Daft Punk: What Da Fu*k?

Everyone’s going bananas for Daft Punk’s return, right? Not quite…
Daft Punk 2013

Why is the world breaking into a sweat over the release of a new Daft Punk album? Seriously guys, get a grip.

The Parisian pair’s last essential material was released over a decade ago. And while 2001’s ‘Discovery’ – the duo’s second album – retains its classic reputation, scratch beneath the surface and it’s not really all that.

A bunch of forgotten ‘70s funk cuts with new beats beneath them: is this really the work of dancefloor geniuses?

Daft Punk’s third studio album, 2005’s ‘Human After All’, was a distinctly below average affair. And since then, it’s as if a collective blind eye, not to mention deaf ear, has been turned to the group’s utter lack of decent music.

There was the Disney soundtrack, 'Tron: Legacy'. The cosying up to a certain soft drink maker. And then, Electroma: their preposterous film that seemed to attract attention purely because of the act attached to it. Any praise for it seemed particularly laboured. 

Honestly, the only truly excellent thing Daft Punk have produced between then – “then” being ‘Discovery’ – and now is probably ‘Hypnotize U’. And that wasn’t even their track, really – they produced the 2010 track alongside N*E*R*D, and it’s the rap-rock outfit whose name’s branded on the sleeve.

Check it out for yourself… brilliant, eh?

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Daft Punk’s canonisation was confirmed, of course, when Kanye West sampled the Frenchmen’s ‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’ for his track, ‘Stronger’. The 2007-released number started a trend: rap acts flocked to blend a few Daft Punk-isms into their own wares. Hey presto, hits were there to be had.

They weren’t to know it, of course, but West, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo were planting seeds that would ultimately sprout into a most despicable genre, now a fully realised force in the previously unreceptive US market.

The States has a long history of not getting dance music – this, despite it effectively being born there. Head stateside in the early 1990s and you’d find Jesus Jones and EMF grouped alongside acid house artists. Chumbawamba were, inexplicably, categorised as UK techno.

History has, in a sense, repeated itself. US rap has sought dance partnerships, but overlooked the electro dust of Miss Kitten and minimal dynamics of Pantha Du Prince for the creatively empty trance-light material of Calvin, Guetta and – dare we call them EDM’s own Milli Vanilli? – Swedish House Mafia.

These are acts scraping their own u-bends for continuing hits – tracks that, despite their inherent lameness, cross over into the mainstream and send masses into wild revelry. There’s a distinct irony to hearing the macho, borderline homophobic posturing of certain rappers over straightforwardly propulsive music, sounds that have roots in gay nightclubs.

Do you think that these mouthpieces have a palpable sense of what they’re even performing over? Of its history? Almost certainly: no. Even chirruping cherub-faced irritation Justin Bieber has a little Daft Punk-flavoured drop on his ‘Beauty And A Beat’ track, with Nicki Minaj on hand to drive the song deeper still into the YouTube millions.

Had Bieber previously expressed admiration for the Soulwax remix of ‘Robot Rock’, and subsequently applied some of that influence onto his music: we’d be in a different mindset credibility wise. But did he? What do you think. His listening to a decent selection of slinky continental house ahead of hitting the studio for a writing session is as likely as Chuck D saying he’s a regular viewer of the Hollyoaks omnibus.

So: Daft Punk has become dance music for people who don’t actively listen to dance music. Somehow, this has meant it’s to be held up as something far better than it actually is. It’s become the dance tent staple, the indie-approved aside; beats for aligning with the similarly over-exposed and commonly underwhelming likes of Fatboy Slim and Orbital. Dyed in the wool. Terrified of change.

The majority of Daft Punk fans wouldn’t know a standout dance record from beyond their little ghetto of comfort. Not for them the sublime sounds of Lindstrøm, Leo Zero, John Talabot, Todd Terje… Chances are most people picking up ‘Random Access Memories’ won’t even have heard of Kompakt, let alone own some of the label’s releases. Dance is so much more than 4/4.

But…

Having said all of this, I don’t doubt that I’ll be all over this album when it’s out. Giorgio Moroder? Nile Rodgers? Sign me up! So, maybe I should, like, shut up

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Daft Punk’s ‘Random Access Memories’ is released on May 17th. Look out for a track-by-track guide to the album on ClashMusic.com in the coming weeks.

Words: Chris Todd

(Disclaimer: the above is just one perspective on the hype surrounding the new Daft Punk record, and not a collective Clash opinion.)

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