Daft Punk Homework Backwards Alphabet

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Everything's Better with Robots!
Influenced by:
  • Aphex Twin, The Beach Boys, John Carpenter, Wendy Carlos, The Doobie Brothers, Eagles, Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, Bernard Herrmann, Philip Glass, Jean-Michel Jarre , Maurice Jarre, MC5, Giorgio Moroder, Primal Scream, Max Steiner, The Rolling Stones, The Stooges, Supertramp, Vangelis
"Robots don't make people feel like there's an idol on stage. It's more like a rave party where the DJ isn't important. We are two robots in this pyramid with this light show, but everything is [meant] for you to have fun and enjoy yourself."
Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo
Daft Punk is one of the most popular electronic bands ever (along with Kraftwerk, Yellow Magic Orchestra and a few others). Formed in 1993 by Frenchmen Thomas Bangalter (born 3 January 1975) and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo (born 8 February 1974), the duo have popularized French house music and established many of its elements, to the point where they are sometimes mistakenly credited as having created the genre. Nevertheless, Daft Punk's work definitely furthered the acceptance of electronic music in mainstream culture.They have released four albums thus far, alongside film scores, two films of their own creation and several side projects. 1997's Homework (and its live album counterpart Alive 1997) was a trailblazing showcasing of French house, Chicago house and acid house; their signature sound was accompanied by eye-popping music videos by Michel Gondry for "Da Funk" and "Around the World", which were many peoples' introduction to house music and electronica in general. Daft Punk followed this up with 2001's Discovery, which combined soul and disco samples with slick production values. The entire album was the score for an anime film, Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5olar 5ystem (directed by the legendary Leiji Matsumoto) and featured some of their most recognizable hits, "One More Time" and "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger".Daft's third album, 2005's Human After All, was a minimalistic industrial-rock album that polarized critics and audiences alike with its repetitive compositions. Their art film Daft Punk's Electroma, about two robots attempting to find acceptance by disguising themselves as humans, shortly followed. Their second live album, Alive 2007, recontextualized their first three albums by heading deep into mashup territory, which not only revitalized critical opinion of Human After All, but provided a never-before-seen stage show consisting of a massive glowing pyramid surrounded by a blinding array of lasers and neon lights — a template used since by many musicians from all genres.Daft Punk were tapped by Disney to provide the score to TRON: Legacy. Their score, evocative of electronic music of the 70s and 80s, was made in line with (and as a tribute to) Wendy Carlos' original score for TRON. Their fourth album, Random Access Memories, was released in 2013 and was Daft Punk's love letter to the soul, funk and R&B albums from the 70s and 80s that they grew up on. The band worked closely with their longtime heroes, including disco pioneer Giorgio Moroder, singer-songwriter Paul Williams, Chic guitarist/songwriter Nile Rodgers, and several internationally renowned musicians and session players, like Nathan East and John "J.R." Robinson. The album gave Daft Punk five Grammy awards in 2014, including Album of the Year and Record of the year for the album's lead single "Get Lucky", giving them seven total Grammys.Also notable are several contributions that are often overlooked by casual observers. Thomas Bangalter has produced many dance recordings under his own name and aliases, including the (very-short-lived) supergroup Stardust, which scored an international hit with "Music Sounds Better with You". He is friends with film director Gaspar Noe, creating the film scores for Irreversible and Enter the Void. Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo produced Kavinsky's hit song "Nightcall", as well as Sebastien Tellier's album Sexuality. Daft Punk have also co-produced for other artists in later years; they have contributed to four songs on Kanye West's 2013 album Yeezus, and they have featuring credits on Pharrell Williams' single "Gust of Wind" and The Weeknd's "Starboy" and "I Feel It Coming". The duo have also contributed eleven mixes for the Guitar HeroSpin-Off, DJ Hero, as well as being playable characters in the latter.Finally, Daft Punk embody The Faceless trope, having spent the bulk of their careers shrouding themselves in secrecy by appearing in public with masks on. Their most famous masks are the robot costumes they debute for Discovery, which have progressively been updated during each face of their career since. As the page quote suggests, the choice for secrecy was deliberate: it allows the band to enjoy their personal lives, while making their music strictly about itself and audience satisfaction, not about themselves. Apart from some very early press photos, Daft Punk allowed a sculptor to carve their likenesses as full-size human statues; in fact, the band chose to do it without helmets, so any further speculation about their identities could be answered by the sculptures.


