Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo met on the grounds of their lycée in Paris in 1987. The two became good friends and formed the guitar-based band Darlin’ with Laurent Brancowitz (Phoenix) in 1992. Stereolab released two of their tracks on a multi-artist Duophonic Records EP and invited the band to open a few shows in the UK, but local press was less than receptive. When one critic offhandedly referred to the music as “a bunch of daft punk”, Bangalter and de Homem-Christo were amused at the brilliance thrust upon them after investing so much time and effort into naming the project. Darlin’ broke up, Brancowitz pursued other efforts with Phoenix, and Bangalter and de Homem-Christo began experimenting with drum machines and synthesizers under their new name.
In 1993 Daft Punk met Stuart Macmillan of Slam, co-founder of the label Soma Quality Recordings, at a rave at EuroDisney. It was there that the duo handed off a demo that eventually saw light as Daft Punk’s first single, “The New Wave”, a limited release in 1994. The single also contained a track called “Alive“. Nurturing the electronic influence, Daft Punk recorded the buzzing “Da Funk” in 1995 and it became their first commercially successful single the same year. The band signed with Virgin Records in September 1996 and “Da Funk” and “Alive” served as the framework of Daft Punk’s 1997 debut album Homework. Widely regarded as an innovative synthesis of techno, house, acid house and disco, the album stands among the most influential dance music recordings of all time. “Around the World” was deemed the lead album single, propelled by a melodic chant of the song’s title, and it’s accompanying video, directed by Michel Gondry, set the early precedent for their relationship with stunning visual art (other music videos from Homework were directed by Spike Jonze, Roman Coppola and Seb Janiak).
By 1999 the duo were well into the recording sessions for their second album, embarking down converging paths of analog and digital music by incorporating samples from the late ’70s and early ’80s to flesh out a distinctly more pop-oriented sound- 2001’s Discovery was conceived as an attempt to reconnect with a playful, open-minded attitude associated with the discovery phase of childhood. It reached #2 in the UK, and its single “One More Time” was a major club hit, adding a new generation to their obsessive ranks of fans internationally. The singles “Digital Love” and “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” were hugely successful, as was “Face to Face” (featuring Todd Edwards) despite a limited single release.
Daft Punk’s first foray into film came in 2003 with the release of the feature-length animation Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem. Co-produced by the accomplished Leiji Matsumoto, a legend of Japanese cinema, the experience yielded a work whose scope was unparalleled within dance music at the time. The album Daft Club was also released to promote the film, featuring a collection of remixes previously made available through an online membership service of the same name.
The next year, the duo devoted six weeks to creating material for a new album. The sessions yielded Human After All, released in March 2005, featuring the singles “Robot Rock“, “Technologic“, “Human After All” and “The Prime Time of Your Life“. The earliest official statement from Daft Punk concerning the album was “we believe that Human After All speaks for itself”, and it demonstrated a telling sea-change in their recording process. Human After All is a different facet of Daft Punk, the shimmer of vulnerability that defines every artist, and a prophetic indicator of what was to come musically. Shortly after, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo premiered their first directed film, Daft Punk’s Electroma at the Cannes Film Festival. Midnight screenings of the film were shown in Paris theaters, inspiring and confounding audiences by the lack of Daft Punk music within the film.
If one’s legacy is quantified by the cultural shift in the wake of an achievement, then Daft Punk’s Alive 2006/2007 tour is among their most significant contributions to music and society in a broader sense. A spectacle launched at Coachella 2006, their live production was unlike anything seen previously, two androids piloting a gigantic, glowing pyramid of sensory stimulus. The series of shows globally, from the US to Japan and back, set the precedent for live music in the festival setting and reimagined what electronic music could be in the tangible sense. It was the benchmark that set into motion the festival boom of the next decade, giving hope to a dwindling industry – as album sales consistently dropped across the board, large-scale music festivals and the accompanying live productions became numerous correlatively and sold out quickly. A shift in the way the entire music industry monetized its assets was soon to follow.
Continuing to exploit their creative urges to their ends, the duo took to work on one of their most ambitious projects to date in 2008, when they agreed to score the modern remake of the hugely influential 1982 film, Tron. Daft Punk’s reverence of the original film and the themes that define it (the evolving relationship between humans and technology, specifically) rendered them discontented working within the means of their own studio, “We knew from the start that there was no way we were going to do this film score with two synthesizers and a drum machine”, stated Guy-Manuel.
Enlisting a 100-piece orchestra, they emerged from the studio after two years with a work whose importance superseded the editing process of the actual film- the movie was cut to the score, atypically. Tron: Legacy peaked at #4 on the Billboard 200 albums chart and was awarded with a gold certification for 500,000 units sold shortly thereafter, and the elusive compatriots returned to the studio as quickly as they had emerged, single-minded and rapt with inspiration. They had already begun to sew the seeds of their next project, casually trading ideas with some of the most revered and accomplished minds in modern music while forging the concept for their most anticipated project to date. Their first full length album in 8 years later to be known as Random Access Memories.
It began with billboards and snipes of the helmets appearing around the world and a single, 15-second clip during an episode of Saturday Night Live, a real-life premonition that quickly made it’s rounds on the Internet. As the pieces came together, in the physical world and online, it became clear that this album would be a monumental achievement. The news kept coming; Collaborators, painstakingly curated by the artists themselves, include Giorgio Moroder, Nile Rodgers, Julian Casablancas, Panda Bear, Todd Edwards, Paul Williams, DJ Falcon, Gonzales, and Pharrell Williams (who appears on the lead single, “Get Lucky” that shot to #1 in 46 countries upon release overnight and broke the record for the most streamed song on Spotify almost immediately).
Sessions across the globe were recorded directly analog tape, and that physical manifestation of art in an increasingly intangible world is fundamental keystone of the album concept. For the first time in their career, Daft Punk have committed to primarily using live instrumentation in lieu of samples, and even the visual effects from the official video trailer that debuted at Coachella 2013 were achieved with mirrors and lights instead of pixels and programs. The album, entitled Random Access Memories, is Daft Punk fully realized, reflective and melancholy, invigorating and energetic, a compelling voice in the dialogue between man and machine, poised to speak volumes.
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