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This year, French label Ed Banger celebrates its 1oth birthday. Mixmag joined Justice, Busy P and the gang to party in Paris – and remember a lost friend.
Words: Thomas H Green
La Grande Halle de la Villette is an enormous building slap-bang in the middle of Paris. Once a nineteenth-century meat warehouse and abattoir known as ‘La cité du sang’ – the city of blood – its impressive glass and metal construction hosts, for tonight only, Ed Bangerland. 7,000 people have gathered for the 10th birthday party of a French dance music institution, Ed Banger Records – tickets sold out in minutes – and the venue is a fairground wonderland. At one end is a three-storey funhouse where Gallic hipsters in skinny jeans skid about giggling as they negotiate moving staircases, their reflections monstrously distorted by trick mirrors. By the sound desk is a Saturday Night Fever-style dancefloor, lit up in multi-coloured squares, over which the brave and foolhardy spin and pirouette on rollerskates.
Nearby someone is taking a potshot with a rifle at label boss Pedro Winter (aka Busy P). Fortunately it’s only a stall, and Winter is a metal target, his painted features flecked with the lights from a nearby merry-go-round that’s doing a brisk trade, packed with grinning faces revolving gracefully. Disco king Breakbot, his neck swathed in a fetching Ed Banger 10th anniversary scarf and nurturing a drink following his funked-up live set, tells Mixmag, “I’m going to remember this one when I’m old.”
This is all just the sideshow, though. It’s 3.45am and DJing on stage is the main dish: Justice, Ed Banger’s totemic act, the duo who truly launched the label on the world with their Simian remix ‘Never Be Alone’ (aka ‘We Are Your Friends’). They are unafraid to take the music wherever they want, and the crowd goes with them. Right now they’re spinning Boney M’s kitsch disco monster ‘Rasputin’, underlaid with The Chemical Brothers, on a sound system that’s crystal clear and booming. It is truly euphoric.“I wasn’t expecting this,” Xavier de Rosnay, the clean-shaven half of Justice, comments later. “Pedro explained that everything would be ten times bigger than I was expecting, but I was very surprised when it was.”
Pedro Winter leads from the front and runs a tight ship. Not for nothing is Ed Banger’s forthcoming photography book, created by their long-standing graphics guru, So Me (aka Betrand de Langeron) called Travail. Famille. Party – Work. Family. Party. Winter, once Daft Punk’s manager, has overseen the label’s rise, his baseball-cap-and-wild-clothes look much imitated – not least by the Bangerland crowd. One of the night’s highlights is his laptop megamix of the label’s back catalogue, greeted with whooping and accompanied by a spectacular visual show. While his label were once responsible for bringing rock ’n’ roll attitude and French fashion suss back into clubland on bangin’ electro tracks by the likes of Justice, DJ Feadz, Uffie and SebastiAn, he gleefully admits having no special plan…
“Ten years ago I had no idea where we were going – I still don’t,” he laughs. “I feel very lucky. I dreamed I’d one day meet Rick Rubin, and I did. I asked him to do a remix for Ed Banger [Justice’s ‘On ’n’ On’], I asked Trevor Jackson too [Mickey Moonlight’s ‘Close To Everything’], and DJ Premier [SebastiAn’s ‘Embody]. We are one of few labels who are able to call LFO on one side and speak to Kenny Dope on the other. That is the dream and I am living it.”
While Justice are the most famous Ed Banger act, it is Pedro who embodies their ethos, a perma-smiling, enthused, recognisably gangly figure who has come to represent, alongside Daft Punk, Air and Laurent Garnier, the transformation of French music from international pariah to electronic leader. Indeed, French techno figurehead Garnier surprised everyone by recently releasing his tune ‘Jacques In The Box’ – with a new remix by Brodinski & Gesaffelstein imminent – on Ed Banger.“I’ve known Laurent for a long time,” says Pedro, “but we both had to prove to each other that we were doing it for the passion, for the music. Laurent and myself are the only ones who can reunite everybody on the French scene: stop pretending you are underground, stop pretending you are a rock star, let’s all work together and make it shine.”
