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Download the Qobuz apps for smartphones, tablets and computers, and listen to your purchases wherever you go. Twenty years ago, the French Touch invaded the clubs and radio stations all over the world, putting France high on the map of electronic music.
Qobuz tells you the story of 10 records which have left their mark on this golden era of French producers. Cast yourself back to the career of an endlessly enigmatic artist. Ahead of technology, composition and stage performance, the Germans proved to the public that robots were also capable of emotion and paved the way for techno, new wave and even hip-hop.
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Give Life Back to Music. Daft Punk. The Game of Love. Giorgio by Moroder. Instant Crush. Julian Casablancas. Lose Yourself to Dance. Daft Punk could occasionally be poor judges of their own work, with a number of iffy remixes of their songs being unleashed on the public over the years. But I like to think that Too Long being too long is a deliberate flaw, thrown into the album with a knowing wink. The fact that Too Long runs to exactly ten minutes, a very round number, only compounds my suspicions.
Before he died, he made a new recording of the song and sent me the vocals to source the remixes. The song itself is a wonder. But its position as an album opener seems bizarre. It seems scandalously obvious. What better start to a record could there be?
One More Time seems to have been a slightly awkward track for Daft Punk, one that they saw as connected to Too Long but separate from the body of Discovery. In my theory of two Discoveries, One More Time and Too Long represent one version of the album — a house music Discovery that borders on the conventional — while the rest of the songs comprise the second Discovery, a far more distinctive album, where elements of rock and classical melody fold into house and disco. Perhaps One More Time and Too Long top and tail Discovery for this reason: it is a way of keeping the two Discoveries separate, of maintaining the integrity of the second Discovery without throwing out the first.
Yes, Bangalter replied, not so much agreeing as moving the conversation on. Putting it at the start of the album feels almost like an act of sacrifice, a way of sloughing off the old before starting with the new. But if Daft Punk had ended the album with One More Time, the song would still have been separate from the main body of work. But why on earth — in this scenario — would Daft Punk do this?
What possible advantage could there be to the band in sabotaging the new album they had sweated blood over? It seems illogical. But there is a long history of people inserting deliberate flaws into their work. It is found in certain styles of pottery, particularly Hagi ware, where pieces are often created in slightly asymmetrical shapes or with small chips missing.
Many musicians recognise the power of error in their creative process, as it sends them scuttling down new paths. I had made a mistake about which note I was supposed to be sliding to. I did it repeatedly. Sanders explained that the timbre of the solo — a kind of screeching electronic accordion sound — was so unpleasant and so unexpected that it put him off the song entirely.
How, he wondered, had this happened? In the end, there are many reasons why people put imperfections in their work. The mistakes in Phulkari shawls and headscarves protect the wearer from the evil eye; the Navajo believe that only God is perfect, and Buddhist monks apparently embraced wabi-sabi as a reminder that nothing is perfect or permanent.
Imperfection, in other words, reminds us what it is to be human, bringing a dose of humanity to our work that technical perfection will never do. Was it a joke? A way to release musical tension? They are like the scuff on a pair of shoes that reminds you of a good night out, the battered ear on an old teddy bear that shows it has been loved, or the grit that makes the pearl.
But, on the whole, British music fans steered clear of their French neighbours. Three decades later, Garnier can still be found in the upper echelons of night club and festival bills, while Shazz has released a number of brilliant singles and albums.
This feat seemed monumental at the time. Something which has kicked the French into the 20th Century. In the US, reviews were more mixed. Homework was also a commercial hit, reaching far higher in the sales charts than any of the critical darlings of French dance music that had gone before it.
Homework made number three in France, eight in the UK, 15 in Canada and a respectable in the Billboard charts, eventually selling half a million copies in the US on its way to an estimated two million global sales. After Virgin picked it up, the song sold another two million copies, reaching number one in Spain and Greece, two in the UK, Italy and Canada and 62 on the US Billboard chart, where house music, on the whole, feared to tread.
Even among the critics who disliked One More Time, there was a feeling that Daft Punk would pull through on their new album, with One More Time a kind of shiny chart distraction before the real house music started. Initial critical reaction to Discovery, however, was varied. The thing about Daft Punk, for all they do about pretending to be robots, their take on house music on Homework was really earthy and vibrant and you could see it was rooted in Detroit and Chicago house.
And this [Discovery] just seemed a bit antiseptic. I was really shocked. What people knew of Daft Punk was more techno. While some highly respected DJs like Louie Vega played the record, it was largely rejected by the audience who had initially embraced Daft Punk. There was a vague tinge of disappointment as the Discovery campaign stumbled to an end, with plans to release every song on the album as a single being shelved, as Daft Punk moved on to new things.
It was just innovative…. Like some of these [things], like [online fan club] the Daft Club, like whatever, they run out of steam or they run out of time or they go on to different ideas. True, the Daft Club initiative an online fan club accessed with a code that came with copies of Discovery was intended as a way to give fans more from Discovery, offering a series of free downloads that served as a kind of alternate history to the album.
