He ran. He ran like hell, gasping for breath. As if his life depended on it. Bank notes flew out of his jacket pockets, floating in the air for an instant as though suspended in slow motion, before falling on the morning’s dew-soaked grass. He ran and behind him the shadow of the Château de Vaux-le-Pénil gradually faded; the ancient and imposing structure slowly awakening, impelled by the breaking dawn.
As daylight nibbled the scene, history arose and stretched. That of a thousand-year-old building bordering the Marne, attacked by men of the league during the religious wars, then commandeered by King Henry IV, the property of an adviser to the wife of Louis XV later on, and also serving as headquarters to the Russian Tsar Alexander I after the fall of the Napoleonic Empire. In other words, the cold walls of the guardroom or the castle’s cellars had certainly witnessed legendary scenes. But had they ever, in all their history, trembled quite like on that night in June 1996?
Just one party at the Château de Vaux-le-Pénil would banish a thousand years of traditions from the mind to merge with the spirit of the times. The loony promoter of the Xanadu parties, Frédéric Agostini turned this stone pergola, a listed historical monument, into a gigantic, frenzied dance floor. On this particular evening, the partiers descended in the hundreds. Some took shuttle buses from just outside Paris, and others packed friends into their cars and parked in front of the woods bordering the castle. In the hall that had once received Henry IV and his court, the crowd thrashed about, stirred by the Chicago rhythms served up by Zdar, one half of Motorbass.
The dance floor exploded when the speakers spit out the first kicks of “Da Funk.”
Fred ran into some familiar faces. The entire world of the small Parisian house scene was present at his party. In a corner, David Blot – the patron saint of the coolest party tips at Radio Nova – was in conversation, gesticulating excitedly. Maybe he was caught up in yet another one of those endless debates about Manchester’s legacy in clubbing culture. Elsewhere, behind a door, Fred bumped into the lanky figure of Pedro Winter tumbling into his arms. This guy was always excited about something! Gas station hat bolted to his head, goatee garnishing his chin, the wide grin… the famous Pedro slipped him a flyer.
But no sooner had he time to tell Fred that he would be overjoyed to see him at the next party organized at Le Palace in Paris than a stampede began. People rushed to the bottom of the reception hall. Two guys – one slightly chubby and the other tall and thin, both sporting flashy Teddy suits – had just taken their places behind the DJ booth. The party’s star attraction had arrived.
For some time, a buzz accompanied any mention of this strange duo’s name: Daft Punk. The dance floor exploded when the speakers spit out the first kicks of “Da Funk,” the mega hit from the two boys. Fred smiled. Before him, dozens of young people embraced a wild frenzy. Head in the clouds, they were all trying to catch the mirror ball that they hallucinated as the sun in their night.
Someone put his hand on Fred’s shoulder. Turning around somehow, stuck between two ecstatic, sweaty partiers, he ran into Zdar. The breathless DJ had just handed over to Daft Punk, but would have liked to keep on playing. He had only one desire, and that was to play records until daybreak. All he had to do was take over from Jef K. who had been wearing himself out behind the decks in the room below. The party was in full swing.
Fred was dancing, thinking of nothing, when a security guard came to whisper in his ear. Outside, dozens of uniformed men were taking position in front of the gates. The castle was under siege. Not the booted henchmen of the Duc de Guise, but the police. They wanted to shut down the party – illegal, according to them. Fred slipped in beside Daft Punk. Everything had to stop. Everyone had to clear out.
While the word went round, Fred spotted some men among the crowd donning red police armbands. They were already there. Fred melted into the middle of the crowd. If the police got hold of him, he was screwed. He grabbed the night’s takings, handed a few bank notes to the DJ, passed some girlfriends pushing notes into their cleavages and escaped through a small door before starting to run like hell. He ran as far away from the castle as he could, without really knowing where he was going. He ran. He could plunge into the nearby woods, or escape by swimming in the Marne River. Force the roadblock, maybe. Everything was getting muddled in his head.
He was still running when an Austin Mini burst out of what remained of the dying night. The passenger door opened. At the wheel, Fred discovered the young Pedro Winter. He slackened his pace and flopped down next to the driver in a final cloud of bank notes. At the entrance to the castle, as Fred curled up in his seat almost disappearing under the glove compartment, Pedro Winter offered the rookie his best smile before slipping through the net and returning to Paris with the first sun rays.
Exhausted, worn out, with tired puffy stress-ringed eyes, Fred returned to his little flat on Rue Quincampoix, where his American girlfriend was waiting, worried sick. Then, just as he was drifting off to sleep, someone started banging on the door. Drowsy, Fred jumped. He got up, staggering to the entrance. Behind the door, someone called out in a wavering voice: “It’s Jérôme!” It was not Jérôme. This wasn’t his friend, the journalist at Radio FG. The voice was too harsh. Damn, it was the police.
Standing there in his underwear, Fred wondered what to do. He cast a quick glance at his girlfriend asleep in bed. He didn’t realize that he had forgotten to lock the door. The police didn’t know that the door was unlocked either. When they decided to break down the door, they were overtaken by their own momentum and collapsed in a heap on the floor at Fred’s feet. Still in his shorts, the Xanadu man stifled a laugh.
A head full of raves
In the early 1990s, Paris was undergoing a revolution. The City of Light was turning into a giant mirror ball. Excited by its British, Belgian and Dutch neighbors, fascinated by the tremors shaking far off New York, Chicago and Detroit, Paris allowed itself to be consumed by techno culture. For a small gang of emerging aficionados, the standard took the form of raves.
Philippe Cerboneschi discovered raves on Christmas Eve, 1991. This blue-eyed young man had arrived from his native Savoy in the French Alps a few years earlier. Fascinated by the sound, its grooves and melodies, Philippe worked as a sound engineer in various recording studios. Far removed from the heavy techno basses, he had spent the previous months mixing jazzy samples of Qui sème le vent récolte le tempo, the classic debut album from the French rapper MC Solaar.
On that particular night in December 1991, on the advice of a model named Roussia, Philippe decided to go and check out the rave. Accompanied by his studio assistant, a young guy from Versailles named Étienne de Crécy, he discovered a party called Trance Body Express on a barge moored along the Seine. Philippe experienced an epiphany that evening, discovering a new, hidden and essential world. His heart had never beat like this before.
