Roulé Records in Five Tracks

Revisiting the Influential 90s French House Label

  • Text: Adam Wray

Thomas Bangalter is best known as half of Daft Punk, but before he retreated into robothood, he was a maskless DJ turning the world onto French house music with floor-filling sets and original productions. He was also a label head, curating a sterling collection of formally inventive tracks under the name Roulé. This imprint complemented his work with partner Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo in Daft Punk, giving Bangalter an outlet for less commercial sounds, a home for releases from friends and associates, and an excuse to connect with admired peers. It also birthed one of the biggest dance records of all-time: “Music Sounds Better With You,” a multi-platinum collaboration between Bangalter, fellow producer and Roulé alumnus Alan Braxe, and vocalist Benjamin Diamond that was inescapable through the late 90s. It has been over a decade since Roulé released anything, and it seems unlikely that it ever will again, but its catalog stands among house music’s most infectious. These are five of its most enduring cuts.

Together - So Much Love To Give youtube

Together, “So Much Love To Give”

Roulé’s penultimate release, “So Much Love To Give” is a test of endurance. It opens in stride with a vocal plucked from The Real Thing’s “Love’s Such a Wonderful Thing” and repeats it for nearly 10 minutes over a bed of buzzing synths, a thumping kick drum, and not much else. It is a minimal composition geared for maximum impact. The vocal sample goes from catchy to grating and back as the rest of the track shifts around it, the words’ meaning dissolving into pure sound. Though intended for the club rather than the gallery, its use of brute repetition recalls experimental composer Steve Reich and video artist Dara Birnbaum, both of whom built soothing dronescapes out of looping cacophonies.

Thomas Bangalter - Club Soda (A1) youtube

Thomas Bangalter, “Club Soda”

The style of house music Thomas, Guy-Man, and associates trafficked in through the 90s and early 2000s was sometimes called "filter house" because of its reliance on high- and low-pass filters. These filters are effects that suppress certain ranges of frequencies—whenever you hear a track sound like it's just plunged underwater, like at 1:20 of “Club Soda,” that's a low-pass filter at work. DJs use these effects during sets to add extra layers of dynamism to existing tracks, toying with the crowd’s expectations—remove a track’s low end, for instance, and anticipation for its reintroduction begins to build immediately. With “Club Soda,” Bangalter bakes this sense of movement and live performance right into the track.

DJ Falcon - Honeymoon youtube

DJ Falcon, “Honeymoon”

In his “Sentences On Conceptual Art,” Sol LeWitt states that “it is difficult to bungle a good idea.” Same applies to a good sample—find the right loop and you can hardly go wrong. DJ Falcon aka Stéphane Quême chose well on “Honeymoon,” cribbing ascending horns from Natalie Cole’s “Stand By” and warm vocals from Serious Intention’s “Serious.”

Thomas Bangalter - Ventura youtube

Thomas Bangalter, “Ventura”

While Guy-Man’s work with Le Knight Club on his own label, Crydamoure, showcased Daft Punk’s abiding love of funk and disco, Bangalter’s early output on Roulé hewed closer to the duo’s other main influence—the harsh, driving sounds coming out of Chicago on labels like Dance Mania through the early and mid-90s. “Ventura,” released on an EP that pre-dates the first Daft Punk full-length, is a relentless work out that sees Bangalter turn his Roland 909 drum machine inside out over eight minutes of ever-evolving drum breaks, filter sweeps, and a wailing vocal sample.

THOMAS BANGALTER & ROY DAVIS JR. - Rock shock youtube

Roy Davis, Jr., “Rock Shock (Thomas Bangalter’s Start-Stop Mix)”

Thomas and Guy-Man have always been enthusiastic collaborators, eager to pay tribute to their influences. The track “Teachers” from their debut full-length Homework, itself a tribute to Parris Mitchell and Wax Master’s “Ghetto Shout Out!!”, name checks their musical idols, and the roster of contributors to Daft Punk’s records is deep, varied, and star-studded. Through Roulé, Bangalter created another avenue to work with his heroes, releasing tracks from American dance music luminaries like Romanthony and Roy Davis, Jr. Davis, Jr. released a lone 12” on Roulé, and the b-side remix by Bangalter is the real gem. Thomas tweaks the original with a series of halting breaks that mimic the effect of a turntable losing power mid-tune. This sort of jokey, meta nod to mechanical interference is a recurring theme in the Roulé catalog.

  • Text: Adam Wray