Daft Punk - Biography
Noted for their masked identities and dance grooves, Paris’s Daft Punk formed in 1993, released their debut single “The New Wave” on the Soma label in 1994, and then quickly went on to dominate electronic music at the turn of the 21st century. Their three full-length studio albums; Homework (1997 Virgin), Discovery (2001 Virgin) and Human After All (2005 Virgin), contain a host of smash singles. Tracks like “Da Funk,” “Around the World,” “One More Time,” and “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” sold millions, cracked the mainstream charts and garnered the duo a Grammy nomination. In the process, Daft Punk became synonymous with French house music and the ’90s rave scene. Unlike many of their peers, however, Daft Punk outlasted electronic music’s first bubble of popularity thanks in part to solid songcraft and state-of-the-art live performances that showcase how brazen and exhilarating the fusion of pop, funk, disco, house and electronica can be.
Daft Punk members Thomas Bangalter (born January 3, 1975) and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo (born February 8, 1974) met in a secondary school in Paris in 1987. Bangalter’s father had written French disco hits in the ’70s and both boys shared a love for pop music, film and clubbing at a time when Chicago house was invading the last refuge of disco. The pair formed a guitar-based group called Darlin’ in 1992, featuring Bangalter on bass, de Homem-Christo on guitar and Laurent Brancowitz on drums. Named after a Beach Boys song, they covered that tune along with an original, “Cindy So Loud,” and appeared on Shimmies in Super 8 (1993 Duophonic Records) alongside Huggy Bear, Stereolab and Colm. Darlin’s tracks received mixed reviews, with one Melody Maker music critic deriding the band as “daft punk”. Stereolab invited the band to open for shows in the United Kingdom. After playing a few dates Darlin’ disbanded. Bangalter and de Homem-Christo continued without their drummer under the moniker Daft Punk and began experimenting with drum machines and synthesizers.
At a giant rave held at EuroDisney in 1993, the duo met Stuart Macmillan of the Scottish duo, Slam. They presented Macmillan with their demo cassette and his Soma Quality Recordings label released their debut, “The New Wave,” the following spring. Hailed by some as house innovators, the single preceded another, “Da Funk (1995 Soma),” which was the band’s first hit. It sold well and to an influential base. In early 1996, major labels began bidding for the group, who ultimately signed a unique distribution deal with Virgin that gave the band control of their own masters under their own label Daft Trax. Daft Punk followed “The New Wave” and “Da Funk” with a limited pressing of the single “Musique” which appeared on the Wipeout XL (1996 Virgin) soundtrack alongside key players such as The Chemical Brothers, Underworld, The Future Sound of London and The Prodigy. Two more 12” singles, including “Around the World,” cranked up interest among DJs to hyperthermic levels which was followed by full-blown cultural psychosis on February 20, 1997 when the duo’s début album, Homework (1997 Virgin), turned them into international stars.
“Around the World” (greatly influenced by Hot Butter’s ’70s cover of Gershon Kingsley’s pioneering electronic song “Popcorn”) hit number one on the Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play charts. The song was a funky one distinguished by its disco house bassline, a tightly wound keyboard riff and the vocoder-processed phrase, “around the world” repeated 144 times. Aside from a few sonic flourishes, the song is incredibly taut; a near-perfect piece of pop volleyed back across the pond to the Americans who inspired them. Daft Punk initially released a tame run of 50,000 copies of Homework (1997 Virgin) on vinyl but the album sold more than two million copies in three dozen countries over the next few months. The track, “Teachers,” offers clues to several influences on the album, including Jerseyite garage pioneers Romanthony and Todd Edwards. De Homem-Christo elaborated that the compression, the sound of the kick drum and the emotion and soul of Romanthony's voice helped shape their sound. The track “WDPK 83.7 FM” reportedly pays tribute to FM radio in the United States, where broadcast compression reigned. De Homem-Christo has been interviewed as saying the band loved the effect.
In addition to forming their own label, Daft Trax, Daft Punk learned from Bangalter’s father and others in the industry the importance of controlling their image, appearing in promotional material with masks or balaclavas to hide their identity. Later they would become synonymous with modified motorcycle helmets, leather suits and gloves used to obscure their appearance partially out of shyness but also for theatrical effect. Daft Punk also enrolled A-level film talents Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Roman Coppola and Seb Janiak to produce a series of music videos for Homework (1997 Virgin). That collection was released in 1999 as D.A.F.T. - A Story about Dogs, Androids, Firemen and Tomatoes (Virgin).
