Daft Punk go from sampling disco records to creating a dance masterpiece

"We definitely come from this sampling generation of people that witnessed the arrival and limitations of the sampler."

by Andre Torres

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Daft Punk at Artform Studio, L.A. Photo by Nabil Elderkin with Warren Fu.

Daft Punk at Artform Studio, L.A. Photo by Nabil Elderkin with Warren Fu.

 

Five years ago when Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo of Daft Punk went into the studio to begin recording a new album, it wasn’t a traditional move for the duo. Though they had already turned out three very influential records in the decade prior (1997’s Homework, 2001’s Discovery, and 2005’s Human After All), up until that point, they, like many other electronic music producers, had been making music in their home studio. In the case of Daft Punk’s first two albums, in Thomas’s own childhood bedroom. But unlike many electronic dance-music producers, their ten years in the game had garnered success few others had achieved. When they found themselves discontent with the limitations of not only drum machines, samplers, laptops, and home studios, but with the state of electronic music in general, they knew it was time for a change. Instead of plugging away as usual, they re-imagined their process and thought big—Quincy Jones big, an idol whose recording process they had only dreamed about attempting.

 

Originally published as “Quantum Leap” in Wax Poetics Issue 55

 

So began the steps of calling in a few music legends (Nile Rodgers, Giorgio Moroder, Paul Williams), session musicians (keyboardist Chris Caswell, drummer Omar Hakim, bassist Nathan East), and a bevy of contemporaries (Pharrell Williams of the Neptunes, Panda Bear of Animal Collective, house producer Todd Edwards, and Julian Casablancas of the Strokes) to create the kind of record that hasn’t been made in over three decades. Rather than taking a retro-futurist approach to recreate the past, they went the Marty McFly approach to utilize all the knowledge gained over the last three decades of dance music, both good and bad. The result, Random Access Memories, is a modern classic recorded on analog tape in the spirit of albums of a bygone era at the height of audio fidelity. In one of the most revealing interviews of their career, the loquacious Thomas and reserved Guy-Man open up about their love of dance music, musical heroes, Los Angeles, and why they had to go back in order to bring dance music forward.

Daft Punk at Artform Studio, L.A. Photo by Nabil Elderkin with Warren Fu.

Daft Punk at Artform Studio, L.A. Photo by Nabil Elderkin with Warren Fu.

 

I want to start with your relationship to funk and disco. You’ve gone from sampling these records to now working directly with some of their creators on your new album. What were you looking to do differently going into the studio this time around?

Thomas Bangalter: I think we definitely come from this sampling generation of people that witnessed the arrival and limitations of the sampler. This machine where you could fit nine seconds, twelve seconds, or thirty seconds of audio; which now seems to be such an obsolete time with computers. But at the same time, as much as we liked it and were always fascinated by sampling, when we were sixteen or seventeen, we also discovered Chicago house music, which is partly done with samples, but also there’s a long tradition of more just drum machines and soulful recorded vocals. Which seems, when you think about it, [like] this kind of attempt to continue this tradition of disco. It seems that our definition of how house music and Chicago house music was born, which was after “Disco Sucks” and the whole death of disco music in the early ’80s, you just had people in the basement trying to make it with no money and hardly anything. At the same time, there was this attempt to almost tame the sampler. Turning it into this conceptual collage of taking the life in those recordings and the magical life in those recordings. We’re always amazed at what was making disco and funk so charged in the recordings, where sometimes the chords themselves—there are definitely exceptions where the chords are really complex, but sometimes it’s really basic chords. And why, despite the fact that these were basic chords and sometimes basic song structures, there seems to be so much life and so much magic in the recordings themselves, the performance, and everything that came together.

It really felt that each time we were attempting to use samples was to grab that life, and to grab that magic. In some sense, it’s true that the vinyl versions of many of these recordings have had the ability to sustain this magic probably more than digital recordings. But we were always very puzzled by this. What was this invisible line between classic recordings and the contemporary time we live in where it seems that the magic was gone? Where everything happens in this kind of timeless place that’s long gone? So that was the challenge of this record. Would it be possible to try to put together a certain set of circumstances, an environment that would be adequate to make that invisible line disappear between the past and the present? And see if there’s still an option to create three-, four-, five-, six-, seven-, eight-minute song recordings that still have the same kind of feel, texture, spirit, or magic that we could find in those three-second samples that we were using.

