As Ed Banger Turns 10, Has Electronic Music Left the Label Behind?
"The world has changed, not us!" insists Pedro Winter, aka Busy P, head of the aggressively cool electro label Ed Banger, at the dawn of his company's tenth year. The French upstart, founded by Winter in 2003, blossomed slowly by launching scuffed, distorted, twisted and (mostly) accessible head-banging tunes. By 2007, on the back of a slew of singles, EPs and just three LPs, Ed Banger artists rode the radar, they became our friends, they gave us no option but to "D.A.N.C.E.," they pointed firearms at us, and they did it with a smattering of French house, hip-hop, and disco beats. Did it matter that they'd be shouted down as overly coked-up, a pejorative not tied to energy but being too hip for the broad exposure of their brand? To Winter, at the dawn of a new decade, not at all. He's still, "busy enough to wake up before you and go to bed after you," as he borrows a phrase from P. Diddy.
So, where is Ed Banger heading now?
"I have no idea," the 38-year-old Winter says from an undisclosed vacation spot, "and if you know someone who knows, tell him not to tell me please."
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The Parisian means this as much in terms of the music he's set to release as he does his business practices. A raucously diverse label, Ed Banger's put out recordings and videos by globally known electro-rock label stalwarts--and occasional chart-toppers--Justice. Winter finally managed to wring an LP from stuttering industrial glitch producer Sebastian. He wrangled the British MC and teenage wildcard Uffie for an underground anthem, "Pop the Glock," and finally an LP. (Uffie and the label have since parted ways. Winter cites a lack of creative control on his part.) He's worked closely with techno guru Mr. Oizo, big-beat hip-hop producer Mr. Flash, and synthpop duo Cassius. And the label burgeoned as Winter maintained a core team of three people. Instead of being influenced by the pull of trends, he allowed his attention to guide him.
"We are all different and this is what makes Ed Banger so special," Winter says. "Why sign another Justice if I have them? Why look for a new Mr. Oizo if I have the original? Proving different people can work and live together is my thing. I spent 15 years with DJ Mehdi showing people we were coming from two different worlds, but we were stronger together."
In '92, Winter went to his first rave in Paris and saw a pop group called The Light, and fell for their track, "What Is Love?" That's when he started getting involved with electro music, going to as many clubs and parties as his 17 years on earth would allow. A bit later, Winter went to university for three months, studying to become a lawyer. Still consumed with music, he met two people in a Paris record shop who would change his life, and would become the face of French house music by putting on masks--Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, otherwise known as Daft Punk. The year was 1995, he was 20, and throwing parties called Hype at Folies Pigalle and Smoker the Palace, with, all of all people, David Guetta. He was also now free of university. By the end of '96, he'd become the Daft Punk's manager, learning the business as he went along.
"You'll never read anything bad or shitty from me about the robots," Winter says of Daft Punk. He parted management ways with the pair in 2008, but continues to keep an eye on their output.
"Asking if they are influencing electronic music today is wrong. This album [Random Access Memories] is a brilliant homage to their first love with disco. I read they said electronic music did not interest them anymore...I doubt they know about Hudson Mohawke, Canblaster, or Cashmere Cat (who are, for me, the ones pushing boundaries right now). Disco influenced all of us, but now we're in 2013, and some kids are making electronic music with influence from the 2000s."
This last sentiment signals "kids" are conceivably taking influence from early Ed Banger releases. It was Meeting Mr. Flash in 2003, hearing his big, instrumental hip-hop in the vein of DJ Shadow, that spurred Winter to begin the label. The track he heard was called "Radar Rider" and it would be the label's first release.
"I woke up going to work on Daft Punk," Winter says, "and went to bed with a label in my head and music in my ears."
Ed Banger didn't gain momentum until, later that year, Winter was invited to "an infamous cheese party," where he met a couple of dudes who appeared to be scummy young rockers, modeled in the style of The Strokes. This would be the pair of Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay of Justice. They coyly invited him to Augé's bedroom to hear a song they had created, a remix of the Simian track "Never Be Alone." This song would eventually become the monster banger "We Are Your Friends."
Winter took "We Are Your Friends" to a club called Pulp three days later, played it on the decks, and people lost it. The song would be the second release on the label and bring mainstream worldwide attention to this small French upstart. Justice anchored Ed Banger as their bruised digital discoisms seeped into public consciousness; first, it was the single, then two EPs under the pious Waters of Nazareth title in 2005 and 2006. By 2007, Justice finally released their debut LP, †, to massive hype and acclaim. It drew a laser focus to Ed Banger and there just wasn't enough to go around. Beyond this label, dance music was influencing mainstream pop music in a way indelible even from the charts of 2013--everything without a drop seems to at least rumble. In 2007 there was a moment during the summer where mostly Justice, Sebastian (that wind-down on "Ross, Ross, Ross"!) and DJ Mehdi, blasted through the dance parties of dorm rooms and lofts across the world. This indie-crossover moment was significant for not just the genre, but the market up-sell the label achieved. If the Postal Service had made it OK for indie/rocker kids to shuffle on the dancefloor, Justice opened the floodgates for them to go full apeshit. † was nominated for a Grammy and reached #11 on the French Billboard charts.