From that day forward, Philippe and his friend Étienne lived only for techno and raves. Stuck in dark studios during the week, the two friends spent their time discussing plans for the weekend listening excitedly to the Rave Up show broadcast every Friday on Radio FG, which kept listeners informed about the best raves as well as tips for after parties. Wearing combat fatigues, caps and big jackets, they were like fighters headed for the front, ready to wage war in the mud. Like good soldiers, they were fully loaded.
They liked to see the sun rise to the sound of Underground Resistance, driving off in Philippe’s Volkswagen Golf crammed with five or six people, slipping off onto the Northern beltway to make endless round trips between Porte d’Aubervilliers and Porte de la Chapelle, the only spots where they could pick up Radio FG at breakfast. And the high didn’t stop there. The evening would always turn into an all-nighter at Philippe’s small apartment.
Bob Sinclar would scrutinize DJ Gilb’r, while the latter was observing DJ Gregory. And whenever one would decide to buy the record playing, the others would take out their wallets in frantic imitation.
Philippe would also spend hours upon hours lost in the bins at Bastille record stores like Beat Bonus. The store would soon be renamed BPM and, along with its new neighbor Rough Trade, became the mandatory hangouts for all fans of the contemporary scene. They were all there. Aspiring DJs like Philippe, but also well-known DJs, the wannabees and others. All of them had already met here and there, at one rave or another. And like the raves, hanging at BPM and Rough Trade meant belonging to a community that shared the same spirit.
On delivery day for the newly imported English records, not one regular would be absent. At Rough Trade, Ivan Smagghe – record seller, DJ and an iconic figure in the scene – would play each record on a turntable. Everyone reviewed the records silently, awaiting the reactions of the others. Bob Sinclar who was still calling himself “Chris The French Kiss,” would tremulously scrutinize DJ Gilb’r, while the latter was observing DJ Gregory out of the corner of an eye. And whenever one of them would get up and decide to buy the record playing, then the others would take out their wallets in frantic imitation. Philippe’s vinyl collection grew week by week and he was fast emerging as a perfect “bedroom DJ.”
Coming back from a rave, Philippe’s new apartment was the place to show up for the party to go on. The place was perfect. Situated on the top floor of a building, up a small staircase, a trapdoor opened onto the dream loft. Dancing under the morning sun rays penetrating the large skylight, having one last drink leaning on the kitchen counter, probably ending up crashing in one of Philippe’s three bedrooms… along with Étienne, their girlfriends and other friends. Parisian life.
Building magnificent castles in the air
As for David Blot, he was living in an apartment with wooden beams on Rue Marie Stuart. At 22, the son of Trotskyist militants too old to have experienced May 1968, he didn’t know where he was headed. In reality, very little apart from music truly excited David. Initially, he’d been a rock fan of the New Order stamp, and soon converted to acid house. In his room in the family apartment on Rue Daviel, the stacks of the French Inrocks music rag, which he accused of not having been able to adapt to techno, had been replaced by crumpled issues of English magazines like The Face and NME. The floor was littered with magazines and records bought every weekend in Bastille.
One morning, seated on a café terrace in the Montorgueil neighborhood, reading the daily newspaper Libération pinched from his father, he noticed a strange insert. Radio Nova, the hip radio station dedicated to alternative music, owned by the famous Jean-François Bizot and the station favored by the people from Actuel11The main organ of the “underground” press in the French language, also under the aegis of Jean-François Bizot, had published an ad indicating that it was looking for new faces to deliver “Le France Info de la musique” (the French music news). The idea was to set up a daily newsflash highlighting contemporary musical events.
Bounding up the stairs of his apartment building four steps at a time, he arrived home almost breathless, and phoned the institution on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine. It rang out. In a faltering voice, David asked to speak to the Director of Scheduling. Damn, he should have asked for the person in charge of radio shows! What an idiot. Oh well.
At the other end, the deep, smoky voice of Loïc Dury came on the line. He was the cool face of radio. David stammered: he was calling ‘cause he’d seen the advert and he was available to deliver French music news for Radio Nova. That’s all.
Loïc Dury was just coming out of a meeting. Radio Nova needed fresh blood. This funny music buff on the phone made a good impression on him, and so David Blot found himself hurtled into the Nova studios to assist Bintou, one of the presenters. Bintou was in charge of tips and recommendations about the top rave parties happening in Paris, and the show was a key point of reference for the Parisian clubbing community. The tips served as the ultimate itinerary plan. It would be down to David to supply Bintou with hot tips for going out.
Although he’d already been to some raves, David was not a compulsive partygoer. His new duties forced him to plunge into Parisian nightlife. He had to get to grips with the scene and dissect the guiding principles dividing Parisian clubbing. In 1994, those divisons were coming to a head. After a season alongside Bintou and another season in association with the kooks in charge of La Grosse Boule22An innovative show on Radio Nova hosted by the frequently provocative Edouard Baer and Ariel Wizman, David Blot was granted his own show called “Blot Job.” Every night of the week at 7:30 PM, David broadcast his listings of top events. Except for one thing: raves were swept from the agenda. Things were changing. Free parties had taken an extreme direction. It was no longer just about Goa trance, hardcore rhythms and murky raves. David, who still remembers a bad coming down experience that lasted nearly 48 hours, had cut the cord long ago.
Much like David, other ravers were moving away from their initial playground. Philippe Cerboneschi was another. The sound engineer had recently come down to earth with a bang. It was a Sunday morning. Philippe had not slept all night. When two friends suggested he join a rave in the late morning, he was up for it. He left as he was, grabbing the nearest coat to hand. And nothing else, on an empty stomach. On site, the sound engineer was swiftly disheartened. Divested of the happy and dreamy prism that the pills lent his vision, Philippe discovered another muddy, filthy reality. He never again set foot in a rave.
Frédéric Agostini, by this point, had long abandoned raves too. He wanted to launch a new kind of party. Completely different to the kind of clubs whose selective side he really loathed, this regular of the BPM record bins imagined parties held in unlikely venues where he would invite the top house DJs. These new parties were baptized “Xanadu.” The very first one would be held in a church.
