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Publication: Marmalade, 2003

The King Of The ‘No’

Pedro Winter is the visionary Parisian at the helm of the good ship Daft Punk. Meet the man behind Headbangers, Cassius and an inspirational business outlook based on skate philosophy

Whatever the ‘French Touch’ happens to be, Daft Punk’s 28-year-old Parisian manager Pedro Winter has it in spades. An ex-skate kid, itinerant law student, self-confessed ‘freaky turntablist’, and bourgeois gentilhomme of the international creative economy, Pedro’s savoir faire has in the past eight years helped transform Daft Punk from two posh kids with a sampler and a bunch of ideas into a global entertainment brand capable of rolling out pan-European Number One records, astonishing video work and manga fantasias on DVD while appearing in Gap adverts with no shame. For an outfit who never really needed a manager – Thomas Bangalter’s father Daniel Vangarde, who wrote Ottowan’s ‘D.I.S.C.O’, is the duo’s paternal overseer – Pedro Winter has been the best manager they could ever have hoped for. A fixer, imagineer, dealmaker, enabler and connector who counts Sophia Coppola, Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Air, Jazzanova and Kenny Dope as close friends, he is the silent third member of dance music’s most intriguing outfit. In 1995 he met Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel De Homem Christo – barely into their twenties – at Ministry of Sounds, and promptly quit law school to manage them.

At the Cannes film Festival back in May, Pedro appeared in a razor-sharp Christian Dior suit by Hedi Slimane to present Daft Punk’s new DVD, ‘Interstella – The 5tory of the 5ecret 5star 5ystem’, a $2million+ collab with with Japanese Manga veteran Leiji Mastumoto. But it’s a safe bet you’ll spot the ‘entertainment’ moguls of the future not by the cut of their suits but the vintage of their heavy metal T-shirts.

In the Paris offices of Pedro’s Headbangers’s management company he’s slouched in a pair of Dockers with a chain on his waist and a Metallica tee on his back. Vertiginously tall, strikingly blond and expansive to the point of hysteria, he looks like a catwalk model but burbles evangelically as a teenager who’s just discovered music. The subject might be records, skating, fashion, movies, business or whatever else is firing his imagination. Pedro currently manages Daft Punk, house outfit Cassius and Parisian producer DJ Mehdi alongside his own burgeoning career behind on the decks. Next, he’s signing music to his new Hedbangers label, whose ‘open-mind’ remit reflects the spectrum of his tastes - he’s a diehard metal fan who DJs house, hip hop and R&B. Meanwhile, he consults for the French music business and is setting up a ready-to-wear range, Headbangirls.

In short, Pedro Winter has made a career and a packet out of structuring the freerange creativity of Young Paris into a lucrative economy where the currency is ideas and the transactional basis is trust. ‘Trust is the secret,’ he glints. ‘When I’m touched by something, when I hear some music, or see some inages, it makes me feel something and I should go with it. I’m entering 2004 with my head full of projects’.

With no formal training, Pedro puts his success in business down to - off all things – a childhood spend rigorously pulling ollies and carving up the boulevards on a skateboard. ‘I did ten years of skateboard, practising five hours every day on the same trick, keep doing and keep doing it,’ he says. ‘That gave me my business skills. With people like Mark Gonzalez, Mike Templeton, Spike Jonze, something was around us at this time, the influence of all those people.’ It’s as much a dedication to the serious work of having fun as it is the friendships forged in the Eighties and Nineties that have positioned Pedro and Daft Punk at the centre of collaborative, entrepreneurial nexus which continues to produce what he calls ‘entertainment’ – music, film, web content, clothing, graphics, parties.

Like contemporary figures including James Lavelle, the Beastie Boys, Spike Jonze, So Solid Crew’s Megaman, Roc-a-Fella’s Damon Dash, P Diddy and even Jamie Oliver, Pedro is at the vanguard of emerging culture in which previously disassociated displines of business and creativity are cosying up, and where old orthodoxies - such as the idea that all commerce somehow dirties the ‘pure’ artistic process, or that moneymaking is vulgar – are disintegrating. What unites all the above is an ability to transmute their own lifestyles, passions and ideas into business that pay. The lesson of hip hop and skate culture have been learned by a new generation of entrepreneurs who correctly predicted that seemingly meaningless activities – like making up rhymes on street corners, or trolleying around on a plank with roller-skate wheels – could be turned into multibilliondollar lifestyle conglomerates.

‘What we are is what we do, and what we make, we make the best,’ Pedro says. ‘In my office, I have all my record, all my gold discs and all my skateboards. I have a turntable, loads of books by Futura 2002 and Mark Gonzales. The chance we have is that we are living our passion, and my job is my passion.’

It seems implausible that being a businessman has become the newest aspirational archetype; by the same token no-one ever expected a pair of Parisian kids wearing robot masks to make a Numbebr One album, however. In an era when everyone considers themselves creative, the key skill is to alchemise nebulous ‘creativity’ into tangible £££s. Feed your mind, make art, have fun and get paid for it.

‘Everyone says art and business can’t be together,’ Pedro reasons, But Thomas Bangalter is an example of this, David Bowie is an example. There are tons of examples. Dr Dre, Eminem, Madonna who are good at being artists as well as being goood in business. There is the idea that artists have to be in pain or be crazy to create some art. It’s a bad habit.’

Daft Punk are the living, breathing, raving example of an art project that got paid on its own merits, rather than by playing to the established rules. As careers goes, practically everything they did has gone against the rule book, yet they remain a huge money-spinner. Marketing themselves more in the manner of a luxury product or a pair of limited-edition trainers - managing scarcity, cultivating credible partnerships, maintinaing quality - than as a pop act desperate for publicity, as they mature they seem capable of making a success in whichever medium they choose – music, video, art, graphics. Much of which has to do with Pedro’s vision, stewardship and force of personality.

‘We are always thinking of using good style,’ he says. ‘They did what  they had to do with [debut 1995 album] Homework, in terms of presenting this music and defending the home-studio way of producing. They had the chance to be able to tell it to the world. They did it and now they can to go further and make the stuff they like.’

How do Daft Punk remain so big, yet so credible? By following the golden rule of cool: doing ‘nothing’. Or at least, never appearing to try too hard.

‘Crazily, we don’t do anything,’ Pedro explains. ‘At the beginnning they used to say no to everything. When people asked me what I did for Daft Punk, I told them I was the King of The No. We said no so much in the beginning – to Britney Spears, George Michael, Janet Jackson. Everybody has got this image like, forget about Daft Punk - we can’t touch them. Untouchable. By doing nothing, we are doing something.’

Much of this is happening at a moment when the beleaguered music business, following years of prioritising the business over the music, discovers a tidal wave of file-sharing, CD burning and bedroom production decimating its profit margins. These days major label board meetings begin and end with doomy forceasts. The future belongs to independent multimedia production and distribution units wary of the corporate process and fired by belief in creativity for creativity’s sake, the like of which Daft Punk incarnated ages ago.

‘Now, everyone can do it,’ says Pedro. ‘Thomas and Guy-Man said. “Everyone could have done ‘Homework’” - now you can have Protools in your computer, get some loops from the net, burn a CD, give it to Gilles Peterson and hear it on the radio. I’m glad about that. I’m doing it myself! I have an MPC 2000 in my basement and I’m making tracks and giving CDs to my friends. It’s wonderful…’

And so is Hedbangers: a record label, a business and a creative force to be reckoned with. But mainly, a way of life. Like Blackstreet sang - getting paid is a forte, true playa way, each and every day.

© Kevin Braddock 2003

All content ©2004 Kevin Braddock

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