As Justice return with their first single in five years, we revisit the heyday of Ed Banger, the Parisian electro label who defined an era of music and style
Last night, Justice returned with their first single in five years, “Safe and Sound”. Taking the template of late 70s disco – funk grooves, tension-building strings, proggy synths – and updating it through Justice’s own sound design, “Safe and Sound” is a welcome return from the Parisian electro duo.
Justice’s story is closely entwined with the story of their record label, Ed Banger. Emerging in the mid-2000s, Ed Banger and its artists (which covered producers like SebastiAn, rappers like Uffie, beatmakers like DJ Mehdi, and in-house designer So Me) would come to define the sound and style of the influential scene dubbed ‘blog house’. The name was an unfair one – while Ed Banger saw their music discussed and disseminated online via Myspace and mp3 blogs, their roots were in real clubs with real people.
Ed Banger built their own little universe, encompassing the worlds of music, style, and design. They were a travelling party crew who probably sold as many t-shirts as they did records, with their tight-knit family of artists all using their individual identities to contribute to a unified whole. Their music was electronic, but they had scant regard for the formalities of other European techno scenes, approaching the whole thing with a gleeful, anarchic attitude. They crossed over to work with established stars while producing stars of their own.
Though the era has been recently eulogised and subject to retrospective articles (in publications like FACT, Thump, and MTV) and DJ mixes (from scene stalwart A-Trak), it’s important to remember that Ed Banger never went away: now 13 years old, in the past few years they’ve issued great music from artists like Breakbot, Cassius, and Mr. Oizo that still has the same attitude that defined the label in its pomp.
With the release of “Safe and Sound”, we looked back on the best tracks to emerge during Ed Banger’s peak years.
JUSTICE – “WATERS OF NAZARETH”
After the runaway success of “We Are Your Friends”, Justice released a string of acclaimed remixes that experimented with new, often wildly different styles. But with “Waters of Nazareth”, the duo established their own voice, one that was brash and grubby and that paid little regard to the conventions of electronic music. Though their ultra-distorted sound was often imitated, few could capture Justice’s gift for melody or their natural funk.
SEBASTIAN – “WALKMAN”
SebastiAn was a key member of the Ed Banger family, with a skill for crafting unconventional bangers. The noisy “Greel” contains the blueprint for EDM’s nu-metalish take on dubstep, but his best track remains the rigid, punchy “Walkman”. More than just a great tune, it was also a triumph for Ed Banger designer So Me: a t-shirt bearing the Ross Ross Ross EP’s instantly iconic cover art was one of the defining images of the scene, worn by club kids around the world.
UFFIE – “POP THE GLOCK”
Uffie was an American party girl who lived in Paris with her then-boyfriend, Ed Banger producer Feadz, and rapped on some of his tracks before making her own. Her technical skill was always second to her attitude, captured on tracks like the belting “Hot Chick”, but “Pop The Glock” was her purest pop moment, a tune that could’ve been a crossover hit had its thunder not ultimately been stolen when Kesha released the similar (and, to be fair, better) “Tik Tok” not long after. Uffie had children and disappeared for a few years, but she’s currently plotting to return to music with a grown-up pop record.
ZONGAMIN – “BONGO SONG”
Though Ed Banger’s reputation was as a party crew, their releases were never style over substance. As an A&R, label head honcho Busy P had a keen ear for bizarre but brilliant dance tunes – even at the height of the label’s notoriety they were issuing crunchy rap beats from Mr. Flash, mutant house from Feadz, and peculiar Sun Ra covers from Mickey Moonlight. The best leftfield turn from the label was British-Japanese producer Zongamin’s “Bongo Song”, a joyously addictive percussion track built (duh) on a frantic bongo drum roll.
BUSY P – “CHOP SUEY”
Busy P didn’t often release tracks on his own label, but when he did, his tunes were usually great. “Rainbow Man” was a slow, chugging, motor-like techno track with a weighty bassline, while its b-side “Chop Suey” was a colourful update of ghetto house tropes, chopping up rap samples over abooty-shaking bass drums.
DJ MEHDI – “SIGNATUNE (THOMAS BANGALTER EDIT)”
Daft Punk were an important band in the history of Ed Banger – Busy P used to manage the duo, while they laid the groundwork for the electronic-music-as-rock-and-roll sound that the label ran with. The two worlds only properly collided once, however, when Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter crafted a simple house edit of DJ Mehdi’s uplifting and epic “Signatune”. It was the last time Daft Punk were even vaguely associated with a proper club track.
JUSTICE – “PHANTOM PT. II (SOULWAX NITE VERSION)”
Belgian duo Soulwax were behind some of the electro era’s biggest remixes, and it doesn’t get much bigger than their remix of Justice’s “Phantom Pt. II”. The track takes an audacious drop into silence halfway through before building itself back up – something only Soulwax could really pull off. The tune was inescapable, but it marked a tipping point where the music started to fall into ludicrous excessiveness.
DJ MEHDI – “POCKET PIANO (JOAKIM REMIX)”
DJ Mehdi was a hero of the French underground, and his signing to Ed Banger showed the label’s real roots in Paris’s club and hip hop scenes. Mehdi sadly and shockingly died in 2011, but he left some brilliant records behind, in particular the gorgeous “Pocket Piano”. The track was taken even further in a remix by his friend, fellow musician Joakim, who amped up the tension and turned it into a nakedly emotional club banger.
MR. OIZO – “POSITIF”
Mr. Oizo had been releasing music long before Ed Banger appeared on the scene, but his signing to the label made perfect sense. His earlier releases were foundational to the Ed Banger sound, and given the label was about having fun first and foremost, it was a perfect home for his weird sense of humour. His best track for the label was the demented, ultra-French “Positif”.
CASSIUS – “I LOVE U SO”
“I Love U So” came out after the early Ed Banger hype had died down and the electronic music world started to settle back into genre formality, but it shows the label’s staying power. Cassius are legends of French electronic music, and their signing in 2010 represented how far Ed Banger had come in such a short space of time. The tearful track was memorably sampled on Kanye West and Jay Z’s Watch The Throne closing track “Why I Love You”.