David Blot, who played almost nothing else but house music on his show, lost no time in inviting Frédéric into the studio to promote them. David, a highbrow type, discovered what appeared to be his total opposite in Fred. With cropped hair and black eyebrows, Fred Agostini was a ball of energy, always on the alert, or ready with a good joke, poised to take advantage of an opportunity and network. Before starting the interview, Fred took David aside. With his cocky, loud smoker’s voice, the master of Xanadu had trouble lowering his voice to whisper: it was absolutely essential that his parties not be confused with raves. That would give the wrong impression!
So, of course, David playfully started his show with the killer question: “So why shouldn’t we call the Xanadu parties rave parties?” Following the interview, David Blot probably played a track from Daft Punk’s first single, with the band now signed on the Scottish label Soma. They were his latest craze. At one party or another, in the radio station corridors, on the terraces of bars... he would keep repeating the same mantra: Slowing the tempo to 100 BPM and filtering the sound was a simply awesome concept.
David knew Daft Punk well. All three belonged to the same circle of house music fans hanging out at the Bastille record stores and drinking at the What’s Up Bar. David had originally met them at a party organized at Thomas Bangalter’s (one half of Daft Punk) parents’ home on Rue Norvins in Montmartre. David was supposed to meet an acquaintance there, Serge Nicolas, the graphic designer to whom we owe the first Daft Punk logo. David soon grew friendly with the pair. To celebrate his 24th birthday, he threw a birthday party in the apartment where he had just moved alone, near the Rue Montorgueil. Casting a glance into his kitchen colonized by empty beer bottles, he discovered Guy-Manuel (the other half of Daft Punk) sprawled out on the kitchen floor, comfortably sleeping it off – a fundamental experience at the beginning of a true friendship.
Pedro already busy
The suggestions David promoted on his Blot Job radio show also included the Hype parties, pronounced “heepay,” organized in the smoking room of Le Palace nightclub. Fifteen years earlier, when they were not busy shimmying to disco on the floor below, the cream of the Parisian elite – the likes of philosopher Roland Barthes or the designer Yves Saint Laurent – were remaking the world by the light of the baroque chandeliers at Le Palace. But now, people were dancing to mesmerizing house beats.
The master of ceremonies no longer wore tailored suits, strangled by a bow tie à la Fabrice Emaer, the venue’s former promoter. The current manager preferred street wear, parading his lanky form in basketball shirts and sporting a gas station cap. Before becoming the clubbing kingpin of the most popular venue in the Rue du Faubourg Montmartre, Pedro Winter was first and foremost a skateboarder.
Pedro chose a name suggestive of the spirit of the times: his parties would be called Hype because they would be cool.
Pedro Winter grew up alone with his mother, who was in charge of Public Relations at RTL radio station, while his father knocked about the globe on behalf of the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs. After a few years being bored behind closed doors in a boarding school in the Issy-Les-Moulineaux suburb, Pierre (dubbed Pedro since a trip to Venezuela in 1989) headed straight to Paris. He was one of the guys hunting through the Rough Trade record bins in Bastille, squatting at the Radio FG studio where he partied with all the top DJs, lining up outside the Rex venue on Thursday evenings for Laurent Garnier’s Wake Up events and hanging out at Pigalle. He wasn’t yet 18, but everyone knew him in the small house music scene. With his good humor, easy smile and enthusiasm for discovering the world and its underbelly, the young man drew people to him.
Axel Huyhn, a former model for Jean Paul Gaultier, who managed the Folie’s Pigalle nightclub, also fell for this will o’ the wisp peacock he saw hitting his dance floor every weekend. He sensed he was onto a good thing and entrusted Pierre with the organization of events two Thursdays per month. Pierre chose a name suggestive of the spirit of the times: his parties would be called Hype because they would be cool. He invited the likes of DJ Gregory, Patrick Vidal or Dimitri From Paris. The parties proved a big hit. So much so that after four or five events, one day Winter received a call from a Parisian bigwig.
David Guetta, a former hip hop DJ, who had managed the Queen nightclub for a while, had just taken over the artistic direction of Le Palace and wanted to introduce a new, freer, lighter, less stuffy spirit. Pierre accepted straightaway. Whooping it up under the rococo paneling of Le Palace seemed massively exciting, like thumbing your nose at history. The young man devoted himself body and soul to his new project.
With his graphic designer friend, La Shampouineuse, he shaped a visual identity that would make his events unique on the Parisian scene. Flipping through press archives, he appropriated old kitschy images and turned them into flyers. But the truly inspired idea was to advertise everything in Spanish. And Pierre became Pedro. For a joke. Because it was all about having a laugh, having fun, doing anything to avoid boredom.
The neo-Hispanic spent his weeks navigating Paris in his famous Austin Mini car distributing flyers that could also be used as passes to the events. To the point of forgetting that he was still enrolled in high school. He pounded the pavement and hit the dance floor hard, but Pedro failed his high school diploma. He didn’t care. What counted was creating a successful party and booking the best DJs. In the dimness of the smoking room at Le Palace, a joyous melting pot of fashion editors, skateboarders, record storeowners and other unidentified night owls swayed their hips to sets mixed by the hottest DJs of the moment from Daft Punk to Ivan Smagghe. Even David Blot was invited behind the decks.
Around that time, Pedro Winter was listening to a mesmerizing track on repeat: “Flying Fingers.” A house bassline glossed with scratch and hip hop – a lovely piece deconstructing all genre rules. The track was produced by a band not known to the brigade, their name evoking a military division landed from a dark, industrial future: Motorbass. Over the course of yet another evening spent hanging out at Radio FG, Pedro Winter ran into a little brown-haired guy with an impish blue gaze. His name was Philippe Cerboneschi, a sound engineer. He also had a band – Motorbass. “Flying Fingers” was him! Pedro went nuts. Philippe absolutely had to play the Hype parties.
At Le Palace, Philippe, who called himself Zdar when he spun records solo, would soon get himself noticed after deciding in a fit of joyful madness to play the same track four or five times – the hymn “Funk Phenomena” by the New Yorker Armand van Helden – before following up with rap. A funny mixture not really to David Guetta’s taste, who lost no time in yelling at Philippe – like a crusader of grandpa-style clubbing where nothing should change or be mixed – to keep his house music hat on. Philippe only ever had one dream – to be a DJ. Playing music was what he enjoyed more than anything. At the very beginning when he would return from a rave to his tiny apartment on Rue Constance, accompanied by a string of hyperactive buddies, high as kites, the same scenario would always unfold: Philippe would select a few vinyls from his collection and mix until everyone fell asleep, drunk with blissed-out fatigue.
