So Me’s Eyes on Ed Banger

So Me, né Bertrand de Lanergon, is the visual-arts half of Ed Banger Records, the electro label launched by Pedro Winter (aka Busy P.). Ed Banger is currently celebrating its first 10 years as a hit-making French music machine with a new book, Travail Famille Party, a play on France’s old Vichy slogan, “Travail, Famille, Patrie” (work, family, patriotism). Travail Famille Party is de Langeron’s intimate, non-digital look at a decade on the road, festivals, doing graphics and music videos, and having fun with the Ed Banger crew—Breakbot, Justice, SebastiAn, Mr. Oizo, Cassius, Krazy Baldhead, Mickey Moonlight, and DJ Mehdi, to name a few. The book, available in the US through Club 75, was launched in Paris with a show of de Langeron’s photos at the 12Mail/Red Bull Space Gallery. Interview talked to de Langeron to find out how his musical decade with Ed Banger flew by in graphics, video, and pictures.

REBECCA VOIGHT: Travail Famille Party covers 10 years of Ed Banger, like a family photo album. You’ve taken over 300 photos of your crew on the road and your inspirations. Describe some of your favorites [see slideshow, above].

BERTRAND DE LANGERON: I like this tree line in Paris’s Jardin du Palais Royal. I did nothing but press the button, even though one might think the picture has been Photoshopped. The real life Photoshop boys are the gardeners who are so precise in the way they prune the trees. The second picture is my partner in crime Busy P’s 2012 birthday in Palm Springs. The day was so hot it was almost vital to have a pool to cool off in. Those who stayed at Coachella that day really suffered from the heat. As you can see, we had a pretty good time ourselves. [Third,] a pool again, this one is at one of my favorite houses, called la Galaxie, which is owned by friends overlooking Cannes in the south of France. Then there’s Amandine and Pedro having fun vibing to the Strokes. This sums up another good time, and the guy’s tee is pretty priceless.

VOIGHT: What were you doing before Ed Banger, and how did you and Pedro Winter meet and start working together?

DE LANGERON: I had been studying graphic design and had just graduated in 2001. I met Pedro at a party where a friend was DJing. I had brought my first professional work, the cover for a recently published book, to show my friend DJ Pone from Birdy Nam Nam, who I’ve known since I was 12. Pedro saw that, liked it and asked to meet the next day at his office on rue Ramey because he was looking for someone to design his website. He had in mind a 100% hand-drawn site. Usually the late-night promises end up nowhere, but the next day we met, and from then on we have never stopped working together. My work developed through the drawings Pedro selected for our earliest collaborations. I would think: “Oh, he likes this better, so I ought to go in this direction.”

VOIGHT: What kinds of cameras do you use?

DE LANGERON: I use various small ones, from Contax to Ricoh to Fuji and others. Disposable works, too. The idea is to use only the smallest ones so I can have them with me 24/7 without looking like a paparazzo, or having to carry heavy stuff. In any case, I can’t be bothered carrying a heavy camera. If I had to choose, I’d rather photograph with my iPhone.

VOIGHT: The video for Major Lazer’s “Get Free” is almost like a book in itself. Describe the making of it.

DE LANGERON: I spent six days in Jamaica, with my DP, his assistant and a producer. We would wake up at six to get the morning light and go to bed at three after going to these crazy parties. A guy there knew everyone and took us under his wing, so we basically were able to go and shoot everywhere, and we did it almost non-stop. Now when you think of how insane some places were, the weather, and most of all, the fact we were shooting 16-mm film, which requires a lot of logistics, you can imagine how intense the shooting was. But it’s hands-down one of the most interesting experiences of my life. Jamaica is crazy—and I also mean visually.

VOIGHT: How did you develop the story and find the dancing kid for SebastiAn’s “Embody“?

DE LANGERON: This song has no proper singer; it’s SebastiAn’s voice, distorted and pitched. I wanted to impersonate the artist that could be the voice, but I started to think of that idea as cliché and overplayed, so I turned it into a dancer. There was still something strange about that voice, so I imagined this kid embodying the music everywhere someone would be listening to it. The kid is the song. Young label A&Rs take care of him, teach him how to dance, and midway through the video change his style, perhaps to improve the packaging of the song, to apply to a wider audience. All the kids I auditioned—this was a low-budget video, so casting was an issue—were technical and hip-hop dancers, but I was looking for a more retro kind of dancer, some sort of young MJ. Then I met Shamary, and that was it. I was very lucky to have him on board. I wasn’t actually allowed to shoot him in a bathtub with a half-naked woman, but he was always game. He was such a smart and fun kid. His dad was here the whole time, and he’s a stand-up comedian I think. Here’s a picture of them together on set. He was very charming and funny as well. I have good memories of this shoot, mostly because of this kid.

VOIGHT: Would you like directing a film?

DE LANGERON: Yes, I would love to, but with only with a good story, and the great ones are like pure gold. But I’ve never felt the need to rush anything anyway. Good things have always come to me naturally when the time was right, so hopefully I will direct a good story one day.

VOIGHT: How would you describe your art direction?

DE LANGERON: To me, directing a music video, or drawing a T-shirt, or putting pictures in a book, are pretty much the same thing. It’s art direction, it’s about knowing what you like and what you don’t and keeping a straight visual direction to achieve something. I do graphic design through illustration, not really using existing fonts or computer tricks. It’s a pre-computer era type of graphic design, like in the ’70s. Back then, illustration and drawings were really a key part of mainstream visual communication, or at least much more so than now. I can’t say if this shows in my photos or videos, but most directors and designers I like had their peak in the 1970s.

VOIGHT: Why does this book include so many pictures taken in the US?

DE LANGERON: Well, I think the US is very photogenic, particularly back in the day. Part of it has to do with the fact that my whole childhood was rocked by US pop culture, cinema and TV. When I walk the streets in New York City, I still feel like I’m in a movie. The American TV series Starsky and Hutch was shot on a small budget in the streets of LA, because that’s where they were. I like the fact that there weren’t any sets on low-budget series like that, so you can see what average cars and houses look like.

VOIGHT: How much of your videos and artwork is based on collaboration? Or do the artists just say, “Make something beautiful for my song”?

DE LANGERON: As far as collaboration with artists goes, it’s never the same! Ideas come when you don’t expect them. When artists don’t have their own idea, it will either be cool because they trust me as a collaborator to translate their music into images, or it can be someone who doesn’t like much, is rarely satisfied and isn’t able to articulate how to improve things.

VOIGHT: What’s next?

DE LANGERON: More music videos, perhaps, and more graphics for sure. My clothing line, Club 75, will be out soon. But to be honest, I never know what I will do next. I’ve always been going with the flow, and trying not to do the same things twice. The other day, a friend of mine was looking at the book and said, “Here’s another string to your bow, but it’s actually a harp by now.” I think the fun is in diversity, and so I like to take my experience from one field and put it into something I’ve never done before.