On May 20, Daft Punk will release its fourth studio LP and, once again, people are wondering about the mysterious French dance duo. But are we sure giving faces to these artists will define them?
The more I know about the men behind Daft Punk the more I understand why the French dance duo has remained so mysterious. Their anonymity epitomizes the all-encompassing quality of the sound. Just as we can't put faces to their names, we cannot point to the exact origins of the music. Daft Punk isn’t just two middle-aged French guys in robot masks. It's an accumulation of recording artists, genres, and eras of the past, present, and future.
On a more literal level, we can define Daft Punk as a French dance music duo, Thomas Bangalter, 38, and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, 39, who have never performed or been photographed without their signature robot helmets. In unrecorded interviews, they have been described as disappointingly normal, but it can be argued that the apparent normalcy of this pair is, in fact, totally radical.
Last Monday, the launch of Random Access Memories was celebrated at the top of the Shard in old-school extravagance. As of late, record launchings have typically been much quieter, lower-budget affairs. However, after seven years without releasing a studio album and recently signing on with Columbia Records, Daft Punk has a lot to celebrate. Expensive champagne and skyscrapers aside, one of the coolest things about this party was the fact that no one knew if the artists were in attendance, and in a way, this made every guest one of honor.
By remaining out of the spotlight, Homem-Christo and Bangalter have not only humbled themselves, but also honored their childhood music heroes who have collectively inspired the unique sound. Neil McCormick writes of Random Access Memories, "Over 72 minutes of wild and wayward explorations, they embrace chugging new wave rock, sleek soul, cocktail lounge crooning and Dixieland jazz." Daft Punk has said that RAM is an attempt to revive the "magic" of the event albums that soundtracked their childhoods. Professing themselves bored with electronic music, they worked with crack session musicians and some musical icons, most notably, Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers and N.E.R.D singer Pharrell, who arguably have only this album in common. Now, picture these two artists next to two “disappointing normal” French guys. It's much easier to imagine all these sounds and images in the commonplace of Random Access Memories by stripping away the vanity that usually accompanies the music industry.
Daft Punk has been breaking down the boundaries of musical genres since they first exploded the French house music scene with ther first album, Homework, in 1997. It was a "potent cocktail of electro, funk, acid house, and techno music." Upon the release of their live album, Alive, in 2007, Bangalter revealed something this about all-inclusive blend:
"Music was segregated in the 80s, and then in the 90s the boundaries started to break down and rock kids got into electronic music. But then you got this reverse snobbery where people would only listen to electronic music and not rock. So we were always trying to fight this, to make music outside the establishment."
Perhaps the robot masks are a comment about this snobbery, perhaps the disguise is a reference to the eccentricities of the 80s, or it could be an attempt to desegregate the history of music. Whatever the reason, I’m not trolling the tabloids to get a glimpse of the men behind the masks. If you want to know who Daft Punk really is, just close your eyes and listen.