Some personal notes on the French Touch icons
Just as we’re about to mark the 20th anniversary of their second album, Discovery, the French duo Daft Punk announced Monday, in a video seen ‘round the world, that they’re ending things.
VIDEO: Daft Punk “Epilogue”
Their mystique loomed as large, at times, as their music, annoyingly to many. From their logo to their robot schtick to the fact that their biggest global single (“Get Lucky”) didn’t have a full-length video, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Cristo and Thomas Bangalter navigated the music industry their way and only their way. But when you make a career-opening pair of albums (1997’s Homework and 2001’s Discovery) as landmark as they did, not to mention their live rep, you often get to write your own rules.
In their honor, here are some of my favorite, achronological Daft Punk memories; I’ll avoid the obvious joke here.
2001: Dance, Dance, Dance
I was a fairly instant fan of Daft Punk’s 1997 debut, Homework, so I was eagerly awaiting its follow-up, 2001’s Discovery. But I wasn’t ready for the dancefloor hysteria that its lead single, “One More Time,” would inspire in me. It took filter disco to a whole new level, making it more accessible to the public at large – which meant that lots of DJs were more likely to play it out. At the time, I lived in Norfolk, Virginia, and frequented the gay bar the Garage, whose resident DJ was my friend DJ Airrick. Every single time I went, I’d ask him to play “One More Time,” and every single time, he would, and I’d lose myself to dance. When he decamped to the Rainbow Cactus Company across town in Virginia Beach, the same thing happened. I don’t even know how many times I twirled myself around the dancefloor to that certified classic. (And if you find yourself in the Tidewater of VA, Eric is still DJing at the Rainbow Cactus – stop in, say hi, and tell him I sent you.)
VIDEO: Daft Punk “One More Time”
2013-14: The Year They Conquered The World
First, there were SNL teaser ads, along with a longer version played on the big screens at Coachella (just listen to the crowd losing its collective mind). Then the Pharrell Williams-and-Nile-Rodgers-featuring “Get Lucky” dropped and quickly topped the charts worldwide – by my accounting, it hit #1 in at least 27 countries (getting stuck at #2 for 5 weeks in the U.S.), and was pretty much the Song of the Summer just about everywhere. Parent album Random Access Memories followed it to the top in 20+ countries, this time including the U.S. And then, in January 2014, they won an astounding 5 Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year and Album of the Year. Memories isn’t what anyone, maybe, expected from the duo: it’s an organic, live-instruments dance-music-via-soft-pop album featuring killer L.A. studio players (Paul Jackson Jr., Nathan East, Omar Hakim) and guests running the gamut from Paul Williams and Giorgio Moroder to Panda Bear and Todd Edwards. But it coalesces, and you can hear the joy in it, which is why I think it was such a beloved around the world smash.
VIDEO: Daft Punk feat. Pharrell Williams, Nile Rodgers and Stevie Wonder “Get Lucky” (Grammys 2014)
(Fun fact, in light of Random Access Memories and its attendant Grammy performance being love letters to L.A. recording studios: This very week in 1983, the ultimate L.A. studio rats, Toto, won 6 Grammys for Toto IV.)
1997: Muzik Men
I think I first came across Muzik magazine, a British monthly dedicated to all sides of dance music and club culture, in late 1995, though it could’ve been early ‘96. I was immediately addicted. They were onto Daft Punk early on – the perfectly squelchy “Musique” made their top 25 singles of ‘96 – and gave ‘em their first magazine cover, in February 1997. (Please note: no robot heads to be found!) Within the feature, Muzik also reviewed their just-released debut album Homework, giving it a rare 10/10. That was all I needed to hear to know that I, well, had to hear this album. Soon enough, I was snatching up their 12” singles as well, because they often left some of their best tracks (like “Musique”!) on b-sides, not to mention the sterling remix treatments they received from the likes of Masters at Work and Ian Pooley.
…And this is to say nothing of their work on the Weeknd’s “I Feel It Coming” (the best single of his career), or The Pyramid (which I never saw live, but have watched plenty of times online), or their remixes for other artists, or “Daft Punk Is Playing in My House,” or their production on Kanye West’s Yeezus, or Thomas Bangalter’s stunning work – which I might even prefer to Daft Punk – with Stardust and Together (he had a very good 1998), and I really could go on. The cynical think Bangalter and Homem-Cristo will inevitably reunite in 5 years and headline Coachella, and maybe they will? Or perhaps they’ll live quiet, private lives from here on? Either way, I’ll forever be grateful to the pair for their art, and provided they don’t pull a KLF, we’ll always have it. And hey, even the KLF came back.
AUDIO: Daft Punk “Musique”