Daft Punk: no longer harder, better, faster, stronger

Categories:  Music    The Arts
Wednesday, March 3rd, 2021 at 3:54 PM
Daft Punk: no longer harder, better, faster, stronger by Teddy Rankin
Graphic: Eric Johnson

On Feb. 22, Daft Punk shocked the music world by announcing the end of their career in a YouTube video, titled “Epilogue.” The duo's surprise announcement comes eight years after their last album, 2013’s “Random Access Memories,” and depicts the silver and gold robots assisting each other with self-destruction. Daft Punk had been progressing the artform of electronic music for nearly 30 years.

As a fan, this news was devastating and heartbreaking. Daft Punk was one of my favorite musical acts and transformed me into the audiophile I am today. I even focused my high school senior thesis on the group’s history and impact on music. Let us take a look back at Daft Punk’s influential career, which spanned from 1993 to 2021.

The early days

In 1980s Paris, the future robots, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, formed a band with their friend Laurent Brancowitz. The group, called Darlin’ (named after The Beach Boys’ song of the same name), received a scathing review early on in their first attempt at professional music. The now infamous critique in Melody Maker Magazine referred to their sound as “a daft punky thrash.” Brancowitz went on to co-found the synth-pop band Phoenix, while Bangalter and de Homem-Christo leaned into the phrase and spent years cutting their teeth in Paris discotheques under the name Daft Punk.

What’s the deal with the helmets?

Daft Punk’s debut single, 1995’s “Da Funk,” was accompanied by a music video featuring a man in a realistic dog mask that was directed by Spike Jonze. The group had already taken to wearing disguises in public to avoid being recognized. Jonze later introduced the duo to Tony Gardner, a special effects designer known for his work on Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and horror film “The Blob.” Gardner designed Daft Punk’s robot helmets, loosely based on the 1951 sci-fi movie “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” When asked why Daft Punk hides their faces, Bangalter once said, “We want the focus to be on the music. If we have to create an image, it must be an artificial image.” Since they first donned the helmets in 2001, they have never been professionally photographed without them.

Albums

Daft Punk’s first full length album, “Homework,” was released in 1997 and featured their breakout hit, “Around The World.” The seven-minute track became a fixture at dance clubs “around the world,” taking their act to the next level.

“Discovery,” released in 2001, introduced Daft Punk (and their new robot personas) to mainstream radio audiences with massive hits “One More Time” and “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.” The album explored the group’s roots in disco music with subtle wordplay (“Discovery” = disco very and “Veridis Quo'' = very disco). Daft Punk also paired “Discovery” with a full length animated movie called “Interstella 5555.”

In 2005, Daft Punk continued their reign of EDM success with “Human After All” and another film, “Electroma.” After this release, the duo began focusing on live performances and an ambitious live-instrument album that would become their final release and epic masterpiece.

“Random Access Memories” finally came to fruition in 2013 and its lead single, “Get Lucky,” immediately began dominating the airwaves. Daft Punk featured a plethora of legendary musicians on the album: Paul Williams, Nile Rodgers, Pharrell Williams, Julian Casablancas, and Giorgio Moroder, to name a few. “RAM” won four Grammy Awards in 2014, including “Album of the Year,” beating out Kendrick Lamar’s “good kid: m.A.A.d. city” and Taylor Swift’s “Red.”

Alongside their impressive catalog, Daft Punk also collaborated with other trendsetting artists to create some of the biggest hits of the millennium. Most casual listeners will probably recognize the gold and silver robots from Kanye West’s “Stronger,” which borrows the hook from “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger,” but they may not know that Daft Punk also served as producers for the first three tracks on West’s 2013 album, “Yeezus.” Bangalter and de Homem-Christo also lent their skill to The Weeknd’s “Starboy” and “I Feel It Coming,” both of which were recently performed at the Super Bowl halftime show. Bangalter also has a producer credit on Arcade Fire’s “Everything Now.” Furthermore, the duo appeared in and provided the score for the 2010 film “Tron: Legacy.” 

Legacy

For 28 years, Daft Punk pushed the envelope of what was possible in music production. Their recording techniques were often replicated and used in pop music until they came out with something new that restarted the cycle. Their decision to retire at this point leads me to suspect that Daft Punk discovered they had reached the extent of the possibilities of music recording. However, with such a rich history of press stunts and hidden messages, the door is still slightly open for a reunion. If that is in fact what they’re planning, the future music is sure to be unbelievable. But we should not hold our breath.

If this is truly the end of Daft Punk, they have left us with an incredible catalog of music and a refreshing glimpse of what success can look like without all the aspects of celebrity.

Teddy Rankin is the Music Editor for The Spectator. He can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com.

Tags: daft punk, music

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