But not enough fans had reliable home internet connections in for the idea to really work and much of the material was sadly under par. Alive 97, a live album initially released as part of the Daft Club, got a full release in October and, brilliant though it was, it rather muddled the picture of where Daft Punk were at, around the start of the new Millennium. For everyone else, just daft. Certainly, there was no eureka moment when people suddenly saw the light.
Rather, over the following decade a number of advances started to show the album in a new perspective, as its impact grew, eventually being recognised as one of the most important records of the 21st Century. None of this conclusively proves the influence of Discovery. Guilty Pleasures became a cultural phenomenon that spawned compilation CDs, celebrity DJ dates and laid the ground for the rise of The Feeling, a group of five politely dressed young men from Sussex who made music inspired by Supertramp, Fleetwood Mac and 10CC.
Their album was a massive hit in their native Britain, selling almost , copies. Both The Feeling and Guilty Pleasures eventually faded into the musical background. Although Haim, who arguably draw on the same kind of sources, are still going strong.
And Digital Love is one of my favourite tracks to play out today. The genre would arguably peak in when Fischerspooner, the arty New York duo closely linked to electroclash, reached number 25 in the British charts with the re-release of their single Emerge. DJ Erol Alkan, whose London club night Trash was closely associated with the electroclash movement, was a big fan of Daft Punk, later remixing The Brainwasher from Human After All; Peaches and Vitalic, two artists initially associated with electroclash, remixed Technologic for its single release; and you can hear some of the same electro influences that were evident in many electroclash tunes in Daft Punk tracks like Oh Yeah and Short Circuit.
Perhaps the most important crossover between Discovery and electroclash, however, was the way that both sides reached out to rock music: Discovery in its sonic tone, electroclash in its embrace of songs, glamour and performance. It was all about this mixture of rock and electronics, it had various inputs, it had downtown New York, disco and funkpunk, electro. At the same time, a new generation of electronic music artists was emerging in France that centred around Ed Banger Records, the label set up by Daft Punk manager Pedro Winter.
This group of producers — which included Justice, SebastiAn and Winter himself under his Busy P alias — would sound very different from the first wave of French Touch acts, with disco samples and house beats replaced by something more spiky and electronic. It was Justice who really made the rock influence explicit, however. More importantly, their music particularly in their early days was based on the kind of distorted riffs that suggested Tony Iommi jimmying the window on a synth factory.
They apparently even sampled Slipknot and Queen on Genesis, the first track on their debut album, Cross. As such, it is generally considered more of an influence on Justice than Discovery, thanks to the distorted edges on HAA tracks like The Brainwasher and the crude guitar riffs on Robot Rock. Even Mylo. But Daft Punk are the shit.
But Daft Punk were doubtlessly responsible for popularising it. Their kick drum, it is one of those signature sounds that it is hard to see when it existed before them… Daft Punk are master studio technicians in terms of making records that sound good.
The post-genre, ideas-a-second sound of Gecs also bears more direct traces of Daft Punk and Discovery. If Daft Punk had grown up with the internet rather than dusty record stores, there is an argument to say that their music might have sounded a lot like Gecs. As Justice were exploding in France, Autotune, the vocal processing effect that Daft Punk has controversially used on One More Time, was beginning its rise to ubiquity. By contrast, Mark Taylor and Brian Rawling, the producers of Believe, initially tried to keep their use of Autotune quiet, telling Sound on Sound magazine in that they had used the Digitech Talker vocoder pedal to create the vocal effect on the song.
By this time, the backlash against Autotune was already brewing. Jay-Z called the lead single from his album The Blueprint 3 D. But it is a mark of the commercial impression that Autotune had made that this proved little more than a blip on its inexorable rise. But Kanye West was something different. By the time that Stronger was released, West was one of the biggest stars in music. His album Late Registration sold , copies in the US in its first week of release and Stronger would go on to top the charts in ten countries, selling five million copies in the US alone.
We were on tour in Europe in , spending a lot of hours on the bus listening to the radio. Kanye heard Touch It and thought that beat was cool. Though it leads to some way worse electronic musicians becoming more prominent in the hip-hop world see: Diplo and Carnage. Daft Punk, of course, also used an on Discovery. On the one hand, this is thanks to a certain tonal similarity between the two releases.
There needs to be something tickling your ear in different frequencies and at different times just to keep you interested and exhilarated. All their sounds were neon and bright, it was colourful. And that is what I wanted to capture with Neon Dreams. I wanted it to be a colourful, bright album with character, much like Discovery was. Your hearing gazes into these depths of a great garage track or a great house track. That was something that I had seen people refer to.