One evening, someone knocked on the studio door. Philippe was trapped.
But Philippe was dreaming of something else again. He wanted to mix on a larger scale, play to crowds, for real. He wanted to rock the crowd. Having said that, to become a DJ, and to become known as such, you had to have projects to produce. Perfect timing, because his assistant and future roommate, Étienne de Crecy, had the same creative inclinations. The two friends began to tinker with techno crossed with house. Motorbass was born. When they moved into an artist workshop on Rue Lepic, the duo set up two samplers in a corner. An Atari 1040 and S1000, and a Juno synthesizer soon accompanied by an 808 drum machine. And when they were not stuck beneath their large skylight fiddling with their machines, Philippe and Étienne trained in the gloom of the studio where they worked, the famous Plus XXX.
Philippe was mostly working with the rappers MC Solaar and Les Sages Poètes de la Rue. He didn’t dare speak to them and their entourages about his project or to the project managers from the record companies who looked in once in a while. Electronic music was bogged down with a lot of diehard clichés. Electro was seen as gay music or for druggies or Northern rednecks fond of carpet steering wheel covers and collecting Arbres Magiques33Little tree car air fresheners. So, at the end of each day, after everyone had gone home, Philippe would retreat behind the studio’s padded door and work through the night on the huge console at his disposal.
One evening, someone knocked on the door. It was Jimmy Jay, MC Solaar’s producer. Philippe was trapped. Jay asked him to let him listen to what he’d been up to in secret. Resigned, averting his eyes, he played the track and turned up the volume. He gritted his teeth. Jimmy Jay exploded. What he heard was awesome. The insistent, dark melody, the rhythmic claps, the perfectly interspersed riffs. It was all there. The producer had an idea: he walked round the console to the turntables and began to scratch on the instrumental.
The track would be called “Flying Fingers” – the lead track on the first Motorbass single. Along with his partner Étienne, Philippe pressed the record and designed the sleeve. He loaded the 7-inch 45-RPM singles into the trunk of his small Volkswagen Golf and headed to Amsterdam to sell them at Outer Limits. He then made his way to Antwerp and stopped at US Import. In Paris, he arrived back at Rough Trade, collapsing under records. As always, when a newcomer arrived to present his music, Ivan Smagghe would size him up, only half listening to him. He agreed to take a few copies. They were sold in less than a week and had to be urgently restocked. Several thousand copies of the single were sold – a small critical success that allowed Philippe and Étienne to become known to the electro microcosm.
A few weeks after the single’s release, Philippe was rummaging in the Rough Trade record bins. He came across the first release from the exciting Daft Punk signed on the Scottish label Soma. Floridian orange artwork with a big banner of the band’s azure blue logo. Below the mention of the two tracks – “Da Funk” and “Musique” – stuck in the middle of the credits printed in the same azure blue, Philippe discovered a funny little note: “Much respects to: Motorbass.”
He looked up. At the other end of the store, Philippe saw Thomas Bangalter; the slight body bent forward, head buried in bins full of Chicagoan techno. The two guys meet for the first time. Thomas mentioned his enthusiasm for the track “A Place Like Home” and the famous “tss tss” of the hi-hat. The single led to a deal with PIAS, who signed them for an album. But most importantly, Philippe had something to play during parties. Now, he was a DJ. After the Hype events, Fred Agostini contacted him for the Xanadu parties. It was June 1996. There was talk of a château a few kilometers from Paris. Everyone would be there.
God Save Le Queen
With the victory of the Right in the 1993 parliamentary elections, Edouard Balladur on the political right took his place behind the Prime Minister’s Louis XV desk. This mild man with the noble, quavering voice appointed a former businessman from the Ricard company to the Ministry of Interior. A man with a gruff Corsican accent, already the chief cop in France between 1986 and 1988 during Jacques Chirac’s period as Prime Minister. A guy said to have been involved in some mysterious business between paramilitary anti-colonialism and the oil business. Namely one Charles Pasqua. From his official residence of Place Beauvau, the Corsican from the Hauts-de-Seine department had rave parties in his sights. Too many drugs. Too dangerous. Too much freedom.
In January 1995, police prefectures and town halls received a document that listed the organizers of free parties and their supporters and detailed how to curb the phenomenon. Police raids immediately followed. So, on this particular evening in June 1996, the Seine-et-Marne county had taken steps to call on several police battalions to present themselves in a staggered formation at the gates of the Château de Vaux-le-Pénil.
Hours later, four uniformed police officers were attempting to stand up after breaking down Frédéric’s unlocked apartment door. The men in blue searched the apartment. They were looking for money, but also drugs. Anything that might be used to bring down this little thug who had been thumbing his nose at the police for far too long with his damned Xanadu parties. The bathroom was ransacked, various pots of cream emptied on the floor.
The couple was finally taken to the police station at Melun, which served the Vaux-le-Pénil municipality. The apartment would remain empty, with the bed unmade, the dressing table disemboweled, its drawers overturned on the carpet. However, the gram of speed tucked into the fold of an umbrella in a corner by the entrance was untouched. Frédéric’s girlfriend spent 24 hours in police custody.
Not Frédéric. At the police station, it was known that his father had contacts. A policeman yelled at him that nothing would get him out of there. He was finally released after 48 hours. Exhausted, dried sweat on skin and wearing the same clothes he had barely had time to get into before being extracted by force from his apartment. He was given an appointment with the judge for custody and release. Released, but with no less than 17 charges on his back, including endangerment of others, facilitating drug use, selling alcohol without a license and illegal work. His trial was set for a later date.
The last Xanadu party, probably the best party ever experienced by a good many people, marked the end of an era.
With the police keeping an eye on him, Fred was toast. The Xanadu parties were finished. But the guy was a compulsive partier. There had to be a solution for organizing parties in one place or another. What about nightclub dancefloors? There must be something new to do under the neon lights of the clubs. David Blot felt the same way.
The last Xanadu party, probably the best party ever experienced by a good many people, marked the end of an era. Pedro Winter’s Hype events had introduced a certain novelty in showcasing French DJs, but it had to go even further. Something that could consolidate the emergence of this new generation of producers who were shaping a modern, dance house music, which the British became accustomed to labeling the “French Touch.”
