“I wrote 350 songs, and I could not sing certainly one of them for you”: disco maestro Daniel Vangarde breaks his silence

AThe very first thing Daniel Vangarde says when he walks into his document firm’s workplace in Paris is that he is by no means achieved an interview in English earlier than. Then once more, he provides, he had additionally by no means achieved an interview in his native French till this morning. He by no means bothered to speak to journalists on the peak of his profession, when he was a key determine in French pop: an artist, author and producer behind a spread of releases starting from the wildly obscure to the immediately acquainted. And he definitely did not anticipate to start out assembly the press at age 75: Vangarde had retired a number of years in the past and moved to a distant fishing village in northern Brazil.

However then a document firm unexpectedly approached him a few career-spanning compilation, named after Zagora, the label he based in 1974, which piqued his curiosity. Once they despatched him the observe record, he advised them that a number of the songs on it weren’t his. They had been – he had simply utterly forgotten about them.

Vanguard 1971 - portrait
Vanguard 1971. Picture: Zagora Archive

At the very least a part of the renewed curiosity in Vangarde’s profession is because of the success of his son, Thomas Bangalter, till lately one half of Daft Punk. It is ironic contemplating that listening to Daft Punk was one of many causes Vanguard gave up music within the first place: “I assumed, that is the brand new technology coming and it should be laborious to compete.”

However Vangarde’s profession is fascinating in its personal proper. It began with a bullish teenage plan to interrupt into the music enterprise by merely writing to the Beatles and suggesting they let him be a part of – “I used to be positive I might give them one thing,” he laughs – and ended firstly of the 90s with Vangarde retiring in disgust after a collection of bitter arguments with the French music trade.

In between, he had a profession that was nothing if not various. At one excessive, he wrote protest songs deemed so subversive that they had been banned: his 1975 self-titled solo album got here to industrial grief on account of its lead single, Un Bombardier Avec Ses Bombes, an assault on France’s function within the worldwide arms commerce. “The nice honor I had was that I made a tv look after which it was censored in France. Even in the present day you possibly can’t speak about that topic.”

On the different, he was the mastermind behind the Bouzouki Disco Band, whose oeuvre was noticeably missing in assaults on the military-industrial complicated: as their title suggests, they dealt completely in Hellenic-themed disco songs with names like Ouzo et Retsina and Greek. Women. His CV additionally contains main worldwide pop successes – Vangarde and his long-time collaborator Jean Kluger had been behind late-70s hitmakers the Gibson Brothers and Ottawan, from DISCO and Fingers Up (Give Me Your Coronary heart) infamy – in addition to beautiful cosmic disco launched throughout the names Starbow and Who’s Who, and obscure Japanese-themed funk rock idea albums beloved by in the present day’s field diggers.

The content material of 1971’s Le Monde Fabuleux des Yamasuki has, as Vangarde places it, “turn out to be a little bit of a fad” lately: the album has been sampled by Erykah Badu, included on an Arctic Monkeys-curated combine album, and featured on the soundtrack to TV collection Fargo . It was remarkably forward of its time: a loopy, cartoonish combine of various musical cultures that additionally tried to impress what would now be referred to as a “dance problem” (the album cowl comes full with directions on the best way to do the steps).


Vangarde was at all times occupied with music exterior the standard western pop canon. “I prefer to journey, I like unique devices, I hearken to a little bit of Beatles, Seaside Boys, Stevie Surprise, however a lot of the music I like is African music, Arabic music, reggae,” he says. However Le Monde Fabuleux des Yamasuki’s inspiration didn’t contain a lot unique journey. “You understand the TV present Kung Fu, with David Carradine? That was the factor on the time. We thought we would make an album about kung fu, and it grew to become a Japanese factor.”

He labored throughout quite a lot of genres – he reworked a track from the Yamasuki album in Swahili as Aie A Mwana, then coated by, of all folks, Bananarama – but it surely was disco that actually turned his head, his thoughts blown after listening to Chics Le Freak in a Parisian membership. Furthermore, it was a style that didn’t share the period’s historically dismissive Anglo-American perspective in the direction of French pop. Vangarde thrived, as did his compatriots House and Voyage. “There was no prejudice in disco, I believe the viewers had skilled prejudice – it was black, it was homosexual. They weren’t able to be snobs.”

In reality, he cherished disco a lot that when the backlash hit, he felt compelled to behave within the style’s protection: to listen to him inform it, Ottawa’s deathless wedding ceremony track DISCO is definitely a protest track. “It was the time after they had been burning the disco information within the US, and I felt loopy that individuals mentioned that is going to cease: it is a rhythm, you possibly can’t cease folks dancing to a rhythm. So I mentioned let’s do a track about disco to point out that it is not over. And the rhythm did not cease,” he provides triumphantly. “As a result of what’s techno? A continuation of disco.”

Vanguard (far left) with La Compagnie Créole, a band from French Guiana and the French West Indies.  His collaborator Jean Kluger is on the right.
Vanguard (far left) with La Compagnie Créole, a band from French Guiana and the French West Indies. His collaborator Jean Kluger is on the best. Picture: Zagora Archive

For all his pop success and tolerance for a tacky novelty track, Vangarde was at all times a curiously uninvited determine, normally turning down high-profile manufacturing jobs if he favored the artist an excessive amount of, as within the case of reggae stars Third World or salsa supergroup Fania All-Stars. “I did not wish to take part. I simply wished to be a listener – I did not wish to lose that magic.”

How uninviting grew to become obvious within the late 80s, when he grew to become embroiled in a battle with the French music trade, initially over royalties. Researching the topic led him to lift the problem of Jewish composers who had had their mental property rights – and the accompanying revenue – taken away throughout the Nazi occupation of France. This grew to become an issue that ultimately concerned then-president Jacques Chirac, however Vangarde says a subsequent official report on the matter was “all lies – an enormous cover-up”: no cash or rights had been returned. That was one other think about his determination to retire. “I had an enormous combat with Sacem, the copyright firm. To write down a track and provides it to this firm – why would I do that?” He shrugs, “I do not anymore.”

Daft Punk.
“What they envisioned went to the ear of the folks with out interference” … Daft Punk. Picture: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

It is fairly simple to see the place Daft Punk might need gotten their famously uncompromising perspective in the direction of the music enterprise. As their profession started to take off, it was Vanguard who advised they make an inventory of every little thing they did not wish to do and current it to any label that wished to signal them, which is how he bought a credit score “for his beneficial recommendation” on their debut album, Homework.

“They did not need the label concerned within the imaginative and prescient of the music, or the movies, or their picture. This is without doubt one of the keys to their success, as a result of once you go into the system, it has to please the A&R [people], it should please the radio, and the music modifications. Daft Punk had been authentic, they’d expertise, and what they envisioned went to the folks’s ears with out interference.”

Vangarde says he has no need to return “within the system” himself. He says he by no means listens to the music he made within the ’70s and ’80s – “I wrote 350 songs, and I could not sing certainly one of them to you” – and is horrified on the suggestion that this new retrospective assortment may lure him again to the studio. “No, I am very glad now. They wished to launch an album, I made a decision to do interviews for the primary time in my life. And now,” he smiles, ending our dialog, “I will give up once more.”

The Vaults of Zagora Data Mastermind (1971-1984) is out November twenty fifth on Why Music.

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