Saturday 22 January 2022

M❤∞ - Celebrating DJ Mehdi

Ed Banger Records is a very important label to me, one of the first that I started following in earnest and one that was a huge influence on myself. My taste in art, fashion and of course electronic music as a whole owed a lot to the Ed Rec crew - part of the reason I ended up writing here in the first place is because as a teen I was hooked on Electro House. Ed Banger, among others, were (and are!) quality purveyors of the genre. While my days of blog surfing for the next hottest dancefloor destroyer are behind me, the memories I have still shine bright and come back from time to time - I still have my 'Cool Cats' snapback on my desk and even use the old Cool Cats logo as my avatar in a few places!

The Ed Rec crew of the past and present is a real who's who of the electronic world, which over the years has seen many huge names join the ranks: Mr. Oizo, SebastiAn, Brekabot, Feadz, DSL, Mr. Flash and of course, Justice to name but a few. Yet out of all of them, there is one man who means just a little more to me than the rest - Mehdi Favéris-Essadi, better known as DJ Mehdi. Mehdi is behind some of my favourite tunes ever from the label, he's the man behind the first ever album released on Ed Banger Records, the Electro / Hip Hop fusion of Lucky Boy. I remember loving every single picture of him playing live sets because he always looked like he was having an absolutely amazing time. In a lot of those pictures, label master Pedro Winter (Better known as Busy P) is usually there too, also grinning from ear to ear - that isn't something exclusive to Mehdi's live sets though, any time there was an event with a few of the Ed Rec folk playing you could usually spot him up there too. This camaraderie was something else I really admired about the Ed Banger squad, when they teamed up to do remixes or DJ sets under the 'Ed Banger Allstars' banner it was always going to be a real good time.

In September 2011, DJ Mehdi would pass away after an unfortunate accident. The whole thing felt surreal, Mehdi had just played live the weekend before, and I had already experienced the death of a musician I loved already that year with Trish Keenan of Broadcast. I remember getting so excited when former site owner Jordan got the chance to interview the man himself before I became part of the team. Condolences from contemporaries and institutions soon followed, you can see some of them archived here on a DJ Mag article from the time. It still feels fresh in my mind, to the point where I actually missed that it's been over 10 years since that all happened.

As cliché as it sounds, the beautiful thing is that whenever someone in the creative field passes, their work survives - and the Ed Banger crew have done plenty of work on that front. Loukoums, a previously super rare mixtape type thing Mehdi did in the vein of J Dilla's Donuts was published on Ed Banger's soundcloud not long after - a selection of demos and off cuts from the run up to Lucky Boy. It's a 40 minute crash course in Mehdi's unique brand of Electro and Hip Hop - one that made him a perfect fit for Ed Banger.

Some choice timestamps for you to get started: 6:40 is a great stripped back beat with some decidedly nervous synths and the transition into the next track at 8:15 is killer every single time, the fusion of sounds on show is incredible and when the beat drops at around the 8:44 I fall in love all over again. The sudden dunk into something a little more funky at 19:43 foreshadows the eventual collaboration with Chromeo that would appear on Lucky Boy proper in I Am Somebody. Head to 30:28 to hear some good old fashioned French House in that Daft Punk / Crydamoure style, but through a Mehdi lens. The variety on show here is just amazing, and only further cemented Mehdi's position as one of my all time favourite producers.

Which brings us to the actual reason I drafted up this post in the first place - just a few days ago, the world was treated to new release from Mehdi, he's not alone mind you, it's a collaboration between Busy P, Santigold and Benjamin Epps. The story behind this newest piece is worth a post on its own: Originally started as a jam session between P and Mehdi in a rented New York apartment on their MPC 2000 and 3000 respectively, it got saved, but then ended up lost along the way. Fast forward twenty years, and Busy P finds the floppy disk with the jam saved on it. Dusting it off and giving it a new coat of paint, we have the fittingly titled MPC 2021. In a way, it's like Mehdi was never gone - the sample has his hallmarks all over it and P has done an amazing job finishing it up. While I haven't been keeping up with all things Ed Banger in recent years, I immediately felt right back at home as soon as I hit play. Mixmag also did a great rundown of it and a little Q&A with Busy P that you can read here.

I thought I'd round out with a couple more of my favourite Mehdi tracks, starting with one that I must have heard thousands of times - one that is iconically Mehdi all over. Whenever I was trying to introduce folk to the world of Ed Banger, I would point them towards the Ed Rec compilations - when Vol. 3 came out, it became my go to example of what the crew were all about. Pocket Piano is one of many standouts from the tracklist, once again highlighting Mehdi's ear for samples. It's not quite the massive electro house bangers that come to mind when you think of the era, but it is one of the tunes I think embodies the real mixture of styles and genres that are woven into the DNA of the Ed Banger identity.

The orchestral version made for the 15th anniversary of Ed Banger, the fittingly French 15 Ans was a beautiful tribute. It appears alongside many other heavy hitters from the Ed Banger catalogue. An amazing feat if only for the difficulty of adapting some of those tunes to the orchestra format, at the same time though some of them like Pocket Piano feel much more suited to it. Watching it back now as I write this I couldn't help but smile as the iconic melody made its appearance, as the wave of realisation sweeps over the crowd and the cheers rise, it all combines to make something really incredible. I'll admit I was skeptical when it was all first announced, the whole 'playing electronic music with an orchestra' was done quite a bit around the time - an opinion coloured by many a 'Ibiza Club Classics' ones that I'd seen which ranged in quality quite a bit. In hindsight was more than a bit foolish, of course they were not going to cut corners with it, they only went and got the Orchestre Lamoureux!

And finally, I could never write up a post like this without mentioning Signatune. The original is a nice little interlude on Lucky Boy, a classic jam in the style of Loukoums above - nice enough on its own but the real highlight is a reworking of it that would appear on the Lucky Girl EP and later the Lucky Boy At Night re-release. A remix by someone you may have heard of: a one Thomas Bangalter. You may recognise his name from some house records as-is, but if the name doesn't ring any bells you may know him better as the silver half of Daft Punk. It's not super complicated, Bangalter just took the main hook of of Signatune and added a beat to it - but the end result is, and remains, potentially my favourite electro house tune of the era by some ways. To this day if and when it comes up on shuffle I take the time to revisit, and just for a few minutes I'm teleported back to that time in my life. An absolute monster of a tune by two legendary figures, one that I will be still as excited to hear another 10 years from now as I am now.

And that'll be all for now. I thought I'd take a different approach that just talking about the new tune. It's been fun looking back, it's been a long time since I've talked about Mehdi as well, so I figured I owed him at least that much. Ed Banger will forever an important step on my music listening career, and I love that they're still active to this day. As I've gone through the old archives and restored a whole heap of the old posts, it's been remarkable how many people have connected over a mutual love of Ed Banger over the years - hell, as I mentioned above I probably wouldn't be here writing this now if it weren't for them, and I'll forever be thankful for that.

I'm going to go on my own extended Mehdi retrospective now, going to start with his debut album (The Story Of) Espion and work forwards from there, my favourite from it is Anything Is Possible, which I think is a fitting note to end on.

Until next time, as always, stay safe and enjoy the music.


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