On the 22nd February, an eight-minute video was released that would go on to end an era and change the shape of the sonic future as we thought we knew it. The video depicts two familiar robots walking through a barren landscape, until one slows down to a halt, before ditching its jacket and eventually self-destructing. On the ground lies the iconic jacket, with ‘Daft Punk’ embroidered into the back. After twenty-eight years together, Parisian dance music duo Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, also known as Daft Punk, announced to the world that they have come to an end.
As the duo once said, ‘Like the legend of the Phoenix, all ends with beginnings’… so let’s go back to 1993, in Paris, where the two came together. Attending the same high school, Bangalter and de Homem-Christo began making music together, alongside Laurent Brancowicz, to form an indie band.
Perhaps luckily for us dance music lovers, their days of playing indie music were short lived: an early review courtesy of Melody Maker called their music a ‘daft punky trash’, leading to the trio’s split. Brancowitz went on to form another indie band (Phoenix), and Bangalter and de Homem-Christo used the negative review to form the duo Daft Punk, focussing on synthesizers, drum machines and heavily processed vocals.
Daft Punk’s rise to robotic fame began with their funky acid house track ‘Da Funk’. The track was largely ignored, until it was picked up by The Chemical Brothers who began playing it in their DJ sets. The song struck a chord with the French house music scene in 1995, selling 30,000 copies and titled ‘Song of The Year’ by a French Club magazine. From there, the pair were signed to Virgin Records and they released their 1996 album, Homework – quite literally home work, as the whole thing was recorded in Bangalter’s bedroom.
The fame-shy duo began donning the robot helmets in 2001, the year of their second album release. Before then, they had gone through a variety of anonymity approaches: from placing black bags over their heads at promotional appearances, to wearing creepy Halloween masks at photoshoots. Their motivation was a little deeper than your average bad-hair-day;
“We’re not performers, we’re not models – it would not be enjoyable for humanity to see our features, but the robots are exciting to people.”de Homen-Christo, Rolling Stone interview
Their eighties-esque sci-fi look that arose in 2001 certainly mirrors the music on their second album, Discovery, released the same year. Peppered with references from 70s disco and 80s nostalgia, even sampling Barry Manilow’s ‘Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed’, the album was a producer’s masterclass, as they spliced, sampled and synthed their way to success.
Perhaps the most iconic from the album was ‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’. With an unknown disco track at its core (‘Cola Bottle Baby’ by Edwin Birdsong), a heavily manipulated vocal line runs throughout, making for one of the most influential hooks to modern electronic music. The lyrics, ‘Work it harder, make it better, Do it faster, makes us stronger’, got a new identity when Kanye West used the essential sample for his own track, ‘Stronger’, released in 2007, putting the sound of Daft Punk in both the charts and clubs once again.
2013 saw another pioneering album from Daft Punk, titled Random Access Memories, in which lie several of their biggest hits of recent years. ‘Get Lucky’, ‘Lose Yourself to Dance’ (with Pharrell Williams), and ‘Instant Crush’ (with Julian Casablancas), are just a handful of groundbreaking collaborations from the duo’s career. The grandiose album, which cost nearly a reported million dollars to make, also features Nile Rogers, and disco trailblazer Giorgio Moroder who narrates his epic life stories over their funky, nostalgic grooves.
Since they broke the news, listeners have been mourning, streaming and buying at an accelerated rate. According to NME, the most streamed songs on the day they made their announcement were ‘Get Lucky’ (up 368%), ‘Harder, Better Faster, Stronger’ (up 418%) and ‘Around the World’ (up 381%), whilst digital sales of their 2001 album shot up by almost 8000%.
It is no wonder listeners are devastated: decade after decade, Daft Punk have produced anthems that have not only moulded the shape of dance music, but popular culture. Although live performances from Daft Punk are pretty much out of the question now, I for one can’t wait to hear Daft Punk’s catalogue being blasted out, whilst surrounded by hundreds of sweaty, dancing bodies. Until then, enjoy them in your ears and have a listen to their top tracks on our playlist, below.