Daft Punk’s 28 Years of Doin’ It Right
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Electronic music duo Daft Punk has innovated and influenced for nearly three decades. Its two members, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, met at their Parisian secondary school in 1987. The friendship was music-centric from its beginning, as they recorded tracks together, and in 1992, formed a trio called “Darlin’” with an additional guitarist. A critic for a British music magazine dismissed a performance by Darlin’ as a “daft punky thrash,” and the remark became the name of the duo formed in 1993 by Bangalter and Homem-Christo once Darlin’ disbanded.
After giving a label executive a demo tape at a 1993 rave, the duo released their debut single “The New Wave” (1994), followed by “Da Funk” (1995), which gave the group their first taste of commercial success. In 1997, Daft Punk released their debut album, “Homework,” featuring both “Da Funk” and the final mix of “The New Wave” (with the title changed to “Alive”). “Homework” was characterized by the popular European electronic music style of big beat and produced using such hardware as drum machines and synthesized bass. The most successful single from the album was “Around The World,” an infectious tune of pumping synths, a four-on-the-floor drum beat, and a three-word hook (the song’s title) chanted repeatedly, with vocals processed through a vocoder.
The second studio album released by Daft Punk, “Discovery” (2001), saw even greater success and featured the hit sure to be recognized by anyone with a pulse: “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.” “Face to Face” and “Digital Love” also charted in the U.K. and the U.S., but Daft Punk’s lasting legacy is represented best by “Harder,” a song which has aged magnificently, and was even sampled by Kanye West on his album “Graduation” (2007).
Their 2005 album “Human After All” received mixed reviews, due to seemingly hasty recording, and is arguably the least memorable studio album produced by the duo. Still, hits like “Robot Rock” and “Technologic” charted and are examples of Daft Punk’s best work to date. Additionally, “Human After All” led to the live album (performed in Paris) “Alive 2007,” which won the 2009 Grammy Award for Best Electronic/Dance Album. “Alive” is superbly energetic—a live album at its best—featuring talented mixing, on-stage synths and effects, and undeniable groove from start to finish.
Daft Punk didn’t release any studio albums between 2005 and 2013, but they did compose the score for “Tron: Legacy” (2010). The soundtrack is a dramatic medley of classical and electronic music tailored perfectly for the film it accompanied. It was acclaimed by music lovers despite the film’s lukewarm reception and even received a Grammy nomination.
In 2013, Daft Punk released what would be their fourth and final studio album, “Random Access Memories.” The album is a showcase of their skills and musical range—they aren’t just music for European clubs, and never have been. They are electronic, orchestral, pop, disco, heartbreaking, inspiring, and so, so danceable. The duo dedicates a track to an inspiration of their own, Italian record producer and composer Giorgio Moroder, who is regarded as the pioneer of European electronic dance and disco music. The album’s biggest hit, “Get Lucky” (featuring Pharrell Williams), broke into mainstream pop radio after its release and became quadruple-platinum certified in the United States. The single also won Best Record as well as Best Pop Duo/Group Performance at the 2014 Grammy Awards.
From its inception, Daft Punk has carved out for itself nothing short of an iconic legacy from their singular innovation within electronic music to their unmistakable robot helmets and vocoded vocals. Daft Punk was distinctly digital from their debut, but they have since succeeded in redefining the genre. As their activity in the world of music comes to an end, we should celebrate their discography and all the gems they’ve left us—truly a lifetime’s worth of dance and groove. Their retirement, announced the morning of February 22, 2021, saddened fans and the general music-loving public alike. A YouTube video titled “Epilogue” concluded the final chapter of their story, featuring repurposed footage from their 2006 science-fiction film “Electroma,” and music from their song “Touch.” The 2013 track, balladic and moving, may have been the perfect soundtrack to their retirement video. The composition of synth, strings, and vocals produces a powerful, seamless masterpiece, demonstrative of Daft Punk’s unparalleled artistry. An emotional swelling of strings complements the choral refrain that closes out the video: “Hold on, if love is the answer, you’re home.”