The 10 Best Politically-Charged Tracks, according to Orbital
This year marks the 10th birthday of Parisian record label Ed Banger Records. It’s a milestone that isn’t often reached by labels, especially those that came to define a very particular time and place like Ed Banger did. It’d be both naive and incorrect to say that Ed Banger are still at the top of their game today, but that’s not to say that the label has no staying power – last week they released ‘Ed Rec Vol. X’, a compilation of exclusive material from the imprint’s main artists to celebrate where they are now.
Many of the criticisms levelled at the label during their 2006-08 rule came from more traditional, usually older dance music fans and rested on the label’s faddishness, image-centricity and hyperactivity (with an emphasis on the “hype” part). But this was what made them so appealing to an audience bored with indie rock but turned off by the dominating dance trends of minimal techno and house. 10 years seems as good a time as any for retrospection, so we’ve compiled some of the essential records to tell the story of Ed Banger and how they got to where they are now.
This is a chance to reconsider the label’s back catalogue and cast a critical eye over their releases with a fresh perspective – something that simply would not have been possible at the time that they were dominating the indie and electro circuit. A lot of their music sounds very dated, belonging firmly to the time and place that it was made, but it’s worth remembering the mutant musical hybrids they put out that kicked against the conventions of both dance music and pop music. To help you out, we’ve listed 20 of them below. Happy reminiscing!
- Justice vs. Gambit – Steamulation (2003)
Indie band Simian launched a remix contest for their song Never Be Alone back in 2003, and one of the entries came from a French duo called Justice. They didn’t win, but their euphoric dance take on the song did manage to wind its way into the hands of one Pedro Winter aka Busy P, the ex-manager of Daft Punk who was just setting up his own imprint, Ed Banger Records. Their remix – retitled We Are Your Friends – obviously became one of the biggest hits of the time and a classic in its own right, but the flipside of the single, Justice’s remix of Gambit, a group barely known even at the time, demonstrated a more traditional club focus for the duo that has nowadays been sidelined in favour of bigger, more bombastic prog rock sounds.
- Justice – Waters Of Nazareth (2005)
Justice continued to experiment after the release of We Are Your Friends, in some instances turning out their best work, such as their remixes for Franz Ferdinand and Vicarious Bliss. But it was Waters Of Nazareth that really established them as a strong voice. The song shouldn’t really work: the sonics are muddy, with little low end and harsh, grubby samples, and the whole thing is essentially a bunch of loosely organised noises. In reality it’s a brutal pop-house-rave song made with with fairly primitive tools and little regard for established genres that would define the time and place that it came from.
- Zongamin – Bongo Song (2005)
For what it’s worth, this is probably the best record that Ed Banger ever released. Zongamin’s use of percussion is astounding, and paired with Bongo Song’s addictive riff should only leave the biggest killjoys without a grin on their face. This was the last piece of original music that Zongamin released – he still turns up today, making infrequent remixes and playing even more infrequent live shows, but new material is long overdue.
- SebastiAn – Walkman (2006)
It’s important not to overlook the importance of image in Ed Banger’s success. Speaking to the New York Times back in 2007, Vice Records’ Adam Shore said “I’ve never worked with a group that’s so fully formed…They’ve got the music, the art, the aesthetic, the amazing videos, and they’re kind of a traveling party.” It was nearly impossible to go to a gig or festival around 2007 without seeing somebody wearing a t-shirt bearing the artwork for SebastiAn’s ‘Ross Ross Ross’ EP, designed by Ed Banger’s in-house designer So Me and bearing a stylish face in a vague reference to The Human League’s ‘Dare’. The image was of huge importance to SebastiAn’s success, but that’s not a discredit to the music. Walkman was the closest to techno the label would really come around this time, a track which moved from kick to snare with brute force before building up layers of messy noise.
- Uffie – Hot Chick (2006)
Uffie received a lot of misogynistic criticism from a lot of people (men) when she first appeared – she was too slutty, or she was not attractive enough, or she came from a wealthy background, or she was a hipster, or her then-boyfriend Feadz produced some of her music and this is, for some reason, a heinous crime. It’s a real shame that the merits of tracks like Hot Chick couldn’t just be enjoyed for what they were – rambunctious, energetic pop dance songs – and that the horrible attitude that many male music fans and critics held was probably responsible for holding her back from going much further.
