The end of a Cyberpunk Musical Legacy
On February 22nd, the seminal band Daft Punk announced the sobering news that they would officially be no more. Consisting of Parisian-born musicians Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, they announced their breakup with a 8-minute epilogue excerpted from their 2006 film Electroma, a science fiction film directed by the pair featuring a quest for two robots to become human.
But who were Daft Punk really? And how do they relate to the genre of Cyberpunk, if at all? Today we’re taking a look at the influential legend that is Daft Punk.
The Origins of Daft Punk
Daft Punk formed in Paris in 1993 by two friends who met in High School. They achieved a level of timelessness by combining styles from the past with imagery of the future.
They originally experimented with Guitar-Based rock before changing their name to Daft Punk in response to a reviewer who called them a “Daft Punky Thrash”.
They then started experimenting with drum machines and synthesizers, and later secured a record deal with Virgin Records. Their very first performance was in the US at a techno festival in Wisconsin in 1996. Back then they performed with either Halloween masks or no masks at all.
Daft Punk’s 1st album: Homework
Their first album Homework released in 1997, and was described by the UK magazine Muzik as “One of the Most Hyped Debut Albums in a long all Time”. The record charted in 14 countries, mostly in Europe, and then Daft Punk went on tour for 12 months that year.
The album was mostly made up with simple beats and was basically a record for a club. However, it created a massive wave in the european music scene at its time.
Daft Punk’s 2nd Album: Discovery
They next album, Discovery, was a massive evolution from Homework. They were inspired by Aphex Twin’s Windowlicker and 70s funk and disco, combined it with pop and house music, and the end result sounded both retro and new. The presence of heavy sampling with Homework and Discovery would ultimately end up being the defining sound of Daft Punk.
Interstella 5555: A Visual Companion to Discovery
Daft Punk would later release an animated film in 2003 that would serve as a visual companion to Discovery. The film bridged anime, musical, and science fiction genres, and was called Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem.
Daft Punk’s Unique Cyberpunk Look
Daft Punk came up with their signature look around the time of Discovery’s release. Going beyond their Halloween masks from before, they wanted to double down on anonymity, and since their audiences found their masks exciting, they continued wearing them. Daft Punk also valued their privacy–they didn’t want to be photographed or noticed on the street. They wanted to keep their personal lives personal. To this day they have conducted almost no interviews, allowing their anonymity and music to speak for itself.
Thomas Bangalter told Face Magazine in the year 2000 that he and Guy-Manuel had become robots on the 9th of September, 1999. Their sampler crashed and exploded on them when they were making a song, apparently, and when they woke up they had become Androids. After they turned into Androids they lost all their previous music, which explains why their music sounds so different afterwards. The inspiration of the style of their helmets comes in part from an unusual rock opera movie called Phantom of the Paradise.
Daft Punk’s 3rd Album: Human After All
Daft Punk’s third album, Human After All, dropped in 2005. This album was the least well received, abandoning its previous disco and house influences for more minimalistic tones. It was also recorded in only 6 weeks.
Daft Punk’s 1st live-recorded album: Alive 2007
Their next album, Alive 2007, was a live album recorded in an arena in Paris with an assortment of Daft Punk’s best songs. Some considered their live versions even better than the original studio recordings.
Daft Punk’s 1st Original Soundtrack: Tron Legacy
This album was basically the complete opposite of Alive 2007, and would be their first (and only) movie soundtrack–the Original Soundtrack for Disney’s Tron Legacy. This album was carefully created using a combination of an 85-piece orchestra and Daft Punk’s own original Synthwave style. They also took a lot of inspiration from Wendy Carlos, who composed the original Tron film soundtrack. Although they had only seen the original Tron a couple times, it had influenced the duo enough to significantly factor into the visual identity they chose for themselves.
Daft Punk’s Final Album: Random Access Memories
Their latest and final album, Random Access Memories, is one of my personal favorite albums of any artist of all time, an opinion I’m not alone in sharing I’m sure. This album just feels like a masterpiece, and in it Daft Punk was able to use the technology at their disposal to its fullest. “Touch,” for instance, uses 250 tracks at the same time, something that was impossible to do with the technology they started out with in the late 1990s. One music reviewer, Volksgeist, had this to say about the album: “RAM is the most human album yet by everyone’s favorite android duo. They finally perfected their formula of presenting styles of the past through a futuristic lens, and for that I consider RAM a modern classic.”
Daft Punk: True Cyberpunk Musical Artists.
There are many reasons why Daft Punk is the most Cyberpunk band out there, more than just the most obvious fact that they have the word Punk in their name and they present themselves as Gold and Silver Robots. Daft Punk scored the big-budget Cyberpunk masterpiece Tron:Legacy (where they also had a cameo), and they have always been using high tech instruments to combine with the low-life practice of sampling, mixing, and remixing their music to create futuristic sounds that feel oddly nostalgic. Daft Punk’s visuals have always futuristic, as if the duo would feel right at home in a cyber dystopian future. A lot of the themes in their songs relate to the relationship between humans and robots, a motif that is one of the most prevalent issues in classic Cyberpunk stories like Ghost in the Shell, Blade Runner, or Alita: Battle Angel. The lyrics in their music, the song names, hell even the album names themselves often relate to the human-android connection. Human After All has Robot Rock and Human After All, Discovery has Digital Love, and the name of the album Random Access Memories, or RAM, is the name of digital memory stored on a computer. With an emphasis on anonymity to keep mega-corporations at bay and stay truly rebellious to the traditional trends of the churning, remorseless music industry, Daft Punk will stand the test of time and will forever remain in our minds visually and auditorily as the Cyberpunk sounds of the past, present, and future.