"I can't really explain it, but I feel we were just there at the right time," Winter says, "I really insist on the spontaneous vibe around all this. I did not plan anything. I do things based on how I feel, and see how it goes. Like in skateboarding, you shouldn't think too much or you'll never jump those stairs."
A critical dip followed that crescendo for the label (save for perhaps DJ Mehdi's foot-in-each world house/hip-hop mash-up practice). There was a palpable sense Ed Banger would fizzle out--"going nowhere fast on Daft Punk's fumes," as a 2008 Pitchfork review of Mr. Oizo put it-- despite their gritty electro sound getting lifted for American radio and reappropriated under dubstep's roar. Even as artists outside the purview of Ed Banger reached a critical mass, EDM exploded into a multi-million dollar industry. Even as his old party-partner David Guetta was soundtracking the Olympic games, Winter wasn't exactly sad to be left out of the circuit.
"It's sad to play festivals where you can't play "key" or "classic" electronic music. Sometimes it's cool to slow down the tempo, take risks, play new stuff. This is how I see my DJ job, entertaining and sharing. Playing bangers for a crowd who doesn't know about our background or our passion makes me sad. I prefer to play Le Bain in NYC. By saying that I am not judging my friends Steve [Aoki] or Diplo. I saw them become mega stars, and can only be happy for them."
So as EDM overtook the marketplace from festivals to Rihanna-sized pop tracks, the label juked, disrupting consistency of their releases by not kowtowing to expectations. This undoubtedly led to a dip in crossover sales. So to keep his relatively small label--with some relatively small artists like Feadz or Micky Moonlight--afloat, Winter says he's had to be inventive when coming up with financing. Back when he was working with Daft Punk, if a brand were to call, he wouldn't even entertain the idea. But these days, he sees cross-pollinating marketing not as a necessary evil but as simply necessary. As a result (and after a lot of head scratching) Ed Banger has collaborated with clothing and shoe and skateboard companies. Recently, Busy P teamed up with James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem to celebrate the opening of a new Levi's store on the Champs Élysées in Paris.
"Ed Banger is a music label, but I feel free to do what I want with it. I love the fact people think I'm good at business, but I'm sorry, I'm bad."
More than just the marketplace was not the only thing that changed for Ed Banger. By 2011, DJ Mehdi--full name Mehdi Favéris-Essadi--had, by Winter's account, become one of the only other operators in his orbit who could influence the direction of the label. Mehdi's first began producing coincidentally the same year Winter discovered electro, 1992. By the time the two met in 1997 and began throwing parties together, Mehdi was already one of the most prolific hip-hop producers in France. Because of his own crossover appeal as both an electronic and hip-hop producer and his ability to seamlessly blend the two, he was also becoming an internationally acclaimed hip. He also became one of Winter's closest friends. He's been described variously as warm, always grinning, and with an immense, infectious spirit. His debut solo LP for Ed Banger, released in 2006, was called Lucky Boy, a reference to his overwhelming positivity. The partnership and attention on Ed Banger at the time helped Mehdi's global rise.
"I never want Ed Banger records to be someone else's project," Winter says. "Which may seem very selfish, but it's like that. So Me and DJ Mehdi were the only ones to give direction on the label."
But the collaboration came to an abrupt, tragic end in September of 2011. Mehdi was celebrating the birthday of friend and fellow DJ and collaborator Riton, on the roof of his Paris home with a group of friends. The skylight there broke and the four people fell from a mezzanine. Mehdi tragically passed. His was the only fatality. He was 34.
"When we lost Mehdi, it was the hardest time for the label, but also for our lives," Winter says. "We all became adults that day... I must say. He was my best friend, the heart of the label, and the hottest DJ on earth. I miss him everyday."
Mehdi's spirit in mind, Winter decided to push on.
"I decided to continue the adventure in his memory," Winter says.
Today, Ed Banger seems to be experiencing a slight renaissance, if only because of their 10-year anniversary. Bucking expectations has become a hallmark of the label's practice. It's hard not to notice a shift in sound for the label these days. Even a casual listen to the more recent tracks indicate a turn to more traditional sounds than the style Ed Banger's been known for: a return to disco's roots through Breakbot's By Your Side, a callback to classic house through the last Boston Bun EP Housecall, an exercise in suicide 808-synth for Busy P's last EP, Still Busy. If anything, the label is far from slowing down. Winter says he's working on a new book project, videos for Breakbot, the new EP from Boston Bun, producing a Feadz release, and a new LP from Mr Flash and Mr Oizo--who knows exactly what sounds will be on those records.
Other new additions to the Ed Banger family? Winter and his wife, Nadege, welcomed their first child just three months ago.
"And that's real busy-ness here!" Winter says.
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