Earlier in the year it was announced that French electronic music duo Daft Punk is calling it a day after 28 years.I’m sure on some level they’ll be back. But if they’re not it was a good run with some great music. I liked a lot of it. Not all of it. But I gave most of it my ear at the verst least.
The first Daft Punk album is Homework. And I discovered it at work – my first music store job. We would receive special advance-copies of key releases. Daft Punk’s album was one of those. But I promptly took it home too. It was one of the very first albums I bought with staff-discount. This was usually a dud move – you were instantly sick of the records you played in the shop and were better off spending your wages on music that would never get played on the shop stereo. But Homework became an instant favourite in both places. And I truly never got sick of this record. Nearly 25 years on – just a classic. I was hooking into all sorts of dance music and this made house music accessible. It was weird and cool and funny and there were the videos of course – the talking dog on crutches – and the robots; the helmets. The band hiding.
Daft Punk took their name from a bad review. They were once a band called Darlin’ (named after a Beach Boys track which shows they always had great taste). They were written off as playing a type of “daft punk music”. They took that idea and hid their faces. The duo would appear as music robots for the next 28 years.
I wasn’t that into the band’s second album-proper, Discovery. I didn’t hate it ever. It’s got some hooky, catchy stuff on it – but it felt more like cheeseball house music; I always thought they were really sending the genre up with this album. It garnered some big hits, which was probably – oddly – the secret to their success and longevity. Songs like One More Time and Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger were cool enough for mainstream radio play, they helped sell jeans or whatever. And when they were played in the clubs they worked too. I bought Discovery but shelved it very quickly. I still had Homework to go through. Always with the Homework. I see Discovery now as the clever Trojan Horse of the band’s career – but it’s still the album I listen to least by Daft Punk.
The big beat explosion of duos (Chemical Brothers, Basement Jaxx, Groove Armada) meant that sample-heavy, hook-filled dance music was everywhere. But Daft Punk was my default “modern” band. It wasn’t long before they were barely modern at all. But their influence was doing the work for them.
Human After All arrived in 2005 but it sounded older than either of the previous records. It was closer to Homework than Discovery though, so I was instantly appreciative of that. I was also reviewing albums on the TV so I got to compare Human After All to Giorgio Moroder and John Carpenter’s movie scores and the 70s/80s antecedents.
A few years on and the band’s Tron: Legacy soundtrack really validated that whole Moroder/Carpenter thing – paying tribute to Wendy Carlos too of course. And it is one of a small handful of favourite soundtrack albums were I really have no intention of ever seeing the film and feel that I don’t need to.
And then in 2013 Daft Punk released what is – for now anyway and maybe for all time – their final studio album. Random Access Memories really divided the fans – some of the die-hards were instantly appalled by the strange collaborations (Paul Williams) or thought it just too downright weird. I called it Esoterica. And I loved it.
The album was proper-bonkers (still is) and along with Homework it’s the one I listen to the most. Also, when the record was released the band decided to launch it in the tiny town of Wee Waa, in NSW, Australia. (Population 2,000). I was working for a company called iSentia at the time, writing broadcast news summaries, listening to rural talkback radio – so I covered the pre-launch hype. This tiny farming town, famous for cotton, had no idea who or what a Daft Punk was, but they loved their shot at world fame. Every day a different farmer was interviewed, local council members and excited general store owners. They all wanted a piece of the pie. It was very funny. Daft Punk had made it clear they would not be there. The launch would be in a big tent at the showground and lucky out of towners would be flocking. It didn’t stop locals, blissfully unaware of what the music even sounded like, from hoping that maybe, just maybe a Daft Punk (or two) would turn up in their small slice of heaven.
This story was one of the dozens being re-shared in the wake of Daft Punk’s retirement announcement.
I’m not sad that Daft Punk’s run has come to an end. I was sadder when the band Ween broke up but no one seemed to care about that beyond Ween’s closest fans. And much as I love the band I never want to have a conversation with a Ween fan. They scare me.
The classic thing about the death of Daft Punk is that they didn’t appear to be doing anything for the longest time. That’s why the announcement was so newsworthy – there was no brand new music from the group in ages, although they did fairly recently release an updated version of the Tron: Legacy soundtrack, a 10th Anniversary edition with some previously unreleased pieces. It’s such a brilliant set of short cues and instrumental hooks.
I always saw (and heard) Daft Punk as a real signpost of a band. They marked a point in my, er, discovery of techno’s widescreen evolution.
So I wanted to make a wee playlist of my favourites – I won’t include the band’s giant singles like Get Lucky and Around The World (which is not to say that I hated those at all, it’s just we all know them). I want to point you, maybe, to some of the interesting album-cuts, some of the things that fell through the cracks.