While his label were once crunchy electro leaders, Pedro is now keen to emphasise their house credentials, pointing out that their second ever release, Justice’s ‘Never Be Alone’, had a remix by I:Cube-related Parisian house duo Chateau Flight. Anyone who’s listened to Ed Banger lately would find it hard to disagree. Breakbot’s output treads firmly in the footprints of Stardust and older disco, while the most recent signing, Boston Bun, continues the trend. “I’m really proud of all the noisiness and craziness,” Pedro explains. “I’m proud that we brought back stagediving on clubs, spitting beer in the air, but now we grew up and our fans are growing up too. I met Boston Bun and it became evident we could go more into this house sound.”
Boston Bun is 25-year-old Thibaud Noyer. Last year, Pedro heard his superb pulsing remix of Maelstrom’s ‘House Music’ and invited him over for sausage and mash. A few months later, Ed Banger were releasing his ‘Housecall EP’ (alongside a welter of other new material such as Riton’s ‘Lost My Mind’ EP). “This party is a huge highlight for me,” says Noyer, who played a DJ set towards the beginning of the night. “I was a big Ed Banger fan back in 2005, so I’ve high-fived the 15-year-old me a hundred times during the night. Ed Banger is really rare _ everywhere we go, everyone we meet, no hate, just music, spontaneous after a decade in the game, like that Paul Simon song ‘Still Crazy After All These Years’.”
In the middle of the Bangerland night there’s a homage to the late DJ Mehdi, his image lighting up the back of the hall as his music is played by DJ James. The crowd chants his name en masse. If Ed Banger has had massive highs, such as Justice playing the same stages as Metallica and Bjørk, it’s had one definitive low: the death of Mehdi Favéris-Essadi, the gregarious DJ-producer from a hip hop background who was responsible for the label’s first album (‘Lucky Boy’) and came to be one of their best-loved representatives.
In September 2011 Mehdi returned to Paris from the Bestival with his friend Henry Smithson (aka Riton). The pair had been performing under their Carte Blanche alias and went back to Mehdi’s apartment to party in honour of Smithson’s birthday. A plexiglass skylight in the apartment shattered and Medhi and three friends tumbled through, the former suffering fatal injuries. The event affected Pedro Winter to the core and he came close to giving up the label. Ed Bangerland is, thus, heavy with Mehdi’s memory.
Now, though, new life is blooming in all kinds of ways. Winter’s girlfriend is due to have a baby within the next month, and his label is about to unleash the ‘Ed Rec Vol X’ compilation, featuring exclusive tracks by all their 13 artists – the first such collection since ‘Vol III’ five years ago. Justice, having toured the globe for over a year, are about to release a live album, ‘Access All Arenas’, recorded at the spectacular Arènes de Nîmes Roman amphitheatre in the south of France. And to cap it all, the label is taking their 10th anniversary party on tour, visiting London on May 3, followed by Brussels, Barcelona, Los Angeles, Tokyo, New York City, Montreal, Mexico, Sydney and Berlin.
Back in La Grande Halle de la Villette, the late shift is kicking in but the crowd isn’t thinning, they’re just getting noisier. Up on a balcony, Amandine Romero nurses a drink and looks out on six months preparation coming to fruition as SebastiAn, Kavinsky and Jackson amp up the pressure. Winter’s sole collaborator in running Ed Banger’s day-to-day affairs, Amandine wears a broad smile and is off to India on a well-deserved break as soon as the party concludes. All around her are the wider Ed Banger family, from friends to fans, visitors from as far afield as Texas, one brandishing a Flat Eric puppet in honour of the chart-topping 1999 Levis TV ad chart-topper by Mr Oizo, who’s now signed to the label.
At the end of the night thousands of voices will join together at 6.15am to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to an emotional Pedro as he tag-DJs random music, from Goa trance to hip hop, with So Me and the gang. For now, though, Pedro is popping up everywhere, shaking hands, bouncing about. As Xavier de Rosnay says, “Pedro is the emblem. If Gaspard [Augé], Pedro and I walk down a street, it is not Justice people stop to talk to and take pictures of, it is Pedro.”
Winter sums up his attitude in a couple of sentences: “It’s very important you keep the enthusiasm and excitement inside you. The day you meet talented people and you don’t realise you have genius in front of you, it means you’re dead.” Instead, Winter and Ed Banger are growing old disgracefully, making sure their rave stays in full swing to the last, and keeping Paris on the map as a Mecca for the advanced party animal. Happy birthday, indeed.
‘Ed Rec X’ is out May 27 on Ed Banger Records
The Ed Banger crew are playing live in the Mixmag DJ Lab tomorrow, 3pm GMT. Tune in.