Daft Punk provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Aerith and Bob: Their names are Guillaume Emmanuel ("Guy-Manuel", or just "Guy-Man") de Homem-Christo... and Thomas Bangalter.
  • Album Title Drop:
    • Almost. "Fragments of Time" from ''Random Access Memories" mentions "random memories".
    • The spoken lines of "WDPK 83.7 FM": "WDPK 83.7, the sound of tomorrow, the music of today, brings you exclusively Daft Punk's Homework."
  • all lowercase letters: Their name is rendered this way on their logo and album covers.
  • Animated Music Video: Interstella 5555 is essentially a glorified one of these, along with all of the Discovery music videos which were derived from it.
  • Appropriated Appellation: They're named after a disparaging review of their previous band (a garage rock band called Darlin', where the reviewer described it as "a daft punky thrash").
  • Arc Number: 9.
  • Arc Symbol: For Human After All, a television. There was one on the album cover, one on every single cover, and songs such as "Television Rules the Nation" and "On/Off" continued the trend.
  • Audience Participation Song:
  • Author Tract:
    • Their film Interstella 5555 is basically a gigantic middle finger to the celebrity system and the corporate world's exploitation of artists, which fits Daft Punk's core philosophies quite well.
    • It can be argued that Electroma has one as well, if anyone could figure it out.
  • Awesome Mc Coolname:
  • Body Horror: The music video for "Prime Time of Your Life".
  • Broken Record: The vast majority of their earlier work involve some melody or vocal sample repeated to a humongous extent. Take "Around the World" for example, which repeats the title 144 times.
    • "The Prime Time of Your Life" has a unique variation. At the two-minute mark, a beat is established that loops throughout the song. However, it gradually gets faster over time until it devolves into a mechanical whir at the very end.
  • Brown Note: Bangalter wrote the film score for Irreversible and reportedly loaded the soundtrack up with low-frequency infrasonics in order to disturb the audience.
  • Call-Back: The design of the back cover track listing of Human After All is identical to that of Discovery.
  • The Cameo:
  • Central Theme: The connections and differences between robots and humans.
    • The opening of Alive 2007 has two robotic voices chanting "ROBOT" and "HUMAN" at each other.
    • Human After All dives into this topic, natch. The album seems to alternate between the two but shows more focus on the robot/technological side musically and thematically ("Brainwasher", "Steam Machine", "Technologic", "Robot Rock", "On/Off", "Television Rules the Nation") with some exceptions. Halfway through the album, it decides to take a break with the downbeat and mellow "Make Love", and it comes full circle at the very end with "Emotion".
    • This picture of the duo has the word "HUMAN" written on Thomas's helmet visor.
    • Daft Punk's Electroma has their robot characters attempting to use disguises to become human. It backfires horribly.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Their "Touch It/Technologic" mix during the Alive 2007 tour had the robot voice dropping one of these by splicing different phrases together.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: Downplayed, but when the duo appears in their "standard" outfits, Thomas' helmet is silver, and Guy-Man's is golden.
  • Cool Helmet: Their signature visual image, and a core part of their identity.
  • Darker and Edgier: Human After All. Its songs had a lot more of a rock influence, and a grittier, more abrasive sound overall. Some of the music videos were downright terrifying.
  • Downer Ending:
    • "Touch".
    • The music video for "The Prime Time of Your Life" ends with the protagonist being so insecure about her weight (while perceiving everyone else as a skeleton) that she skins herself and presumably dies afterwards. Her parents find her body, after which we see that everyone that she perceived as a skeleton was actually normal-looking the whole time.
  • Dude Looks Like a Lady: Guy-Manuel in his earlier years. He was even mistaken for Thomas' girlfriend in one instance.
  • Dying Declaration of Love: "Something About Us".
  • Dystopia: "Human After All" seems to evoke this worldview; it uses minimalism, emotional detachment and repetition to assert that with our reliance of technology, dystopia may not just be a thing of the future, but it may already be here.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: After many years in the business, Daft Punk finally got a US Top 40 hit with 2013's "Get Lucky". The thing is, a veteran music act scoring its first Top 40 hit in the 2010s is almost unheard of. In fact, the last time this happened was with Weezer and "Beverly Hills". And that was in 2005. And to top it off, "Get Lucky" would win Record of the Year and Random Access Memories would win Album of the Year at the 2014 Grammys. (Though the Grammys have no problem recognizing veteran music acts.)
    • And just four years later, they would finally score a #1 hit (in the U.S.) by producing and featuring in The Weekend's "Starboy".
  • Epic Instrumental Opener: Inverted on Alive 2007. It starts with two voices chanting "ROBOT" and "HUMAN" back and forth at each other, getting faster and faster, before segueing into the largely-instrumental "Robot Rock".