Everything we do is usually very sensual in its aural quality. Like saying, “Okay, you listen with your skin.” In some sense, this record has no samples, just the last track with the sample from this Australian rock band. So this is basically a record without samples, and yet this record is so much influenced by sampling. It’s almost like projecting ourselves back into a certain time. But as if you had seen the future with the evolution of where it was going to go, the technology, and what would happen in the following thirty years. What would be the good thing to come out of it and the bad? So it was almost a Back to the Future thing.

The other concept is that we thought that we’ve been doing records in the way that techno and Chicago house producers did, which is not really based on computers. They were never really done that way. It was in the basement at home studios, at home in your bedroom, some childhood bedroom. We were in my original childhood bedroom when we did our first two records, for example. But it was with drum machines and synths everywhere, and done almost in a kind of very experimental, lab way. We were always like, “Wow, what if we could go into a studio and produce a record the way Quincy did.” So it’s always been this fantasy. We came to a certain time, after the score we did for [2010’s TRON: Legacy], where it was our first time to experiment with an orchestra and had the ability to say, “You know what, we just did that. It was a really enriching musical experience to work with an orchestra. What if we were doing our music?” In the same way that “Around the World” was like making a Chic record with a talk box and just playing the bass on the synthesizer, since we couldn’t afford to have Nile just do it. It came to a place where we felt so fortunate to actually be in that position of saying, “Okay, these things are almost more and more of a lost art form, especially in pop music.” There is still a lot of attention to audio craftsmanship in film scores, jazz, and classical recordings; but pop music nowadays has just become one formula. Again, we’re not dissing this formula, we’re just saying it’s sad that there’s only one way to do it. It’s great to be able to do stuff on a laptop and in hotel rooms, but we felt like we can possibly try something else. The whole thing about this record is that it was not, “Oh, we’re gonna do the next album.” We just started to do sessions and recordings and felt we were fortunate to have the financial means to try. But also have certain exposure that could allow us to say, “These are the people we love and respect. Let’s see what we can do with them and spread that outwards to people.” We just took it as an experiment, without a sense of seeing whether we would succeed. Saying, “Okay, is that possible?”

I think the main thing was, maybe when you have these ideas—but at the same time, there’s no records for the last twenty-five or thirty years that embed this idea—most of the time you’re like, “That’s probably not possible because if it was, someone probably would have already done it by then.” So that was probably the way it started to come about. Then, as I said, at that point rather than trying to simulate it, it was the idea of trying to put together a certain set of environmental circumstances, the real thing. Go into the studio with the best players and the best engineer, the people that lived that era. It became this interesting trans-generational thing; we started making this music when we were nineteen or twenty, and we’re almost forty. A lot of people who worked on this record are in their sixties or seventies. It felt like it was the right time and the only opportunity to do it now. Not ten years ago, and not in ten years. So it became this really special thing to be able to partner and to crystallize so much talent and enthusiasm from the musicians. Somehow, through the generosity from everybody partnering, it became a bigger construction than we had initially envisioned.

Daft Punk at Artform Studio, L.A. Photo by Nabil Elderkin with Warren Fu.

Daft Punk at Artform Studio, L.A. Photo by Nabil Elderkin with Warren Fu.

 

You touched on a few things that I want to loop back around on, but I was curious about the recording process of the album. 

Thomas: After we ended our big tour in 2006–2007, we started to make demos for future recordings in early 2008. That was just the two of us. We started to do this in a studio, so we wanted to experiment. In some sense, this is our first studio album in a way that the other ones are just more home-studio décollage things. So just the two of us would go in with a lot of keyboards, guitars, drums, and stuff and started to do demos for six, seven months. Then we started to put back some of the traditional way of how we would produce music in the past. We were happy with the musical ideas, but we were really not satisfied with the production aspect, [primarily] the limitation of our own playing capabilities. We could play some riffs and stuff but not keep it for four minutes straight. So we would cut and paste and loop stuff. At the same time, I think electronic music for us started to be the kind of thing that was not challenging. We didn’t want to do the same thing, and producing felt easier to do, especially now that computers made it easier. Initially, we were trying to still sample. We weren’t really happy with that and then went on to TRON for about a year. But as we were doing TRON, we started to branch out a little bit.

