Daft Punk. The most influential electronic music duo of its time
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Following Daft Punk – and dance music in general – in the early 2000s was an outsider's choice: the electronic duo has not always been loved by everyone like today.

After almost 30 years of error-free service, even the most efficient robots can shut down.

It’s been almost a year since we started making mention of the legendary electronic duo in past tense.

Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter met in 1987 at the Lycée Carnot, a Parisian secondary school that was also the school of a former French president, a Nobel laureate, many philosophers, prime ministers and of course, Daft Punk.

In 1992, like many schoolmates, the two boys wanted to start a rock band. They put an ad for a guitarist through which they found Laurent Brancowitz.

Together they formed a band called Darlin’ and recorded some demos. They had a brief success that lasted for a few months and resulted in the recording of an EP.  The project would be later defined by Bangalter himself as “pretty average“, so Darlin’ dissolved forever.

Brancowitz joined the popular alt-rock band Phoenix, where he played the guitar. The other two went to study the underground electronic sounds of the vibrant Parisian rave scene under the name of Daft Punk.

Their musical style, wonderfully simple but super direct, was the French Touch. In 1994 they released a song called “The New Wave“, later changed to “Alive“.

But the real success came the following year with the recording of a tune with a surrounding and unforgettable stomping synth riff: “Da Funk”.

The surreal video directed by Spike Jonze features a dog that leads a human life, moving with crutches in a big city. After “Da Funk“, nothing would ever be the same.

The song was unanimously praised, even by the British Chemical Brothers, which incorporated the song’s robotic beat into their live shows.

At that point, the Daft Punk needed a manager and found Pedro Winter, an enthusiastic promoter of their work as musicians. Thanks to Winter, the duo signed a contract with Virgin Records that in 1997 would produce their debut studio album, Homework.

The inspiration for the album’s name came precisely from the “bedroom pop” style before it had become a widely accepted genre. The recording of Homework takes place in a “makeshift” recording studio, as David Guetta called it:

“Two small Mackeys, 8 tracks connected together, a blaster, no real monitor and only a compressor on the master.”

Homework climbs to the top of the charts, becoming a global hit, as well as its song “Around the World”, which played in almost every club on the planet: it was a hypnotic and fascinating acoustic shock that remained in the brain in loop mode.

The videos directed by Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze put Daft Punk among MTV’s favourites. Their music is now everywhere: in clubs, on TV, on the radio, everywhere, but not their faces.

Bangalter and Homem-Christo, actually never showed their faces. During the interviews, they would wear paper bags on their heads or ask for face obscuration on video.

In 1997 they began touring around the world and then documented it in the incredible album “Alive”: a bleep-bloop with a sequence of sound waves, which explodes in a style that didn’t exist before. “Alive” creates a new musical genre, the ‘Daft Punk’ genre.

The choice for Robot helmets came in 1999. Before that, the duo wore makeshift headdresses or headgear, sometimes even ‘luchadores’ masks.

Choosing to never show up again uncovered comes as one of the most brilliant marketing ideas in history. As Bangalter himself recounts,

We were working in the studio on our sampler – at exactly 9:09 am on September 9, 1999 – when it exploded. We regained consciousness and discovered that we had become robots.”

Daft Punk appeared from that moment on in a full suit, wearing two different changing-colour helmets, establishing a new trend of anonymity, which will later be also followed by some writers, musicians and producers.

The album Discovery was meant to be a timeless piece, as well as its nostalgic song “One More Time” which took two years to finish and was finally released in the year 2000.

Discovery was released in 2001 and is an unusual and elegant mixture of rhythms, perfectly blended in 4/4, with electric guitars inputs and extreme synthesizers.

Following Daft Punk – and dance music in general – in the early 2000s was an outsider’s choice: the electronic duo has not always been loved by everyone like today.

