After 28 years, The Robots have taken their leave, the an interstellar journey has reached its end point.
From their Parisian beginnings playing house, acid and techno to cleaning up at the Grammys in 2014, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christois’s story is the stuff of an outlandish larger-than-life music biopic.
The helmeted duo collaborated with The Weeknd, Kanye, Nile Rodgers and video directors Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze, soundtracked Tron: Legacy for Disney, released the “sound of the summer”, made a full-length anime and an avant-garde sci-fi feature film, built a huge stage show with a pyramid at the centre of the Alive show and toured it around the world in 2006 and 2007.
As much studio engineers, enthusiasts and filmmakers as they were obfuscated producers (Bangalter always found time to drop his own material or got involved in classic dance records like ‘Music Sounds Better With You’,), with every passing year, whether they did anything or not (but especially when they were quiet), their stature grew. The helmets helped build their legacy and fanbase.
As they moved from the early Chicago house inspirations of Homework to the disco and glittering pop house of Discovery to the two week-gestation of the combative electro rock style of Human After All to the lush, immaculate retro prog-funk Random Access Memories ( I still largely agree with my first listen review), Daft Punk’s entire recorded output is a response to the music that they loved, the deep knowledge of music across decades they cultivated, subsumed and reconfigured, whether it was wholesale song sampling that defined their middle career or RAM’s recreation of indulgent high-fidelity studio albums of the past.
In doing so, they altered the course of pop music from the inside and out, while keeping the public at arms length and everyone guessing. Until this week, when the guessing and the mystery was given a full-stop, in the most Daft Punk way possible, no explanation, with mystery intact.
The truth is there was nowhere for the two robots to go, their mission in making and remaking modern pop music was complete, charting across their discography from minimalism to maximalism.
What follows is a homage in the form of a list of some of the duo’s early appearances on live stages and DJ booths.
The early years was always my favourite era of Daft Punk. I remember buffering a Realplayer clip of ‘Rock And Roll’ on dialup in 1997 and I bought a CD single of ‘Da Funk’ in a French supermarché on a school tour that same year.
These early recordings capture and hold the excitement and wonder I had at listening to their early work, in awe of the sounds they created, as has revisiting these older recordings this week.
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Even Furthur Festival live set
Before Homework came out in 1997 and well and truly set Daft Punk on their way, the duo performed for their first time in America at the Even Furthur Festival 1996 at Eagle Cave Campground in Wisconsin.
Thomas Bangalter is front and centre of the video footage here but both himself and Guy are present. It’s an almost adolescent energetic set of acid synth basslines and the duo’s trademark twisted funk and house played with synths, samplers and sequencers.
The magic moment comes 13 minutes in as ‘Rolling and Scratchin’ kicks in but really this is masterclass from two producers who were only in their early twenties. The resulting footage looks like it’s the seed of the idea for Boiler Room.
BBC Radio Essential Mix
A year later and the pair were absolutely slaying things on UK radio. A few weeks before Homework was released, they performed on BBC Radio One’s iconic DJ mix series Essential Mix, with two hours that encapsulated all their influences (a la ‘Teachers‘) and bears all the hallmarks of their sound: funk-house, bass-driven disco, ghetto house, French touch, techno and pop melodies.
Budding DJs could do worse than recreate this as a learning experience.
Alive 97 was a live album release captured during their Daftendirektour at Birmingham’s Que Club on 8 November 1997. It features 45 minutes of the live set played that night.
It was released 4 years later, post-Discovery saturation, almost as a reminder of their more underground beginnings.
Taking Homework classics like ‘Da Funk’, ‘Revolution 909’, ‘Alive’ and an Armand Van Helden remix of ‘Da Funk’, the way in which they split apart, reverse and smash together their own songs with a high energy fervour and live crowd noise which helps the ambiance of the whole blessed recording.
The Arches, Soma afterparty
After their set at the Barrowlands that night, Daft Punk rocked up and played a set at Soma Records (label run by Slam who released their first three singles after they met at a rave in Euro Disney in 1993 – true story) at the Arches theatre space.
The tracklist is here and features lots of their own tunes along with Cassius, collaborator Todd Edwards, Green Velvet, Thomas Bangalter’s solo track ‘Ventura‘, Lil Louis’ ‘French Kiss’ and much more.
CK Teachers Mixes
2011 – 2017
In the same way that Daft Punk paid homage to their forebearers on ‘Teachers’ the Dubliner CK took it one further and put together three volumes of mixes that featured the artists they shouted out on their debut.