There was this very good writer called Adam Harper who was writing about a lot of online electronic music. You had really shit hot drummers, bassists, keyboardists and some of those lead guitarists, who would do really, really tight snazzy playing. Reynolds now sees PC Music, the London record label and art collective whose music was a direct antecedent of hyperpop, as another example of the digital maximalism that Discovery helped to inspire.
The musical influence of Discovery, then, can be found in a number of different themes, from Autotune to sidechain compression, the soft rock revival to digital maximalism. In EDM too, which I will look into later.
But it would be wrong to see these as isolated events in musical history. Pop music has always followed the musical avant-garde, absorbing influences that once seemed outlandish in its voracious appetite for novelty. Witness, for example, how the dubstep wobble moved slowly mainstream in the late s.
Autotune, sidechain compassion, 80s rock and ultra-bright maximalism all became part of the pop music palette in the wake of Discovery, where they have stubbornly remained. The sound of Discovery, in many ways, is the sound of modern pop music.
It is still on every record. Although produced in a world where the internet had yet to become a genuinely mainstream phenomenon, Discovery has a very post-internet feel to it, in the way that it brings together different, potentially contrasting, and often unfashionable, types of music in one unapologetic ball of influences. As such, Keeling sees a line from Discovery to a more general acceptance of pop music and its production techniques among underground electronic music producers.
And it actually works. It is OK to shift. You are trying to experiment. Bangalter said he was flattered by the idea that other producers might try to copy their work. They were going to do what they wanted. They do what they feel artistically led to do. It is very admirable. But you have to have a lot of confidence and vision and belief in yourself to not compromise.
And to also be talented enough to not compromise and have it work. Daft Punk were incredibly prescient: play Discovery today, and it sounds utterly contemporary. My review, on the other hand, has not aged so well. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. Many of the people who accessed the internet did so in public libraries or universities, often queuing up for an allotted half hour that would go past oh-too-quickly, as the next person in the queue looked nervously over our shoulders.
Broadband, on the whole, was a thing of our dreams. But downloading a song via dial-up was such an expensive pain in the technological bottom that few people, other than university students, really bothered with it. Napster had just For all that the music industry fretted about Napster, the business was still in gluttonous boom territory in , when Discovery hit the shelves.
Digital was part of the music industry conversation in , but the continued health of the business meant that genuine action in the field was conspicuously thinner on the ground. Legal downloads on iTunes did not happen until in the US, in Europe, and so digital was mainly seen as something that cost a lot to do — websites were costing tens of thousands to build, as not many companies could make them — but did not bring in money.
So it was down the agenda in business meetings. CDs were slipping but were still bringing in lots of money, so there was no rush to speed up their irrelevance. The idea of the fan club had been knocking around for decades. But the idea of a website where fans could go to download music, some two years before the launch of iTunes, or a digital fan club three years before Facebook, was almost unheard of.
Like the Daft Club: their ideas were outstepping the technology and capabilities of what they wanted to achieve. In very early digital initiatives, they were so far ahead of themselves; they were an education, working with them was an education. So it arrived just as things were starting to take off. The idea of spending time online at home was alien to most people.
Plus, the idea of going online while on the move was deemed ludicrous by many. That all changed, of course, with the launch of the iPhone in It was not the first smartphone but it was the one that made it mainstream. The idea of an online fan club in was the very definition of niche — both in terms of the technological means to access it and also in terms of fan interest in it.
Because Daniel knew they were going to be important. Entry to the Daft Club was, theoretically, simple: early versions of Discovery came with a rather chic plastic card on which was embossed a personal access code to the Daft Club website. Entering the online Club gave users access to a steadily updated trove of unreleased music in DRM-protected MP3 format, including the specially composed new song Ouverture, remixes and acapellas.
But for hundreds of thousands of keen Daft Punk fans — myself included — laying our hands on this digital treasure proved problematic. And yet, I eagerly coughed up for a CD version of Discovery, hopeful that one day I would be able to enjoy this precious, exclusive content without having to risk transferring it to the one floppy disc I owned. Even then, I knew the Daft Club was unique. The initial plan was to offer a CD ROM with Discovery that would include the software fans needed to listen to the music, sparing them the pain of downloading a MB file.
But lastminute mastering problems scuppered this plan, and the software was instead made available from the Daft Club site. Even glueing the card into the back of the CD cost 10 cents. Luckily, Daft Punk were not short of money or clout at the time.
There was, then, no financial imperative for Daft Punk to create the Daft Club. In bands largely made their money from CD sales and live appearances: sell a decent number of CDs and, even with the record company cut, you could live well off the proceeds. As a result, there was little need for the kind of commoditised closeness that has become so popular in the modern music business of VIP meet-and-greets and crowdfunding.
The artist-fan relationship was, quite simply, that fans bought your music and sometimes approached you at gigs. And fans could consider themselves lucky for that. But instead of attacking Napster, we dreamed of setting up a different model servicing something more appealing.
