After 14 brilliant releases, Roulé was just gone, never to be heard from again
The story of Roulé, the label founded by Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter in 1995, has to be one of the most unique tales in the history of dance music. Not so much because there is an incendiary story behind it, in fact, it was very sensibly run by long-time Daft Punk associate Gildas Loaëc. And nor because it shook the world to its foundations; it didn’t — although a world without Stardust’s “Music Sounds Better With You” would have been a sadder place.
Instead, Roulé was remarkable for the incredible run of quality it spewed forth, with almost every single record it released a buy-on-sight and wear-out-the-grooves affair.
Indeed, for eight short years Roulé pretty much ran things in house music, releasing a stream of 12"’s from Bangalter, his Paris friends, associates and various U.S. house legends that were variously funked up, furious, deranged, soulful and nasty, but always essential.
And then, after just 13 brilliant releases — 14 if you count one-off sub label Scratché — Roulé was gone, never to be heard from again. There have been rumours, of course — people claimed that Duck Sauce’s “Anyway” would come out on Roulé — but even with Daft Punk back on the scene, the return of Roulé seems about as likely as St Germain going hardcore.
Maybe that’s just the way it should be though.
“Roulé’s never really been a ‘label’,” Bangalter told DJ Mag in 2001. “It’s been more of an outlet where there’s a record every year or so. I’ve never made plans for it and I never will. It’s just something that is there.”
And now it is just something that isn’t.
Roulé 301: Thomas Bangalter “Trax on Da Rocks” 
The record that started it all off and one which Roulé arguably never bettered. That might sound harsh, but then Trax on Da Rocks was a remarkable release. Over five tracks, it pretty much redefined what techno could be, giving it a new, European slant that brought the disco and the fun back to a world that become staid and grey.
The first track, “On Da Rocks” is very much an appetiser, all the way down to the cocktail party sounds it samples. The track’s lolloping bass lines and “Da Funk”-esque drums key up the EP nicely. “Roulé Boulé,” which follows, shifts things up a gear, courtesy of rough, Chicago house drums and a stupidly addictive high-pitched synth noise that keeps on shifting in and out of time.
But it is the third track “What To Do” that really pushes things over the edge into untold brilliance. It’s incredibly minimal, using just a drum machine, stuttering vocal sample and a cut-up breakbeat, but the result sounds like nothing else. It’s the kind of track that feels like anyone could make it; it’s rough, unsophisticated and nasty around the edges and there’s nothing clever about it at all. But frankly, no one else did.
Side B plays host to “Outrun” and “Ventura,” two tracks that, on the face of it, probably stray closest to the standard house/techno blueprint, thanks to the use of thundering 4/4 drums, shifting loops and filters. And yet in each track there’s something new, something idiosyncratic and something distinctly European. Maybe it’s the lightness of touch that Bangalter brings to them; maybe it is the live feel, the playfulness of the loops or the fact each track is steeped in melody and funk, as opposed to the rather dry avenue that techno had become at the time.
Both tracks sound like they simply had to be made and you can imagine Bangalter in his bedroom studio, frantically manipulating the loops at his command, knocking out the songs in less than an hour and feeling very pleased with himself indeed.
Roulé 302: Thomas Bangalter “Spinal Scratch” 
If Trax on Da Rocks is the best individual release on Roulé, then “Spinal Scratch” could lay a claim to being the best individual track (no small thing in the face of the competition). In any case, it is probably the most fun.
The title track exhibits many of the same traits as on “Outrun” and “Ventura,” notably a playfulness, live feel and a whole load of funk. In this case though, the tool for such expression is a short sample from George Benson’s “The World is a Ghetto,” which Bangalter gleefully kicks around over the track’s seven-short minutes, adding comically over-the-top scratching sounds, a pounding bass drum and hi-hats to brilliantly demented results.
The track is a master lesson in how to work on a sample, cutting it up into new shapes that shift and mutate, but never lose their way. Just as you start to feel safe, there’s some new twist to send you off again into orbit, making the track’s seven minutes sound very short indeed.
B-side “Spinal Beats” is a masterful drum machine work out that borrows the drum sounds from side A and goes to play, cutting, looping and reversing like a robot John Bonham taking a solo. It is quite possibly the most pleasant four-and-a-half minutes you will ever spend with a drum machine.
Roulé 303: Alan Braxe “Vertigo” 
Roulé’s third release saw Alan Braxe (later of Stardust and Fred Falke fame) become the first external artist to record for the label. Braxe’s original track is frankly nothing to write home about, being a pretty average example of the kind of disco-y house that a lot of French producers were making at the time.
