25 years of Daft Punk, the most influential electronic musicians of the 21st century | ICON

On February 22, and as enigmatic as it has been characteristic of them, Daft Punk announced its dissolution with a video titled Epilogue. The commotion was maximum and served to demonstrate the tremendous importance that the Parisian duo has had in popular culture at the turn of the century. An example of this is the Bastille Day Parade in 2017, where a military band performed a medley of their songs in front of perplexed Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump.

25 years ago, when his first album was about to be released, no one would have dared to imagine it. Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo (Paris, 45 years old) and Thomas Bangalter (Paris, 46 years old) had met at the elite Lycée Carnot school in Paris in 1987. Their first musical adventures were mounting a group of indie rock until they threw away their instruments and started composing with synthesizers and drum machines. In 1993, in a rave at the Pompidou Center, they met the people in charge of the Scottish label Soma, who would publish their first singles, The New Wave/ Alive (1994) and from funk (nineteen ninety five). They were a few years when the culture of house France was beginning to take over and these two young men were becoming an open secret, DJing at parties and clubs or doing their first rudimentary live shows. It is said that before publishing their first album all the major labels were raffling them, but they chose Virgin without being the one who offered them the most money, because it gave them all the creative control. On January 20, 1997, Homework saw the light and the press began, little by little, to echo the phenomenon that was about to explode.

A home job that went around the world

“They were the antithesis of what until then was considered a pop star, two privileged brains in the bodies of two totally normal kids, wearing anoraks from the eighties and nineties. sneakers made dust. They were very young, shy, shy, but passionate and very comfortable when you talked to them about music house, DJ’s and club culture. He chewed his talent. At that time, in addition, they did the interviews in person, without masks, and in that sense I felt lucky ”, recalls Oscar Broc, a music journalist from Barcelona who came to London to interview them for a national magazine that had just released the album. Ricard Robles, director of Sónar, also met them in those days. “They seemed to me to be very smart people in the sense of being clear about their artistic proposal. The speech after Homework it was very complete, it was perfectly calculated. It must also be borne in mind that Bangalter’s father was Daniel Vangarde, a very important figure in the industry and in disco music, a man who, as a producer and composer, marked a milestone in the conquest of the United States by music French in the seventies. Many ingredients were gathered to warn that it was not a simple electronic music duo like so many others ”, says Robles.

Daft Punk
Daft PunkSony Music

He hired them to perform at the Barcelona festival when it only had three editions and had not yet become massive. “That really was very fast,” he says. “It was not certain that Daft Punk could fill a capacity like that, of five or six thousand people. The album had barely been on the streets for six months, it is true that it had been successful, but we are talking about a time when there were no social networks or platforms that we now know. The link that existed then with music, and especially with innovative projects like this one, was not so great, so the reception was a maximum surprise ”. It is said that large queues of attendees were created who were unable to enter, and that the atmosphere inside was vibrant. “I remember it as a memorable concert, one of those first great moments in the history of the festival,” says Robles.

Maxi Gilbert, visual artist and lighting and staging designer, was one of those present to whom that show changed forever. Based in Buenos Aires, Sónar caught him in the middle of a European tour with a ballet group. “I didn’t know them at all. I did not expect to meet those two masked guys, and those subwoofer, drum machines and high-pitched synthesizers that appeared on that euphoric night to be the soundtrack of my life. It did not give credit. I had never been to a rave, and from there I realized that electronic music had come to stay ”, remembers Gilbert, who has lived in Madrid for years. That was the first Daft Punk concert in Spain, but not the only one. Five months later, they played at the Aqualung hall in Madrid and at the Zeleste in Barcelona. That second performance impressed Broc much more than the one at Sónar. “It was thunder, a madness in a moderately small space, in a boiler,” recalls the journalist.