The whole thing started with the drums. Saying we want to get out of this [pounds hand in palm, four-to-the-floor style] TR-909, TR-808 [sound], which is mostly what we’ve been using, or the LinnDrum, which are those iconic drum machines. We have done almost all of our records with those three or four drum machines. Listening to a different set of music from that mid-’70s to the early ’80s era, we felt like we were being choked up by side-chain compression. We wanted that airy open sound for drums, so that was the first guide. At that point, we connected initially with Paul Williams, who we were always very influenced by and fond of through his work with the Carpenters, [the film] Phantom of the Paradise, and through his friend and musical director Chris Caswell, who did most of the keyboards [on the new album]. Chris is one of the best old-school session players, and he basically knows everyone that’s left. So when we started to tell him about our idea of experimenting, taking the demos that we had done, kind of replaying them and starting to jam to see how we could do it, he was like, “Oh yeah, let me just call Omar Hakim, and Nathan East, and J. R. Robinson.” So the initial connection, we all started recording rhythm sections. Which was us doing some synth, but mostly initially Chris on the keyboards with [drummer] John Robinson, Nathan East, Omar Hakim, and [bassist] James Genus. So those five players, two sets of drums and bass on one, two sets of drums and bass on the other, and Chris being mostly on Rhodes, B-3, and Wurlitzer. So it’s a very basic universal kit, the foundation with nothing else. It started with these jams that would somehow become the canvas for the entire record later. At the very beginning, what was so fun about it was being friends with Paul Williams and Chris and how Chris called these guys. I don’t think they really knew about us and who we were, but they were like, “Yeah, let’s jam like the old days!” And we were like, “Oh good,” and they all came. Then we started to play some of the things, Chris had done some transcripts of the sheet music, and then they started to play. From the moment they were playing, everyone was like, “Oh, that’s cool! It’s time for a change.”

It’s funny, from Nathan playing the bass and being, “Yeah, that shit is dope,” to the sound engineer Mick, [who was] also a very important part. Mick Guzauski started his career with Chuck Mangione in the ’70s, then did a lot of stuff with Earth, Wind & Fire. He recorded [Prince’s] Controversy. And while we were mixing, it was like, “Yeah, let’s do that on the bass. Bruce Swedien always does that on the bass.” So it felt like we were definitely in good hands. The goal was still to say, “Can we still go to that timeless place where it’s not about doing a retro-futurism thing and doing something in the past?” Rather doing recordings that are just timeless, they don’t feel old and they don’t feel new. We didn’t want to go to the dated or clichéd thing. There’s a certain timeless nature or something that makes something feel like a timeless song. I was watching TV yesterday and stumbled on “Hey Ya!” by OutKast and was like, “That’s a timeless song!” It doesn’t happen that much. You see “Hey Ya!,” and you’re like, this could have been done in the late ’60s, early ’70s, anywhere. It’s that place. It doesn’t feel like it’s a conservative retro-futurism way of saying, “Yeah, it was better before,” rather than, “Can it still happen today?” Can this thing still be today in the same way that people were so excited when they were hearing Nile playing on some Chic records? And the whole thing is still happening; Nile is still here and he can still do it. When he takes his guitar, it doesn’t feel like an old track. It’s the future and the continuation.

Daft Punk at Artform Studio, L.A. Photo by Nabil Elderkin with Warren Fu.

Daft Punk at Artform Studio, L.A. Photo by Nabil Elderkin with Warren Fu.

 

On the idea of retro-futurism, you do a great job on the record of walking that fine line between conjuring up these nostalgic emotions using older instruments but not coming off as derivative. As if you had to go back to bring the music forward.  

Thomas: That’s what Nile is saying in his interview that’s airing today [the Collaborators video]. [laughs]

So how do you walk that fine line without dipping too far one way or another? 