Bangalter’s Virgo edit on side B is something else entirely, stripping “Vertigo” to its bare bones, then distilling the very essence of the track into a dance floor screamer. It features one of those thrilling, ever-ascending rises which you wonder if it will ever stop and a loop that explodes off the record. Some enterprising fan later added the vocal from the Beastie Boys’ “Intergalactic” to create something that almost skirted pop music.
Roulé 304: Roy Davis Jr “Rock Shock” 
The Rock Shock EP by US house legend Roy Davis Jr follows a similar tale. Davis’ original track is OK — one rather cruel review described it as Davis’ attempt to copy the Daft Punk sound and it is hard to disagree. But again, Bangalter supplies the master stroke on the B-side, with his “Start-Stop remix,” which begins with what sounds like a drum machine having a nervous breakdown, then transforms into a weird P-Funkish number that pulls the maximum dance-floor pressure possible out of making a track start, grind to a halt, then start again. It’s a brilliant proof of how pretty much anything Bangalter touched at the time turned to gold.
Roulé 305: Stardust “Music Sounds Better With You” 
There’s little that hasn’t been said about “Music Sounds Better With You,” the product of an onstage jam (of all things) between Bangalter, Braxe and vocalist Benjamin Diamond in Paris earlier that year.
Suffice to say that the track — a perfect example of a disco loop and a restrained vocal — still sounds as brilliantly fresh after all these years as it first did when buying the one-sided, one track 12" back for £7 back in summer 1998.
Roulé 305RMX: Stardust “Music Sounds Better With You [Remixes]” 
How on earth do you remix “Music Sounds Better With You,” a song so close to perfection it almost makes you want to give up what you’re doing and go and have a lie down?
Well, if you’re Dimitri from Paris and Bibi you add frankly unnecessary bongos and bass line and if you’re Chateau Flight, you weird things up a bit, chopping up the original’s rolling groove into something more tense and complicated (and pretty inessential).
The pick here, then, are DJ Sneak’s two remixes: the “32 On Red Mix” and the “32 On Red Dub Mix,” both named after a reference to the roulette wheel that adorns all Roulé sleeves. Both remixes take the Chaka Khan sample that forms the backbone of the original track and kick it around for eight very satisfying minutes, above tough house drums and the odd vocal snippet. Both remixes are recognisably the work of Stardust, but they sound as if the group had grown up on wrong side of Chicago rather than in the nice part of Paris.
Roulé 306: Thomas Bangalter “Trax on Da Rocks Vol. 2” 
Trax on Da Rocks Vol. 2 mirrors the first Trax on Da Rocks in a number of ways. It kicks off, like its predecessor, with another drink-themed disco appetiser “Club Soda,” a track not a million miles away from the backing to “Get Lucky” some 15 years later. It then ups the tempo with the malevolent “Extra Dry,” which sounds like techno made with malfunctioning equipment. “Shuffle,” which fills out side A, is notable mostly for its submerged sample and nasty hissing hi-hats.
As on its predecessor, things really get rolling on side B. “Colossus” is well named, being a genuine colossus of a track, a huge-sounding number that takes all of the tricks that Bangalter perfected in the art of making people dance on previous Roulé releases and jams them into one four-minute rush. “Turbo,” which ends off things, returns to the brutish techno of “Extra Dry,” to no great effect, although the CD skipping sound that punctuates the track is intriguing.
Trax on Da Rock Vol. 2, then, is hardly up to the incredibly high standards of its predecessor, but “Colossus” is worth the price of entry alone. Plus, it rounded off nicely what had been a remarkable year for the label.
Scratché 701: The Buffalo Bunch — “Buffalo Club” 
Except things weren’t quite over for Roulé in 1998, with sister label Scratché launching the same year, turning the iconic Roulé gold roulette record sleeve into a fetching silver dart board.
Other than that, though, it was pretty much business as usual: The Buffalo Bunch were Parisian friends of Bangalter’s. The group consisted of Play Paul, aka Paul de Homem-Christo — brother of Daft Punk’s Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo — and his friend Romain Séo. They later recorded for Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo’s Crydamoure label. “Buffalo Club” was not exactly a million miles away from the work of Daft Punk, Alan Braxe et al, consisting of an excellent rolling bassline, disco drums (sampled from First Choice’s “Love Thang”) and not a great deal else. While the track might not have packed the elements in, each individual part was finely crafted for maximum dancefloor impact and the result was brilliant.
B side “Buffalo Beats” is, well, a load of beats and bass line — effective if not quite so appealing. It proved the last ever song on Scratché, which never showed its elegant silver face again; its existence proving something of a mystery (if a very funky one).
The Buffalo Bunch, meanwhile, went on to do winning remixes for Phoenix (“If I Ever Feel Better”) and Bebel Gilberto (“Close Your Eyes”).