  • Epic Rocking:
    • "Too Long", the finale of Discovery, which is ten minutes long.
    • "Giorgio by Moroder" and "Touch" from Random Access Memories are over 8 minutes long and go through several musical styles.
    • Many tracks on Homework are five to seven minutes long, including the uncut version of "Around the World".
    • Their "Prime Time of Your Life / Brainwasher / Rollin' & Scratchin' / Alive" mashup is their longest song, clocking at 10:22.
    • Human After All closes with the 7-minute long "Emotion".
  • Every Episode Ending: Inverted; each music video for a Human After All song starts with a TV outline appearing and the phrase "SPECIAL PRESENTATION" appearing inside the TV.
  • The Faceless: The duo are famous for their refusal to allow ANYONE to see their true faces. Even before the started wearing their robot helmets, when they were just two French guys during their first tour, they were described as "incredibly shy," which might have something to do with their general reclusiveness.
    • Interviews are a mixed bag. The two did interviews promoting Daft Punk's Electroma with hoods over their heads, and during the pre-production of TRON: Legacy, they actually met the Director at a Los Angeles pancake house ... while wearing their robot suits! On the other hand, for a GQ profile promoting Random Access Memories they were without their robot suits and were able to blend in public perfectly.
    • A later helmetless picture was posted to Facebook by another electronic band, The Knocks, in June 2013. They were ultimately forced to take it down, though the image is still visible.
  • Fading into the Next Song:
    • The first few songs from Homework all fade into each other.
    • Discovery has only a few noticeable song breaks throughout the entire album. (Incidentally, a remix of "Aerodynamic" on the album Daft Club, "Aerodynamic (Daft Punk Remix)", though not an example but likely meant to take this further, takes the lyrics of "One More Time" and adds them to "Aerodynamic", with the two having been examples of the previously mentioned trope originally.)
    • Being a live DJ set, Alive 2007 is chock full of these.
  • Fake-Out Fade-Out:
  • For Doom the Bell Tolls: The opening of "Aerodynamic".
  • Freak Lab Accident: Legend tells that when the pair were working on a sampler on September 9th, 1999, at exactly 9:09 AM, their studio exploded. When they came to, they were robots.
  • Fun Personified: As can be seen in the quote above, they take the enjoyment of their fans very seriously. Their iconic robot look is a way for fans to immerse themselves into the music. When they finally agreed to perform at Coachella, they kept on asking for more of their fee in advance to build the now iconic pyramid set.note 10% is a usually a good advance even for a highly sought after artist. Daft Punk were getting $300,000 and this wasn't even close to enough
  • Fun with Acronyms: A DVD of the music videos for Homework was released with the title D.A.F.T.: A Story About Dogs, Androids, Firemen and Tomatoes. Aside from spelling "Daft", this references elements of the videos themselves — Charles, the anthropomorphic dog main character in "Da Funk" and "Fresh", the robots in "Around the World", the firefighters in "Burnin'", and the tomatoes in "Revolution 909".
  • Genre Roulette: Random Access Memories, while listed as "Pop" on iTunes, toys around with many different genres and genre influences between songs. "Give Life Back to Music", "Lose Yourself to Dance" and "Get Lucky" are disco, while other songs like "Giorgio by Moroder" and "Contact" are more influenced by electronica, though with some live instrumentation. "Doin' it Right", and "Fragments of Time" fall squarely into soft rock, while "Instant Crush" is a more electronic take on the alternative rock music of singer Julian Casablacas in The Strokes. Their collaboration with Paul Williams, "Touch," is a roulette game by itself, mixing disco, pop, roadhouse piano, a children's choir, and sci-fi psychedelia.
  • Genre Throwback: While Daft Punk have always toyed with this idea, Random Access Memories was the first time that they actually sounded like their heroes from The '70s. The album features Nile Rodgers of disco band Chic and Giorgio Moroder (disco producer most known for creating Donna Summer's best works). The session musicians used for the album were given music by Electric Light Orchestra, Supertramp and Michael McDonald as reference points, and it shows.
  • Gratuitous Panning: "WDPK 83.7 FM" has a vocoded voice saying "music" that is repeatedly panned between the right and left ears.
  • A Good Name for a Rock Band: Or for a House Duo — the phrase "daft punk" originally appeared in a negative review of their former band (see Appropriated Appellation above).
  • Hell-Bent for Leather: During their Human After All era, the duo was most frequently seen wearing leather jackets and pants.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: The duo has known each other since grade school and are seemingly the closest of friends after all these years. There's a big d'awww factor in that as well. Case in point, when they won the Best Album award at the 2014 Grammys, the first thing the robots did was hug each other for a good few seconds before heading onstage.
  • Homage:
