Each week we take a band, pull apart the threads that make them who they are and build a Spotify playlist from those influences. This week: Daft Punk.
15 years ago this spring Thomas Bangalter, the tall, thin half of Daft Punk, cooked the band’s birth down to 25 words: “We met at school and started listening to music. We made rock records, got bored of that and bought a sampler. So here we are.” Had Twitter been invented in 1998 he could have tweeted it, but, of course, it wasn’t. It is easy to forget, in the frothy tumult that has greeted the band’s return with new single ‘Get Lucky’, that there have been huge ups and downs for Thomas and his partner Guy-Manuel de Homem Christo (previously known as Gee-Man) since they first released ‘Da Funk’ in May 1995. Their first album, ‘Homework’ (so called because they recorded it all at home) did well. They tried to tour it (while wearing plastic face masks and thick-glassed spectacles) but they never found it a very satisfying experience. 2001’s ‘Discovery’ sold well, but their third album ‘Human After All’, recorded in just six weeks, flopped on contact with the public and the Punk would have to wait until a spectacular appearance at Coachella 2006 (for a fee somewhere around the £400,000 mark) for their creative rebirth. Now, of course, the world and its wife are lining up to appear on/buy their new album, ‘Random Access Memories’, but how did they get here in the first place?
The pair met in 1987 when Thomas was 12 and Guy was 13. The younger boy’s father was disco royalty: he wrote ‘Cuba’, the 1979 smash hit for the French group, The Gibson Brothers as well as Ottowan’s timeless summer-holiday smash ‘D.I.S.C.O.’ Both songs, with their clipped, heavily repeated riffs (check the Gibsons’ ‘Ooh What A Life’) have huge pre-echoes of modern-day Daft Punk. From there, head leftfield to French electronic pioneers like Pierre Henry and Jean-Jacques Perry as well as established stars like Jean Michel Jarre and Serge Gainsbourg and a captivating mix begins to take shape.
Shaping Things To Come
Thomas and Guy’s first band was formed with their friend Laurent who would go on to join Phoenix. Darlin’, named after their favourite Beach Boys’ song, released a handful of Velvet Underground-like songs on Stereolab’s label, Duophonic, before a 1992 single review in Melody Maker described them as “daft punk”. That clanging you can hear is the penny dropping. Inspired by the crunchy, sensual dynamism of Chicago house, the propulsive excitement of acid and the defiant, anti-establishment nature of a Parisian dance music scene populated by Etienne De Crecy, Air, Dmitri from Paris and Cassius, Thomas and Guy split Darlin’, bought a sampler and a drum machine and moved into Chez Bangalter.
“We’re daft,” Thomas once exclaimed. “We don’t really think about anything.” But, of course, that’s not true. An obsessive attention to detail, alongside an unshakable belief in the power of repetition and an ear for a strikingly punchy melody drove the duo’s first recordings. As did a love for the then dominant sounds of synth-heavy G-Funk – particularly Warren G’s ‘Regulate’. Da Funk sampled Barry White’s 1973 hit ‘I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little More Baby’ as well as Vaughan Mason & Crew’s 1980 hit ‘Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll’ and as their sound developed, the techno began to give way to the peculiarly luxurious disco-funk pioneered in the late 70s by bands like Pleasure, Slave and the early work of the UK’s own cocktail funk masters, Shakatak.
The Whole Wider World
Early in the band’s career they would DJ (taking it in turns to play a few songs). They’d play unreleased mixes of their own tracks, house and fresh-out-of-the-box techno as well as tracks like Basement Jaxx’s ‘Fly Life’ and Armand Van Helden’s ‘Funk Phenomena’. Bangalter, splendidly, also loved Pennsylvanian odd-pop overlords Ween, they both worshipped Chic and then there’s their love for classic movies like Easy Rider, Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Truffaut’s 400 Blows. Meanwhile, ‘Contact’, from the band’s new album, samples the Australian group The Sherbs’ vintage hit, ‘We Ride Tonight’, a Rock Radio staple from the summer of 1982. Could another whole new sound be on the way?
More in this series
The Roots Of… Elbow
The Roots Of… Crystal Castles
The Roots Of… Public Enemy
The Roots Of… My Bloody Valentine
The Roots Of… The Libertines
The Roots Of… Nirvana
The Roots Of… The Smiths
The Roots Of… The Killers