by Nick Papanicholas
On February 22nd, Daft Punk released a video on their YouTube page titled “Epilogue.” It was a statement and video hybrid announcing their breakup after an 8-year silence following their final record, “Random Access Memories.” If you’re a fan of music, as I am, you might be feeling devastated and let down. This duo has never put out a bad album and their ideas of what music should be have transcended genres and musical styles all across the map. These two French musicians have been incredibly important, and their music should be remembered far beyond our lifetimes.
In 1993, house music had just started to make waves across the music spectrum. Not many artists were pushing the boundaries of where it could go, and really only stuck to a formulaic method for making this type of music. The best way I can describe it is a type of electronica that bounces and repeats while going on for some time. There isn’t much to it at all, and it sounds rather amateur. Then, Daft Punk exploded onto the scene with a new type of house music. It combined the previously mentioned elements while incorporating rock, disco, and funk samples. Sampling had become a source of inspiration for artists looking to combine bits and pieces from different sources to create something new. This is exactly what Daft Punk did, albeit very nonchalantly.
These guys would go on to sample from deep tracks and songs from artists that most people didn’t pay much attention to or had gone out of style over the years. Their first album, Homework, was released to very little critical acclaim and wasn’t given much attention by critics. A few years prior, they’d been referred to as “daft punky trash” by one naysayer, which eventually led to the creation of their name. The music world had largely ignored Daft Punk, and they were kind of invisible at first. This could have been from them covering their faces with a variety of cheap masks in publicity photos and interviews, but from the beginning, they didn’t want their image being associated with their music. They believed that the music should speak for itself, and by detaching their physical appearance from it, they could avoid the celebrity-hood that comes with being a popular musician. They wanted to place the focus solely on the music rather than on themselves. By the year 2000, their idea had come to fruition.
As if a ticking time bomb had been set to explode, Daft Punk completely changed their image prior to the release of Discovery. Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo are the names of the duo who formed Daft Punk, and they explained how they turned into robots in 1999 with the release of their song “Robot Rock.” Their choice seemed rooted in the same idea they had expressed previously about celebrity-hood and the placement of focus on music rather than fame. When they became robots, Thomas and Guy-Manuel no longer wanted to be associated with the human side of themselves, and their music at the time reflected that with its homages to power rock chords and break dance beats that were electrified just enough to make it sound as if two robots were trying to replicate those sounds.
With over a decade in the game, the robots had challenged previously established notions in rock and electronic music. They became iconic in pop culture all over the world with their music and image, but completely removed from the idea of the celebrity and what it means to be famous. Their public image was entirely a performance piece on its own. It’s worth noting that by their last album, they completely shed all of their previous sensibilities related to dance, breakbeat, and house. They wanted to create a beautiful, eclectic, and enigmatic record with a variety of sounds and instruments. It’s a record that somehow removes them from their robotic identity and makes them seem more human. If you were to only listen to one Daft Punk record, I would have to recommend Random Access Memories on the sole basis that it’s music filled to the brim with feeling and emotion, so much so that I was moved to tears listening to the song “Touch” the other day. These songs make you want to dance, and at the same time reflect on the sensitive side that’s within these humanoid machines. It’s some of the most profound music put down on a recording, and I encourage everyone to give it their full attention.