    • There's a reason the first album was called Homework. Further, one of the songs on Human After All is called "Robot Rock" — Kraftwerk's preferred term for techno.
    • "Teachers" is this. It's a List Song of Daft Punk's influences as musicians.
    • Both Discovery and Random Access Memories can be seen as a Homage to the music of the late '70s and early '80s, but the two albums take very different approaches. Discovery makes extensive use of samples of disco and post-disco songs, while Random Access Memories uses a live band and vintage electronics to recreate the original sound.
  • Iconic Item: Their robot helmets.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Well, Album Naming — Alive 1997 and Alive 2007.
  • Idiosyncratic Cover Art / Minimalistic Cover Art:
  • Incredibly Long Note:
    • At the two minute mark of "The Prime Time of Your Life", the robotic voice that has been repeatedly chanting the lyrics ("The prime time of your life / Now / Live it") then says the song title once more, only the I sound in "life" gets stretched out for a good 20 seconds and gradually dissolves into the beat.
    • The opening guitar section in "Fresh" ends with a note that is held out for quite a long time as the song's beat fades in.
  • Intercourse with You: "Get Lucky". The funny thing is that almost no one knew the song's meaning... yet.
  • The Invisible Band: They've made a habit of never appearing in-person in their videos; in addition, they always wear full-body costumes at every public appearance, including live performances. Occasionally though, you might get a quick cameo of their signature helmets, such as on a shelf in the video for "Instant Crush", or formed up as nebulae in the video to The Weeknd's "I Feel It Coming" (which they're featured in).
  • Kayfabe Music: Their personae as a couple of robots.
  • Last Note Nightmare:
    • "Contact" starts normally but gradually gets consumed by unnerving noise and distortion. The final minute or so of the song is nothing but distortion.
    • "The Prime Time of Your Life", although the nightmare starts halfway through the song and continues to the end. The song's beat slowly gets faster until it becomes an unnerving mechanical whir.
  • Lens Flare: The clip for "Robot Rock" is full of those.
  • Lighter and Softer: Random Access Memories is lighter musically, though not entirely thematically.
  • Limited Lyrics Song: This band seems to like this trope quite a bit.
    • "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" (Not all of the lyrics are sung in each verse.)
      Work it harder, Make it better
      Do it faster, Makes us stronger
      More than ever, Hour after hour
      Our work is never over
    • "Lose Yourself to Dance" repeats the same verse about 4 times over the course of the 6 minute song. Pharrel Williams is singing the lyrics, but Daft Punk adds some extra lines later into the song as background lyrics.
      I know you don't get a chance to take a break this often.
      I know your life is speeding, and it isn't stopping.
      Here, take my shirt and just go ahead and wipe off all the sweat. Sweat. SWEAT.
    • "The Brainwasher" qualifies as well.
    • Also, "Robot Rock".
      Rock, Robot rock!
      Rock, Robot rock!
    • "The Prime Time of Your Life". At least, for the first half.
      LIVE IT.
  • List Song: At least two.
    • "Teachers", from Homework, is a list of musicians that are their influences, all described as being "in the house".
      DJ Hell
      Louie Vega
      Carol Lexi
      Dr. Dre's in the house, yeah
      Omega in the house...
    • "Technologic", from Human After All, lists things that can be done with technology, most ending in "it".
      Buy it, use it, break it, fix it, trash it, change it, mail, upgrade it
      Charge it, point it, zoom it, press it, snap it, work it, quick, erase it...
  • Live Album: Alive 1997 and Alive 2007.
  • Looped Lyrics: Many of them. In particular, most of Human After All.
  • Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: Usually their output ranges from 1 to 4. However, some of their songs on Human After All are as heavy 6 to 8, and a few tracks on Homework, and their work on Yeezus, can range from 9 to 11.
  • Mondegreen: There has been many a speculation on what the looped lyric in "Superheroes" is. Guesses include "Love is in the air", "Up in the air", "Look in the air", "Go through the air", "Throw guns in the air", and "Cum is in the air". The correct answer is "Something's in the air", and it's probably easier to spot if you listen to the sample where it came from.
  • Mood Whiplash: The entirety of Human After All, which switches between upbeat and energetic rock and offsetting and disorienting electronica noise. Made even worse with "Make Love" and "Emotion", two extremely calm and almost saddening tracks that sound more fitting to be on a lusher album like Discovery, and not such an abrasive album like Human.
  • Motorcycle Jousting: This is the theme of the music video for "Derezzed"; a fictional videogame of this nature.
  • New Sound Album: Every album they've done since Homework.
    • Homework is techno or house with funk influences.
    • Discovery has more synthpop and dance-pop influences.
    • Human After All has some rock elements such as electric guitars, which had been uncommon in their music before ("Aerodynamic" notwithstanding).