The din, the silence and the resurrection

Daft Punk’s second album, Discovery, did not appear until 2001. It was another huge success, but they decided not to accompany him on tour. When they published the third, the weakest Human After All, they gave the bell when announcing that they were returning to the stage. It was 2006. Nine years. Too long a period of time in a scene in which the rapidity of trends could easily condemn you to oblivion. “I do not know the personal motivations of why they decided to direct their career in that way, but I think, although I am not sure, that it answered questions about how to manage their lifestyle,” says Ricard Robles. In 2001, Bangalter married the famous actress Élodie Bouchez, and both went to live in Los Angeles trying to be as far away from the spotlight as possible. “Of course, what they never did was fight for fame, and I think the symbol of the helmets with which they always appeared from Discovery it went beyond that image to represent a kind of amiable future. It could be a way of wanting to safeguard their private life, and perhaps that is why they decided to space their releases and tours in the way they did ”, reflects the director of Sónar, and also a journalist specialized in electronic music.

Some youthful Daft Punk baguettes photographed in Paris in the 90s.
Some youthful Daft Punk baguettes photographed in Paris in the 90s.Mick Hutson (Redferns)

The tour Alive 2006-2007 It consisted of 48 dates. It passed through Europe, North and South America and ended in Japan and Australia. “We try to achieve them, of course, all the festivals in the world have tried”, concedes Robles. “Daft Punk began to grow about half an hour after playing at Sónar 97, but then the festivals and the number of promoters also grew a lot, and the artists’ schedules sometimes coincide with you and sometimes not,” he laments. The popularly known as the “pyramid tour”, due to the shape of the gigantic pulpit-stage from which the musicians emerged, started at the American festival of Coachella. It was a historic concert because it was considered the big bang of the entire EDM movement, or electronics for the masses, which was going to seduce the United States and the whole world. The second date was at Lake Malsaucy, in France and the third at the Parc del Fórum in Barcelona, ​​on July 14, within the Summercase Festival. The following night they replicated it at their other headquarters, in Boadilla del Monte. There, Maxi Gilbert met them again, but this time as a professional colleague. “I was the technical coordinator of the festival, although I did not get to treat them personally,” he recalls. “I had the assembly plans, but at first they were just blank papers with specific weight marks and triangles drawn. We only knew that a trailer, that a lot of staff were needed and that the assembly promised, but when we started putting everything together for the test, we couldn’t believe that this pyramidal ship was an entire custom-made LED screen, with gigantic visuals. That concert left me completely paralyzed again. This new staging marked a before and after in all level electronic concerts, influencing Justice, DeadMau5 and many others ”, assures the visual artist.

An important sound and aesthetic influence

The duo never performed live again and only released one more album, Random Access Memories, in 2013, catapulted by one of the biggest global hits of the millennium, Get Lucky, but all the key elements that have immortalized Daft Punk were already in that Homework published 25 years ago. “I don’t think a more successful combination of influences could be made at that time, where disco music was, the funk, the house, the techno, the electro, hip hop and pop ”, highlights Ricard Robles. “In the nineties the rock industry continued to look very suspiciously at all those genres, which were not greater in prestige, although they were in audience. Getting a perfect album with those elements has been sought by many people, but no one has managed to surpass Daft Punk in that field, make such an impeccable microsurgery of their influences and achieve a new sound ”. The director of Sónar adds that “because of their background they knew how to build successful songs, how to place the right element at the right time to generate a greater impact on as many people as possible. There was his greatness. You listen to their songs 25 years later and they are perfect prototypes and hit models ”. “They were at the right time with the right formula and heralded a new era of democratization in electronic music. They showed that, from your room, without playing a single instrument and without the support of any band, you could change the history of music. And not least, they showed that you can make a timeless hit by repeating the same phrase 144 times (Around The World), without the listener jumping out the window ”, assesses Oscar Broc. “From the beginning they marked their own aesthetic line, with a fresh and total pimp and those first low-cost masks,” says Maxi Gilbert. “I think Michel Gondry and Blanca Li -director and choreographer, respectively, of the video clip of Around The World they have had a lot to do with the evolution of his visual identity. That clip was very simple and at the same time very experimental at the choreographic and light programming level. I think – he adds – that the most important thing they have contributed to pop iconography is being able to play with their hidden identity, how two such geeks can have revolutionized the lives of millions of people without having to provide a physical identity at any time, and even playing with his own credibility. Were they the ones who showed up playing with Pharrell Williams, Stevie Wonder and Nile Rodgers at the Grammys or were they 21st century Milli Vanilli? In any case, they knew how to carry all of this with coherence to its final point ”, concludes the Argentine artist.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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