Daft Punk, the French House duo of Guy-Manuel de Homen-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, are without question one of the most influential electronic music outfits of recent decades. The two met at school in 1987 before forming Indie Rock band Darlin' in 1992 along with Laurent Brancowitz, the trio only released 4 songs before parting ways in 1993. Despite their short-lived existence, the legacy of the band lives on, with the duo owing their name to a review written in Melody Maker which described their music as "a daft punky thrash", later that year Daft Punk was born.
Daft Punks debut album “Homework” was released in 1997, the pair originally intended to release the tracks as singles over a period of 5 months but after 3 years of recording and production decided to release their work as an album. It received massive global success, charting in 14 countries and giving the French House movement global exposure. Homework featured one of the pairs most iconic songs, "Around the World", which despite its simplicity and repetition reached the #1 spot in the UK, US, Canada, Iceland and Italy. The song showcases many of Daft Punks signature production methods as well as showcasing their influences.
At its centre "Around the World" features a robotic voice singing the 3-word hook on repeat, with the phrase appearing 144 times on the album version and 88 times on the radio edit, as with the vocals, the bassline remains steady and constant throughout the track. This repetition of vocal phrases or single words is something that a lot of Daft Punk songs have in common, with "One More Time", "Harder Better Faster Stronger", "Robot Rock" and "Television Rules the Nation" all featuring the track name as the main vocal hook. One of Daft Punks key production techniques is the use of a vocoder for their vocals, coupled with their often-simple lyricism this further adds to their robotic image. Upon listening to the song Michael Gondry, a French producer and director who worked on the music video for Around the World, noted the similarity in the song’s bassline to that in the Chic song "Good Times". This isn't a similarity that went unnoticed to Guy and Thomas who commented that the song was "like making a Chic record with a talk box and just playing the bass on a synthesizer, since we couldn't afford to have Nile do it."
The pairs sophomore album, Discovery, took them down a slightly different route, exploring wider song structures and drawing influence from the music of their childhood such as Disco, RnB and progressive rock, with Bangalter describing as a reflection of childhood memories. Discovery showcased another production feature used widely not just by Daft Punk, but across the wider French House genre, the heavy use of sampling in their records. For many of the 'samples' used the pair took a slightly unconventional approach and re-recorded many parts themselves to use as 'fake samples', the duo used this method as they were more concerned over the quality of the music than the image of who played which instrument. The album did however officially sample four tracks:
Digital Love: George Duke - "I Love You More"
Harder, Better, Faster Stronger: Edwin Birdsong - "Cola Bottle Baby"
Crescendolls: The Imperials - "Can You Imagine"
Superheroes: Barry Manilow - "Who's Been Sleeping In My Bed"
Discovery features multiple instances of the pair playing 'real instruments' as opposed to relying on mostly synthesizers, samples and drum kits. On the majority of recordings where instruments are being played by the duo, guitar parts are played by Guy whilst Thomas does Bass and Keys, however they are both able to play all 3. The album saw the pair go "out of their way to use instruments in ways they weren't intended to be used", as well as highlighting the versatility of their synthesizers and vast array of effects pedals with the album also featuring "guitars that sound like synthesizers and synthesizers that sound like guitars."
In the build-up to the album’s release the pair introduced their now iconic robot personas, citing that they were "doing a track and our sampler crashed and exploded and there were sparks...We were hurt a little bit so we had to make a little surgery and then we became robots." The pairs anonymised look enables them to keep the focus on their music and steer clear from many of the struggles that come with being world renowned artists. Jean-Daniel Beauvallet, editor of French music magazine "Les Inrockuptibles" believes that "the invention of the robots is what allowed them to stay human, to stay completely free". The pair exist on the opposite end of the celebrity scale to artists like Pharrell Williams and Kanye West, both of whom they have collaborated with, when interviewed for the film Daft Punk Unchained, Bangalter backed this up by saying "we have daily lives that are a lot more normal... than the lives of artists who have the same level of fame as us but who might be attached to being physically recognised."
As can be expected of such a successful group, Daft Punk have not only drawn from a wide range of musical influences, but also been a large influence in shaping electronic music today. French House, the genre that best matches most of their production, is heavily influenced by disco and often features samples of 70’s and 80’s disco tracks with effects such as filters and phasers being used over the top. Outside of the obvious French house influence, the pair have drawn influence from producers such as Primal Scream, Brian Wilson, Todd Edwards and Romanthony. Their track “teachers” lists a wide range of those who they have been influenced by.
When looking to adapt their sound for Discovery the pair also cited the Aphex Twin track ‘Windowlicker’ as a major inspiration as it was “neither a purely club track nor a very chilled-out, down-tempo relaxation track.” In more recent times the pair have branched out and worked on collaborations with Pharrell Williams and the Weeknd, as well as being sampled by Kanye West in his song “Stronger”. In 2010 the pair also produced the soundtrack to the Sci-Fi film “Tron: Legacy” which received favourable reviews along with a number of award nominations.
Daft Punk are testament to the ever evolving, interconnectedness of music, if it weren’t for Nile Rogers and Chic Daft Punk may never have existed, and if it weren’t for Daft Punk house music wouldn’t have evolved and spread in the way that it did.