“I Rode The Storm”: Todd Edwards, the inspiring force of Daft Punk and the British garage

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“I Rode The Storm”: Todd Edwards, the inspiring force of Daft Punk and the British garage


TThe video keeps getting deleted from YouTube, but every time it does someone else uploads it again: choppy footage from a camera of a man wearing a home made t-shirt that reads Jesus Loves UK Garage, DJ at an Essex club in 2003. The crowds at Romford are going crazy – the man is Todd Edwards, an American house producer whose rough production style had exerted a such an influence on the British garage scene that he had come to be known as Todd the God – but the object of their cult looks, as he now puts it, ‘scared to death’: the smile on his face is strangely fixed and motionless, in a way that suggests not enjoyment, but terror.

He had, he explains today, never really DJed in a club before, certainly not in front of 1,500 people. Edwards had previously declined all pleas to come to the UK, despite the fact that his music was much better known and more successful here than at home. Besides, he had almost no idea what a British garage club was. His clubbing experience had largely consisted of hanging out around the New York Sound Factory Bar booth, hoping resident DJ Little Louie Vega would play one of his tracks; a visit to Zanzibar, the Newark club where Tony Humphries had pioneered his original American gospel-influenced garage, ended in disaster when Edwards’ car was towed away.

“The American DJ was pretty cool, calm, serene, it was like that dark thing,” he said on a video call from his home in Los Angeles. “I mean, I didn’t know what a rewind was. I didn’t know there were MCs singing and annoying the crowd and stuff. The communication between the audience and the DJ was unlike anything I had seen before. Which gave me a new admiration for what DJing was in the first place.

Edwards at Bridges.

He was, he concedes, a highly unlikely figure for the hero cult, which had helped start a musical revolution in Britain – the British garage went through and spawned many Top Five hits – entirely by accident. Edwards had only started doing house songs in the early 90s under the savage misunderstanding that it “seemed easy enough, much simpler than pop music.” Inspiration hit the gym in the unlikely form of an Enya album. “I needed a break from house and disco, so I was listening to something new age, and I was like: she uses her voice for the instruments, she harmonizes and her voice blends in. background, it’s like you can barely understand what she’s singing – it’s a cool concept. What if I started sampling the vocals as well as the instruments? “

Todd Edwards’ signature production style was born – floor foursome beats with noticeable swing; vocal samples cut into tiny fragments and reassembled in what writer Simon Reynolds memorably called “the blissful hiccup.”

A devout Christian, Edwards sometimes slipped “sort of subliminal messages” into his faith in the hypnotic patchwork of sound. “They were there if you wanted them, but I made sure the music was funky. It wasn’t like bad Christian rock where the emphasis was on the message and the music just fell short. His records performed well in New York clubs, but for some reason they had more of an impact overseas. Parisian producer Ludovic Navarre – better known as St Germain – named him on a track, and asked him to remix his single Alabama Blues. Then Daft Punk put him on their list of influences on their 1997 track Teachers.

His friend and colleague DJ David Camacho returned from Europe with the unlikely news that Edwards was ‘big in England’, especially on a stage that had popped up in house halls at drum’n’bass raves and during ‘a succession of after-hours. evenings in London pubs, where DJs had taken to playing American house tracks at up to 130 bpm: the wordless vocals from Edwards’ dub mixes worked because they didn’t sound cartoonish at that speed. “Then Mike Weiss from [New York’s] Nervous Records was like: there’s this whole thing out there called the Sunday Scene, it absolutely surrounds your music, you could clean up if you go DJ there. That’s when I really realized there was something going on.

But Edwards didn’t go. “I wish I was strong enough and in a better place to enjoy it, but I was messy in my twenties, suffering from depression and insecurity, social issues. I was insecure, I was nervous, I was vulnerable. It’s funny, because I’m a very talkative person and I’ll talk to anyone now, but back then… I was going through so much. So here I am successful and I couldn’t really take full advantage of it. There is nothing to complain about – sometimes this is how it works.

