Daft Punk

Creation date : 1994
Country : France
Category : Composer / DJ
Style of music : Electro
Members : Guy-Manuel De Homem Christo, Thomas Bangalter

The mysterious French duo Daft Punk have never revealed their true identity, wearing an ever-changing selection of masks to cover their real faces in interviews and concerts. The media-shy duo have nevertheless become an absolute phenomenon on the 90’s music scene. Daft Punk have not only put French techno on the map but convinced music fans around the world that the leading Anglo-Saxon groups in this domain now have a serious rival.

The mysterious French duo Daft Punk have never revealed their true identity, wearing an ever-changing selection of masks to cover their real faces in interviews and concerts. The media-shy duo have nevertheless become an absolute phenomenon on the 90’s music scene. Daft Punk have not only put French techno on the map but convinced music fans around the world that the leading Anglo-Saxon groups in this domain now have a serious rival.

The Daft Punk story began back in 1987 when Guy-Manuel de Homem Christo (born in 1974) and Thomas Bangalter (born in 1975), met in the playground of their Paris lycée and became best friends.

Thomas Bangalter came from a musical background, his father having been involved in the French disco movement in the 70’s, and it was not long before the pair decided to form their own group with a number of lycée friends. Calling themselves Darlin', the group recorded a début single in 1992 on the English label Duophonic (which had recently been set up by the Anglo-French techno group Stereolab). The single which sold a mere 1,500 copies proved a hit with the British music press who declared it to be a promising first effort. However, the single did not find favour with all music journalists, one particularly harsh critic dismissing it as "daft punk". (Far from taking offence at this description, the French duo actually found it amusing and they would later rename their new group Daft Punk).

While the British music press had given the group’s first single a good write-up, Darlin’ remained practically unknown in their homeland. They performed a number of local gigs, but eventually Thomas and Guy-Manuel began to grow bored of the group’s sound. The turning-point in their musical career came when the pair attended a giant rave held at EuroDisney in 1993. There they met the directors of a small Scottish techno label Soma. Quitting their group of lycée friends, Thomas and Guy-Manuel formed a duo, and started developing their innovative techno/house style. A year after meeting the Soma directors at the rave, the duo released their début single on the Scottish label under the name Daft Punk. The 2-track CD (featuring "New wave" and "Alive") scored another big hit with the British music press.

Daft Punk soon proved to be a pioneering force on the techno/house scene, pushing back the boundaries of the genre to integrate elements of other musical styles such as disco, rock and groove. Moving away from the pure house sound (that had originated in Chicago in the early 80’s) Daft Punk created their own innovative 90’s fusion, mixing a powerful techno beat with musical influences from their adolescence (everything from Jimi Hendrix and The Stooges to Kiss, Television, David Bowie and Talking Heads - without forgetting a good dose of French chanson star Serge Gainsbourg !)

Daft Punk returned to the studio in May 95 to record "Da Funk", the techno/dance/rock instrumental which would catapult the duo to the forefront of the international dance scene. The duo were suddenly in demand, and they spent the following year touring Europe’s rave scene where their frenetic DJing drove crowds on the dancefloor wild.

Daft Punk proved phenomenally successful on the London dance scene, where they were soon so big that they were invited to support one of their favourite groups The Chemical Brothers. Daft Punk also made a name for themselves among the DJ community with their brilliant remixes of singles by The Chemical Brothers and singer Gabrielle.

By this point Daft Punk’s fame had started to spread beyond the underground rave scene and the duo were signed by Richard Branson’s record label Virgin in 1996. Daft Punk’s hit "Musique" was included on a compilation album on Virgin’s techno label Source, which was the first label to release the group’s records in France.

The hidden face of Daft Punk

Daft Punk went on to set up their own label, Daft Trax, taking control of their own productions. The pair also kept a tight control on their image, appearing in all promotional photographs with masks or balaclavas to protect themselves from the media frenzy unleashed by their sudden popularity.

Daft Punk’s single "Da Funk" was re-released on January 13 1997, followed on February 20 by the duo’s début album "Homework" which was to catapult them to international fame. The group had expressed a desire that the album should be released on vinyl rather than CD, and 50,000 copies were pressed. But "Homework", distributed in 35 countries around the world, sold over 2 millions copies in just a few months and extra stocks had to be hot-footed from the presses to the record shops. Daft Punk’s concept album proved phenomenally successful with young music fans worldwide, the duo's innovative techno fusion transcending national and cultural barriers. Music magazines and the international media hailed Daft Punk as exciting new talents, praising their original sound and raw energy.

There was no stopping the French duo’s vertiginous rise to fame now and when Daft Punk’s new single "Around the World" was released on April 11 1997 it rocketed straight to the top of the European charts. What’s more, "Around the World" (greatly influenced by the pre-house 70’s smash "Pop Corn") became a huge hit in the American charts - a rare feat for a French single ! Daft Punk soon proved so successful on the American market that their first single "Da Funk" was even featured on the soundtrack of the Hollywood movie "The Saint" directed by Philip Noyce.