Across the Channel, and elsewhere in Europe and the world, the clubs and the press were all enamored of these young French innovators. People liked talking about DJ Cam, listening to productions by Dimitri From Paris or Saint Germain and dancing to tracks by Daft Punk and Motorbass. By contrast, once inside French borders, the French signature sound only skulked in the shadows. It was vital to continue organizing more and better parties.
Thibault Jardon had a problem. The artistic director of the Queen, the gay club on the Champs Elysées, couldn’t figure out what to do to fill his dance floor on Wednesdays. Wednesday was a cursed, halfway point – too close to the beginning of the week and too far from the weekend. On Wednesday evenings, there was never anyone at the Queen except for some gays lost in the night.
At the time, Radio FG had established itself as the reference hub for techno culture in Paris. Why not entrust Wednesday nights to the people at the radio station? They might perhaps succeed in attracting listeners to the Queen’s dance floor. And they had a network; they knew the DJs. At any rate, Jardon had nothing to lose. The promoter drew up a list of contacts and came across contact details for Jérôme Viger-Kohler, one of the figures at Radio FG, the host of a radio show called Plans Capitaux, where he broadcasted partying tips religiously every evening. The radio host was interested.
David Blot only knew Jérôme Viger-Kohler by name. Although they occupied the same niche in their respective radio stations, the two guys had never met. They hung out at the same record stores and went out to the same parties. They were both aware of who the other one was. But, at best, they nodded to each other from afar. A few days after being contacted by the Queen, Jérôme was strolling near his apartment on Rue Montmartre. David lived nearby. The two radio presenters passed each other on Rue Mandar. Jérôme took this opportunity to shout across at his colleague and tell him about the project for events at the Champs Élysées club. Maybe he would like to be involved? A nice arrangement, as it fitted perfectly with what David and Frédéric had been planning to do since the last Xanadu party!
For David, the Queen evoked fond memories. Back when David Guetta was in charge of the art direction at the Queen, Blot had seen big house music names for the first time there, including David Morales and Little Louie Vega. The Queen was the perfect club; the gays who made it their headquarters had always been at the forefront of house culture. To inject added verve to the project, Frédéric proposed involving the young Pedro Winter, who had created a real following with the Hype events. Pedro agreed and visited the Queen a few days later, accompanied by Thibault Jardon. The place was huge, with a staircase descending to the dance floor, the bar on the left, nets raining down from the ceiling to the VIP area. Pedro immediately pictured himself there; he imagined creating a skate ramp like in a recent video he’d seen.
As a meeting was being planned to finalize the project, Pedro received a call from Thomas Bangalter, one half of Daft Punk. He wanted to see him to talk about something. Pedro asked about what exactly? Thomas said he would tell him in person. The two were as thick as thieves after meeting a year earlier at a party in London. Daft Punk played live on the Ministry of Sound dance floor. Pedro was there. Being a couple of French guys lost in a sea of Brits, a friendship was born. Their bond was clear, almost organic. The Daft Punkers felt like they had always known this dude who never seemed to mislay his smile.
The day of the lunch, Thomas lost no time beating about the bush. He and his band mate Guy-Manuel were preparing the release of their first album. They needed someone to help them manage the business end of things. It had to be Pedro. They trusted him. Pedro dropped his cutlery. He had just turned 21. He didn’t know where the Dafts were headed. He knew nothing about their new tracks, or what deal they might sign with whichever record company. But he didn’t care. He liked the idea. High fives all round. Too bad for David, Fred and Jérôme. They understood his decision: Everything relating to Daft Punk at that time seemed so exciting.
“This is the next generation of the night,” he blurted out, banging his fist on the table.
So David, Fred and Jérôme met at Philippe Fatien’s office, the famous boss of the Queen. With his horse rider physique, St Tropez boardwalk sun tan, and blond combed-back mane, the man held court at the top of a small staircase. He was excited about meeting the famous Pedro Winter whom everyone had spoken about with such enthusiasm. “This is the next generation of the night,” he blurted out, banging his fist on the table.
Eventually, after his artistic director informed him that the young Pedro would not be in the mix after all, Fatien was taken aback. What was the point of the others showing up then? The event was supposed to be Winter’s gig. Fatien scowled at these three other boys. He didn’t know who they were or what to say to them. Jérôme explained that he worked for Radio FG. Fatien frowned. The same when David described his role at Radio Nova. Ultimately, it didn’t matter. Without this Winter, there would be no party. At that moment, the phone rang. It was his son’s doctor. After hanging up, he stared at his three visitors and announced with a predatory expression, “When are we starting?”
The first event was scheduled for Wednesday, October 2, 1996. They still had to find a name. It would be “Respect.” As in “Respect The DJ.” It was Ivan Smagghe who came up with the idea. For the face of the Rough Trade record store, it was about repositioning the DJ at the center of clubbing, formalizing their status under the midnight sun – a motto perfectly in sync with the one conceived by David, Fred and Jérôme.
The “Respect” trio also wanted to design an original way of communicating about the event. They decided to create a collection of small trading cards. A short article would be written on the back to introduce the lineup. For the opening night, the mini-article introduced the concept of the Respect parties and the need for France to be proud of its techno and club heritage.
A monster line formed on the Champs Elysees. It was as though there had always been a demand for this alternative clubbing. In order to gain entry to the venue, punters presented the trading cards Frédéric had distributed all over town by scooter. Inside, after the Balearic warm up assured by José Padilla of the Café del Mar, Daft Punk took over. Before going behind the DJ booth, Guy-Manuel pretended to have a stomachache. He asked for a bucket. David was petrified. Surely he wouldn’t repeat the same stunt as at his birthday party when he’d passed out! Daft Punk absolutely had to play. Guy-Manuel beamed, delighted with his prank.
On the opening night of Respect, Pedro Winter was present. Even though he couldn’t take part in the project, he wanted to be there to support his friends. And his two new protégés were playing that night. For the best part of a year now, Pedro had been working full time for Daft Punk. He was even a salaried employee in their small publishing house, Daft Trax. Initially, Pedro began by spending time in the offices of Thomas’ father, Daniel Vangarde, a former producer for La Compagnie Créole44A popular French pop band.
