Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homern Christo are longtime friends, but in terms of their public personas, the French duo prefers to keep their identities secret by donning sci-fi costumes and wearing masks to let their music speak for itself— and fans have listened. Daft Punk’s debut album Homework, “probably the greatest electronic disco record ever made” according an Entertainment Weekly critic, has sold more than two million copies, 400,000 of those in the duo’s native France.
The duo met at a Paris school as teenagers in 1987 and shared their passion for music, which four years later led to the formation of Darling, an instrumental indie pop band. Joined by Phillipe Zdar, who later created the similar-sounding Cassius, Darling found fleeting fame with a Beach Boys-style tune that was included on a compilation tape released by Stereolab’s United Kingdom label, Duophonic. A reviewer for England’s Melody Maker magazine dubbed Bangalter and Christo “daft punks” after listening to their first single. When Darling disbanded in 1993, Bangalter and Christo began exploring techno and house clubs, along with the rock-based techno of 1980s deejay Andrew Weatherall. Instead of experimenting in an expensive, big-name studio, they purchased recording equipment and, according to the English music newspaper New Musical Express (NME), “began producing heavy house music based on big hip-hop beats and boasting strange sounds, sirens and guitar-driven samples.”
After hearing Daft Punk’s music, the Glasgow, Scotland-based Soma Records quickly signed the group and released its debut single “New Wave,” called an “acidic mix of beats and basslines” by NME, in 1994. The following year, the song “Da Funk” hit BBC Radio 1 airwaves, capturing the attention of breakthrough electronica/trance deejays Chemical Brothers, who played the song during their sets. Three more singles—“Rollin’ and Scratchin’,” “Indo Silver Club” and “Alive”—followed, and the Chemical Brothers recruited Daft Punk to remix its song “Life is Sweet.”
Banking on Daft Punk’s future success, Virgin Records inked a deal with the duo in 1996. As a teaser to the first record, Bangalter and Christo offered the track “Musique” to Virgin Records’ Source Lab 2 compilation CD. While recording its debut, Daft Punk spread its musical wings. The duo remixed singer Gabrielle’s song “Forget About the World,” and rejoined Zdar for regular club appearances at Paris’ Respect.
In 1997, Daft Punk released its debut album, Homework, on Virgin and started a “U.K. invasion of French club music,” according to NME. The pre-release hype helped push Homework into the top ten in the United Kingdom, but the album was largely ignored in France. In a review for CDNow, Kirsten Terry chalked up the success to Daft Punk’s keen sense of humor: “If you’re
Members include Thomas Bangalter; Guy-Manuel de Homem Christo.
Group formed in France, c. 1993; signed with Soma Records, 1994; signed with Virgin Records, 1996; released debut album Homework on Virgin, 1997; released Discovery, 2001.
Addresses: Record company —Virgin Records, 138 North Foothill Rd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210; 304 Park Avenue South, 5th Floor, New York, NY 10010. Website—Daft Punk Official Website: http://www.daftpunk.com.
looking for a real challenge, try to be in a bad mood after listening to a Daft Punk album.” Furthering the duo’s mysterious identities, Daft Punk did not appear in its videos, instead opting for young directors such as Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, and Seb Janiak to create the pieces. In April, the single “Around the World” hit radio and clubs and found success in the United States by August of 1997 when it rose to number eight on Billboard’s Hot Dance Music/Club Play charts.
Though Daft Punk’s popularity has mounted with music fans, the duo found opposition in what they believe are the French government’s reactionary policies. “Right now, we’ve got some friends who are being charged with inciting people to take drugs,” Bangalter said in comments included in the group’s biography at its website. “They weren’t even selling anything. They were just having a party. But in France these days they’re saying that having a party is encouraging people to take drugs, booking a DJ is encouraging people to take drugs.”
The group spent 1998 creating and releasing the DVD D.A.F.T.: A Story About Dogs, Androids, Firemen and Tomatoes, a compilation of six videos from Homework, as well as exploring a variety of side projects. The most well known is Bangalter’s Stardust which produced the club hit “Music Sounds Better With You” in 1998. For the next two years, the duo worked on its sophomore effort Discovery. In an interview with Peter Gaston for CDNow, Bangalter mocked his group’s mysterious identity, saying a problem in the studio had turned he and his partner into robots, and therefore, no more masks were required. “In September 1999, we had this small explosion in our studio around the 9/9/99 computer bug where the sampler crashed and there was some accident—and then we just turned out to become robots. We look like robots, so we don’t wear masks anymore.”
Discovery proved to be a success even before its release in March of 2001. The first single, “One More Time,” which is similar musically to Stardust’s “Music Sounds Better With You,” was added to pop radio station and nightclub playlists around the United States in November of 2000. The song, which features the vocals of New York house deejay Romanthony, debuted at number one in France, number two in the United Kingdom, and number one on the Eurosingles charts. As with the first album, Daft Punk hired Japanese artist Leiji Matsumoto to design the animated video.