Roulé 307: Romanthony “Hold On” 
Roulé 307 is exceptional in the history of Roulé for a number of reasons. For one, it is the label’s only release with no French involvement in the music. Also, it is the only Roulé record to be first released elsewhere first, on Romanthony’s own Black Male Records. Most importantly though, the song’s gospel / R&B house sound is a world away from Roulé’s typical diet of tough, funked up house and techno.
It matters not a jot: “Hold On” is an excellent example of vocal house delivered with feeling and soul; the kind that deserved the wider audience that Roulé could deliver. Romanthony, of course, would later work with Daft Punk on “One More Time” and “Too Long” on Discovery, although neither of those tracks can match “Hold On” for sheer devotion.
Roulé 307: DJ Falcon “Hello My Name Is DJ Falcon” 
For its detractors, French house was a load of disco samples and drum machines; for its fans, meanwhile, French house was a load of disco samples and… well you get the idea.
DJ Falcon’s debut — and indeed only — solo record was just that though: a load of disco and funk samples and drums machines and nothing else. I vaguely remember him claiming he made the four tracks here when testing out a sampler he had just bought, much as Pete Heller did with “Big Love.” But what samples! And how well he played around with them!
So good was this EP, in fact, that it was originally rumoured to be the work of Bangalter himself, which was praise indeed. Plus Falcon, who keeps up the work of the Roulé family tree by being Alan Braxe’s cousin, wins extra points for the use of the mobile phone effect on “Honeymoon.”
TOGETHER: Together “Together” 
DJ Falcon’s solo record is not a million miles away from the filtered house of Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo in his Le Knight Club guise, which raises the intriguing question of what Daft Punk would have sounded like had Falcon — rather than Guy-Man — become friends with Thomas Bangalter at a Parisian high school and gone on to form Daft Punk.
Together — a collaboration between Falcon and Bangalter — is an answer of sorts. They may have only released two songs as a duo, “Together” and “So Much Love To Give,” but these tracks are enough to raise the spectre of a classier, more minimal Daft Punk, with the band’s rough edges smoothed into aerodynamic funk.
“Together,” the first track they released, is the pick of the two, riding samples from 80s funk bands Slave and Sweet Sensation to an oblivion of plastic, electronic soul. As with Falcon’s solo work, there’s very little to the track, but every element works perfectly.
TOGETHER 2: Together “So Much Love To Give” 
It was “So Much Love To Give” which really took this minimalism to a new level though. The song, which essentially consists of one loop, one kick drum and some synths over 10 long minutes was — depending on how you looked at it — either a masterpiece of minimalism or a bit boring. In truth, it was probably both.
In any case, it gave Roulé its second (sort of) chart hit: Freeloaders borrowed the same “The Real Thing” sample for their 2005 song, also titled “So Much Love To Give,” and, living up to their name, did some very similar things with it.
“So Much Love To Give” also proved influential among other artists: Eric Prydz’ UK number one “Call on Me” was initially thought to be the work of Bangalter and Falcon, thanks to its minimal use of a sample, synth and kick drum, which was nothing if not reminiscent of “So Much Love To Give.” Falcon later claimed that the pair had indeed made a track sampling Steve Winwood’s “Valerie” — which “Call on Me” was based on — although they never released it.
DJ Falcon then disappeared from public eye for a while, save the odd DJ gig, only to turn up again in 2013 on “Contact,” the closing track on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories album.
Roulé LP 01: Thomas Bangalter “Original Soundtrack From The Motion Picture Irreversible” 
Roulé’s only album release was Bangalter’s low-key score to controversial French film Irréversible. The album featured a number of Bangalter tracks that had featured on previous Roulé releases (“Spinal Scratch,” “Extra Dry,” “Outrun” and “Ventura,” which segues into new track “Into The Tunnel”). Along with select parts of the score, are nine new Bangalter tracks: “Irreversible,” “Tempus Edax Rerum,” “Rectum,” “Night Beats,” “Stress,” “Paris By Night,” “Outrage,” “Désaccords” and “The End.”
As a soundtrack, the nine new songs work fine, acutely capturing the film’s malevolent atmosphere. As standalone songs, however, they are merely OK, although they do give an interesting perspective on Daft Punk’s later soundtrack work on Tron. In fact, some of the tracks sound like a minimal, slightly unwell take on the Tron soundtrack.
Roulé 309: Thomas Bangalter “Outrage” 
And then there was one: “Outrage” closed the chapter on Roulé in 2003 and it is a bit of a damp squib of an ending, featuring three of the best and most dancefloor friendly tracks from the Irréversible soundtrack: “Outrage,” “Night Beats” and “Paris By Night.” “Outrage” is probably the pick of the bunch, for its violent headache house sound.
Would it have been better to go out with a global anthem like “So Much Love To Give?” Or leave with an underground hit like “Together?” Maybe. But then again Roulé wasn’t like other labels and for that we can only applaud them.