The Daft Trax Company eventually took up residence on Rue Durantin in Montmartre. Located under the white railings of a playground, the office was composed of two rooms. At the back, amid boxes of records, Gildas Loaec, Guy-Manuel’s roommate, handled the distribution of labels created by Daft Punk, Roulé and Crydamoure. There was also Cédric Hervet, their old friend, the third Daft Punker. Pedro furnished the first room with a desk, a turntable and a calendar on the wall. The fax was still there, but now accompanied by a computer – a PowerBook. Pedro learned how to send his first emails.
Along with Thomas, they both purchased an Itinéris cell phone from the Darty electronics store. Their numbers were the same except for the last two digits. Pedro was in regular contact with the Virgin marketing teams. Every day, he was learning on the job how the music industry operated. And when he blundered, he could always rely on Thomas’ father.
Soon, Pedro Winter’s life would be totally interwoven with that of Daft Punk. Nothing else existed. The law courses he had promised to attend in September 1996 faded away. The Hype events were even further in the past. When he went out to clubs, he was with Daft Punk. Elsewhere, too. In the office, at Virgin and even at home. Daft Punk visited his studio apartment occasionally and became friends with the tenant below, a good friend of Pedro’s and a surfing fan named Stéphane, who mixed under the name DJ Falcon.
Thomas and Guy-Manuel were Pedro’s bosses, colleagues and his best friends too. Practically his family. And the worldwide release of Homework, the long awaited debut album, in January 1997, only refined the rituals of this very special daily routine that hovered at the limits of reality. Sales of the record were snowballing across continents, with booking requests flooding in. Sometimes Pedro found himself on tour with the duo, buried amid the big shapeless Delsey suitcases packed with samplers and drum machines, pre-wrapped in blankets and bath towels.
At 66 Rue Lepic, meanwhile, the atmosphere was not particularly festive. A story was coming to an end. Étienne de Crécy decided to leave the famous loft to move in with his girlfriend. For his friend Philippe, studio partner and turntable sidekick, it was painful. As though he was undergoing an amputation. Without Étienne, life in the loft would never be the same. No more endless nights tinkering with their machines beneath the skylight, or happy evenings spent remaking the world over the kitchen counter.
Motorbass was buried in one fell swoop, without any real explanation. A divorce as sudden as it was silent, seething with things left unsaid.
Philippe wanted to grab hold of Étienne and tell him how much more they still had to do. He could not. He joined his friend in the studio. Étienne played the latest tracks he’d been working on. The two friends had nothing more to say. Impeccable, purring and rocking house. Philippe recovered his smile. These tracks would be perfect for Motorbass. Etienne quickly dampened his enthusiasm: he had started working on a new project. Solo. It was called Super Discount. Philippe was dumbstruck. After an album released in the fall of 1996 entitled Pan Soul, Motorbass would be buried in one fell swoop, without any real explanation. A divorce as sudden as it was silent, seething with things left unsaid. Étienne didn’t dare tell his partner that he was holding a grudge, for example, because Philippe had taken ownership of the Motorbass name.
Philippe kept looking back on his friend’s departure from Rue Lepic. Motorbass was organic, a project operating on the principle of routine osmosis beneath a skylight. When Étienne left the apartment, the band was bound to wither away. Motorbass was the project of a life together, arm in arm, day and night. Nothing else. The loft would never recover. Philippe and the other housemates soon packed their suitcases.
Zdar ended up with his friend Cédric in a little flat on Rue Coysevox, at the foot of Montmartre. On the second floor with little light and no kitchen. The DJ felt pathetic, as though he had lost everything. He regretted everything: Étienne, raves and pills, touring the belt highway at high speed. He invited Daft Punk to dinner. They were struggling to hide their disappointment. Everyone had told them so much about this sunlit skylighted apartment. Philippe sighed, crestfallen.
Around that period, he grew closer to his friend Hubert, a studio roadie with whom he’d worked on Solaar’s first albums and published some instrumentals for the English label Mo’ Wax. Hubert, son of the engineer Dominique Blanc-Francard, brother of the singer Sinclair, was a tough nut keen on black music. He had only started listening to house very recently, after a few months spent in New York, where his girlfriend at the time was dancing for the famous Alvin Ailey Company. He’d never set foot in a rave, but he absorbed the Sound Factory sounds and even produced a track.
With Cassius, Virgin was certain that it’d found a new version of this “French Touch” that laid golden eggs wherever it passed.
Philippe listened to it. He liked it, but found it too slow. He added pace. The release was “Foxy Lady,” under the name L’Homme Qui Valait Trois Milliards (The Three Million Dollar Man). With Hubert, Philippe seemed to have recovered that half so suddenly lost. He liked feeling, once more, those sensations he’d been missing. The listening to and observing of a partner, letting minds infuse as a duo. Hubert and Philippe changed their name: Cassius. And when Virgin boss, Emmanuel de Buretel, visited them in their studio at 80 Rue des Martyrs, he listened to some demos and promised them a contract, certain that he’d found a new version of this “French Touch” that laid golden eggs wherever it passed.
Philippe beamed. And he was ecstatic when he escaped his hovel on Rue Coysevox for good. He stumbled upon the apartment of his dreams on Rue Ramey, which was located on the other side of the Montmartre hill. After visiting it, he rushed to the nearest ATM, withdrew 1,000 francs and pleaded with the realtor, his hands full of bank notes. Scarcely moved in, with his head full of ideas, he installed himself behind the machines and imagined a melody transformed by a robotic gimmick: “Cassius is in the house.”
To set it to images, the music video makers Alex and Martin came up with a great cartoon-like video. Finally, the initial enthusiasm past, Philippe calmed down: the concept was good, but something was wrong. It lacked something. Philippe asked Thomas Bangalter whether Daft would be able to do a remix. No. Appending the duo’s name to the track would be a disservice to him, claimed the Punks. Philippe was cross. Hubert had started to work on a light dance track. Why not mix the two? This became “99,” the ultimate Cassius track, with booming sales buoyed by Alex and Martin’s video, which had been reedited for the occasion. It was all over MTV.