- Busy P – Rainbow Man (2007)
Ed Banger label boss Busy P was never one of the best artists on Ed Banger from a musical perspective, but his moments of excellence came with tracks like an odd party remix of Kraftwerk and his Rainbow Man/_Chop Suey_ 12”. Both are heavy tracks produced at tempos that DJs were unlikely to play, and that’s part of what made them so appealing.
- DJ Mehdi – Signatune (Thomas Bangalter Edit) (2007)
Years before writing anything as headscratchingly odd as Touch, Thomas Bangalter from Daft Punk lent his hand to a short and simple house edit of the late DJ Mehdi’s Signatune. Bright, uplifting and very, very repetitive, the edit stretched out Mehdi’s short original and would be used to open many a set at the time of its release. This was the last time Bangalter put anything out under his own solo name, and the last time someone from Daft Punk made anything resembling house music.
- SebastiAn – Greel (2007)
The drums from Greel – taken from the label’s ‘Ed Rec Vol. 2’ – were sampled to death on endless blog house tracks and remixes at the time of its release. It was tedious, for sure, and listening back now it’s not too hard to see it as an early version of the hyper-compressed brostep snare. In fact, listening to it now, it’s obvious that brostep is much closer to this sort of music than its Croydon cousin.
- Justice – Phantom Pt. II (Soulwax Nite Version) (2007)
Not long after Justice’s Google-defying debut ‘†’ dropped, a remix 12” of album track Phantom Pt. II was released. Soulwax’s take on the song was overplayed at the time, almost insultingly so, but the totally OTT remix made a very audacious (if very annoying) move in its midsection, dropping into total silence before building back up with tight strings for a devastating drop. Hyperactive as it was, it was undeniably effective. Boys Noize also provided a remix of this track, which was just as heavy, but not as blatantly so.
- Feadz – Numanoid (2008)
Taken from his ‘Happy Meal’ EP, Numanoid is one of the best tracks to appear in the Ed Banger catalogue and still sounds great today. When Feadz remade Humanoid’s acid house hit Stakker Humanoid in 2007 he reworked it a few times until it mutated into this. _Numanoid_’s simple but very, very addictive riff is looped and looped and looped until it ceases to resemble the original sound, despite having not changed at all. It builds to a frenzied high point before returning back to where it started.
- SebastiAn – Motor (2008)
More than anything, Motor marks the turning point in both SebastiAn’s career and the entire Ed Banger catalogue in which things started to slip. Whereas in the past the label had been focused on adventurous but fun music dominated by chaos and disordered noise, Motor tipped too heavily into abrasion to the point of self-parody. The weirdness and melody of his earlier music was lost and replaced with over-heavy, maximal-for-the-sake-of-it tracks like this and Dog, a real low point released around the same time.
- Mickey Moonlight – Interplanetary Music (2008)
Electro bootlegs are a footnote in the history of quick, trend-hitting music made by chancers and distributed online (see also: trap bootlegs, dubstep remixes, disco edits, mash-ups, etc.) but they were also totally inescapable. These blog house remixes took the worst parts of Ed Banger’s sound – the noise, the dirtiness, the maximalism – and amplified them, forgetting about character and songwriting in the process. Ed Banger themselves had done well to stay above this but around the release of SebastiAn’s Motor they started releasing more and more instant gratification party music (no doubt due to the fact that they were playing more and more parties) like DSL’s Invaders (DSL topped this with Stupid Bitches the next year, their true nadir). The release of Mickey Moonlight’s Interplanetary Music was always welcome as a way for the label to diversify. The new project of Brit musician Mike Silver, formerly the thoroughly excellent Midnight Mike, Mickey Moonlight’s first single was a charming psych-disco Sun Ra cover that marked the first of many releases that Silver put out with the label, all of which were very underrated.
- DJ Mehdi – Pocket Piano (Joakim Remix) (2008)
Pocket Piano was probably the greatest piece of music that Mehdi was behind before his sad, sudden death in 2011. The main piano line that runs throughout it is beautiful but the song itself doesn’t quite hit the way it should. It was Mehdi’s old friend Joakim that managed to eke out the potential of the track, transforming it into what deserves to be considered a bona fide classic.