The thing is to make the buying experience more personal and entertaining, emphasising membership. A track that could have been done today can be online tomorrow. The other thing is to really express ourselves through the internet. Reading this today, what the duo said seems hugely prescient. It was not about socialising per se — it was about digging deep into one subject.
MySpace arrived in and used music as a hook to bring people in, but it became a way to socialise with friends and also draw in new people — so it took on a much broader remit. It came soon after Friendster , but MySpace was the platform that properly captured imaginations. And music was completely central to that. This is not some easy marketing thing, [Daft Club] is very deep and very serious for us. And yet, he is wary of labelling the project a success.
I think there were some technical challenges because it was a little bit early. It was always in their time. So I think that was something I remember at the time, just thinking how they would sustain it and how regularly? In a refreshingly punk spirit, doing was more important to Daft Punk than perfection.
There was no MySpace, Napster was just in the process of being closed. But, definitely, I as a music fan was aware that it had the importance to be significant. And yet, it still seems bizarre that Daft Punk closed their online fan club a few months before the iTunes store launched, ushering in the mainstream era of digital music.
A decade after Discovery was released, as the music industry faced its nadir, the idea of online bonus content that would help drive CD sales was everywhere, something Daft Punk had understood even as CD sales boomed.
Daft Club was hugely prescient, a glimpse into the future of online music that few people seemed to heed. Daft Punk themselves rarely talked about the Daft Club after it closed, and the initiative seemed to drift out of history. There was a feeling, perhaps, that the Daft Club was done, its purpose served, and it was now time for this everchanging duo to move on to new things. And I knew it would be on the record forevermore when that record was reprinted. He just wants to work. On the face of it, this might seem like the perfect environment for the Daft Club to operate in.
But Forde questions whether this combination of circumstances would actually have rendered the Daft Club irrelevant. Of course, ownership of fan data is a whole other issue, but consumers only want a handful of places they go to. They could get to the Daft Punk page via Facebook as they were already on there, but only the really dedicated would care about a separate platform for just one act.
Daft Punk are not going to share much or any of their personality or private lives on there or do messages for fans. That is excellent for marketing where their scarcity and remoteness is the selling point but not for an online fan club. You need to give a bit of yourself to make it work. I think they were pretty prescient in many respects.
You could see the Daft Club as a failure — a glorious, well-intentioned near success of a failure — but a failure nonetheless. That makes it a very human gesture from Daft Punk, at a time when they were retreating into their robotic personae. In common usage, the law of unintended consequences has come to mean that an intervention in a complex system tends to create unanticipated and often undesirable outcomes.
We might apply this term to YouTube and its effect on the music industry. YouTube was not intended as a place to consume music. And people do, in their millions, often uploading songs that have no official presence on YouTube. Record labels and artists can monetise videos that use their music on YouTube. This means that today pretty much every song released by anything but the smallest record label has some kind of video to accompany it on YouTube, a massive turnaround from 20 years ago when most musical acts would only ever have a handful of promo clips to their name.
This change is firmly in line with the increasingly visual world in which we live. The rise of the internet, mobile phones and tablets, plus cheap digital camera technology, means that people take far more photos than even a few years ago. At the same time, we increasingly interact visually with technology, using apps on our phones and tablets to control devices that would previously have been operated by hand, such as the lighting in our homes.
Although the rise of virtual assistants like Alexa and Siri means the voice is now, in turn, becoming more and more important in the way we operate technology. Listening to music, as a result, is an increasingly visual experience. You might argue that it always has been, with the record sleeve once the perfect accompaniment to your favourite album, to be poured over for the slightest detail as the record plays.
But the rise of digital video and video-sharing sites, plus the importance of YouTube as a platform for musical consumption, means that this is more true today than ever. Many people play music on YouTube in the background as they go about their day. Interstella and Discovery are tightly entwined. What this means is that music does much of the heavy lifting in establishing character and emotion. Perhaps the best example of this comes in the Interstella scene that is soundtracked by Superheroes.
It opens with The Crescendolls being flown into a stadium gig. And so on. Daft Punk had long been a cinematic band that paid close attention to their visual identity. You can see this in the videos that accompanied their debut album Homework. In terms of breaking the mould of what music videos did, this has got live sound, it has a weird comedy drama going on, no explanation as to why this guy is in a dog outfit.
The video for Revolution , the last single to be released from Homework, is a winningly strange meeting point of two plot lines. In one, police break up a rave taking place in an alley; in the other, a woman prepares tomato sauce, the two connecting in a dramatic twist when we see the police officer involved in the earlier altercation spilling the tomato sauce lovingly prepared by his partner onto his shirt.
Starring Charles, the canine protagonist of Da Funk, the video for Fresh is an impressive work, filmed in a single tracking shot. Bangalter told me that the band had been encouraged to direct by some of the directors they had worked with. He also compared the choice of the right camera or lenses to picking the correct microphone or the perfect synthesiser sound.
