With Daft Punk powered down, where will pop’s mystery come from now?

The robots have called it a day after 28 years. Our columnist ponders who'll step into their enigmatic moon-boots, and hits upon a few solid contenders

Perhaps one of them got called up for the next one-way robotic surveillance mission to Mars. Maybe they’re the first victims of COVID mutating into a computer virus. Or perhaps they’re just recycling themselves into the next gen. Like everything about Daft Punk, their split was shrouded in secrecy, announced with a soundless yet strangely moving video of Guy-Manuel de Homen-Christo (Reflecto to his mates) setting off the self-destruct system of Thomas Bangalter (C3P0 doing VR) and watching him regretfully explode in a desert.

It might have been more fitting for them to go out in a blaze of retro-futurist glory, melting forever into a white-hot dancefloor like a pair of funktronic Terminator 2s. Then again, the enigmatic bow-out was in-keeping with their raison d’etre, as in-character as Rita Ora hosting a massive party to celebrate getting a vaccine appointment.

As the internet swam with tributes to their electro-pop innovations on ‘Homework’ and ‘Discovery’, their revolutionising of the dance live spectacle with their Alive 2006/2007 tour and their standing as the runaway dads of EDM, I was mourning the loss of a little more mystery in my life. They were the eternal Glasto ‘secret set’ rumour, and never again will I cram into the back of E-Coli Eddie’s Falafel Emporium on Worthy Farm at 3AM and spend an hour wondering if Daft Punk would actually be able to DJ on that decorator’s boombox from 1984.

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By Sia’s fringe, where else can I get a decent bit of enigma these days? We’ve learned from hard-bitten experience – Kiss, please! Back in the make-up! – that metal bands tend to disguise themselves because they have faces that look like they were drawn by a pissed court sketch artist using freshly severed chicken’s feet for pencils. Secretive guitar bands like Alt-J, Wu Lyf, King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard and Black Midi soon drop the air of mystique at the first whiff of a broadsheet feature, and most pop acts wouldn’t be much more over-exposed in childbirth.

In an age when Spotify’s Daniel Ek is asking artists to maintain a constant flood of content to keep their audiences engaged (and his pockets nice and plump) and media coverage is so scattershot and lacking in consensus that to be out of Twitter’s Trending bar is practically not to exist, the old ‘less is more’ adage falls apart. Acts can’t afford to seduce, baffle, tease and intrigue – market forces insist they’re up in our Insta 24-seven.

Yet as long as curiosity exists in humans – the desire to see what’s veiled, to chase the soap opera cliffhanger, to discover which member of Blur a rudimentary Facebook quiz thinks we most closely represent – the allure of mystery in music will still have currency. TV has cottoned on to it, aware that no-one in their right mind would ever consider watching Alan Titchmarsh singing ‘Octopus’s Garden’ in any normal circumstances, but dressed him as a glittery squid and you’ve got The Masked Singer, one of the biggest TV hits in years.

But where can we find mystery in music today?

Well, Lynks for one. Bristol’s self-styled electro-pop “drag monster” exploded into the alt-pop firmament in a series of mutilated morph suits that made them look as though they’d been rampaging through a Topshop liquidation sale with a pair of garden shears. Thus, they captured the imagination like a pan-gender West Country Ziggy Starfuck. LustSick Puppy takes a more rave’n’prosthetics approach to the same sort of thing. Then there’s Never Not Nothing (formerly known as Black Futures), who conduct experiments on their audiences, go on round-the-world art expeditions and play apocalyptic Prodigy rock on stages made of arcane symbols, surrounded by battalions of hazmat-suited revolutionaries.

And then, of course, there are electro-fusion cult freaks Goat, who claimed to be from a voodoo commune in the remote Swedish town of Korpilombolo, and of whom nothing has been heard in five years. How intrigued by their story was I? Reader, I went there. One summer, after attending the annual Air Guitar Championships in Finland (I am honestly not making any of this up), I journeyed deep into the northern forests, with thunderstorms beating me back and birds diving to their deaths on the windshield, to Korpilombolo, where Swedish children are told they’ll be sent if they’re bad.

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I holed up in a cabin in the woods and asked among the stranger-wary locals in the town’s one bar if they could point me in the direction of the nearest commune. After two days of hunting around what was essentially Midsommar with a gift shop, I uncovered no sign of a commune, nor anyone who had ever heard of Goat. I was, however, invited to be the guest of honour at the unveiling of the town’s new wooden sculpture, a role that thankfully didn’t require me to wear any ceremonial robes or bramble crowns.

Lynks
Lynks: providing the mystery for 2021. Credit: @pappedbypercy

One thing’s certain: music is made all the more magical by conceits that will send hapless journalists into the Swedish wilds searching for answers, or have us flocking to the Glade on the flimsiest of Glasto tip-offs. With the robots in permanent standby mode, the field is wide open for new enigmas, wrapped in conundrums, playing old Prince riffs. Come on, mystify me.

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