In a sense, his steadfast non-appearance during the British garage explosion worked in his favor, developing such an aura of mystery around him that, as he once noted, “a lot of people thought I ‘was a black Englishman’. And there were other opportunities: Daft Punk asked him to collaborate on their hit second album, Discovery; he ended up co-writing and singing “like the guy from Foreigner” on Face to Face, a fantastic fusion of Edwards’ signature style with the duo’s brilliant disco machine.

Likewise, it was undoubtedly a missed opportunity: You couldn’t tell from the video of his first appearance as a DJ, but by the time Edwards had armed himself enough to come to Britain, the British garage popularity was waning. Three years after receiving a hero’s welcome at Romford, Edwards had given up music altogether, broke and in the throes of depression. When Daft Punk contacted him, asking if he wanted to come to their period live performance at Coachella, he was too unhappy to return their call.

“It was almost like the yin and yang scene in a movie – like you see them doing well and here I am, deep down and embarrassed, no energy to do it. There was no money coming in; I had a house for a little while and ended up selling it. It was as if I was stepping back. You feel frustrated – it’s emasculating to a degree. I had to go back to my parents. I was getting bad advice from counseling – so many negative things. I worked for two years in customer service at a phone company, Verizon, answering calls, almost in tears every day. I was banking for a customer service job, but after two years I couldn’t take it anymore.

The return to music was not easy – “what I would say overall about taking breaks in this industry is, don’t do it,” he says – although there have been some highlights along the way. He emailed Thomas Bangalter, congratulating him on the Daft Punk soundtrack from Tron: Legacy; Bangalter responded by asking Edwards to work with them again. “He said, ‘You were one of our favorites for work, but we’ve lost touch with you.’ I’m like, well, you could have emailed me and he said, “No, we thought it would be better to do the Tron soundtrack to get your attention.” »» Their next work together was on Random Access Memories; when he won Grammy Album of the Year, Edwards was on stage, beaming in a tuxedo alongside Pharrell Williams, Giorgio Moroder and Nile Rodgers.

Edwards, far right, onstage at the 2014 Grammy Awards.

A platinum record for the album is visible on the wall behind him next to a crucifix. He never felt that his religion was in conflict with the hedonistic world of clubbing, he said – “For me the club was the church” – although recently he had had a crisis of faith. “Me and God are seeing other people right now, that’s what I’m saying,” he said. “I’m just trying to practice the good things of Christianity… it’s bittersweet when people come up to you and say, ‘I became a Christian because of you’ or ‘I love godliness in your music. . ‘ I feel guilty, almost like I have to admit it: sorry, I have a hard time with this.

But everything else seems to be going extremely well. There is a “very personal, very intense” documentary in the works, centered on his lost 2006 album, Odyssey, a Discovery-inspired exploration of Christianity which, among his other delicacies, featured Edwards inhaling helium in the body. aim to look like Björk. A new deal with Defected Records resulted in not only a best-of collection, but also his classic productions first appearing on streaming services. A quarter of a century later, Saved My Life and its remixes of Moloko, St Germain and Sound of One still sound remarkably fresh, perhaps because the British garage has returned to the forefront of the pop scene – you can hearing his DNA everywhere, from AJ Tracey to Disclosure – but more likely because Edwards found a truly unique sound in the early ’90s, and uniqueness tends to go unnoticed.

He talks enthusiastically about his upcoming DJ gigs, the warm response to his recent single The Chant, starting his own record company, the “around 30” tracks he’s got ready to play and the photo shoot. of her recently appeared pet rabbit. in a dance music magazine. He seems in a good mood, and not without reason. “I rode the wave of the storm,” he says. “And I’m still here. “

Todd Edwards discography is now available on Defected Records. He plays Jazz Café, London, September 3, and Warehouse Project, Manchester, 15 octobre.

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