An animation fan would find this mixture of elements and story in our music. Orla Lee-Fisher, who was head of marketing for Virgin Records UK at the time, says that the label knew early on that Discovery would come with videos for each song. That would then build the visuals into that film.
It was very much a long-term strategy. We really wanted to do something with that because it was really pleasing to us, like a childhood dream come true. We knew that it could be the same for other people and hoped they could relate to the Japanese animation we had in Europe. We thought about Mr. We were really happy.
His response was a really good surprise. The DVD was eventually released in December As a dialogue-free space opera that plays out to the gentle thump of house music, Interstella is an unusual film and reviews were distinctly varied. Empire, the respected film magazine, was unimpressed.
For Daft Punk, Interstella seems to have been a way of expanding the universe of Discovery, making it into much more than just an album to listen to. This is what built our artistic minds. For all that, you would be hard-pressed to call Interstella a definitive success. Interstella was undoubtedly innovative, foreseeing the trend for visual albums a decade later. But its impact has been a lot more modest than that of Discovery.
If Interstella was ultimately less universal in its acclaim than Discovery, however, that may be because its reference points are less common than those on its sister album. Interstella allowed Daft Punk to continue the excursions into film that they started on Homework. The videos for Fresh and Da Funk tell related stories with the same lead character: Charles. In Da Funk, we see Charles hobble around New York, eventually meeting a childhood friend, Beatrice, who disappears before Charles can make plans to have dinner with her.
Fresh takes place years later: Charles is a successful film director, who we see filming a scene, discussing techniques with Spike Jonze, then meeting up with Beatrice, who is now his wife. Homework, you could argue, suggests the basis of a film with these two promo clips, with recurring characters and plot development. Daft Punk were, according to Orla Lee-Fisher, planning to release every song from Discovery as a single, something that had never been done before.
Could Daft Punk have realised the vital importance that music video would soon play in the commercialisation and consumption of music when they commissioned Interstella? But Daft Punk were undoubtedly very forward-looking technologically, as we saw with the launch of the Daft Club.
Whatever their motivations, the videos from Interstella have proved advantageous for Daft Punk in the YouTube age. The 14 songs from Discovery have racked up more than m views on YouTube in total, between the official videos taken from Interstella and the official audios, which place the song against a Discovery packshot. In every single case, the Interstella video has considerably more views than the official audio, even if the official audio clip has a better sound quality.
Generally, the Interstella videos have somewhere between two and 20 times the views that the official audio clips have. But it is rather more unexpected that Superheroes and Veridis Quo come so high in the ranking. The presence of Veridis Quo introduces another area in which Daft Punk took a very modern view of the music industry and music consumption. But Daft Punk appear to have taken a more relaxed — some might say a more mature — approach to matters, which has undoubtedly benefited them in views.
The fanmade Daft Hands video for Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger is another example of this, racking up more than 73 million views on YouTube, in what was an early example of a viral video hit. Interstella was a grand artistic statement from Daft Punk. But it was also a lot more than that. It could have been shown at a cinema or on TV — and it quite possibly was — people would have paid to go and see it.
If you are selling tickets to see essentially the videos from the album, you are turning it into the product itself. That is your record. And it is always going to be out there. On MTV, they could choose to play it or not. Whereas everything that is made now exists and can be seen.
Both Discovery and Interstella demonstrated how important visual identity was for Daft Punk, something few electronic music producers were thinking about in There is, in fact, something delightfully nerdy about it: this is the Daft Punk of anime cartoons and children playing with fire engines rather than the globe-conquering electronic music stars. Here is how Daft Punk described their transformation in a interview with Cartoon Network. It is not something that can easily be explained.
It was not like an explosion, but there were lights and gold and silver powder was everywhere. When we finally woke up, the silver and gold powder became our robot faces. We do not know exactly what happened because when we woke up, we were just robots. Robots, on the whole, are pretty neat things, with a long history in electronic music. In their later years, Kraftwerk would come to increasingly hide behind their robot personae, sending their robots along to perform promotional duties, such as for photoshoots and even interviews.
Daft Punk, never particular fans of the promotional process, were likely taking notes. They would be photographed in the DJ position as they were. But otherwise, they would be disguised. When it came to Discovery, they came back with their robot heads. And that was when they took it on another step. Everything had to be created: had to have makeup or disguises. That is why it was very clever: it became their look. Piers Martin, a veteran of British music magazine NME and a dance music fan, went to Los Angeles to interview the band in November , visiting them in their house in the Hollywood Hills.
Luis Sanchis took the accompanying pictures, including a photo of the band playing the piano that would later appear on the Discovery sleeve. This was no casual set up: Martin remembers the experience as something like a collaboration between the band, their PR agency and The Face.
