It’s too late now, and it’s probably been too late for a decade. Daft Punk, the French electronic duo who has dominated the press for the last month, will be wearing their robot suits for the rest of their lives. There will never be a reveal, a coming out, or a change of tone. Frat-trance superstar Deadmau5 has, for the most part, removed the cybernetic mouse head. KISS wrote Lick It Up and took off the face paint on MTV. But even now, when Homework is a 16-year-old album, Daft Punk will always be a gold helmet and a silver helmet.
If Daft Punk wanted to, they could’ve removed their uniforms in the early 2000s without much fanfare or drama. They could’ve still headlined festivals, and toured with a giant pyramid, and they could still have made the gleaming, romantic dance music they’ve become famous for. But that didn’t happen, and the cover of the just-released Random Access Memories is emblazoned with the same severe iconography. It’s hard to think of any outfit in music that’s stayed so relentlessly dedicated to a theme over multiple decades. GWAR? Maybe The Residents?
Daft Punk’s aesthetic legacy is born out of its retro-futuristic novelty, and perhaps they keep the suits on to maintain their reputation. But that only goes so far. Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo are almost 40, and have been hiding their public appearance for a long time. The last 12 years have solidified Daft Punk as a band of robots. For every show, every commercial, every photo shoot, these two men have dressed up in what look to be sweaty, uncomfortable outfits. That is a profound dedication, and it can’t be written off as simple frivolity. Why do they make this sacrifice? Clearly Daft Punk feel they benefit from the robots, and that might make them the most self-conscious band in the world.
It seems innocuous enough, but what would be the impact of a human face behind a song like “Get Lucky”? Would it feel the same? Or would it be just a little less intoxicating? Is it easier to fall for something pulpy and populist like roller-rink disco when it comes to us from cartoon characters? And as real-life humans, is it ever hard not to blush while making this music? Daft Punk’s only resistance to the goof is their masks. The anonymous robots soak up all the attention and enthusiasm, and critics and fans alike start to regard Daft Punk on their own terms, in their own universe. Essentially, Daft Punk wipe away any qualms of plasticity by engaging in maximum goof. Saying “One More Time” is too silly misses the point, but without the masks, that criticism might become easier to make. Without the masks, Daft Punk might be a hated band.
Daft Punk rely on their costumes because they rely on suspended cynicism, so much so that they might fear ever breaking the fantasy. Superhero music needs to be made by superheroes, not mere mortals. It’s not to say that Daft Punk haven’t created some of the most singular dance music of their generation, but instead that the public’s continued, unfettered enthusiasm about their music is directly tied to their image. Nobody can ever cut Daft Punk down for being too bright or too obvious—what else would you expect from a pair of robots? There’s no doubt the world wouldn’t be as excited about Random Access Memories if it were coming from a pair of regular guys.
But you know what? The robots are totally worth it. If we need a giddy fantasy to trust ourselves enough to enjoy recklessly optimistic music, then they’re doing God’s work. Daft Punk needed to transcend their humanity for their confidence, for their message, and for their audience. They needed to create some distance from the world, in order to bring us in closer than ever. Their albums wouldn’t be as magical if they were coming from planet Earth. Daft Punk dress up like robots for plenty of commercial reasons, but most of all, they do it for us.
‘Random Access Memories’ is out now
Daft Punk at The Brit Awards (Getty)
Daft Punk are a household name is the world of electronic music. Chances are, even if you are not mired in the world of techno or house you have heard their music. “Get Lucky”, and “Around the World” are a couple of these examples, and once you hear the pop hook chorus, the earworm will be in your head for the rest of the day.
The French duo have also had recent success with their work on The Weeknd’s single “Starboy”, and have teased a tour in 2017. It’s time that we took a closer look at the mysterious helmet-wearing group. Here are 5 fast facts you need to know about Daft Punk:
1. Thomas Bangalter and Guy Manuel de Homem-Christo were in an Indie Band Called Darlin’ Prior to Forming Daft Punk
Daft Punk at the TIDAL Launch Event (Getty)
The duo met in 1987 when they were in school in Paris. They became friends and joined the guitar-based band Darlin”. The band recorded some demo tracks with Bangalter on bass and de Homem-Christo on guitar. They named their band after The Beach Boys song Darlin’ which they had covered live. The songs were released on a Duophonic Records multi-artist EP.
