The robot lords of the dancefloor have called it quits after 28 years redefining pop and dance music – we run through their era beyond the biggest hits
Before the iconic helmets and globetrotting superstardom, Bangalter and de Homem-Christo cut their teeth with future Phoenix member Laurent Brancowitz in a band called Darlin’. Formed in Versailles, France in 1992, the trio named themselves after a Beach Boys song and released their first songs via Stereolab's Duophonic imprint.
It was a loose, genre-warping affair, spanning scrappy guitar and hypnotising dub experimentation. In other words, it was firmly in the territory of trial-and-error, but therein lies the lure. Strain your ear just a little and you can trace the early wizardry of artists who would go stratospheric within a few years.
Curiously, a review in British music magazine Melody Maker called the trio’s music “a daft punky thrash”. The band split shortly thereafter and, in their first sample as a duo, Bangalter and de Homem-Christo put the Melody Maker slight to good use a year later.
In the early 2000s, Daft Punk ran an online music service that Bangalter said established “a connection between people that listen to our music and ourselves”. “There‘s no limits of time, and it helps people get and listen to this music,” he added. “A track that could have been done today can be online tomorrow.”
The pair would lift the name of the service – Daft Club – to title their debut remix album, released in 2003. Despite a notoriously disparaging review on Pitchfork at the time, the release – not least its wonderfully propulsive, John Carpenter-like opener “Ouverture” – has really stood the test of time (the added extra of beginning via the sound of a 56k dial-up modem only seals the deal.)
Insofar as Daft Punk YouTube comments go, “Daft Punk remixing Daft Punk makes Daft Punk sound more like Daft Punk than Daft Punk” couldn’t be more on the money.
EVEN FURTHER (1996)
In the annals of pre-helmeted Daft Punk lore, Even Further is right up there. The pair‘s first live performance in the States, when virtually nobody there had heard of them, was at the festival at Eagle Cave Campground in Wisconsin in 1996.
Blessedly, a low-quality but perfectly passable 30-minute video of the set survives, and what a trip it is. Daft Punk pre-helmets and Homework – Boiler Room before Boiler Room was a thing – it’s a relic from the recent past that delivers on fare-searing techno, 303-heavy acid house and some truly breathtaking mixing.
If you‘re going to pour one out for Daft Punk – and you really should – best do it with this blitz blasting from decent speakers.
BBC ESSENTIAL MIX (1997)
As institutions on the airwaves go, BBC’s Essential Mix takes some beating. From David Holmes and Sasha, to Portishead and Flying Lotus, it has granted a major platform to myriad musical pioneers at the peak of their powers.
Recorded in one take in Busy P‘s front room and broadcast on Radio 1 just after the release of Homework in early 1997, Daft Punk’s first and only mix for the show remains a genre-hopping joy to behold. All gas and no brakes, it packs in everything from American alternative rock band Ween and Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic “I have a dream” speech, to their very own ”Rock N Roll” and ”Around the World”. Statement of intent doesn’t quite cover it.
“MUSIC SOUNDS BETTER WITH YOU”
The summer of 1998 was soundtracked by its fair share of bangers. Fatboy Slim‘s ”The Rockafeller Skank”. “Deeper Underground” by Jamiroquai. B*Witched’s “C‘est La Vie”. All straight-up, pure-cut gold.
And then there was “Music Sounds Better With You”. The earworming handiwork of low-key French house trio, Stardust, the global one-hit wonder was accompanied by a Michel Gondry-directed video of a young boy building a model aeroplane while Stardust – looking not entirely unlike Daft Punk – performed on television. Sure enough, it was later revealed that Thomas Bangalter was one-third of the operation. Once you discover a member of Daft Punk is behind it all, you can’t help but feel silly for it not clicking a lot sooner.
Both with de Homem-Christo and on his own, Bangalter explored all kinds of sonic avenues pre and post-fame. Right up there with most incendiary is Memory, a collaborative EP with French DJ and producer Manu Le Malin.
Released with little fanfare in between Daft Punk albums three and four, it’s a two-track, 191 BPM blast of trouncing hardcore. Somewhere between the off-kilter rhythms of opener “M18”, and the dizzying frequencies of “12.02” is the unmistakable, no-fucks-given spirit that propelled the Bangalter and de Homem-Christo from Parisian house heroes to household names over a decade beforehand.
Though there's much deeper cuts strewn throughout their back catalogue, the faux-orchestral “Veridis Quo” from Discovery is a supremely unravelling mini-masterpiece that will always warrant gushing praise. Much like the vaporwave-like “Nightvision” and “Something About Us” on the same album, it encapsulates in under six minutes everything that’s quite literally stellar about mid-tempo Daft Punk.
Maybe it’s something to do with the fact it sits alongside full-on bops like “Voyager” and “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger,” but the way it pairs mellotron-like synth with bass and a simple 4/4 beat manages to cast a spell to this day. Aside from being wordplay on the Latin phrase “Quo vadis?” (“Where are you going?”) the title of the song can – get this – also read as “very disco” Flip those two words and what do you get?
Initially released as part of the Daft Club service, Daft Punk‘s debut live album, Alive 1997, was released amid the runaway success of Discovery in 2001. But as its title suggests, it was recorded four years previously. Across 45 all-too-short minutes, it’s an exhilarating retreat back to Birmingham’s Que Club in November of that breakthrough year. Though live albums, by their very nature, tend to capture various different sides to an act’s artistry, Alive 1997 is almost prismatic in just how lucidly it reveals Daft Punk’s shapeshifting, masterfully-executed craft at the time.
Savant-like production and musicianship aside, Daft Punk were positively in their element when it came to working with – and mutating to varying degrees of recognition – other people’s music. An outright peak from the pair‘s only official compilation album, Musique Vol. 1 (1993-2005), their reworking of “Chord Memory” by German house DJ and producer Ian Pooley is a feat of pure imagination. Among other elements, its undulating bass patterns transform an otherwise solid track into a heavenly dancefloor gem. As we all edge ever closer to the discothèque, this more than delivers on the frisson so sorely missed.
If you’re a Daft Punk fan and lucky enough to live in Japan, you’ll no doubt be familiar with “Horizon”. If you’re not, lucky you. Evoking fellow French pop maestros Air, this bonus track from Random Access Memories melds ornate instrumentation and cosmic pedal steel guitar to deliver a truly Technicolor au revoir from the pair. Granted, it’s probably something to do with being low-key cursed with the knowledge that they are no more, but this dose of slow-burning electro-soul feels like the world’s most beloved robot duo passing through the earth’s atmosphere on the way to elsewhere.