- Mr. Oizo – Positif (2008)
After being dropped from Laurent Garnier’s F Communications label following the release of his challenging album ‘Moustache (Half A Scissor)’, Ed Banger signed Mr. Oizo as one of the first members of the label. It’s a good fit – the sound Oizo brought to ‘Moustache…’ was proto-Ed Banger, it just needed the label to put it into a pop framework. When Oizo returned with his worthwhile third album ‘Lambs Anger’, the schizophrenic Positif was the lead single, a frantic and unashamedly, deliberately eccentric club track that is one of the best he’s made. Ironically enough, Garnier, once outspoken against Oizo and Ed Banger as a whole, releases on the label today.
- Justice – ‘A Cross The Universe’ (2008)
Daft Punk’s pyramid was the prototype EDM live show, but Justice’s ‘A Cross The Universe’ was perhaps the market version that’s been replicated since. Taking the Daft Punk formula – a greatest hits show of rejigged material strung together on Ableton, a big stage set-up full of theatrical setpieces – Justice upped the game by adding a live tour documentary that has become a staple amongst any large scale EDM act, whether as Youtube shorts for Skrillex, Tiesto or Toolroom, or as a full release a la Swedish House Mafia’s ‘Take One’. It’s all very Spinal Tap.
- Breakbot – Baby I’m Yours (Siriusmo Remix) (2010)
Despite close associations to Ed Banger it took a few years for Breakbot to actually release anything for them. Baby I’m Yours, featuring singer Irfane, was his first big record for the label but it was really Siriusmo’s version that works the best. Available as both the original remix and a vastly superior instrumental (it just works better without the vocal), Siriusmo’s take is a sugary piece of pop that doesn’t shy on originality.
- Uffie – A.D.D. S.U.V. feat. Pharrell Williams (Hudson Mohawke Remix) (2010)
Uffie’s long-delayed album ‘Sex Dreams And Denim Jeans’ was an enjoyable effort that arrived a few years too late to really have any major crossover potential. By the point it came out, her schtick had been lifted almost wholesale by artists like Ke$ha (although you could probably argue that Uffie lifted her schtick from Peaches and Chicks On Speed, and so on) and the dwindling interest in Ed Banger was starting to show by this point. Uffie’s last track was a cover of Tom Tom Club’s Wordy Rappinghood (previously covered by Chicks On Speed, funnily enough) and a new album is allegedly in the works, but it wouldn’t come as a big surprise if she wasn’t heard from again. It’s a shame, because she certainly isn’t worthy of any scorn. HudMo’s take on the album’s lead single would perhaps be much bigger today given both HudMo’s and Pharrell’s increased profiles.
- Cassius – I Luv U So (2010)
Memorably sampled for Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Why I Love You, Cassius’s I Luv U So was both the best thing the duo had done in years as well as the best thing Ed Banger had done in years. It captured all the fun and the exuberance that coloured the label’s earliest records whilst remaining contemporary in sound.
- SebastiAn – Love In Motion (Rustie remix) (2012)
Like Uffie, SebastiAn’s album dropped far to late to really have the impact that it could have. The Mayer Hawthorne-featuring Love In Motion was one of the album’s singles and came backed with a couple of remixes that make for an interesting talking point. The full release saw SebastiAn, Skrillex and Rustie on one 12”, a triptych of maximalism that drew a clear line between the three. Skrillex’s dirty sound, heavily compressed snares and midrange bass seems to be inherited from SebastiAn, whilst Rustie’s “how much is too much?” approach to sound design seems to come from a similar school of thought, despite sonic differences. Rustie’s mix is a truly excellent piano rave take on the single – it’s one of his best.
- Cassius – Sunchild (2013)
Taken from ‘Ed Rec Vol. X’, Sunchild is a pensive synth jam that’s miles away from anything that the label were putting out 10 years ago. It’s not really indicative of the rest of the label or the compilation, but it’s rather gorgeous and could easily slip between the cracks by anybody that would write off the label right now.