Around this time Bangalter also began to operate the Roulé label, recording solo work under his real name on the underground smash “Trax on da Rocks” as well as recording with Benjamin Diamond and Alan Braxe as Stardust, a one-off house act whose “Music Sounds Better with You” (1998 Roulé) was a massive hit.
Daft Punk returned to the forefront of music with an equally addicting single “One More Time” in 2000. The single went to #2 on the Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Play charts and was followed by the album Discovery (2001 Virgin) the following March. Bangalter stated in interviews that Discovery’s title referred to the sonically open-minded phase of childhood when music is approached without regard for what is considered cool or uncool. That approach explains the heavy sampling from songs of late ’70s to early ’80s. Discovery’s 14 tracks reinvigorate themes from the much-maligned disco era and combine to them other influences from their childhoods like Paul McCartney and the Electric Light Orchestra. Singles “One More Time” (featuring Romanthony), “Digital Love” and “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” became overnight club standards. After two weeks, Discovery sold more than 1.3 million copies and had sold at least 2.6 million copies as of 2005. The album also spawned the 2003 film Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem, which married the album’s songs to anime filmmaking.
Just days before Discovery’s release, the French duo also delivered a single, 45-minute live track called “Alive 1997” (2001 Virgin) which had been recorded in Birmingham, England shortly after the release of Homework.
2002 saw a surprising lull in output, but near the end of 2003, Daft Club (Virgin) (an album of previously unedited versions and hits, and remixes of Cosmo Vitelli, Demon, Neptunes, Basement Jaxx, and Gonzales) was issued.
From September 13, 2004 till November 9, Daft Punk devoted their time to creating material for their next album. Bangalter stated in interviews conducted at the time that the point was to record quickly, the opposite of their approach in creating the previous album. It also marked another stylistic shift, created mainly with two guitars and without synthesizers. Human After All (2005 Virgin) was produced in just two weeks and mixed in four. Some saw the improvisatory results as too repetitive and uninspired, yet the singles “Robot Rock” and “Technologic” performed well in Europe. In 2006 Human After All was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Electronic/Dance Album but lost to the Chemical Brothers.
The same year the duo released their second compilation, Musique Vol. 1: 1993-2005 (2006 Virgin), featuring eleven tracks from the duo’s three studio albums, three remixes dating from their Homework period and “Musique,” which had been the B-side on “Da Funk.”
In May 2006 Bangalter and de Homem-Christo premiered their self-directed, second, feature-length film, Electroma, at the Cannes International Film Festival. Described by Bangalter as “experimental and inaccessible” the sparse narrative chronicles the story of two robots trying to become human over 74 minutes in a combination of video installation, pop clip and cinematic narration. The soundtrack features contributions from Curtis Mayfield, Brian Eno and Sébastien Tellier among others.
Daft Punk released their second live record, Alive 2007 (Virgin) on November 19, 2007. The recording had been made at the Palais Omnisport de Paris Bercy on June 14, 2007. The album includes a 54-page book of photographs shot while on tour. The live version of “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” was released as a single with a music video directed by Olivier Gondry, who used footage shot by 250 audience members at Daft Punk’s Brooklyn appearance at KeySpan Park in Coney Island.
Daft Punk’s Alive 2007 tour featured just twelve dates across the globe, often with more than 60,000 people in attendance. Critics across the spectrum gushed over Daft Punk’s deft use of lighting and mixing designed to create euphoria among their audience. Daft Punk’s trademark pyramid performance booth took its lighting cues from early ’90s raves with their lasers and strobes, but then upped the ante with cutting-edge video projection and mixing to create a hypnotic addition to the live show’s incessant, robotic beats.
Daft Punk may have been birthed in the short-lived, early ’90s electronica era which also spawned Chemical Brothers, Prodigy and a million half-talented trance DJs, but their fearless, child-like appropriation of pop conventions and progressive beats has overwritten the dance DNA of the globe — coding a bit of “Robot Rock” into us all. In 2010 the group released Tron: Legacy, the soundtrack for the new film version. This was followed in May 2013 with the relaese of a new LP of original material titled Random Access Memories, it's first single "Get Lucky" features guest vocals from Pharrell of NERD, not to mention 1970s songwriter Paul Williams guesting on a track as well. With this new release Daft Punk have secured their place as one of the most popular electronic acts of all time.