And they wanted to introduce the robots there and introduce the record. Martin remembers being quite taken aback by the experience. So I love to move from place to place and improvise. They loved all this stuff that we did. But they looked fantastic. The gloves were more standard, made up of metallic plating on ribbed black spandex. But Daft Punk paired their helmets with some spectacular outfits, from a very louche ruffled shirt and cigar combo to sequin-embellished tuxes designed by Hedi Slimane.
Then, over the years, as Daft Punk evolved, so too did their robotic personae. Here they are! By the time they went dark [around the time of Human After All, when the robots had started to sport none-more-black leather outfits], there were other changes that happened in the faces, like Thomas originally, he and Guy-Man were more anime style. Because the robots had a cameo in it. And we wanted him to be a little more enigmatic, a little more mysterious.
Just pictures and colours. And Thomas would be the literal dialogue across his face. It was more direct communication. Rather, they allowed Daft Punk — as the robots — to communicate their message in a clear, unambiguous way that could reach a wide audience, much like the Jumbotrons that partially inspired the helmet designs. For our circuity. And nice oil and good maintenance. But we are really everywhere, travelling a lot. But this mixture of fantasy and fiction can become quite trying over the course of a longer interview, as serious explanations about songwriting and inspiration are buried beneath stories as to why robots go to strip clubs.
Martin appears to have felt some of this frustration. But then, because it was a kind of collaborative affair, we could make it work. And that was pretty much it. At the same time, we spoke for a long time and I could have asked them more questions, but I felt like I had enough. They were just doing their job, really.
Daft Punk would use their robotic personae to hide their faces as they entered a new phase in their career. In their earliest photoshoots, Daft Punk pose in a fairly conventional fashion and you can see them for what they are: two young, rather naive-looking Parisians who seem bemused by the attention they are receiving.
Around , however, they started to hide their faces in photo shoots, using everything from shaving cream to cheap Halloween masks to cover up. How we look is irrelevant. It has always been irrelevant in house or techno music. Daft Punk created a look that enhanced their art, with none of the facelessness of much modern electronic music, that worked without exposing their actual faces to public opinion.
This robotic image then became part of the wider Daft Punk project, as Bangalter explained to art and lifestyle magazine Whitewall in You can see this holistic approach in the lyrics to Discovery. Short Circuit, with its dramatic, power-down coda, conveys how a robot might feel as its power fades. I mean, if you take Kiss, when they took off their masks — even to a certain level, in some superhero movies, where the superhero reveals its identity — it takes some of the magic.
In , the band decided to remove these masks, initially to great commercial success. But interest waned and, in , the band masked up again, creating huge excitement among their fans. More likely, though, the band just got sick of fame. Daft Punk always wanted their music to reach as many people as possible. But they never seemed particularly happy with the celebrity it brought. De Homem-Christo is right: the roots are famous, giving the band an instantly recognisable, very stylish look.
If Daft Punk were simply anonymous — like, say, Burial, the acclaimed British dance music producer, who initially refused to reveal his identity — the desire to see their faces would be overwhelming. But Daft Punk did have a public image, albeit one based on robot masks rather than their own assortment of facial features.
This means Daft Punk could play gigs, turn up to award shows, make video cameos and generally do the things that famous artists do, and yet still walk in the street unbothered. I have absolutely no idea. Because they can take their work clothes off and hang them up and go home and be dad.
And they can go to the store and be the guy that lives two doors down and not somebody specific. They can be normal. And I think it keeps them and it keeps their state of mind healthier than most. Dublin DJ and Daft Punk historian Conor Keeling believes that, in creating these robotic personae, Daft Punk invented a whole new form of musical stardom. So you release music that makes an enormous impact and then you withdraw.
And because the music has made that impact, the mystique then becomes very powerful. There has been everybody that has come to us. And to me, the [Daft Punk] helmets are always at the top of the list. These are literally their characters. I am sure the last thing they want to see is their disembodied selves showing up somewhere. But they never exploited their fame, a delicate balancing act that required a particular amount of restraint. On the Instagram account, the most recent post is from November , promoting Daft Punk seasonal merchandise.
But this is unfair: Daft Punk have sacrificed their active personal presence on social media for public privacy. That might not sound like a big loss. Most people, for all their complaints about social media, enjoy spending time there. They could, of course, create private social media accounts for friends and family. Possibly they have. But the secrecy and restrictions involved make this far from the casual use of social media that most normal people enjoy. This kind of restraint takes years of effort.
Daft Punk could have upped their follower number by engaging further with Instagram and that would have allowed their promotional posts, selling merchandise, to reach bigger audiences. They could have used social media to mobilise their fans in support of political causes.
This is the sacrifice Daft Punk made — not particularly deep, maybe, but a sacrifice nonetheless. As social media descends into a trash-can fire of mudslinging and offence, this seems smarter every day. Which is intelligent indeed.