In the same interview with CDNow, Bangalter said that Daft Punk tried to avoid rules about club music as strictly dancefloor or electronic to create a unique mix on Discovery. “We wanted to destroy those rules,” and find a gap where “there would be maybe a place for electronic music that could have energy, and could mean something different with a lot of emotion and dynamics and energy.”
In 2001, Daft Punk decided not to tour in order to concentrate on Daft Club, an interactive website that allows fans who purchase the new record to download technology to read new content and hear remixes. “In order to express ourselves in a much more fun way, and in order for people to read art, listen to music in a more exciting way, because it’s not down to just the CD itself,” he told CDNow.
Homework (includes “Around the World”), Virgin, 1997.
Discovery (includes “One More Time”), Virgin, 2001.
Entertainment Weekly, May 23, 1997, p. 64; March 30, 2001, p. 68.
“Daft Punk,” New Musical Express, http://www.nme.com (May 28, 2001).
“Daft Punk Goes Robotech,” CDNow, http://www.cdnow.com (May 28, 2001).
Additional information was provided by Virgin Records publicity materials, 1997 and 2001.
Members: Thomas Bangalter, keyboards (born France, 1 January 1975); Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, keyboards (born France, 8 February 1974).
Genre: Electronica, Dance
Best-selling album since 1990: Discovery (2001)
Hit songs since 1990: "Da Funk," "Around the World," "Digital Love"
Daft Punk have exploded a longstanding myth that France, the land of the chanson and the chanteur, is incapable of contributing to popular music's cutting edge. Since 1993, this Parisian duo has created an extraordinary collage of disco, funk, hip-hop, and techno on a sequence of remarkably inventive recordings. Not content merely to lay down irrepressible beats, the pair have also put to full use the battery of contemporary studio technology—distortion, compression, sampling—to shape a musical soundtrack that is both rich in tempo and texture but also engagingly intelligent, a rare mixture in a genre more associated with the physical than the thoughtful.
Disc jockeys Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo had been influenced by the range of dance styles that emerged in the early 1980s in the United States—house in Chicago, techno in Detroit, go-go in Washington—which were then filtered through the British acid house scene and the influential Mediterranean club scenes like Ibiza in the latter half of the decade. But Bangalter and de Homem-Christo, as they absorbed the bewildering array of hybrids that arose from this transatlantic surge, also clung to an affection for independent ("indie") rock.
Energy of Punk with Pop Twist
Bangalter, the son of Daniel Vangarde, who had written "D.I.S.C.O." for French act Ottowan in 1980, and de Homem-Christo created Darlin', and were quickly signed to Duophonic, a label run by independent stalwarts Stereolab. When a track by Darlin' was included on a compilation tape by U.K. rock weekly Melody Maker, the magazine dubbed their sound "daft punk," an innovative sound that married the energy of punk rock with a quirky pop twist, giving the duo a new incarnation.
In 1993, when Bangalter celebrated his eighteenth birthday and received a sampler as a gift, the friends abandoned their guitars and Daft Punk issued their first single, "The New Wave," on the independent Scottish label Soma. "Da Funk" followed to even wider acclaim, and Virgin Records stepped in to sign the group. Their debut album, Homework (1997), lived up to their initial promise as the hits "Around the World" and "Burnin'" brought their new sound to an international audience.
Discovery Confirms Duo's Album Credentials
With Discovery, their long-delayed second CD, in 2001 Daft Punk truly established themselves as more than mere single maestros. The album, an almost seamless electro concerto, spawned a huge European hit in "One More Time," a stirring dance-floor classic, and laid the way for two other significant singles, "Digital Love," an appealing love song delivered by a disembodied voice, and "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger," a harsh, metallic grind with an anthemic chorus.
Daft Punk, who issued a live album of earlier work on Alive 1997 (2001), credit a group of collaborators for the creative concepts surrounding their musical output: album sleeves that are a curious blend of retro and futurism, and their striking videos. The principal pair has also added to their mystique by refusing to present a conventional face to the music media. Bangalter and de Homem-Christo wear robot heads for photo shoots, commenting perhaps on the key part technology plays in the music they craft.
Bangalter has stepped outside that persona to create a series of disco gems that owe something to the Daft Punk style but have a relaxed ebullience that the band's work seems to deliberately avoid. Bangalter issued the underground tune in "Trax on Da Rocks" before assuming the identity of Stardust for a massive mainstream release, "Music Sounds Better with You," in 1998.
Although they have released a relatively modest body of work, Daft Punk musical confections have been hugely inspirational to other French artists like Motorbass and Air and have raised the profile of a nation that previously had contributed little to the development of latterday popular music. The duo have been more than just parochial successes—their finely sculpted dance sound has also inspired U.K. disc jockeys, such as the Chemical Brothers and Kris Needs, to remix a number of their key cuts. While their robotic guises suggest that Daft Punk could be the heirs to Kraftwerk, German groundbreakers in the field of computerized pop in the 1970s, the wit and irony the French duo bring to their recordings mark them as significant innovators in their own right.
Homework (Virgin, 1997); Discovery (Virgin, 2001); Alive 1997 (Virgin, 2001).