It is a peculiar experience meeting the most famous faceless musicians in the world. Daft Punk are certainly well known. Eight years after their last album, their influence can be felt throughout dance music and beyond. Their fourth release, Random Access Memories, is the most hysterically anticipated record in years: every tidbit disseminated online over the past two months has been scrutinised like a fragment of the true cross. At a point in their career when most bands are on a downward slope, Daft Punk have just celebrated their first number one single, "Get Lucky", and are somehow bigger than ever.

"They're two of the greatest innovators in popular music and we're as excited to hear what they are doing as we are about David Bowie," says Chris Price, music editor of industry trade magazine Record of the Day. "I think they're as enigmatic and pioneering as Kraftwerk," says Dave Clarke, whose Soma label discovered Daft Punk 20 years ago. "They drop out and disappear and their fanbase grows."

So, yes, Daft Punk are very famous indeed, but the two Frenchmen sitting side by side on a sofa in a luxurious Paris hotel suite – Thomas Bangalter, 38, and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, 39 – are very much not. Their last unmasked photo shoot was in 1995 and, for the past decade or so, they have hidden inside the helmets of their robot alter egos. But helmets would look, well, daft in an interview so here they are in the reluctant flesh. With his receding hairline, grey jacket and lean, thoughtful face, Thomas has a professorial air, delivering smoothly erudite monologues in a voice rather like Vincent Cassel's. Slumped beside him, in black jeans and a T-shirt advertising Italian prog-rock band Goblin, Guy-Man looks and acts at least a decade younger, long-haired and taciturn, like a problematic exchange student. It feels as if a hip TV academic has, for his own quiet amusement, decided to bring his surly nephew to work for the day.

Of course, Daft Punk would argue that any impression of them as people is irrelevant. "The robots are part of the fiction and it's not really interesting to see what's behind it," argues Thomas. "When you look at C-3PO and Darth Vader and then look at the actors behind them you can't really make the connection. It kills the magic. I feel the robots are the same." Guy-Man grunts in agreement. "They're more interesting than us for sure."

Five years in the making, Random Access Memories is a fabulously, heroically, sometimes ridiculously ambitious enterprise. First there's the cast of guests, which includes disco pioneers (Giorgio Moroder, Nile Rodgers), indie-rock stars (the Strokes's Julian Casablancas, Animal Collective's Panda Bear), house producers (Todd Edwards, DJ Falcon) R&B royalty (Pharrell Williams) and a singer-songwriter who wrote songs for Bugsy Malone and the Muppets (Paul Williams). Then there's the sheer sonic opulence, attained by snubbing computers in favour of veteran session musicians, legendary studios and a 70-piece orchestra. Finally there's the promotional campaign, which involves costumes designed by Hedi Slimane, billboards on Sunset Boulevard and a series of playfully ingenious teasers starting in March with an enigmatic commercial during Saturday Night Live. Set against most of the year's "big" releases, Random Access Memories resembles Gulliver in Lilliput.