And B the fact that they have managed to construct a mythology around themselves in the 21st Century is amazing. It allows us to focus on when something happens. But it took EDM, riding on the electronica trend of the s and a new interest in electronic sounds among hip hop producers, to bring this music into the mainstream in its homeland. And Daft Punk were integral to its rise. Before , Daft Punk had enjoyed cult success in the US. When Coachella organisers got in touch about playing the festival in , he almost rejected the offer immediately.
As an indie kid, though, the Coachella name stood out to Winter, so he decided to put the idea to Bangalter and De Homem-Christo. They agreed. And the rest is history. And they had stopped playing, so everyone had in their head what it might be but we never saw it. And it was times better.
It was just insane. It created a whole new way of presenting electronic music that then became essentially the default in EDM but even in anybody that was going to present music on the scale of a Coachella, a Primavera: to have a show, a light show, custom LED, video mapping, all of these things. Rock music, of course, had long favoured this kind of idea.
It lacks depth. But how about Discovery, specifically? But there is more to the link than that. Discovery had two key elements in its make up that helped introduce Daft Punk — and by extension, re-introduce electronic music — to a mainstream US audience.
EDM was a worldwide phenomenon. But much of the world had already accepted electronic music before EDM hit. In the US, however, EDM marked the first time that electronic music had reached a genuinely mainstream audience, more than two decades after American producers had first invented house music. There had long been a streak of Americanophilia to Daft Punk, from the sound of Dr.
But that was post-Coachella. The guitar solo on Aerodynamic, for example, is pure Heavy Metal Parking Lot: you can imagine the Maryland youth waiting outside a Judas Priest concert in the documentary of that name bugging out to the solo, an impression that is confirmed by the sheer number of metal-loving dudes who have covered the song on YouTube.
Even more important, however, was the way that the band crossed over into the hip hop world on Discovery. Daft Punk had been influenced by hip hop on Homework, specifically on Da Funk. That changed in with the release of Fantastic, Vol. Big Booty Express , a track on his debut album Welcome 2 Detroit. We were so happy with the result and the shout out. It should, perhaps, come as no surprise that the music on Discovery works so well in this context. So I can easily understand why some hip hop producers were seduced by some of these tracks.
It just goes faster [in tempo] to what they are used to working with. So when Kanye West sampled Daft Punk in — far more than when Busta Rhymes used Technologic one year earlier — it felt like a royal decree that declared electronic music acceptable, allowing other hip hop producers to dig into the field. In , they worked with Pharrell Williams again, co-producing Hypnotize U, a song with distinct Voyager vibes, for N. And then he ran with it and built the record, working with a lot of other producers and based on maybe some of the initial directions that we had laid out together.
Yeezus topped the US charts and was a huge critical hit for West, ranking highly in most end-of-year polls. They also worked with Jay-Z on a song for their Tron soundtrack, Computerized, although it was never officially released. Without Discovery and its rock stylings, Neptunes remix and talk box-style vocal, the global spread of electronic music would have turned out very differently.
Politically France and the US should perhaps be natural allies, as historical liberal democracies. More recently, Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump disagreed strongly on issues such as climate change, leading to an impressively childish standoff over who had the toughest handshake when the two leaders met in France and the US have a similarly antagonistic if rather more one-sided relationship over music.
Ever since the jazz age, people in France have lapped up American music, however much some French patriots might pretend otherwise. Serge Gainsbourg, too, for all his love of Gallic wordplay, was never that far from a Ford Mustang or Harley Davidson reference in his songs. Daft Punk employed a similarly Franco-American mix in their music. On a very obvious level, the house and techno that Daft Punk produced are American styles of music.
But both St. Germain and Motorbass before them gave these genres a sophisticated, distinctly French feel, in much the same way that Basement Jaxx gave house a British edge. Daft Punk, while certainly no prisoner to the American dance sound, always sounded notably more American than these three acts. Thomas Bangalter, lest we forget, spent three weeks in New York in visiting night clubs, right at the start of Daft Punk.
And obviously, techno came from Detroit. Rock and roll is one of the archetypal American musics, the symbol of a s Pax Americana idyll, and Discovery is in thrall to it. But the imagery the band used seemed to reach out to a kind of mythical American dream. One More Time and Too Long speak of the importance of being free; Digital Love mentions jamming and dancing; and Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger sounds, on the face of it, like the essence of the American work ethic.
America, but specifically LA, is like their spiritual homeland. That conjunction of music, film, entertainment, fantasy, escape. The French are immensely proud of their language as they should be and protect it at all cost. The aim of this law is to protect the French language and, by and large, it works: French hip hop is far more popular than US rap in France, for example. As a result, some French people can be rather snooty about the success of Daft Punk.
Instead, they generally preferred to speak about Air, a band who sang in French and sounded far less in thrall to the US rock tradition. Daft Punk felt oddly under-appreciated in their homeland, with a certain amount of mutual antagonism. It may have been in — the gig appears to have been swallowed up by the gulf of collective memory. But after Basement Jaxx played, almost the entire audience left, leaving 20 hardy souls to watch Thomas and Guy-Man play records to a nearly empty dance floor.
