By Heiko Hoffmann
26 July 2007
For Pedro Winter, aka Busy P, these are crazy times. His Paris-based Ed Banger Records is one of the most talked about electronic labels around. Its most popular act, Justice, have proven that it’s possible for dance artists today to sell records like it’s 1998. Recently Winter stopped working with Daft Punk, whom he had managed for 12 years. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that “crazy” is the word that most often pops up during our recent conversation with the 33-year-old label head.
Pitchfork: You’re a DJ, producer, and manager in addition to running a successful record label. Do you always know what to do first when you get in the office in the morning?
Pedro Winter: One the one hand, I have a pretty normal office day. I get to work at 10 in the morning and leave at eight or nine. I first check emails and communicate with our artists by iChat. Then I go for meetings at Because Music, which is a licensing partner for Justice.
On the other hand, my job at the moment is a bit similar to that of a taxi driver because I don’t know what will happen— there are always surprises. The other day Rick Rubin calls to say that he likes our music. Then I had to explain to Madonna why Justice doesn’t want to support her on tour. It’s crazy.
Pitchfork: It must have been a special moment for you when Kanye West wanted to clear the Daft Punk sample for his single “Stronger” last year. After all, he had just dissed Justice at the MTV Europe Awards for winning the Best Video award instead of him.
PW: When his manager called to clear the sample, I told him to tell Kanye West that we loved it but that I’m not only Daft Punk’s manager but also Justice’s— the band that he dissed on MTV. He was really embarrassed, excused himself, and said that he was drunk that night. Now he is a friend and supports Justice on his blog.
Pitchfork: Ed Banger has brought a good amount of rock and hip-hop elements back into club music. What kind of music were you into first?
PW: I listened to Kraftwerk when I was little, and I decided that I like repetitive electronic music when I discovered Deee-Lite’s “What Is Love” in 1990. I got introduced to the rave scene in 1992. At the time I was into skateboarding; I listened to a little hip-hop but was mainly into heavy metal and grunge. I had long hair and wore these grunge-like shirts.
One day a group of skateboarders and I decided to go to a rave outside of Paris. It took place in a big warehouse with maybe 5,000 people, and since then I never quit. At the time I was into hardcore techno DJs such as Lenny D and Liza ‘n’ Eliaz. I also remember a Polygon Window performance at one of those raves, which was Aphex Twin on a computer and a crazy guy dancing next to him. Only after two or three years of going to raves every weekend did I discover the Paris club scene. When I first walked through the doors of Rex Club, I realized that I didn’t have to travel to raves outside the city to enjoy techno.
Pitchfork: Did drugs play an important part when you went raving?
PW: For me going out to party never meant drinking or taking drugs. I never take drugs. I took ecstasy when I was in Ibiza once, but it didn’t work for me. I think I was already on ecstasy when I was born. I’ve been drunk maybe five times in my life. I don’t like to lose control very much— I have an older brother [French singer/songwriter Thomas Winter —Ed.] who did this to me and probably all my family. He’s into excess.
Pitchfork: You started working in the club scene as a party promoter.
PW: The great thing about the electronic music scene is that everybody can be part of it either by dancing, DJing, or organizing a party. I started putting together small but well-organized parties in 1995. This French superstar DJ, David Guetta, used to run this club called Palais, and he proposed [that I] run the second floor at his club. It was for 300 people, and I did a club night there every Friday for one year. My aim was to have only local DJs play. I still have the fliers from back then, and once in a while I look at them and am still amazed. In March 95, for example, it was DJ Gregory on the first Friday, DJ Dimitri from Paris on the second, third week Daft Punk, fourth week Motorbass. Nowadays, this lineup would be crazy.
Pitchfork: Did you first meet Daft Punk at this club night?
PW: We met at my club night, and the first time that we talked to each other was at a Paris record store called Street Sounds, which was run by Gildas Loaëc. Gildas then started to work for Daft Punk as well, and today he runs Kitsuné. At the end of 95, I was asked to be part of a new club night called Respect. But one week later Daft Punk wanted me to work with them, and so I stopped organizing parties and started managing them. Only three months later they signed with Virgin Records, and then everything happened very fast. I was only 21 years old. Daft Punk didn’t want someone with experience in the music business as their manager; they wanted someone with lots of energy who was the same age as them and had the same interests. And I think I learned much more from working with Daft Punk than if I had gone to business school. For me Daft Punk was the best school ever!