"The first thing I said when I heard it was: 'Can I see it again?'" Paul Williams says in awestruck tones. "That's an interesting slip of the tongue. The best way I can describe it is Kubrick's 2001. They take you back in time and then they take you into the future."

Five years ago, Daft Punk surveyed the music industry's diminished landscape of slashed budgets, shuttered studios, MP3s and Garage Band loops and decided to do the exact opposite, inspired by the musical Everests that dominated their childhood, from Dark Side of the Moon to Thriller. It's significant that the final track on Random Access Memories, "Contact", samples the voice of Captain Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, because the album betrays a fervent longing for the days of giant leaps.

"The music that's being done today has lost its magic and its poetry because it's rooted in everyday life and is highly technological," Thomas says with a sorrowful expression. "Then you have this classic repertoire of great music that feels like it's coming from this other, timeless place. We wanted to say that these classic albums that were ambitious in scope don't just belong to the past."

It is a grand throw of the dice for a pair of shy, stubborn Frenchmen who started out making noisy techno in their bedrooms. They could have saved themselves a great deal of time and money (they funded it themselves, only later partnering with Columbia Records) by making an album of catchy dance-pop, but they chose the hard way. If their 1997 debut, Homework, reshaped dance music and the impact of 2001's Discovery, a love letter to disco and soft-rock, is still echoing through pop now, then their hope for Random Access Memories is to inspire other artists to dream big. "It's only a state of mind to globally change," says Thomas.

Before I met Daft Punk I spoke to Giorgio Moroder, the 73-year-old producer behind such electronic milestones as Donna Summer's "I Feel Love". "I don't know very much about Guy-Man because we barely spoke, but Thomas is an incredibly intellectual guy," he told me. "He explains things in a metaphysical way. Sometimes it's a little difficult to know exactly what he means."

According to Thomas, Random Access Memories is like a movie, a painting, a fashion collection or "going on a journey in a small boat but you don't know if you're going to reach the other shore". Guy-Man, meanwhile, says precisely nothing for the first half-hour, preferring to sip his espresso, text, stare at the ceiling and generally pretend that I'm not there, his face naturally arranging itself into a weary scowl.

Thomas says that, when they were composing the score for 2010's Tron: Legacy, he wrote the "good guy" themes while Guy-Man handled the "bad guy" music. This makes a lot of sense.

Eventually, in desperation, I ask Guy-Man if he agrees with Thomas last answer. "Yes," he says witheringly. "If I disagree I will tell you." I ask him why he's stayed silent. "Silence is better," he shrugs, and Thomas laughs.

Daft Punk have never relished talking about themselves. In early interviews they came across as suspicious and aloof. "It's because you're 18 and you feel maybe guilty: why are we chosen to do these things?" says Thomas. "There's definitely reasons to feel less uncomfortable now. It's one thing to say you're going to do it and another to have done it for 20 years."

The duo met in 1987 at Paris's Lycée Carnot, prestigious alma mater of Jacques Chirac and Dominique Strauss-Kahn. "We were still children so we formed each other," says Guy-Man, finally surrendering to the interview. "There's so much that is unspoken. It's like an odd couple. Some couples will argue until they die, but some don't speak and enjoy looking at the sunset, you know?"

Thomas's father, Daniel Vangarde, produced French disco hits in the 70s – "DISCO" for Ottawan and "Cuba" for the Gibson Brothers – and Guy-Man's worked in advertising; they shared a privileged upbringing. Their first loves were Jimi Hendrix, the Velvet Underground and Phantom of the Paradise, the bizarre 1974 musical horror movie that Brian De Palma made with Paul Williams. "It covered everything we liked when we were teenagers: horror, rock, musicals, glam," says Thomas, glowing with fandom. "Listening to Led Zeppelin songs backwards, watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre on VHS and getting KISS and David Bowie albums. It synthesised all of these elements."

