Daft Punk Explode into the Sunset
After 28 years of bringing house music to the masses, Daft Punk announced their dissolution with a dramatic video post. Featuring excerpts from their 2006 film Electroma, the video entitled ‘Epilogue’ shows the helmeted French duo walking off into the desert. Bot 1 activates a self-destruct sequence on Bot 2 and after a tense countdown, he explodes into the sun-baked air. With Bot 1 walking off into the sunset, the screen cuts to a frame that reads simply 1993-2021.
Since their genre-busting debut Homework (1997), the maestros have had many highlights that will surely be covered at length in this week’s music journalism press cycle. Multiple platinum records, revolutionary music videos, monumental collaborations, and a mystique that made them a ubiquitous pop culture phenomenon. Here, we are going to focus on two ways that Daft Punk changed the industry forever. They made it cool to like techno and they completely flipped the script on what a live electronic show could be.
Midway through the Clinton years, rock was rock and techno was techno and there wasn’t a lot of common ground. Fuzz-soaked guitars and blitzkrieg drums versus twinkling synthesizers leftover from the synthpop 80s and the unwavering pulse of the benchmark sub/snare/off-beat-hi-hat. Manic moshing arenas versus chic nightclubs, as well as the abandoned warehouse parties of the underground scene. The two factions were like rival sports teams. Those transformed by the grunge revolution and raised on metal would die before listening to that monotonous dreck.
Then a dog running errands with a broken leg and a boombox changed everything.
The video for ‘Da Funk’ hit MTV in late ’96. The song was originally released as a single on the Soma label in 1995 to crickets but then re-released by Virgin Records ahead of their major-label debut Homework with the accompanying bewildering music video. The clip received massive airplay and not just on dance music programs but during regular programming alongside Soundgarden, Metallica, and Nine Inch Nails. It was possibly this introduction at the peak of industrial rock’s 1990s wave that facilitated the crossover to the rock world. ‘Da Funk’ wasn’t wussy or pretentious. It wasn’t delicate or bourgeois. The beat slammed HARD. That uber-compressed, slug to your chest heartbeat rhythm along with an unforgettable hook that satiated the metalheads’ lust for wah-wah pedal, and a climax of addictive ripping synth that you didn’t know you needed till you heard it. This all scored the story of a simple injured dog-man, making his way through the city. Oft-maligned and striving for a connection. The theme followed a popular ethos of the time of setting preposterous premises and playing them out as if normal. The video for Radiohead’s ‘Just’ came out around the same time and projected a similar vibe. This confounding music video combined with a tremendous track that echoed the industrial-tinged march of bands like NIN, made for a classic crossover hit that blew the doors open for cross-contamination and in turn, made Daft Punk international stars.
The second mark that Daft Punk indelibly left on the music industry is the legacy of their legendary live performances. The band debuted its now iconic pyramid stage in the relatively small Sahara tent at Coachella in 2006 to a hoard of 40,000 trying to squeeze their way into the 10,000 capacity tent. The mesmerizing light show that they put on would up the ante for all EDM performances to come but the show would not have garnered its illustrious status were it not for a mind-blowing set that perfectly mashed-up the hits of their career to date. They had just released arguably one of their greatest records Human After All and used the bookends of ‘Robot Rock’ and ‘Human After All’ to tell an emotional story of a digitally-ruled world. The clipped pounding of ‘Robot Rock’s opening demands fists in the air. The mechanical components of Discovery tracks ‘Too Long’, ‘Face to Face’ and ‘Crescendolls’ blend seamlessly into then recently released Human After All future classics ‘Television Rules The Nation’ and ‘Technologic’. By the time the duo hit their monster hit ‘Around the World’, the crowd is in full cyborg bliss. The mashup with beloved ‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’ only elevates it further into the stratosphere. The mega-hits ‘One More Time’ and ‘Da Funk’ enter with the appropriate fanfare but dissolve into a million bytes as they are disseminated into ever-rising, pumping fusions. The last elated affirmation of humanity of ‘Human After All’ leaves everyone with a heaping overload of serotonin and tells a remarkably complex story with a mere few chopped soundbites amid the hour and a half long performance. The live Daft Punk experience was captured for their Alive 2007 album and along with Underworld’s Everything Everything, it ranks as one of the best live techno albums out there.
So now Daft Punk explode off into the sunset. A project that both predicted and reflected our species’ eventual digital integration. This marriage has been the defining theme of the past three decades and the French duo were the minstrels telling that story.