As of yesterday, it’s ‘au revoir’ to one of the best and most influential outfits in dance music.
Daft Punk, the duo behind massive hits Around The World, Digital Love, Get Lucky and more – not to mention three huge albums in Homework, Human After All and Random Access Memories – have decided to call it a day. The chances are this decision was made some time ago, for it is a long time since we have heard from them in a collaborative sense, their last released work being two brief cameos on The Weeknd’s Starboy album in 2016.
With Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo going their separate ways, it’s a good time to consider their impact on music and culture from the 1990s until now.
I can well remember when Da Funk came out, sneaking through the underground and on to an unexpected initial home, Glasgow label Soma Recordings. It was unusually slow for the techno label, and more guitar-laden than their roster at the time – but label heads Slam – aka Stuart McMillan and Orde Meikle – spotted its potential. The instantly recognisable riff found a home in Chemical Brothers live and DJ sets, like a distorted version of Kraftwerk in the way it strutted across the dancefloor – and in the way it translated effortlessly to radio.
Daft Punk built on this with imaginative samples and utterly brilliant videos – both combining to mesmerising effect on their second UK top 10 hit, Around The World:
Homework, their first long player, appeared in many a ‘best of 1997’ list – by which time the pair had moved onto Virgin, their logo uncannily matching that of their new label. Four years later the second album, Discovery, raised them to another level, propelled by their first no.1 single, One More Time:
The breathy vocals from Romanthony (another unexpected Glasgow link) were initially divisive as they sounded exaggerated…but the longer the single loitered on the radio the bigger it became. The lead track on Discovery, it began an album of true dancefloor happiness, which reached giddy heights with Aerodynamic and Digital Love.
These were sleek, funky club cuts with a healthy slab of disco attached, and went perfectly with the robotic image Daft Punk had now created. Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger – the next cut from the album – fared even better, its vocal calling card and riff picked up by Kanye West years later.
Live, Daft Punk were securing a devoted following, with winning sets at Coachella in 2006 and Hyde Park’s Wireless festival the following year. By that time album number three was on the streets. Human After All – good though it was – did not quite hit the heights of Discovery, in spite of Robot Rock and the title track.
By this time French dance music was enjoying a charmed life through the likes of Cassius and Etienne de Crécy, who worked close to Daft Punk and shared mutual influences in their work. Thomas and Guy-Manuel were enjoying success with their own collaborations, too – and we would soon see the fruit of their influence through the likes of Calvin Harris and David Guetta.
The pair’s next direction was unexpected but made total sense, realised in the Tron:Legacy film soundtrack of 2010. Again a little patience was needed on the part of the reviewers and record buying public, and sure enough after a few weeks it was confirmed to be one of the century’s leading soundtracks to date. The plethora of car adverts that still feature Tron:Legacy’s music are a testament to that, and the merging of electronica and orchestra is seamlessly achieved.
An unexpected treat was to follow in 2013, when Get Lucky surfaced – a superstar collaboration that delivered even more than it promised, with the effortless funk of Nile Rodgers’ guitar and the cool-as-California vocals from Pharrell Williams. The chart topping album Random Access Memories also delivered in this respect, though – Lose Yourself To Dance aside – it did not reach the heights of its lead single and even had an underlying melancholy towards the end.
We hardly ever saw their faces, but that was one of Daft Punk’s enduring qualities. They were friendly, robotic types, unable to make music without injecting a huge dose of funk into proceedings. Yet their soundtrack to Tron: Legacy showed there was so much more to their craft – and who knows, we may hear their work for Dario Argento‘s Occhiali Neri which was due to appear in 2020.
Even if we don’t, there is plenty with which we can treasure this duo and their lovable dance music, which makes the dancefloor a brilliant place to be when it’s on. C’est magnifique!