Respect Is Burning
In Paris, while an alliance of the left, led by the new Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, moved its majority into the Palais Bourbon, the Queen club was being feted on the Champs-Elysées. The Respect parties were touted as the top parties in town. Celebrities passing through Paris like Calvin Klein, Queen Latifah, Malcolm McLaren or Jarvis Cocker mixed with the ever-increasing numbers of house fans. People danced without stopping until Thursday morning. Clubbers included the breakers from Les Halles, dandies from St. Germain, the zazous66The name attributed to a French youth subculture associated with swing who adopted an eccentric sartorial style similar to zoot suit fashion in America from the suburbs, the retired ravers, etc.
The days of David, Frédéric and Jérôme were increasingly busy with organizing the events. They met regularly at Jérôme’s place to determine the lineup for the following Wednesday and stuff envelopes with the small trading cards they now sent via mail to hundreds of regulars. On the sofa, David, Frédéric and Jérôme spent much of their time arguing.
David, whose life was still structured by his shows on Radio Nova, criticized the other for the mess polluting his daily life. In response, Fred, who seemed to live entirely off love, cold water and the skunk smoked on his couch, scoffed at the underground desires of his partner. But these misunderstandings always ended in hugs, orchestrated by Jérôme, below the smoke rings coiling around them.
In late 1997, David suggested to the other two that they kill off the events while they were at their peak. He was thinking of Manchester’s Factory. He liked this idea, finding it romantic. Frédéric refused. They got into a row. Finally, David relented, and, little by little, was even more sucked into Respect. Soon, his life completely revolved around those sacred Wednesday evenings. He dropped the radio show, as there was no longer any time for it. Above all, he realized that his job for Nova had never offered him the recognition and status he now enjoyed. David was flattered by the attention. He was surprised at how much he liked it.
Lured by the buzz attached to the parties, several record companies made covert advances to the three boys who had not yet turned 30. Respect was a powerful brand. Its market potential begged to be developed with records, merchandising and parties bearing the Respect seal. Inspired by the idea, the trio teamed up with Virgin on the advice of their friends Daft Punk. The first compilation was released immediately afterwards, introduced with the lead track by Catalan FC: “Respect Is Burning.”
Everyone wanted the Respect sound. Everyone wanted their own Respect party. David, Frédéric and Jérôme began travelling, wielding the Respect brand. They brought DJs to Fuse in Brussels and to Vega in Copenhagen. America awaited, Asia too. The explosion of Respect, which had become an international sound, merged with the voracious, gargantuan success of the French Touch. The French were everywhere. The Respect team was in Kuala Lumpur when Cassius landed in Tokyo, while Daft Punk toured in Australia.
It was a brilliant and freewheeling period, far removed from the lives of mere mortals, during which the boys accumulated lasting memories.
Philippe took advantage of a Detroit show to take a taxi and roam the streets of this mythical city, which had long been so dear to his heart. At the Dance Mania record store, he was offered the chance to buy an entire post-disco record collection. He was on the verge of taking out a mortgage. Philippe was sky high. While his girlfriend was pregnant, he decided to leave for Australia for a show he really wanted to see. (The couple didn’t stay together.)
In Caracas, Venezuela, Frédéric couldn’t believe his eyes when he discovered that the event’s sponsor arrived every hour to hand over wads of cash to police officers securing the villa where the party was held, while the early-to-bed neighboring German ambassador tried to shut the party down.
In New York, Pedro found himself alone in a limousine chartered by Virgin’s big boss, Nancy Berry, known for her orgiastic, wild parties, after both Daft Punks had given him the slip.
David remembers one particular party organized for the release of Lars Von Trier’s film Dancer in the Dark in the hills above Cannes during the annual film festival. With the sun rising over the oily Mediterranean, a high-speed dash ensued to catch a plane to Nice that would take them to Paris from where they were then supposed to fly to New York. They arrived completely stoned on the plane before getting off again a few minutes before take-off to the astonished stares of the captain and crew.
And Fred laughs till he cries on hearing for the thousandth time the story of that night in Australia spent playing records and taking planes. Midnight in the Respect tent set up on Bondi Beach in Sydney, then on to a Melbourne club at 2 AM, and back to Sydney for a 5 AM afterparty in a bowling alley where they were “striking” left, right and center.
Sometimes the entire tribe would gather for a Respect party. Fifteen of them on the plane, smoking like chimneys in the smoking area. Or paddling together in the Olympic pool of Miami’s National Hotel during the Winter Music Conference before going dancing with Iggy Pop.
At the time, the Respect team also pulled off a residency at Twilo, the former Sound Factory. A legendary club, drifting like a shadow in the psyche of all clubbers worldwide. Located at 530 West 27th Street, this was a Dantesque warehouse clad in white beams traversing a huge space. The Respect team was there every month. And they brought Daft Punk and Cassius along with them. Pedro Winter had never seen such a beautiful club in his whole life. It was a shock, to be there in the temple of his idols. After that, he could die happy. Zdar had trouble breathing, gasping at the hazy beauty of the spaces, the perfection of the flawlessly regulated sound. Behind the booth, he recalled the misery of the old Altec Lansing speakers in the small basement disco of his father’s hotel located near the Val d’Isere ski resort in the Alps.
They described themselves as members of a new, terribly exclusive secret society: the “destitute jet set.”
One night at Twilo, Zdar introduced Pedro to a young Parisian DJ and producer with a luminous face. A genius DJ, member of the rap band Idéal J, who knew how to unpick loops like no one else. They had worked together on Solaar’s last album. Zdar suggested that he accompany him to New York. His name was DJ Medhi. Pedro was rapt. The first would end up being best man at the second’s wedding. Best friends for life.
David, Frédéric and Jérôme generally travelled on freebies. They jetsetted across the world in business class. Five-star trips including the hotels and restaurants visited away from home. Yet despite a high society life sufficient enough to make Croesus green with envy, the Respect team didn’t have a cent to their name. Their events allowed them to see the world and party, but they were penniless. Their credit cards never worked. They crashed in cramped apartments, the floor carpeted with yellowing flyers. They laughed about it and liked describing themselves as members of a new, terribly exclusive secret society: the “destitute jet set.”
They got out of Paris whenever they had the chance. Especially as they had shut down the Respect parties, tired of repetition, freaked out by the second-rate selection processes that were beginning to turn French house into its own caricature, with DJs who could effortlessly lift the crowd at any given moment without even trying, and record companies that seemed to want to suck the French Touch concept down to the marrow by signing a horde of ingratiating bands with no individual style.