Daft Punk have been greatly in demand recently, headlining at countless major musical events including Lollapallooza in America and British festivals such as Tribal Gathering and Glastonbury. From October to December 1997 the duo, still hidden behind their notorious plastic masks, performed an extensive international tour, playing 40 dates worldwide. The highlights of this tour included memorable performances in Paris at L'Elysée-Montmartre (17 October) and Le Zénith (27 November), as well as extremely successful concerts in Los Angeles (16 December) and New York (20 December) where Daft Punk played on stage for a full five hours. By the middle of October 97 Daft Punk's album "Homework" had earnt the duo two gold discs in France. The album also proved a phenomenal success on the international music scene, going gold in England, Ireland, Belgium, Italy and New Zealand and platinum in Canada. Daft Punk were the first French group ever to enjoy success on such a massive scale.

While continuing to enjoy huge international success, Daft Punk also proved they were a techno duo with a heart of gold. On 8 December 1997 the group played at the Rex Club in Paris with Motorbass and DJ Cassius, asking fans to bring along a selection of toys. Fans were able to exchange these toys for free tickets on the door and the group then donated the toys to an association in the Paris suburbs caring for children in need.

Flying The Flag for French Electro

Renowned for guarding their identity and their work closely throughout their career, Daft Punk attacked the French TV channel France 2 at the end of '97 for having used three Daft Punk tracks without their authorisation. The affair proved to be a long and complicated one, taking months to go through the French courts, but Guy-Manuel de Homem Christo and Thomas Bangalter finally won their case in the spring of '98.

Meanwhile, Daft Punk continued to fly the flag for French electro abroad, winning new fans on dancefloors across Europe and the US. The duo's singles and remixes were eagerly awaited in clubs all the way from Paris to Liverpool and New York. In the summer of '99 Thomas Bangalter branched out on his own for a few months, scoring a huge international hit with his temporary group Stardust. Released on Bangalter's own label, Roule, Stardust's single "Music Sounds Better With You" drove clubbers wild on dancefloors across the world, rocketing to the top of the charts in several different countries.

Throughout their career, Guy-Manuel de Homem Christo and Thomas Bangalter have always paid close attention to the visual side of their work and in November '99 they put out a pioneering DVD, entitled "D.A.F.T. A Story About Dogs, Androids, Firemen and Tomatoes". The DVD featured five video clips of the duo's work, four of which were made by top international film directors (Spike Jonze, Roman Coppola, Michel Gondry and Seb Janiak). The fifth was made by Daft Punk themselves.

Daft Punk rocketed back into the French music news on September 27th 2000 with a brand new single entitled "One More Time". The first new Daft Punk single in two years was hailed as a major event in the electro world. Indeed, "One More Time" was pirated extensively on the Internet on several mp3 sites including Napster and even played on French radio prior to its official release.

Discovery

As planned, the release of the album on the 13th of March 2001 was accompanied by good media coverage. Still unsure of their image, Daft Punk exposed themselves to the world with helmets and gloves on, a cross between science fiction heroes and robots. Called “Discovery”, this CD has a cover very similar to the previous one, the difference being the name Daft Punk is written in raised mercurial script. Unequivocally dance-tunes, the 14 tracks on the album verge on the disco and were heavily influenced by their teenage listening, from Paul McCartney to the Electric Light Orchestra. After two weeks of sales, Virgin declared that “Discovery” had already sold more than 1.3 million copies.

In the same vein - ie TV music memorabilia - the duo asked the Japanese Manga master Leiji Matsumoto, inventor of Albator and producer of Candy and Goldorak, to create the video for “One more time”.

As attentive of their work as of their marketing, Daft Punk have equipped the CD with a permanently valid card which connects to their website daftclub.com and enables access to unedited tracks. In this way they can bypass the free downloading sites like Napster etc. For them, “music must retain its commercial value” (Source AFP). Added to which, the group is still battling with the SACEM, the “Society for Authors, Composers and Editors of Music”, who have an unofficial monopoly on rights in France. Daft Punk never wanted to subscribe and wanted to manage their rights themselves, which the SACEM refused to accept. Subsequently, the SACEM have refused to pay Daft Punk the rights they have amassed on their behalf since the group started out.

To please their fans, on the 2nd of October, the French duo released a single track, recorded live, which lasts 45 minutes and is simply called “Daft Punk alive 1997”. It was in fact recorded in Birmingham, England a few months after the release of “Homework” in 1997. At the end of October, a new single from the album “Discovery” hit the market, called “Harder Better”.

Daft Club

The masked duo made a comeback in 2003 with a 65 minute film created with Leiji Matsumoto : “Interstalla 5555”. The animation uses the same Japanese manga universe as the Discovery clips. Once again Daft Punk exploits its connections to childhood. An unscrupulous producer steals the identity of a group of “Martians” and sends them to conquer an earth audience. Finally - we had to be patient – “Daft Club” was released at the end of 2003 : an album of previously unedited versions and hits, and remixes of Cosmo Vitelli, Demon, Neptunes, Basement Jaxx, Gonzales etc.