All the same, it seemed telling. In a interview with Melody Maker, Thomas Bangalter discussed the attitude of French critics towards the band early on in their career. They had a big piece on us, calling us cheesy, mainstream stuff. We did a four-page interview with this magazine. In France, there are maybe three or four venues.
And, certainly, there was celebration. But this was joined by some journalism that seemed rather resentful of their success in the States. When it is the French who are, in turn, paying homage to American culture, that gives them, in the eyes of Americans, more prestige. It excites them. You can, in a way, understand this attitude towards Daft Punk: their music is clearly inspired by American traditions at a time when much of the world is fed up with the American cultural hegemony.
To try to remove the American substance from this music would be to tell a serious lie. And surely it was better for Daft Punk to be honest in their Americana than live within a tissue of dishonesty? Besides, you could make a case on Discovery for Daft Punk being a genuinely post-national band: they were a French act, who divided their time between the US and Paris, signed to a British record label, aping German robots, inspired by American music and Japanese anime film.
Nobody ever gave a passport to a robot. There may be additional complication: the Wikipedia page for Discovery sometimes claims that February 26 was the French release date and March 12 the international release date. Overall the tour played to somewhere between half a million and , people, Thomas Bangalter told Billboard.
But it is fascinating, nonetheless, to see how its songs were re-born on Alive Too Long and One More Time even turned up twice in the setlist. Rather than simply reproducing these songs, Daft Punk combined them in ambitious juxtapositions, like a particularly skilful DJ might do. Sometimes the combinations are dazzling. It is an intoxicating mixture, and you can hear the Paris crowd lose their minds on the live album. For anyone familiar with DJ culture, this kind of intricate layering is impressive, if ultimately recognisable.
An enterprising DJ would struggle to recreate the sound of Alive — you would need the individual song stems to produce such clean mixtures between tracks — but they could at least approach it. What makes this celebration particularly interesting — and perhaps unlikely — is that Daft Punk had pretty much given up on DJing by , after Bangalter developed tinnitus in The Alive tour, in this way, was like a work of curation, which makes it a very modern triumph.
The idea of deconstructing Discovery, an album whose core minus the Romanthony collaborations that bookend proceedings holds together so well, seems almost grotesque. And yet its songs seemed to rejoice in being picked apart and re-arranged, which is a tribute to the strength of the hooks and melodies. Daft Punk themselves are excellent remixers, but the favour is rarely repaid. But these are outweighed by an avalanche of sludge. Roger Sanchez says that his remix of Daft Punk was different from most because it came about when he was touring with the band.
You have to be really stupid to do a bad job with parts you get from Daft Punk on a remix. He is talking about the earlier Daft Punk remixes from the Homework era. Which by and large are excellent. And they make sorry viewing. Certainly, commercially-minded German house producer Boris Dlugosch, who remixes Digital Love on Daft Club, might seem like a slightly jarring choice to re-make Daft Punk. I prefer to see these remixes in another way, though.
For me, they show the frailty of human achievement, a kind of human fallibility woven into an album that bursts with genius. For me, these remixes leave the album with a fragile afterglow; they represent another of the flaws and conundrums that help make Discovery what it is, showing the fallibility of human achievement.
The remixes are ephemeral, remnants of a specific moment in music that have aged badly; Discovery is eternal and infinite, an album unbound by time. Human After All, coming in between them, was more like a bad illness, a sudden, nasty shock to the system that forced the band to re-evaluate. Nobody really liked Human After All at the time. Human After All was how it was because of Discovery. In others, it was like an allergic reaction to Discovery and all that the album represented.
The actual recording process for Human After All was said to be two weeks, with four weeks of mixing. Two drum machines and two guitars and one vocoder and one eight-track machine. We were interested in the roughness somehow and the contrast it provided. Discovery sounds like it was recorded at infinite leisure, stitched together out of the finest materials like some kind of imperial quilt. Human After All, on the other hand, has a distinctly unfinished air, as if jammed together with rusty nails in the pouring rain.
On Discovery, different musical sections flow into each other. On Discovery, Daft Punk employed samples as a kind of spice: important to their music but rarely overbearing and always cleverly used to add flavour. The samples on Discovery are typically chopped up into little pieces, fed through various filters and effects and re-purposed. Robot Rock was the lead single from Human After All, released one month after its parent album to a distinctly mixed reception.
Of these, two are relatively brief — one drum fill and one guitar stab. But it is the third that dominates the song: Daft Punk lift two bars of Release The Beast, which they loop to create the musical backing for large parts of Robot Rock.
Robot Rock is perhaps the perfect example of how Human After All can come across as a poor relation to — or even perversion of — Discovery. Together made some genuinely beautiful music. And at the time it felt like the Together project had reached its peak, with the extreme, dazzling minimalism of their swan song leaving little room to manoeuvre.
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