The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Tome On The Range

Sing It Like Foreigner: When Daft Punk Met Todd Edwards
Ben Cardew , October 2nd, 2021 08:26

In an exclusive extract from his new book, Daft Punk's Discovery: The Future Unfurled, Ben Cardew explores the collaboration between the French dance duo and New Jersey garage kingpin behind the classic track ‘Face to Face’

Photo by Fabio Venni. Creative Commons

The “reality” of ‘Face To Face’ comes largely through the voice of Todd Edwards, who collaborated with Daft Punk on the song, producing it with them, as well as providing the vocal. It was an unusual process, with Daft Punk asking Edwards to sing in the style of Foreigner, a British American rock band best known for perpetual karaoke rock anthem ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’, thus providing another link between Discovery and soft rock.

Edwards’ vocal is certainly atypical for a collaboration between two French dance music producers and a New Jersey garage don. House and garage come from disco and, as a result, their vocals tend to reflect disco’s roots in R&B and soul. House music vocals tend to be smooth – often dramatic and laden with emotion, but smooth nonetheless – with a certain musicality and technique. Edwards’ voice here is rough and untutored, reaching for the high notes like a mechanic in a Hollywood musical. It is also free from effects, more ‘Something About Us’ than ‘One More Time’, the emotion coming through unfiltered and raw.

The song’s production, meanwhile, falls perfectly between the two collaborators’ styles, a brilliantly egalitarian example of how collaboration can work. The song operates at a Daft Punk-ish tempo of 118 BPM – Edwards’ songs tend to be a lot faster – with drums that call back to ‘Da Funk’ in their hip hop / disco strut. The production technique is all Edwards, though, with shades of the cut-up sampling for which he is known creating a staccato collage of sound.

Edwards calls ‘Face To Face’ “very synergetic – it sounds like the perfect mixture of the two of us”. Certainly, it was no quick hook up: Edwards first met Daft Punk before Homework was released to talk about a potential collaboration. That didn’t happen but Edwards was pleased to find himself named in ‘Teachers’ – “OK, I am still in their minds,” he says – and they met up again in 1999.

“Thomas and Guy-Man came to my parents’ house where I had my bedroom studio,” Edwards relates. “They came in, they wanted to check out the equipment. They smiled and I was like, ‘Is everything OK?’ And they were like, ‘Yes, it’s good.’ And I remember screwing around on the Juno [106 – a synthesiser] and just playing a couple of patches that I liked, one of them sounded like one of the tracks on Homework

“Basically, we talked for a bit, hung out, we didn’t work the first day. That night I decided I was going to sample up samples, so I sampled up 70 samples. And the next day they came in with some records. And I played them the samples; they took their records and they sampled up like 70 samples.”

With this staggering array of samples to hand, work started in earnest. “Thomas sat at the keyboard and he pitch keyed all the samples so they were in the same key,” Edwards explains. “And one of the starting points was the drum loop, which was basically the drum loop for ‘Face To Face’. And I think I was the first on the keyboard, trying to do some stuff. And I don’t remember exactly what I added initially. I do remember, I’m not an Alpha Male in the studio, so I felt a little hesitant. If I don’t get a reaction I’m thinking, I’m doing something not really well, so I took a pass, like, ‘You want to get on here and play some keyboards?’”

Edwards continues the story. “So Thomas started playing stuff and it was very syncopated to the beat and it sounded like something I would do,” he says. “And I was like, ‘Ah, they can really make a Todd Edwards track if they really wanted to!’ I was sitting there and Guy-Man was sitting there and Guy-Man would chime in and give his agreement. He did a more verbal input. Then one of the samples was saying ‘Christopher Robin’ but it sounded like it was saying “face to face”. So that became the idea of ‘Face To Face’, it seemed like it was going to be the title.”

With the basis of the track recorded, Daft Punk flew Edwards to Paris two times to complete work on ‘Face To Face’ (“business class!” Edwards says, clearly still enthused about this today.) The first occasion was laidback: Edwards and Daft Punk listened to the track a couple of times and spent the rest of the time hanging out.

“I had never been out of the country, so to see the architecture of Paris, just to experience that was amazing,” says Edwards. “And I went to their office, met Pedro Winter, who was their manager at the time, and Gildas [Loaëc] who now has Kitsuné… I met DJ Falcon. It was just like this dynamic of a family.”

During the trip Edwards also heard a number of songs from Discovery, including ‘One More Time’, ‘Too Long’, ‘Something About Us’ and ‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’. “Thomas had finished products, in Zip disks basically, it was really a very underground vibe: on the floor, outside the door of the studio, finished, ready to go,” Edwards says. “I remember when he played me ‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’, I was blown away. Because he told me about the concept of what it was going to be like. But then hearing the finished product and hearing how he basically played a solo with his vocals, I was basically blown away. I think it is my favourite track on the album.”

For the second session, Edwards came prepared, after Bangalter coaxed him out of his studio shell. “During that first trip Thomas took me aside and he mentioned to me, ‘I noticed that when you were in the studio, you were holding back.’” says Edwards. “And I told him, ‘I didn’t think you liked what I was doing. I was feeling a little intimidated by that.’ And so on the second trip out to Paris, when they were ready to finish ‘Face To Face’, I decided, because he [Thomas] felt that I didn’t do enough or I didn’t really put in as much on the musical side, I wanted to make sure that I… I wanted to try to write the song. So on the trip to Paris, knowing what the scene in this potential film was going to be, I decided to write the lyrics and they had to fit a certain parameter.”

According to Edwards, Discovery was originally planned to work in parallel to a live-action film, with each song related to a cinematic scene. ‘Face To Face’, apparently, was intended for a battle scene.

“There’s a battle between the protagonist and the antagonist, the robots were rebelling basically,” Edwards said in a Clubhouse talk with Guy Lawrence from Disclosure, Zane Lowe and Nile Rodgers after Daft Punk split. “Once the battle… the smoke cleared, it was supposed to be like a big mirror and they realised that they were fighting themselves the whole time. They were their own enemy. So when I wrote the song, I wrote it with the idea that it was something you could sing to yourself, sing to another person, and at the time, me being very spiritual, it was also it had to fit like if I was singing to God, basically.”

“By the time the flight ended I was done,” Edwards tells me. “I landed, the next day we were at Thomas’ studio. I sang him what I wrote. And they were very happy with it. Thomas set up the microphone and basically, I was singing it very nasally. And he is really good at giving direction, so he wanted a rock song style, it was like, ‘Sing it like Foreigner, like in a raspy [voice].’ So I did it, I sang it twice and that is the final result on the record: no Autotune, they just did side-chaining on the vocals and what you hear is what it was.”

Daft Punk's Discovery: The Future Unfurled by Ben Cardew is published by Velocity Press