In 1992, they formed a lo-fi rock band called Darlin' (after a Beach Boys song) with their friend Laurent Brancowitz, who now plays guitar in the successful French group Phoenix. Darlin' released just a handful of songs, which were dismissed as "daft punky thrash" by the music paper Melody Maker. Tweaking this insult into their new name, Thomas and Guy-Man switched to basic electronic equipment purchased with Thomas's 18th birthday present of £1,000, and released three singles on the Scottish dance label Soma, including the groundbreaking "Da Funk".

"Thomas did all the talking," remembers Soma founder Dave Clarke. "For the first six months I knew him Guy-Man kind of pretended he couldn't speak English. They liked being out but they weren't big drinkers. They were quite frugal. They didn't have a desire for wealth and glamour. They had a relaxed confidence that their music was going to get out there."

This was a period when the likes of the Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers were proving that dance music could transcend clubland to deliver big-selling crossover albums. When major labels came running, they were made to feel that they needed Daft Punk more than Daft Punk needed them. "Our career is defined more by the things we didn't do than by the things we did," says Thomas. "A lot of young kids come to us and say, 'What can we do to be where you guys are? We'll do anything.'

"And the answer is just the opposite. We haven't done anything that we didn't want. The only secret to being in control is to have it in the beginning. Retaining control is still hard, but obtaining control is virtually impossible."

Daft Punk's outsider mentality owed something to coming from France, whose pop music was then the butt of condescending jokes in the UK press and whose rave scene was hounded by the authorities. "Initially electronic music was anti-establishment, as punk rock and rock'n'roll were," says Thomas. "The music was shut down, the police were against the parties." He sounds like a soixante-huitard fondly remembering the barricades. "Now it's the opposite. It been totally accepted so there's nothing to fight for."

Daft Punk's 1997 debut album, Homework, recorded entirely in Thomas's bedroom, filtered house and techno through a love of classic rock. The cover displayed a logo patch sewn on to a black satin jacket, while the inner sleeve depicted a desk cluttered with adolescent artefacts, including a 1976 KISS poster and a Chic single sleeve. It was like a superhero's origin story: Peter Parker's bedroom before he became Spider-Man. Guy-Man, who designed the artwork, says that Thomas is the "hands-on technician" while he is the "filter": the man who stands back and says oui or non.

The hit single "Around the World" displayed a then-unfashionable love of disco which attracted the attention of Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers. "The genius is never in the writing, it's in the rewriting," says Rodgers. "Whenever they put out records I can hear the amount of work that's gone into them – those microscopically small decisions that other people won't even think about. It's cool, but they massage it so it's not just cool – it's amazing."

For the next few years, Daft Punk could do no wrong. They commissioned striking videos from Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry and Roman Coppola. "Music Sounds Better With You", the Chaka Khan-sampling 1998 single by Thomas's side project Stardust, brought disco fever to house music. Madonna and Kylie had number-one hits that sounded uncannily like Daft Punk. In 2001 the retro-futurist Discovery revived appreciation for the kind of glossy soft-rock and sentimental 80s pop that most bands deemed too cheesy. "Homework was really to show the rock kids that techno is cool and Discovery was to show the techno kids that rock and soft-rock can be cool," says Thomas. It worked. They were sampled by Kanye West (whose forthcoming album they've worked on), celebrated as the gold standard of hipster cred in LCD Soundsystem's "Daft Punk is Playing at My House" and energetically homaged by younger artists, such as Justice.

The robot helmets, which are redesigned for each new project and are famous enough to have been spoofed on The Simpsons, enhanced their mystique. "People initially thought it was just marketing," says Thomas. "It was never that. The robots in some sense were as important as the music itself." Of course, it was also great marketing and an excellent way of preserving their privacy. At last month's Coachella festival, while the crowd went wild to a short video clip of "Get Lucky", Daft Punk watched from the sidelines, blissfully unrecognised.

There was a downside to the unbroken acclaim though. The more that other people sounded like Daft Punk, the harder it become for Daft Punk to do something new. Their third album, 2005's rough, ornery Human After All, was poorly received and left Daft Punk unsure what to do next. "Usually a band 20 years into its existence doesn't put out its best records," says Thomas. "That was something we had in mind – to try to break that rule. It's not intimidating, but it takes time."