Bangalter said of his time in Darlin’ “The rock n’ roll think we did was pretty average… four songs and two gigs and that was it.” The time was not lost however as Melody Maker called the Darlin’ songs a “dafty punky thrash”, which the duo held onto after the band dissolved.
2. Daft Punk’s Debut Album Homework Was Said to “Revive House Music”
There was a lull in electronic music in the mid-90’s and then Daft Punk released their debut studio record Homework on Janury 20th, 1997. The record “revived house music and departed from the Eurodance formula,” according to The Village Voice. The record managed to meld different electronic sounds as one including club music and big beat providing an original sound.
The single “Around the World” is the most recognized song from the album known for its repeating song title mantra. Another single “Da Funk” was included on The Saint film soundtrack. Daft Punk made multiple videos for songs on the record directed by established filmmakers including Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Roman Coppola, and Seb Janiak. The videos were released in 1999 under the title D.A.F.T: A Story About Dogs, Androids, Firemen, and Tomatoes.
Homework was a critical and commercial success selling millions of copies and charting in 14 different countries including #3 in France, #8 in the United Kingdom, and #150 on the Billboard US charts.
Track listing for Homework:
2.”WDPK 83.7 FM”
7.”Around the World”
8.”Rollin’ & Scratchin'”
14.”Indo Silver Club”
3. The Group has Produced and Directed Feature-Length Films
Daft Punk at the 56th Grammy Awards (Getty)
In 2003, Daft Punk produced the animated film, Interstellla 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem. They produced the film in collaboration with one of their heroes, animator Leiji Matsumoto. The film is a visual realization of the duo’s second record Discovery and offers no dialogue and minimal sound effects. The group also released the album Daft Club which offered remixes of tracks from Discovery and Homework previously released through a membership only online club.
In 2006, Daft Punk co-wrote and directed the film Daft Punk’s Electroma which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival’s Director’s Fortnight. The film’s plot follows two robot’s quest to become human. The duo’s music is not heard in the movie and instead compositions from Todd Rundgren, Brian Eno, and Curtis Mayfield are featured. Daft Punk’s Electroma was shown during midnight screenings in Paris theaters in 2007.
4. Daft Punk Scored the Film Tron: Legacy
Daft Punk lent themselves to compose 24 tracks for the film Tron: Legacy. The score was arranged and orchestrated by Jospeh Trapanese with the duo working with him for two-plus years from pre-production to completion. The score is a mixture of orchestral and electronic elements including an 85 piece orchestra.
Daft Punk appeared briefly in the movie as disc jockeys in the virtual world of the film wearing their iconic robot helmets. The soundtrack to the film was released on December 6th, 2010. The band shot an official video for the track “Derezzed” with Olivia Wilde starring in the video.
5. Daft Punk has been Inspired by Many Musicians across the Music Spectrum
Daft Punk’s sound is a mixture of electronica for sure, but the duo has been influenced by a number of artists throughout their career. The group drew much inspiration in the early days from rock and acid house in the United Kingdom citing the record Screamadelica by Primal Scream as an influential sound.
During the recording of Homework the group cited Brian Wilson and Bob Marley as huge influences. They also cite those that came before as inspiration including Frankie Knuckles, Juan Atkins, Romanthony, and Todd Edwards as major influences on their sound. The Aphex Twin have also pushed the duo beyond the club tracks into a more original sound.
During the Tron: Legacy sessions, the group drew inspiration from Philip Glass, Vangelis, and Maurice Jarre. For the Random Access Memories record, the duo was looking for a West Coast sound and found it through reference of such bands as Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles, and The Doobie Brothers.