wo robots. That’s all it took to bring the sound known as French Touch to the world. By 1994, the duo of Thomas Bangalter and Guy Manuel de Homen Christo (Daft Punk) was at the forefront of a nascent scene, composed of like-minded producers, DJs, and label-heads that had a serious fetish for both soul and disco. Their debut single “The New Wave,” released by Soma Records that year, sparked a worldwide interest in what was happening in France at the time. Those who looked into the origins of the robots and other up-and-coming French acts soon found that they kept running into the same two names: Pedro Winter and Gildas Loaec. Winter managed Daft Punk, Cassius, and a host of others during the late 1990s, helping to bring their music to larger and larger audiences. Loaec, on the other hand, co-ran the Roulé label with Bangalter, which was responsible for, among other things, Stardust’s classic French Touch anthem “Music Sounds Better with You.”
It’s now more than ten years later and the French have returned. Those two names are still the same: Pedro Winter runs Ed Banger Records and Gildas Loaec is the head of Kitsuné, but the music is very much different. The two have been absorbing the recent progress, reinterpreting it, and forging something altogether new in the process. But while each label is leading a resurgent French scene, the two work in very different ways. In a recent email exchange with Mr. Winter, he elaborated the differences as such: “I don’t think we’re doing the same kind of music. I’m trying to push new, young French artists. Kitsuné feeds the big clubs and sell a lot of records. We deliver underground hits for indie club kids, and I sell fuckin’ less!” Fair enough.
Although Ed Banger has yet to push a release of the magnitude of either Daft Punk or any of Kitsuné’s flagship acts, they have released a number of records of note—Justice’s remake of the Simian hit “Never Be Alone,” Zongamin’s “Bongo Song,” and Sebastian’s “Smoking Kills” are probably the best. While all of these releases are easily individuated, there are common threads: volume, a consciousness of the medium, its physical limitations, and its power. The connection between dance and the overdriven distortion more commonly found in rock music that’s become one of Banger’s hallmarks is described thusly by Winter: “maybe it’s because the crew is not only listening to dance music. Other labels are into their own world, too much club culture.” It’s this approach that ties Ed Banger to other like-minded labels such as Fine, Gomma, Kitsuné, and Output. Whether it’s Zongamin’s driving bass lines, or Justice’s pure and total desire to bottom-out every possible set of speakers, it’s obvious that there’s more on the mind of Winter’s stable of artists than simply making the audience move their feet. They also want to make heads bang.
The scope of the label is by no means restricted to the intersection of indie and dance, though. In fact, Winter himself is busy recording hip-hop under the moniker Busy P, and the label recently put out another single, “Pop the Glock,” by Uffie. While it’s hard to say what exactly Uffie is, she serves as a further testament to the musical cross-breeding of the label nonetheless. In the same exchange, Pedro puts it this way, “The French scene is ready to show something else other than ‘French Touch.’ We are proud of the 1997 era, but now it’s time to present new stuff. French kids discovered house music with Daft Punk, and pop music was hip-hop for them. Now they want a mix of those two influences, here we are!”
That 1997 era is more heavily referenced by Kitsuné Music—the logical continuation and heir apparent of Roulé and the French house scene. Kitsuné is the French Japanese label and clothing company run by Gildas Loaec, Masaya Kuroki, Patrick Lacey, Benjamin Reichen, Kajsa Stahl and Maki Suzuki. Much less subtly than its namesake (translated from Japanese, Kitsuné means “fox”), Kitsuné is continuing the French ruination begun in 1996, albeit with more than a hint of the French Touch. For instance, Benjamin Theves hit 12” “Texas” is nothing if not an updated electro-fucked version of the best tracks from that era. It makes for a sound that goes down easier, but you won’t find fans complaining about the work artists like Digitalism, Playgroup, The Whitest Boy Alive (the new project from Kings of Convenience’s Erlend Oye), Volga Select (a Blackstrobe alias), and a handful of others. Kitsuné is the label that will release tracks from the likes of Carlos D and Bloc Party and get away with it.
They do so by packaging and marketing all Kitsuné releases to create a recognizable visual aesthetic, while not necessarily presenting a unified sound. For instance, there have been four compilations released, and each has a distinct theme. Kitsuné Love was released both as a CD and as individual 12”s, each of which featured neatly organized vegetable displays so as to suggest a dish to enjoy while listening. Kitsuné Midnight focused on temporal and spatial ideas—the artwork featured a picture from each of the world’s 25 time zones. Kitsuné X was all about juxtaposition: pitting pictures of Darwin’s finches and the work of British font maker Eric Gill against one another. By placing the two together, Kitsuné’s stated goal was to celebrate both clumsiness and the right to change one’s mind. The fourth, Kitsuné Maison, serves as a general introduction to all the previous compilations, and is probably the best starting point.
Their newest project, Kitsuné Maison 2, proves that they’re moving nowhere but forward, and fast. While retaining labels stars Digitalism, Joakim, Simian Mobile Disco, and Popular Computer, there are plenty of new faces. (Cazals, Azzido da Bass, and Stylus favorite Fox n’ Wolf to name just a few.) But even the faces we know are returning with a twist. Sure, Simian Mobile Disco’s “Hustler” holds true to the harsh electro wave of the day, but it only bleeds through a self-effacing veneer of hip-hop kitsch, “I’m a hustler, baby. That’s what my daddies made me.” And even the steady Digitalism and their track “Jupiter Room” finds them refining their sound, but with a few changes. Its first minute is an experiment with space, complete with Traum-ish muted thunder rumbles before the beat drops. Then as it progresses, guitars, snares, and everything else seem to be drench in reverb, cue a thundering climax and you just might have the world’s first progressive dirty electro track. Slated for release later this year, Kitsuné’s Maison 2 seems poised to take the ruins left in the wake of Daft Punk and pulverize whatever chunks were inadvertently left behind.
James Murphy once famously claimed that he was losing his edge “to the kids from France.” With nothing left to prove, Murphy’s DFA label is losing its edge. The kids that they brought to dance music from the world of indie rock are now looking elsewhere, as their productions become increasingly similar, and space disco timely. Ed Banger and Kitsuné are two of the labels that are busy tinkering irreverently with both dance-punk and The French Touch, and in the process are creating a new strand of post-dance-punk electro that is as addictive as it is carefree. Edits, cuts, splices, returns, and more splices … it’s all about dynamics, volume, destroying speakers, and moving your feet.
By: Cameron Octigan
Published on: 2006-05-08