchestrate a typhoon of symphonic chaos leading us to believe the myth is real and he is ready for another masterpiece metamorphosis.