Pedro Winter managed Daft Punk as they became international dancefloor stars in the late Nineties and early 2000s. But when he started his own label, Ed Banger Records, in 2003, it was as if his resume had been erased. “If I called someone on behalf of Daft Punk, then people were opening doors right away,” he remembers. “But when I was calling for Ed Banger, no one would even return my call.”
In the years since, Ed Banger built a reputation of its own, often with brash hip-hop leaning hits — Uffie’s “Pop the Glock,” a favorite of Charli XCX, or Cassius’ “I Love You So,” sampled by Kanye West and Jay-Z — or disco-fied dancefloor-fillers like Justice’s “D.A.N.C.E.” To celebrate turning 15 this year, Winter (perhaps surprisingly) decided to organize a massive orchestral concert that revisited a number of the label’s songs with classical pomp and flair in April, and an album made from those recordings arrived on streaming services on Friday. Winter discussed the origins of Ed Banger and its influence over time with Rolling Stone. These are edited excerpts from that conversation, with additional contributions from label signees Breakbot and Myd.
Rolling Stone: Why did you initially want to start a label?
Pedro Winter: I’m coming from a skateboard education — sometimes it’s good not to think too much about what you’re gonna do. As you are on your board sometimes, in front of some stairs, if you think too much you will never jump. Sometimes it’s, “Let’s just do it,” you know?
But you had a artistic vision in mind? Or you saw something missing?
No, I think the artistic vision is growing up with the time and with the people you meet. I’m still adjusting it today. I think we’ve done some stuff we couldn’t plan, we met some people we never expect. I couldn’t imagine playing Justice to Pharrell, or having DJ Premier come deejay with us.
When you started the label, what was the dance music scene like at that point in France?
That’s interesting, at that time, in 2003, everybody was looking for the upcoming Daft Punk. It was all about that “French touch” sound. This is why, when I started the label, I wanted to propose something completely different. This is why I signed this guy, Mr Flash, and released “Radar Rider” — which is a pure instrumental track, like very influenced by DJ Shadow. It was basically more like an abstract hip-hop than typical French touch that people can expect from us.
Was that track a success? Did you even need it to be?
No, it wasn’t a success, and I think it was also what keep my feet on Earth. That’s part of the education: You have to fight; you have to show your skills and prove yourself.
Did you know Justice before you started the label?
No, I met Justice right after I started the label in 2003, and Justice was the second release of the label. I met them completely by accident, and then most of the stories of the labels are kind of accidental meetings — which make it even more fun, in a way. I managed to jump in a dinner they were having; a friend of mine was invited and I went along. They were kind of shy and, at the end of the dinner, they came to me, “We know who you are, we are making music too, can we play to you?” I said, “Yeah, of course.”
Then they played me “Never Be Alone,” and I was blown away. I heard something very fresh, very groovy; they already had some skills that intrigued me. I felt it was the perfect sound, because at the time it was the time of minimal techno. It wasn’t really fun being in electronic music; it was really serious. For me, it was time to bring back fun. For example, not to compare ourselves, but in a more humble way, what the Beastie Boys did in the hip-hop scene back in the day. Like a bunch of kids completely freestyle and ready to do fun and crazy stuff. That was the thing.
Sebastian came on board next, in 2004, I think. It was the perfect match; he came to the office introducing me to some more hip-hop sounds. I wasn’t too much into it at the time, though I love hip-hop. Then at the end of the meeting, he said, “You know I’m also producing electronic music.” Then he played it to me, I said, “Wow!” and then I signed him.
What was your first international success?
I think “Never Be Alone,” the Justice thing, was something that introduced us to the rest of the world. But Uffie’s “Pop the Glock” — we didn’t manage to make it a global hit — but that is definitely one of the biggest pop records we have released on Ed Banger. I love this English artist Charlie XCX, and she’s also referencing Ed Banger as an influence — it can only make me happy to read this.
Looking back now, does the label signify a certain sound for you?
Myd: The style is definitely French. We often talk about “French touch,” which was a big sound in electronic music worldwide. It influenced a lot the way people were totally opened to sample everything. But “French touch” for me is more the French music from the Nineties, and that’s it.
Ed Banger music is something you can dance to, but it’s also melancholic and romantic. Really romantic. You can find that in a lot of French artists — when you listen to Daft Punk, when you listen to Justice, when you listen to Sebastian Tellier, to Air, there is always something danceable, you can always put this track in parties, and people will start to dance, but, at the same time, it’s not like a dumb party track. It’s always romantic and melancholic and smart.
Breakbot: The first thing that struck me was I could really relate to the influences: disco, electronic, hip-hop. But they had a new way of mixing everything together. And being so loud. DJ Mehdi was a great example: He came from hip-hop, but also played house and techno and was interested in creating a bridge between those worlds. That’s kind of the DNA of Ed Banger Records.
Have you seen the label’s influence in other music?
When we have Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, calling us, saying, “I’m intrigued by Justice,” or, “I like Uffie; I like this; I like that,” it’s of course, giving you energy.
Myd: Especially like Justice, or Mr. Oizo, I think they’ve influenced the American EDM. I knew that Skrillex, for example, is a big fan of the French scene, and Skrillex impacted a lot of EDM artists with his creativity and his sound. So, definitely, the label was something for electronic music, worldwide.
Breakbot: A lot of kids have tried to achieve what Justice achieved. And I had this story with Bruno Mars as well for “Treasure” — I think he was quiet influenced by “Baby I’m Yours.” Or it’s not I think; we talked about it and he added us as credited writers on the track.
Why did you want to commemorate your anniversary with an orchestral album?
The concept was to ask Thomas Roussel, who is a famous French conductor, to rearrange tracks put out by the label for a 70-piece orchestra, the Orchestre Lamoureux, which is one of the oldest symphonic Parisian orchestras. One of the ideas was also to not have any computer or rhythm machine on stage, I wanted a good percentage of musician and classical instruments. We worked three months on this, spent a lot of money. It was a unique concept because of the set-up and the venue, we can’t book a tour of this. Three thousand people were in the theater, and I’m sure 90-percent of them have never seen a real orchestra in front of them.
If when you started, the expectation was that everyone needed to make the French touch type of sound, do you feel like there’s a different expectation now?
A lot of people are expecting Ed Banger to sound exactly like it will sound in 2007. But I’m glad to also try to propose different things.