So the Respect team continued to notch up the miles, spreading the French Touch from one continent to another. On December 31, 1999, Pedro and Daft Punk were in London, accompanied by Cassius. They went to a big dinner organized by the Virgin bigwigs. That evening, the French managed to make their English cronies sing “La Marseillaise” at the top of their lungs. France was the world champion in football and the French Touch was at its height.
It was a coronation undeniably consummated a year later when the Respect team was invited to organize a party in the housebound old playboy Hugh Hefner’s mansion in Los Angeles. Dimitri From Paris was at the decks again. Frédéric wandered about in a bathrobe, occasionally winking at the bunnies. David took a dip in the famous grotto under the amused eyes of Spike Jonze and Sofia Coppola. Kylie Minogue was there too. Frédéric had met her the day before in a club and spent the afternoon at her villa diving in the pool perfumed with the aroma of a neighbor’s barbecue. The Respect team splashed, tanned and sniffed. They made the most of the good times. They would not last forever.
In 2002, France’s national football team made a woeful exit in the first round of the World Cup held in South Korea and Japan. After a world championship in 1998 and European title two years later, France collapsed, abruptly sidelined. The French Touch also wobbled under the battering of neo-rock that invaded the streets without warning. The Strokes released their debut album and the whole world was enraptured.
Philippe and Hubert had just put the finishing touches on their second album, Au Rêve. The supreme record in which they infused all their desires, inspired by the recipes that had led to the success of their first album 1999. For them, there could be no doubt – the album would be huge. If they had been successful once, this could only continue. History followed a logical progression, needless to say.
Alas, the maximum house of Au Rêve was devoured whole by the minimum rock of The Strokes and the offspring they engendered pretty much everywhere. For 1999, Philippe figured that he and Hubert were interviewed more than 120 times. For their new album, only one promotional day was planned in London. Four journalists appeared to interview the duo in the Virgin offices. There was a representative from a magazine, a fanzine and two websites. It was over in just one hour.
The Cassius team had cried with happiness upon finishing the production of “Hi Water,” one of the lead tracks of the new album, and now they were being accused of being hackneyed. And to think that barely one or two years ago... Well, if history does not necessarily follow the same perfectly ploughed furrow, it sometimes bounces back. In 2006, Cassius released the single “Toop Toop” and the machine would be rebooted.
The Respect team were no longer partying either. After the madness down under and in Beverly Hills, David, Frédéric and Jérôme grew disillusioned. Party bookings were becoming more rare. By dint of roaming the world and being constantly in transit, the boys were shaking with fatigue, lethargy, everything. In Ghent, Belgium, leaning against the bar at yet another party, David was surprised to realize that he didn’t actually know where he was. He heard some people talking French, and others speaking Flemish. He felt himself checking out, drunk. The blackout lasted several seconds.
Another time, in Lausanne, David went out as excited as ever, with a stuffed nose. Accompanied by Jérôme, he asked where they should go for an after party. They were told that Lausanne’s a small town; there was nothing left to do except go to bed at that hour. It started to rain. They both returned to the hotel, bedraggled and soaked. In his room, David lay down on his bed and fell asleep with the Swiss-German television on in the background. He woke up a few hours later, nauseous, with sticky fingers, a few crumpled pages of yesterday’s Libération newspaper within reach. He wanted to go back to sleep, forget everything. He’d had enough of these parties, the nightlife, away from the world and emotions. He’d had his fill.
If the ’90s were euphoric, the ’00s were a downer, a brutal backlash.
Back in Paris, alone in his small apartment in Montorgueil, David didn’t have much to do; no more radio shows to record or flyers to send. He would have liked to sit on a terrace with a friend, but with who? His wanderings across the globe had removed him from the world. And his best friend, Mathias, with whom he’d published a comic book on the life and evolution of electronic music not long before, had committed suicide. David was missing something. Ultimately, how could he keep living like before? We all become adults at some point.
Gradually picking up his sedentary lifestyle, David started to rediscover Paris, tiptoeing into the Pulp nightclub where Ivan Smagghe – the same guy who had wanted DJs to be respected – was now calling to demystify them with the Kill The DJ parties. David couldn’t get excited about the electroclash then invading the dance floors, nor about Radiohead who were electrifying the festivals at that time. If the ’90s were euphoric, the ’00s were a downer, a brutal backlash.
David lived any old way, spending money loaned to him without paying much attention. He scraped by. Frédéric too. They were both depressed. Over 30 now, they had no children. Alone. Had the eternal teenagers missed out on something? While their friend Jérôme would escape the torpor of Paris and move to New York, they quickly revived their Respect parties on the deck of the Concorde Atlantique boat under the name Été d’amour (Summer of Love). Parties for late afternoons. They were a success, of course. Little by little, David and Frédéric got back on their feet.
And what about Pedro Winter? In 2001, while Daft Punk succeeded in extricating themselves from the watering down process diluting the French Touch and rose above the fray with their second album, Discovery, Pedro left the offices on Rue Durantin. During the move, he came across the costume for the “Around the World” music video in the cellar, eaten up by mold. He was so stupid! He should have protected these archives that were now vintage. In just five years, Daft Punk had become kings of the world. Oh well.
Leaving the office to Gildas who was then starting the Kitsuné adventure, Pedro took up residence in a small premises formerly occupied by a computer company at 12 Rue Ramey. Philippe from Cassius had tipped him to it. In his new premises, Pedro prepared a new career. Daft Punk no longer really needed him full time, so he left Daft Trax to launch his management company called Headbangers Entertainment.
The former skateboarder, organizer of the Hype parties and right hand man of the masked duo began to work part-time for them and started to stand on his own two feet. Not even 30 years old, he seemed to have already lived a thousand lives. He had slightly longer hair now and a bit of a beard, but he was still proudly wearing his Thrasher T-shirts. In 2003, he launched his own label: Ed Banger Records. DJ Medhi would be one of his first signings. But that’s another story. And there are many more.
This story first appeared in the 28th issue of Snatch Magazine in November 2014.
A co-founder of now-defunct monthly publication Snatch Magazine, Raphael Malkin is a journalist and currently works with Society and Radio Nova. A book inspired by this story is due out on November 17th 2015 via Le Mot et le Reste, with the title Music Sounds Better With You.