Switched on – Celebrating Daft Punk

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!

Get behind the Classic BRITs

On Wednesday night the Classic BRITs returned for the first time in five years, back in the Royal Albert Hall.

While they have been away, several things have changed in classical music – and the most striking of those, on this evidence, is an increased diversity. The award winners were led by cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, a remarkable talent – and also a remarkable young man. His debut album Inspiration meets the expectations of a major label without compromising his own ideas, such as arranging Bob Marley’s No Woman, No Cry for solo cello. It works much better than you’d expect!

The inclusion of Marley, just a couple of tracks after Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto no.1, shows the influence playlists on streaming services have had on album planning, but also demonstrates a refreshing approach to bringing music of all forms together.

Tokio Myers also blends different styles, giving an intense live performance at the ceremony that included a barrage of drums, a soft Debussy reverie and some powerful electronically based music with its roots towards grime. Myers used to play in Mr Hudson & The Library among other groups, and he uses his experiences to bring a really satisfying urban grit to go with the purity of the piano.

Elsewhere it was gratifying to see winners young and old credit their teachers and musical education, and stress the importance of music in schools. Jess Gillam, deserved recipient of the Sound Of Classical award, did this – and so did Nile Rodgers. The guest presenter who was originally a classical guitarist playing the works of Fernando Sor – but who felt out of place in that sphere and went on to be a great guitarist elsewhere.

Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber went further, taking the government to task, but both Sheku and Myers were more subtle, thanking their teachers by name. Amanda Holden, who presented Myers with his award, recounted a visit he made to her daughter’s school, which has doubtless stayed with them.

Musical education is so important. I would not have been able to afford cello lessons at the age of eleven if the school hadn’t paid for them, and even towards the end of my grades my funding was dwindling and my parents were really having to dig deep to support me. I will be forever grateful for that, as I would not have been put on a musical path without it! It goes to show how it is not just the frontline performers who benefit from a musical education, but those much further down behind the scenes too.

Back to the BRITs, which also featured a wonderful performance of the theme and first of Bach‘s Goldberg Variations from Beatrice Rana – a shame we couldn’t hear more than we did! My only big criticism would be directed at the album of the year shortlist. While it is fine to include musicals, shows, film and middle of the road albums none of the shortlist had an obvious classical music connection. It is a thought for the future, where it might also work to have a ‘Best electronic’ category, recognising the likes of Nils Frahm, Bonobo and other classically influenced music that 6Music serve so well.

These are minor gripes though. We should get behind the Classic BRITs and support it, because it gives people a way in to classical music, pointing them forward towards the joys of the genre should they wish to look around further. There really should be room for everyone, and at the very least when I watch on Sunday night I shall be grateful for my musical education!