Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, also known as Daft Punk, are some of the biggest recluses in all of music, with their last music release being in 2013 with ‘Random Access Memories,’ receiving five Grammy Awards. Daft Punk’s legacy can sometimes seem underwhelming in comparison to the esteem they are held in, yet their success & influence can be more than quantified, leaving a clear pattern throughout their career. “Random Access Memories” would be a near perfect stopping point, but we’re at a point in music as a whole where we need the robots to come back to again redefine a genre they have continuously rebranded.
To understand the relevance of Daft Punk in a modern context we must first look to the past. Homework, released in 1997, was Daft Punk’s debut album, and reflected a completely different appearance from what they are now: for one, they weren’t yet robots, but were heading down that path. Daft Punk became part of a musical wave, joined by the likes of The Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim, etc. that brought House music to the forefront of dance on a global level. Homework was a victory for music, reinventing what had become the norm, and gave Daft Punk more than monetary gain – they now had control. They could do what they wanted going forward, even becoming robots; making a persona separate to what they were in reality gave them an unrivalled image.
Four years later Discovery proved to please the masses, sacrificing their intense robotic tone for a softer, lyrically-focused album, and Discovery instantly raised their profile among industry leaders in EDM; the adaptation in style showed that Daft Punk were something to keep an eye on, something to anticipate. The album’s popularity outside of their native France allowed them to become relevant among a large American audience, and lead to them becoming a global force. The unique thing about the album was the animated feature film that accompanied it – Interstella 5555, which acted as a roadmap for the album, lending a visual element to it. Discovery was a big influence for upcoming artists, such as Justice, and Kanye West (Side note: Daft Punk co-wrote All Slaves, which is an absolute tune).
The masks gave Thomas and Guy-Man a degree of separation from the public eye, and allowed them to go about their normal lives again after Discovery, and with that degree of anonymity they took a break from being Daft Punk. They returned with Human After All in 2005. Human After All was made, produced, finished & ready to be released within a six week period, which caused the style of the album to fall somewhere between Discovery and Homework, but far enough from Discovery that mainstream audiences felt alienated. In hindsight the album is looked upon more fondly (especially after Alive 2007). The album title was a play on words, with the extremely short time scale for making the album showing that Daft Punk were Human After All, and that is something listeners, on a grand scale, missed. What followed Human After All was Alive 2007, their world tour; this tour is the reason every concert you go to has lights flashing all over the place. The words “production value” took a new form once Daft Punk played a set at Coachella in 2006.
Disappearing into the darkness again, they returned with the soundtrack for Tron Legacy. This was like a genesis for the pair – utilising an orchestra for the first time in their career, and it proved to be the biggest leap in their adaption of style & tone, ultimately building towards Random Access Memories. Random Access Memories was the culmination of everything they had released, paying tribute to their influences, namely the incredibly influential Giorgio Moroder & Chic, and blended all types & genres of music into one album. Random Access Memories told several stories, finishing with Contact, which one could be compared to a description of the robots leaving Earth; if that was a finishing point for the duo, it would be close to perfection. The album left a lasting impression, showing that dance can be perfectly blended with all forms of music, that we don’t need to be restricted to the EDM genre.
What am I trying to prove by tracing through their past? That by constantly reinventing themselves, they affected the whole industry around them, especially when it needed to be changed. EDM as a genre currently is stuck in a pattern of repetition, and if we look at what Daft Punk have done in their history, their albums change the makeup of music itself, massively influencing artists like Skrillex, who wouldn’t be a DJ if it wasn’t for Daft Punk (take that as you will). Rumours loom of a new album, and possibly another tour considering it’s the ten year anniversary of Alive 2007, and twentieth anniversary of Alive 1997. Does this actually mean they will come back? Who honestly knows, as they’re both in their forties, have families, and are likely incredibly wealthy. The obligation to come back is to save the quality of music, and something tells me that means a lot more to them than anything else.