That’s why that once-in-a-lifetime-event that took place in 2001 in the kids’ channel “Cartoon Network” is incredible: Toonami, the late-night television programming block that primarily broadcasts Japanese anime, airs the first four music videos of the animated film INTERSTELLAR 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem.

Directed by Kazuhisa Takenouchi and produced by the iconic anime studio Toei Animation – the same from Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball – Interstellar 5555 sets a Discovery’ tone with a different narrative centred on the story of an alien band kidnapped by an evil force that brainwashes and enslaves them, forcing them to play soulless pop music to become pop stars.

The picture of the music it displays is not the best, but the idea was so brilliant that it captivated everyone.

After that came Human After All, an album recorded in just six weeks, clearly making contrast with the previous one, which took two years for a single song.

In 2005 during its first year of release, the album didn’t just get the critics’ approbation but far from it. Pitchfork trashed it, calling it “not just a failure but a real pain in the heart”.

Critics called the album repetitive and very far from the band’s past innovations until the “Light Show” tour starts and turns out to have unprecedented global success, which would, later on, change the perception of this underrated record, pruning public opinion to apologise for having judged it so hastily.

It should be noted that in an era without YouTube, without viral videos or social media the way it is now, you could discover the potential of an artist in a concert only by attending the concert. The audiovisual revelation of Daft Punk was a unique experience: a mash-up of hypnotic music, lights and visuals that were rare at the time.

Daft Punk was the first band to introduce such massive and significant stage elements during live shows, such as the legendary pyramid of light and iron in 2006.

From that moment on, all the other EDM and non-EDM artists introduced oversized stage productions by increasing complexity in their shows, like Skrillex who had a spaceship built, Deadmau5 had a bright cube and Avicii, a post-apocalyptic giant head. Thanks to Daft Punk, live shows will never be the same again.

The generations of dance artists born from the impact that Daft Punk had on global music are countless. One them is Justice – a French duo, part of Ed Banger Records – and others who have gone on board the awakening of electro dance music inspired by their sounds.

Although never forgotten, Daft Punk took a back seat for several years. They appeared briefly in Tron’s soundtrack in 2010 while working on a new album that would bring together their all-time heroes: Giorgio Moroder and Nile Rodgers.

With no references to the past or nostalgic riffs, the new record is an honest statement of who they are and how far they have come to get there. The album Random Access Memories is released on May 17, 2013. Daft Punk gives life to a new trend, a legacy thought for the next 30 years and future generations.

The piece with Moroder has a sample in an infinite loop, which refers to the rhythms of disco music of the 70s and 80s, while the voice of the honoured:

“My name is Giovanni Giorgio, but everybody calls me Giorgio”

briefly tells of his beginnings as a producer and DJ: it’s a masterpiece!

Get Lucky”, with Pharrell, is the first single from the album, and would become the global hit to define that era, reaching 2nd place of the 100 most listened to songs worldwide.

Daft Punk had a memorable performance on the occasion of the victory at the Grammys in 2014 when they went on stage with Pharrell, Rodgers and Stevie Wonder.

Without a single word, the French duo hugged right before receiving one more award to celebrate a musical career that was continuously growing, from the improvised recording studio of Homework to worldwide icons.

That long journey was all there, in that hug.

 

WORDS: Manuela Palma

From that unforgettable moment, the rumours of a hypothetical return to the studio chased each other for years, arousing expectation and a certain amount of disappointment that was never denied or validated by the duo.

We are used to seeing them having an unexpected and surprising return to the studio, and we all hope it could happen again, yet to speak of Daft Punk as a part of the past is somewhat strange, and hopeful sceptics still speculate that the announcement of their dissolution is simply a well-conceived twist for an actual comeback.

For the moment, we cannot but accept that it is really over, but on the other hand, the band has already given us everything. It no longer owes us any musical genius.

We will continue to listen to the tunes, nostalgically observing our collection of Bearbricks with Robot helmets, by these two mysterious French artists that have returned home to their mother star.

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