News about a new Daft Punk album started circulating last autumn. The French duo had been hard at it in the studio, working on the long-awaited "Human After All". Slated for release in March 2004, the album had in fact leaked to the Net long before then. It was recorded in just six weeks, with the ten tracks featuring a mix of guitars and electro beats. "Human After All" underwhelmed the critics, who accused the Paris-based group of sticking to their old formulas, both in music style and songwriting. But Daft Punk are no slouches and still managed to come up with enough potential hits to cook up a storm on the dancefloor. The first single from the album is "Robot Rock".

In 2006, fans were treated to the release of Daft Punk's first greatest hits album, "Musique Vol. 1 -1993-2005." The album featured eleven tracks from the duo's three studio albums, three remixes dating from their "Homework" period and a special bonus track, "Musique" (that, previously to this, had only appeared on a Source label compilation). A deluxe version of Daft Punk's greatest hits CD, accompanied by a DVD of twelve clips (including two originals, "Robot Rock" and "Prime Time of Your Life") was also made available.

In the spring of 2006, Daft Punk embarked upon a mini-tour, playing nine select dates in the U.S., Belgium, Japan and France. Fans turned out to these rare concert appearances in force, 35,000 people attending their set at the Coachella festival in the U.S. and a 30,000-strong crowd applauding at the Eurockéennes in Belfort. While their last album had failed to impress certain fans and gone down as something of a flop in the media, Daft Punk proved they could still put on a mega-show live. Their nine live appearances in the spring of 2006 found the duo donning their futuristic android costumes and performing amidst giant illuminated pyramids on a stage surrounded by huge video screens scrolling out their song lyrics.

Daft Punk’s Electroma

In June 2006, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem Christo slipped out of their android outfits and into the director's chair when they were invited to show their first full-length film, "Daft Punk's Electroma", at the Cannes film festival. Daft Punk's movie, shown as part of the 'Quinzaine des réalisateurs' fortnight, was a 1-hour-14-minute piece about two robots trying to become human. The film was shot in a style that alternated between arty video installation, traditional pop clip and cinematic narration. It was accompanied by an impressive soundtrack featuring contributions from Curtis Mayfield, Brian Eno and Sébastien Tellier.

In 2007, Daft Punk hit the road again on tour, this time playing only two concert dates in France: one appearance in the amphitheatre in Nîmes, in the south of France, and another at Bercy stadium in Paris on 14 June. On this occasion the duo transformed Bercy stadium into a giant spaceship complete with laser beams, screens projecting video games and a spectacular light show. The duo took their futuristic stage extravaganza to the U.S. (Seattle, Chicago, New York, Las Vegas) and Canada (Toronto and Montreal) from July to October 2007. 

In 2009, Daft Punk received two prestigious Grammy Awards in the USA: best electronic album for “Alive 2007” (a live album of their 10-year anniversary performance at the Paris Bercy Palais Omnisports on 14 June 2007), and best single for “Harder Better Faster Stronger” in the same category. American fans had a chance to see the French twosome on October 2010, when they made an appearance at the end of a Phoenix concert in Madison Square Garden in New York. Decked out in their famous robot helmets, they received a hysterical and enthusiastic reaction from the 20,000 spectators.
 
In July 2010, Daft Punk received the French title of Chevalier de l'Ordre des arts et des lettres.
 
A few months later, they were in the news with the original soundtrack of the film “Tron: Legacy” in December 2010. Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel from Homem-Christo composed the track at the request of the film’s producer, Walt Disney, and the director, Joseph Kosinski, a big fan of Daft Punk. To match the sound to the film’s action (a father and son, both technology experts, find themselves thrown into a highly dangerous video game), the duet married synthesizers with a symphony orchestra, producing a 22-title soundtrack that continued in the pared-down style of their previous albums. The very techno, dance number “Derezzed” seemed designed to whet the appetites of their fans, who were clamouring for a new album.

2013: "Random Access Memory"

The pair started to work on a new collection, involving numerous collaborators in the process: singers, instrumentalists, sound engineers, and technicians. The project took several months, and the new tracks were recorded with real musical instruments in New York and Los Angeles.
 
The build-up to the release of their fourth album was huge and the duo had to handle the workings of the marketing machine. In February 2013, the promotional campaign for the album began with the publication of a single image featuring two interlocked masks, which was the album’s cover.
 
The first single, “Get Lucky” was released in April, recorded with American rapper and producer Pharrel Williams.
 
The actual album came out in May, with the title "Random Access Memory" (a reference to R.A.M., the live data stored on computers). A few days before its official release, the tracks were exclusively previewed at the official launch party in Wee Waa, a small Australian town.
 
The collection features a prestigious line up: Pharrell Williams, Julian Casablancas des Strokes, Nile Rodgers, Chic’s guitarist and front man, and the Italian precursor of electro music ,Giorgio Moroder, who even gets his own dedicated title, "Giorgio by Moroder".
 
With their electro-funk mega-production, Daft Punk pay tribute to the sounds that marked their teenage years. As usual, the voices on the album get the familiar vocoder treatment.
 
The album was a huge hit and by July 2013, 2.4 million copies had already been sold around the world, a million of them in digital version.
 
January 2014

 

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