By Jason McCullum
Daft Punk was not a duo that people often thought about during the 2010s. They had not put out a studio album since 2013’s Grammy winning Random Access Memories and had not made any new music since collaborating with The Weekend in 2016. Since 2017, when there were brief rumors that they were planning to tour, there had not even been any reason to believe that the two were planning something big in the coming years. Needless to say, they were a duo that stayed very secretive and took long breaks in-between projects, which perfectly supports why they were not at the forefront of music fans’ minds on February 21st. So why does it hurt so badly that they have broken up?
February 22nd was one of those jaw-dropping moments for music fans where life briefly went on pause. We called our loved ones to share the news, read every announcement article despite them sharing all the same facts, and, most importantly, listened to our favorite Daft Punk classics all day long. The really hardcore fans may have even braved the Covid world to get 1993 to 2021 tattoos. In some ways, many likely felt disappointed in themselves for taking the boys for granted, assuming that there would be another project around the corner. Alas, there is not, and now is as good a time as any to chronicle the incredible career of Daft Punk, one of the greatest electronic acts of all time.
Throughout their storied career, Daft Punk had a knack for writing some of the greatest hits in modern electronic music. They managed to blend soundscapes and genres to hook listeners from all camps. For example, the loud drums with a crisp open hi-hat and articulate bell on “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” not only creates a brash sound that could easily draw rock listeners in, but are juxtaposed with sharp synthesizers and a raspy vocoder that has a poppy enough energy to get quite literally anybody dancing. Later into their career, hits like “Get Lucky” and “Instant Crush” were far more melodic and funky, managing to find their way to alt-rock radio stations. The only rule of thumb for a Daft Punk single was to create an upbeat atmosphere, everything else was up in the air which made it nearly impossible to not attract listeners from all walks of life.
The genre-bending mentality did not stop at hit singles, as each of their studio albums found ways to evolve their sound. Their debut album, Homework, was a consistent crop of club bangers with a raw aesthetic, punchy drum beats, and melodically pleasing, if admittedly simple, vocal passages. They were immediately backed by smaller local radio stations, typically college stations as hardcore music fans admired their ability to push boundaries within electronica. On their sophomore release Discovery, things moved in an oddly softer direction while still managing to pull high-energy tracks that opted for a funkier, groovier sound. Their exceptional execution of this new sound saw them get taken seriously by mainstream consumers and radio stations.
Despite polarizing reviews from fans, Human After All takes directly from its title and offers rough rock-based electronic tunes while Random Access Memories beautifully blended all three sounds while continuing to push boundaries and deliver more lyrical focus than any previous Daft Punk record. The duo was constantly searching for new ways to adapt the overall sound they delivered which helped each release be far ahead of its time. Each album challenged the listener to re-evaluate their given definition of not only electronic music, but just music in general.
Looking back on the career that was, Daft Punk deserves recognition for their innovative spirit . As the duo took large breaks between projects, it is safe to assume that they only released music when they felt truly passionate about it. Unlike many of their contemporaries, they never felt satisfied putting out something that they did not find worthwhile. Their quality over quantity mindset only played into their favor in retrospect because there are not any major duds in their discography.
However, it is also these long breaks in their career that make the breakup so difficult to swallow. Many fans have known deep down that the likelihood of them touring again was minimal; there are probably many out there who expected years ago that Random Access Memories would be their swan song. But no one knew for sure. Fans always had hope that they would suddenly announce tour dates, put out a new album, stage a new collaboration, or leave some inkling that the music was not finished . The door closing completely on any future projects, especially when many have been waiting patiently these past eight years, certainly stings. The capricious nature of the duo, however, would make a big farewell album or tour rollout feel inauthentic. In this way, it feels difficult to imagine Daft Punk hanging it up any other way.
To anybody who has not listened to Daft Punk in quite some time or at all, now is the perfect time to revisit their classic discography, potentially even dive into the excellent live records and fascinating Tron: Legacy soundtrack. Just because the music has stopped from these two legends does not mean that the songs they shared with the world have to leave listeners’ hearts. I mean, they gave life back to music for 28 years, that should not go unnoticed!
In the end, the music that Guy-Manuel and Thomas Bangalter brought to the world will forever be an exceptional example of not letting the confines of a given genre define a musical act. Not only will Daft Punk go down as one of the most influential electronic duos of all time, but as one of the most inspiring examples of how important it is to break molds in music.