We just stopped working together last month. We spent 12 years together and decided to call it a day. It’s a little bit like when a son leaves his parents to get an apartment of his own. I am busy now with managing Justice and running Ed Banger, and they just started recording a new album again and are working with a management company in Los Angeles now.
Pitchfork: Can you give examples of what you learned from working with Daft Punk?
PW: There are two very simple things: The first thing is being patient. When I want something, I want it now, and Daft Punk taught me to be more patient. The second thing they taught me is that it’s good to know what you want, but it’s maybe more important to know what you don’t want. For me this is one of the key things about Daft Punk: Before they had an idea what they wanted to do, they knew very surely what they didn’t want to do.
Pitchfork: The success of Daft Punk was closely linked to a strong visual identity in their record sleeves, videos, and masks.
PW: Daft Punk and I belong to the Generation 75. We were born in 1975, so we are somewhat in the middle of the rebellion and freedom of the 70s and the consumer culture of the 80s. Maybe because of that, marketing and communication were always a part of what we did. This might be a bad thing for some, but for us it was good. For me marketing is about how to present a project. The idea for Daft Punk not to show their faces came when they signed to Virgin. At the time, in 1996, an electronic band signing with a major label was something new, at least in France. Daft Punk knew that this meant a marathon of promotion, TV appearances, etc. To protect themselves and to be discrete, they came up with the masks and, three years later, the robot helmets.
Pitchfork: As Daft Punk’s manager you earned a reputation to be tough to negotiate with.
PW: Yes, but this is a misunderstanding. I mean, some people started to call me “the King of No” because with Daft Punk we were saying “no” to everything. Many people think if you say “no” you just do this to negotiate a better deal, and they didn’t understand that Daft Punk really meant “no” because they didn’t want to do certain things.
Pitchfork: You were already busy as a manager. Why did you decide to start a label of your own?
PW: In 2001, I started getting phone calls from artists like Cassius and Jacques Lu Cont who wanted me to work as their manager. I was impressed and took on some of these artists, but it turned out to be a nightmare. It was too much work, so I stopped these other management jobs.
Five years ago I then had the idea to start the label completely by accident. I met this producer, Mr. Flash, who also wanted me to manage him. I told him that I was not interested but that I loved his music and wanted to release it. So that’s how Ed Banger got started. There were no further plans— not even an idea for what kind of music I wanted to put out. All I knew was that I wanted to work with new artists and contemporary music. The first record by Mr. Flash was mid-tempo instrumental hip-hop, and no one cared about this kind of music at the time. Luckily the second record I put out was Justice’s “We Are Your Friends”, and this got the label attention. But still today I don’t have a big plan like other labels do. I know what our next single will be, which is our 24th, but I have no idea what the 25th will be.
Pitchfork: Did Justice’s success surprise you?
PW: Of course! We sold 250,000 albums worldwide, almost 100,000 in France alone. There’s no other electronic dance act selling like that at the moment. It’s crazy. It’s incredible. We sold more copies of the Justice album in France than of the last Daft Punk album. This is just crazy. And I just met them at a raclette dinner that [Ed Banger’s graphic designer] So-Me invited me to. I was the oldest one at the dinner, and they later told me that they were a bit impressed that I was there. At the end of the evening they asked me if they could play me a track, which was “We Are Your Friends”. I took the track, told them to come to my office the next day, and signed a contract with them. That night I had a party at the Le Pulp club in Paris. I played the track, and the club went crazy. I knew I had something special. For me this record is a generational anthem, and I think it will be something that the kids of today will still like to remember when they are 30 years old.
Pitchfork: In a certain way Justice seems to be a Daft Punk for a new generation. Was this your intention?
PW: I never thought this. Maybe this would be the kind of thinking of a major label. My goal with Justice was for them to be real producers. To be capable, let’s say, of producing the new Red Hot Chili Peppers album. The only strategy was to have them make a lot of key remixes. I think remixes are a good way of trying, learning, and experimenting. Justice did remixes for Soulwax, Fatboy Slim, and Britney Spears, and I think they got stronger because of that. They could reassure themselves and show their skills. They did something like 10 or 15 remixes, and with that they attracted a lot of attention without putting out many singles of their own.
