By Ben Olson
When I was in high school and college, there was a phenomenon known as a rave that doesn’t seem to happen much anymore. The concept was simple: gather a bunch of young people together at some house or grange hall, dim the lights, cue the fog machine and blast electronic dance music at top volume until the barnacles inside your soul broke loose.
Sure, raves also embraced drug culture to a certain degree. It wasn’t a stretch to see someone tripping on psychedelic mushrooms or dancing in a fever of MDMA, but at the heart of raves was the experience of losing yourself in a crowd of people all jumping to the beat of electronic dance music. There was freedom in giving into the music, where no matter how awful you danced or howled along, everyone else was right there on the same Technicolored page as you.
Few artists helped establish this genre in the mainstream than Daft Punk, which announced this week it was disbanding after 28 years of revolutionary music.
This electronic duo from Paris was influential on the electronic music scene from the moment its famous single, “Around the World,” began playing on loop at raves and radio stations around the world. The single appeared on their debut album, Homework, in 1997, but the band’s second album Discovery, completely reshaped dance music for the Digital Age.
Discovery contained such singles as “One More Time” and “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger,” which both seemed to lean on the mirth and fun of electronic dance music, incorporating robotic synthesizer beats and vocals, dropped beats that bring the house down and raw tracks that stick with you long after you hear them.
Daft Punk didn’t just create music; it created a full experience, even a persona, that EDM artists have emulated ever since. Live performances were wild affairs, with members Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter always dressing in futuristic robot costumes and helmets, playing their music to a crescendo of visual and audio elements that just seemed to work perfectly. Think Pink Floyd’s laser light show, but in an EDM setting.
They’re also quite versatile and genre-bending, embracing club bangers, neo-disco house music and rock-based minimalist sounds, culminating with a digital cinematic techno style in one of their later albums made for the movie Tron.
At the core of Daft Punk’s success was its patience and attention to detail. This band never did anything half-assed. In a 2013 interview, Bangalter explained why it took the duo five years to complete its 2013 release Random Access Memories.
“We always do things one step at a time,” he said.
In this age of crapping out sub-par studio albums to generate income, the autureship that went into Daft Punks’ albums was always well-received by fans and critics alike.
EDM pioneer Giorgio Morodor related a story about Daft Punk’s attention to detail while recording vocals for a track on Random Access Memories. Daft Punk asked Morodor to talk about his life on the song, and ended up recording his vocals on three different microphones of varying ages, so when he spoke about his early life they used a vintage mic, and so on.
“Who would hear the difference?”’ Morodor asked in the documentary. Daft Punk would. If the band applied that level of detail to every aspect of its music, it shows just a glimpse of how seriously the duo practiced their craft.
Daft Punk’s crescendo probably came in 2006 when the music festival Coachella finally lured them to play after years of the duo declining their invite. Each time Coachella asked them to play, they would increase the financial offer until it finally landed on $300,000, which the band then used to construct an ultra high-tech pyramid that they debuted at the festival and later toured with. The pyramid became an iconic part of Daft Punks’ performances, turning each live show into a fully-interactive experience for all the senses.
Finally, by hiding their visual identities behind robotic masks, the band chose not to participate in the fame charade that seems to tarnish some of the best artists when they achieve popularity. The fact that the duo never performed without their identity-concealing helmets removed them personally from the trappings of fame.
“It’s a rejection, a philosophical position,” said Pedro Winter, Daft Punk’s manager from 1996-2008. “Creating these robot personas lets them stay human, grounded and completely free. They bought their freedom by sending the robots to do their dirty work.”
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