It’s the return of everyone’s favourite film franchise that sees cars and lorries transforming into brutal robot fighting machines, which returns with its seventh entry in Transformers: Rise of the Beasts. And the man tasked with filling previous composer Steve Jablonsky’s shoes to take the series forward is Jongnic Bontemps. He talks to Headliner about his big pivot from the world of Silicon Valley tech startups to going after his music dream, and being the first black composer to score a film of this scale and budget.
Born in Brooklyn, Bontemps learned the piano amidst an upbringing surrounded by jazz and gospel music. After studying music at Yale University, he initially stopped pursuing music and instead immersed himself in Silicon Valley, working as a software developer and entrepreneur. It all went very well for him for a period, but his passion for music kept creeping back in and he made the short trip to Los Angeles to study film scoring at the University of Southern California.
One thing that has helped Bontemps no end is his rich musical heritage, both from his parents and growing up in Brooklyn in the ‘70s. “My father is Haitian and my mother is Jamaican, they met in Brooklyn,” he says.
“So I have these two cultural connections with such a rich history of music. And growing up in New York in the ‘80s and ‘90s, that was the time and place when hip-hop was exploding. My dad bought an upright piano for the house and I loved learning it, but I remember seeing my piano teachers, who would teach in the day and do gigs in the evening, struggling financially, so I didn’t really see music as a viable career option then.”
Getting into the world of software development was, instead, a case of right time, right place. Bontemps recalls seeing a newspaper advert saying, “computer programmers wanted, no experience necessary. And I thought, ‘I like computers. I have no experience. They’re talking to me!’ They just needed warm bodies back then. So I did that for about 15 years.
"Once I was in Silicon Valley, a company I was an early member of was bought out by HP. Music had really been pushed into the rearview mirror at this point. But when this happened I was wondering, do I want to stay at HP? Or go to another startup? Or do something completely different?