Formidable French electro duo Daft Punk have announced they have called it quits, bringing a closing chapter to their incredibly illustrious 28-year career. EDM’s enigmatic twosome shared the news via a typically cryptic eight-minute YouTube video, aptly titled Epilogue. Two leather-clad crash-helmeted figures — Hero Robots #1 and #2, representing camera shy band members Thomas Bangalter (silver fox) and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo (golden wonder) — wander in the Californian desert. Eventually they pause. The gold robot flips a switch on the silver’s back. A countdown begins to bleep. The silver robot steps away and self-destructs. Music swirls in. It’s Touch, a melancholic mid-tempo workout from their last album. Epilogue then fades out to a graphic of the robots’ hands atop a note that says “1993-2021,” before following the surviving robot as he walks into the distance, alone.
Somehow, even when they’re announcing the end Daft Punk manage to remain uber-cool.
Regarded as one of the most influential electronic dance acts of all time, the duo — they’re the Kraftwerk you can dance to, Neil Tennant might have said — formed in Paris in 1993 after first crossing paths at school in 1987. Their debut album, 1997’s Homework was a breakthrough success, with laconic electro-weird singles like Da Funk and Around The World giving the sound of French house a global audience.
By the release of its follow-up, 2001’s Discovery, the duo had taken dance music’s culture of anonymity to its extremities, making public appearances in the faceless robot outfits that became their trademark. Inspired by the robot Gort from The Day The Earth Stood Still, later versions would come with air-conditioning and sophisticated communications systems.
Yet unlike their teutonic techno forefathers Kraftwerk, they seemed not so much fascinated with the idea of playing robot as in keeping their real appearances under wraps.
Nevertheless, it was a signature image and album that cemented Daft Punk as global superstars, with a string of timeless dance floor hits that included the exhilarating One More Time, Digital Love, and Harder, Better, Faster (which Kanye West famously flipped into his own so-so Stronger), winning the band a Grammy for Best Dance Recording in 2009.
Their imprint in popular culture continued to resonate, with records including third album Human After All, live LP Alive 2007, and the Tron: Legacy soundtrack album.
Twenty years into their career, the Gallic shapeshifters blew up once more. 2013’s genre-bending Random Access Memory progressed their sound from floor-filling electronica to a sort of fantasy funk r’n b, and boasted collaborations with the likes of Giorgio Moroder* and The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas; and featured the chart-slaying bombshell Get Lucky.
The ubiquitous stomper sold millions of copies around the world and won countless plaudits for the duo and guests Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers, both of whom also featured on follow-up single Lose Yourself To Dance. It also won them a bounty of Grammys in 2014, including Album of the Year, making history as the first electronic act to win the Academy’s highest honour. Best Dance/Electronica Album, Best Engineered Album and Record Of The Year for Get Lucky followed.
And come on, Pharrell is dead cute, Rodgers (and award-giver Smokey Robinson) legendary, but how utterly brilliant do the digital robots look in their immaculate matching futurist outfits.
The news of Daft Punk’s disbandment was confirmed to Associated Press by longtime publicist Kathryn Frazier, though, typically, she gave no reason for their decision to disband. It should be pointed out that the Epilogue clip is actually excerpted from the denouement of their 2006 science fiction art film, the experimental, dialogue-free Electroma, yet it feels telling that the film sequence with which they chose to exit is before the second robot goes up in smoke as well.
What should we read into this? At the end of the farewell clip, after all, one robot endures. Is silverhead Thomas Bangalter retiring from music completely? Could he be terminally ill? Dead, even? If that were the case the world may not even know about it for years, such are the mysteries that surround this most private of pairs.
It would require a heart of metal not to experience a twinge watching the duo bow out. It’s certainly a day tinged with melancholy for anyone who didn’t get a chance to catch the non-performers perform live (including, sadly, yours truly), but the perfect time to celebrate their catalogue of pioneering hits that shaped the sound of electronic music and are sure to be fuelling dance floors for decades to come. Enviably and impossibly unattainable Daft Punk forever.
Steve Pafford, France
Sources: The Telegraph, I Like Your Old Stuff
BONUS BEATS: *Giorgio By Moroder was ostensibly the piosynthmeister waxing lyrical to Daft Punk about the production of Donna Summer’s I Feel Love and its attendant album of past-present-future songs I Remember Yesterday. Though I always found it baffling that neither the legendary singer, who’d died the year before, or her records are mentioned by name. For what it’s worth, the first time I owned a Daft Punk track it happened to be by proxy, as they were featured on the 1997 album The Saint: Music From The Motion Picture Soundtrack. Ostensibly a dance-oriented compilation, it boasted the theme tune from Orbital, plus contributions from the likes of Underworld, David Bowie, Moby, Sneaker Pimps, The Chemical Brothers and Everything But The Girl. Track nine was Daft Punk’s Da Funk, which was preceded by Out Of My Mind by Duran Duran, the yacht-cruising Brummies who just happen to be the subject of the article immediately preceding this one. Serendipitous.