So Daft Punk stopped thinking about albums. Instead they mounted a groundbreaking world tour, their first since 1997, that did for live dance music what Pink Floyd did for stadium rock. They made an inscrutable, wordless art movie called Daft Punk's Electroma. They scored Tron: Legacy for Disney. They both started families: Thomas has a second home in LA with his actor wife Élodie Bouchez. They reluctantly agreed to be made Chevaliers of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, having controversially turned down the prestigious honour several years earlier, just because they didn't want to cause another fuss. "You feel like you're going to get even more attention," Thomas says with an embarrassed sigh.

In the absence of any new Daft Punk music, their back catalogue nourished America's EDM (Electronic Dance Music) explosion. Key producers, such as Skrillex, trace their love of dance music to that 2006-7 tour. "Everyone I've talked to who's seen that show counts it as one of their all-time favourites," says Ryan Dombal, senior editor of influential US music website Pitchfork. "And its uniqueness and relative scarcity makes it easy to mythologise. When a lot of artists are trying to get an audience's attention by any means necessary – Twitter, sponsorship deals, commercials, playing festivals – it's automatically appealing when an artist seems above all that."

Daft Punk, who prefer the likes of James Blake and Bon Iver to most club music, pull faces when I mention their influence on EDM. "Pthrrrrt," says Thomas. "On one hand we're flattered. On the other hand we wish people could be influenced by our approach as much as our output. It's about breaking the rules and doing something different rather than taking some arrangements we did 10 years ago that have now become a formula."

Thomas blames the machines. For a man who has spent 12 years pretending to be a robot, he takes a remarkably dim view of digital music. "Computers aren't really music instruments," he sniffs. "And the only way to listen to it is on a computer as well. Human creativity is the ultimate interface. It's much more powerful than the mouse or the touch screen."

As an antidote to those wretched machines, they recorded Random Access Memories entirely live, with dozens of musicians, in studios in Paris, New York and Los Angeles. That sounds expensive, I say. "Yes, it got expensive," Thomas nods with some pride. "But we started with just £1,000 and everything since then has been financed by the audience. It was expensive in the same way that movies are expensive, because hundreds of people work on them. We feel fortunate to be able to experiment on a large scale. There's a lot of experimentation now in alternative music, but it feels like there's no money. The people with the means to be ambitious are usually the ones who are experimenting less."

Enjoying the Hollywood analogy, Thomas says Daft Punk were the album's screenwriters and directors while the guest performers were the actors, but actors who were given licence to write their own lines. "I didn't feel like I was being brought in to add wallpaper to a house that already existed," says Paul Williams. "I felt part of the process from the very beginning."

The way individual collaborators describe their understanding of the record recalls the fable of the blind men and the elephant: each one grasped only a fraction of the whole. "They didn't tell me anything," says Moroder, who spent four hours talking about his life for the extraordinary disco history lesson "Giorgio By Moroder". "Zero. I had several dinners with the boys and I didn't even ask because I knew they wouldn't tell me."

"What I worked on was quite bare bones and everything else grew up around me," says Nile Rodgers. "They just wanted me to be free to play. That's the way we used to make records back in the day. It almost felt like we'd moved back in time."

Perhaps that's the key to Daft Punk's current mission: using their privileged position to reinvent old methods pour encourager les autres. "We're not in a golden age of audiophile excellence and craftsmanship," complains Thomas. "But there's maybe a way to put back a certain optimism. There's things that can be done with music. It's an invitation to variety."

As for where Daft Punk go from here – will they make another album? Will they ever tour again? They'd really rather not say. "The projection of the future is kind of useless," shrugs Thomas. He thinks a tour, however lucrative, would be a distraction at this point. "We want to put the spotlight on the record. That's what we are sharing with you. There's nothing else." He holds out his empty palms. "That's it."

Guy-Man points out that, after all, they have not got this far by blabbing about their plans. "We don't actively try to feed people and annoy them with what we're doing," he says, leaning back. "We are not craving to be known. If we don't have this or that we are fine. You have to be self-content. The art is the first and only priority." He reclines like a cat in the sun. "We don't have to rush things."

Random Access Memories is out on Columbia on 20 May

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