Pitchfork: Both Daft Punk and Justice make dance music that a lot of people who don’t usually listen to dance music like.
PW: You’re right. But that’s not a strategy, it’s a coincidence. Maybe Justice’s sound is closer to that of Daft Punk than to that of LCD Soundsystem, but that’s because they are both French and have similar influences. They both like Sly and the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder, Rick Rubin, and Metallica, and they take these interests and digest them in their own way. However, Daft Punk’s sound is much rounder and warmer, and Justice’s is rougher and more distorted. The heritage of Daft Punk is Chicago house, whereas Justice don’t have any electronic background. When I went to Xavier [de Rosnay]’s house for the first time and looked at his record collection, I could find only two dance records: Daft Punk and Armand van Helden. They are big fans of Queen, Judas Priest, and the Beach Boys. And with this background they try to make electronic music.
Pitchfork: One of the labels that seems closest to Ed Banger is Kitsuné, which was started by Gildas Loaëc who also worked with Daft Punk.
PW: There are some common points. We are both interested in the visual side of a record label, and we have similar tastes because we are friends. But musically we are not doing the same at all. I’m developing artists, and Kitsuné are licensing artists. Even Digitalism are not really Kitsuné artists. So this is a different approach. Sure, indie rock kids that play techno music often play both Ed Banger and Kitsuné, but that’s because these are the only electronic labels that they know. We both make party music. Music for people to jump around to and smile. We are not putting out after-hours music.
Pitchfork: Do you think the term “nu rave” describes the music that acts like Justice, Digitalism, or Boys Noize produce well?
PW: I think nu rave is already over. One term I really like to describe this kind of music is “hooligan disco.” A guy from French label Institubes came up with that name, and I think it fits perfectly.
Pitchfork: Ed Banger seems to be a label for which viral promotion through the internet has played a bigger role than for many others.
PW: I discovered MySpace in 2005, maybe a little bit before it blew up. There are some things that you have to consider when using MySpace, and a lot of big labels don’t do this. I’m using lots of blogs and sites to communicate. Ten years ago with Daft Punk we used magazines, radio, and TV, and now we also have the internet. And this new media has become more important to us than the old. It’s a cheaper way to communicate, but mainly it’s faster.
Pitchfork: Unlike many other parties, Ed Banger nights seem to have a special energy and get going very early. Is this a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy from people who have watched clips from your parties on YouTube?
PW: I was wondering about this, too. About two years ago we noticed that kids would come very early to our parties. There would be stage diving and sweating at 10 or 11 p.m. At first I asked myself what was wrong with these guys, and then we realized that these kids see the videos of our parties on YouTube and want to recreate that moment and get crazy. The way the kids dance and dress seems to be something like an Ed Banger way of life, and this impresses me.
Pitchfork: There’s been quite some criticism, mainly from the techno scene, about Ed Banger’s sound and parties.
PW: Some of the criticism is aimed at our parties; some say that people don’t dance at our parties like usual but get crazy and start to stage dive. I’m very critical of what we do as well. I’m laughing about us playing the same kind of distorted tracks and putting a record such as [Reel 2 Real’s] “I Like to Move It” into our sets. But there are different ways to party, and they are all fine to me. You can dance at five in the morning with five ecstasy pills and trip to Ricardo Villalobos, and you can go crazy to our music. The problem I have with the electronic scene is that they only see their stuff instead of realizing that we are all in the same boat. I’m sure if Carl Craig would go to an Ed Banger party and see the kids go crazy he would get scared. But I’m a big fan of Carl Craig. I play Isolée, Chloé, or Underground Resistance records in my sets.
Pitchfork: It would be great if Ed Banger would be remembered as the label that brought back the fun into electronic music.
PW: To me a lot of electronic music out there is too serious. I’m a bit fed up with DJs who take themselves too seriously and don’t smile. At Ed Banger parties we have a lot of girls, and at Justice concerts the first rows are always full of girls that want to party. It makes me proud when 15-year-old teenagers come to a Justice concert.
Pitchfork: What are your ambitions for Ed Banger?
PW: It would be pretentious to say that I want Ed Banger to be the next Domino, XL, or Rough Trade, but I want to make sure that Ed Banger will last. Warp is almost 20 years old, and they are still going strong. I at least want to keep having fun, and the rest we will see.
By Heiko Hoffmann