Music Opinion – Daft Punk: Artist Retrospective
Raghav Raj | Staff Writer
The Parisian electronic music duo Daft Punk, who called it quits after nearly 30 years on February 22, looked about as larger than life as bands in this musical era usually get. Obviously, this was visible at first glance: both Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de-Homem-Christo donned metallic helmets, which were gleamingly futuristic and effortlessly iconic all at once. But they also projected that sheen of undeniable cool past their appearance, onto dazzling live shows and interstellar visual experiences that accompanied their deeply exuberant, endlessly enthralling music. The end of their run feels stark because it’s the end of one of the greatest musical acts of all time, but it’s left us with a lot of truly fantastic music to play at house parties (or, for the time being, alone in our rooms) until the end of time. Here are some of the duo’s greatest hits.
“Da Funk” by Daft Punk
When Daft Punk’s seminal debut, Homework, arrived in 1997, it felt worlds apart from what was going on in not just the Parisian scene, but in electronic music on a worldwide stage. While big-beat and other dance music fads ruled the airwaves, Homework felt like a breath of fresh air, a clean slab of blocky, brutalist house music. Though almost everything here is unimpeachable, from “Around The World” and its hypnotic Michel Gondry video, to “Revolution 909,” a protest against anti-rave laws in France, it’s “Da Funk” that bottles up the quintessential Daft Punk sound into nearly six perfect minutes. With an iconic video of its own (directed by the great Spike Jonze), “Da Funk” is remarkable, a stomping 4/4 rhythm with acid textures and a synth line so hooky it sticks to you like glue; it’s as rudimentarily brilliant as dance music gets.
“One More Time” by Daft Punk
After Homework, Daft Punk’s artistic vision had sublimated into something cohesive. In 2001, along with beginning to wear their now-iconic helmets (in the past they were simply obscuring their faces with various masks), they released Discovery, a record that distills a deep reverence of dance and pop music into something that’s truly euphoric. Nowhere does this feel more evident than on the opener, “One More Time,” which kicks off with tinny fanfare (spliced from an old Eddie Johns song), and sounds like dopamine in musical form. With Romanthony’s autotuned affirmations riding the sample into the galaxy, the song is an unmitigated delight, a head rush that’s breathless in its delight.
“Television Rules The Nation/Crescendolls (Live)” by Daft Punk
In many ways, Daft Punk’s legendary set at Coachella 2006 brought them back to immortality. After their past album, 2005’s Human After All, saw the duo phone in some of their most uninspired music to date, the duo arrived in Indio with a glorious LED pyramid and a purpose. The result was a fantastically sequenced live set of the duo reinventing their past material, compiled into one of the greatest live albums of the modern era and released as Alive 2007. The moments here are often euphoric, but no high here is greater than when the titular refrain of their Human After All track, “Television Rules The Nation,” nosedives into the clinking, radiant bounce of Discovery deep cut “Crescendolls,” building momentum until it’s reached the stratosphere. It’s truly a delight, but it’s made even better by the joyful cheers from the audience, sounding absolutely delighted to be experiencing every rollercoaster peak as the bass hits them.
“Giorgio by Moroder” by Daft Punk
Arriving eight years after their last studio album, 2013’s Random Access Memories was another brilliant reinvention in a career filled to the brim with them. It luxuriously revamps 70’s and 80’s pop and dance music, rendering it in flawless detail, and recording it in high-end studios with some of the best gear and some of the finest musicians out there. What results are shimmering pop hits like “Get Lucky” with Pharell and Nile Rodgers (a song that’s still genuinely as perfect as a pop song gets), and the Paul Williams-featuring “Touch,” a sonic odyssey that has ethereal whooshing, a swing-disco interlude, and tops it all off with a few choirs. Still, nothing here matches “Giorgio by Moroder,” a massive tribute to the legendary dance music producer guided by this utterly extraordinary snaking synth line, one that commands gleaming keys, orchestral crashes, bombastic drum fills, and a guitar solo as unabashedly goofy as it is fantastic. It is a fitting tribute to the father of electronic music himself, and it’s only right that a group as truly legendary as Daft Punk follows in his hallowed footsteps.