Daft Punk Interview

Reclusive French dance pioneers speak to Clash

Rumours, rumours and yet more rumours…

There are very few dance acts that have managed to perpetuate as many myths as these two reclusive Frenchmen. Gossip around their shroud pervades more often than not.

Loose banter that has accompanied the airing of their digital laundry over the years includes the perennial conjecture that Daft Punk have split up. Again. Or that they were both badly facially disfigured in a studio fire. One picked myth even prescribed that they had persuaded The Pet Shop Boys to double for them in their robot suits at a gig.

Having completed a world tour lasting a relaxed two years and now present a smoking recording ‘Alive 2007’ documenting this experience, Daft Punk have slammed emphasis back onto the live scene thanks to their devastating audio visual show and their pioneering use of prototype technology – reminding their reinvigorated audience why this pair has indelibly burnt so deep into the public’s psyche for the last 15 years.

Yet despite being credited with starting both the modern dance scene in their native France AND joining enough dots to defibrillate America’s wheezing national dance aesthetic into life, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo are rarely to be seen, either in print nor anywhere near the warm bosom of Michael Parkinson.

Adept at perpetuating their own legend through the classic approach of just not speaking to anyone, they also came up with the novel idea of dressing up in masks whenever they needed to pop out for the milk – a guaranteed pretext to add a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ to any budding young dance producer.

Resolutely refusing to speak to the press worked wonders (just ask Aphex Twin how the silent treatment works). As did never really gigging anywhere. At all. However you can’t clamber to the top of such a steep pile of talent as Daft Punk did without absolute killer songs that have the incisive power to transcend and reform a national taste as well as international opinion, turgid genres, generations of different music lovers… and drunkards… and even make your Gran dance.

With their Alive 2007 tour still buzzing round the forums and their fans’ sated minds whilst their live album is set for release in November, these two slippery Frenchmen are now ready to sit with Clash to discuss their endless ‘experimenting’, the collapse of the record industry, why it’s Radiohead’s fault and just when exactly we can expect new material from them….

As your fans are so hungry for more material, why was the focus of 2007 put on a live album instead of a new artist album?
Thomas: I think the question for us was how can we innovate and how can we express ourselves in a new way and try to experiment with things. We thought at this time that there was an importance to experiment with the live show and the performances and we wanted to favour that form of expression rather than making new album. We thought with a live tour we would have more opportunity to experiment than with a new album.

What do you think of Radiohead’s latest move of giving their latest album away as a download for however much the listener wants to pay for it?
Thomas: I think it’s by far one of the most exciting and experimental approaches that an important artist has made in a long time. It’s great to see that artists like Radiohead are experimenting and not exactly knowing where it will take everybody – it’s very bold and very brave. At the same time I don’t think that it should overcast the record; it’s a great album – that’s what is important alongside bringing new ways to rethink of the music and rethink the relationship between the artist and the audience and rethink a possibility for a small economy outside of the industry.

A good thing about the death of the music industry is that music is coming OUT of the industry. The live show we are doing now is not an industrial thing; it’s artistic, it has a level of work but it’s not industrial and I think what Radiohead has done ISN’T industrial either – and that’s exciting because it’s the idea that musicians can live an important and artistic life how they want. I think that yesterday [when Radiohead released the album] was definitely a very important day for music history.

Would you say that the French music scene has experienced a big change this year? How much of a reinvention has occurred there?
Thomas: No I wouldn’t say reinvented. I think that French music, and there’s a lot of great electronic acts coming out now, they haven’t reinvented anything, they have followed a genre but it’s really hard to be innovative in electronic music today apart from just making great electronic music.

It’s a bit like Rock, which is a genre itself now, and once in a while you get a really, really good band; I don’t think anyone is trying to reinvent Rock but instead just follow a genre – which is great. To me the problem is that electronic music today is very hard to innovate as the music has been so accepted and so it’s not part of the counter concern anymore.

At the same time I think there is a generation of producers today that are bringing a very high quality of music; in a very fresh way but at the same time I don’t think I would be making electronic music if I was 20 years old because there’s a level of controversy of the destruction of an existing system and I don’t really find interest in this process of making music rather than really try to destabilise the previous order of things.

Do you feel privileged to have come through when you did and to have so much impact?
Thomas: I don’t know. We feel privileged and fortunate when it comes to a question of timing. But at the same time as an artist I always think there’s a way to experiment and do new things and really think that things have never been done. I think that every artist should try and do something that hasn’t been done before and to that sense I think we are very lucky because when we made our first records in our bedroom with all our machines and going really minimal is something that happens in the underground all the time but trying to do it in the mainstream and mixing lots of influences and sounds from Disco to Heavy Metal to Distortion and Funk was relatively new at the time.

When you started using the masks it was about the facelessness of Techno, yet do you feel that it has come now full circle and your robots are icons?
Guy-Man: Yeah maybe. Yeah, yeah. It’s not come full circle for us but it definitely has come full circle for the robots. It’s a great achievement because one of the biggest reasons that we do that was that it was to emphasise ‘creation’ and put emphasis on the robot look and have the excuse to create once more. Now they are in the spotlight, so for the facelessness of techno, it’s great for them and great for us. They still look great after 10 years. Though they don’t light up anymore. That’s a different era of the robot suits.

Words by Matthew Bennett

This interview can be found in Issue 23 of Clash Magazine.

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