Thomas: It’s tough. But from the beginning, when we started Daft Punk, the idea was of clashing. Like disco and heavy metal, it’s the same beat. In some sense, for us, from an axis that would go from Chic to the Bee Gees to Blondie to the Cars to AC/DC Highway to Hell, it’s the same music. That’s something that I don’t think was the way that people felt. Maybe Blondie’s a different example, because they were at the corner of disco and rock and punk rock. That’s something we share with Nile when you look at how vast the range is of the different things he did. The way you could summarize our approach if you look at some of our records, we take Chic and we take AC/DC and we blend it. So we kept that in some sense, even in the eclecticism of the cast of characters on this record. It’s funny, now it feels like a bit of a Tarantino cast. Where on paper, it doesn’t make sense, but when you see it, it does. It creates something that makes Tarantino movies not a pastiche and exactly like an old movie, but actually something that is a fusion—even though we might not like the word fusion too much—if you look at what fusion really means, in a cool way, not just the style of music. The idea of working with Julian [Casablancas] from the Strokes, to Paul Williams, and then Nile Rodgers and Giorgio [Moroder], it all became this kind of thing that was like, “Whoa, it’s floating, it’s going everywhere!” It can be very piecemeal, but that’s not very digestible in a cool way. Because it’s [about] a little bit of everything—that eclecticism and that variety. For example, working with a musician like Greg Leisz, the guy who plays the pedal steel guitar. Infusing a lot of pedal steel in different ways and using it at the limits of when it sounds close to a modular synthesizer. Also sometimes using it more like an instrument that can be very White, but using it in ways that are more funky and soulful.

That’s the other thing, this record has this kind of mix of White grooves as well as African American influences. It’s got this clash. Which is what you also have in AC/DC, which was just a really White blues band. That’s the way they defined themselves, it’s really these simple blues riffs. At the same time, Chic, which was sophisticated harmonies and jazz inversions that were so distinctive in a way. Nile’s sound is totally recognizable—like Angus Young’s sound is—and yet it’s got that something that’s a little bit Whiter than what happened in these eras where things were more segmented. I guess Thriller is a good example of a record that breaks those barriers, but in general, it’s not really like that. It’s much more zeroed in on one sound. A track like “Giorgio by Moroder,” it really goes from so many different styles and breaks those barriers. It doesn’t feel like a track like that really exists in that sense. Also because it’s kind of a chronological thing, it’s a track that can actually only happen now in its spirit. The track with Paul Williams in some sense too, in the fact that we usually try to do music in very visual ways. So let’s say in the record you have these flashbacks and you have these flash-forwards. And that’s the difference with retro-futurism, where it’s just a period movie and you’re not playing with this portal and going back and forth like that.

Tell me about your attraction to vintage equipment and the role technology plays in your music. 

Thomas: The problem with technology is the evolution of technology. Technology has always evolved into necessary and unnecessary ways. Meaning, there have always been improvements in technology, but the problem and the nature of progress and technology is that it cannot stop. It always calls for something new. It needs to move forward even if it has reached a pinnacle in some sense. So even when you reach a certain ultimate piece of equipment, the companies always need to come up with an updated version. But sometimes, you cannot get better than what you already have. That’s what happened in audio fidelity, where basically the twentieth century from Thomas Edison to the late ’70s and early ’80s was a quest for audio fidelity. When that peak and that quest was reached, it was not possible for it to stop. It needed to move forward into a new goal. When technology reached its goal in audio fidelity, the next steps became more about convenience, miniaturization, and features. So when you have something that does it well, then you’re trying to get something that does it easier, and sometimes something that’s smaller. The technology we used on the record was probably the pinnacle of just the audio-fidelity factor. Usually, those machines are big and heavy, not convenient, and they usually do only one thing, and they do it really well. But it requires maintenance, and it’s not practical. A lot of these technologies were basically engineered with ears, in terms of music and audio. So the subject of our artistic study, of our body of work of the last twenty years, has always been very intricately linked to technology. Whether we use it intensely or not. There is a greater deal of technology in this record, but it was done in a much more invisible way, under the hood in that extent. We have a track like “Touch” on the record, the track with Paul Williams, which is nine minutes long and has over 250 tracks of audio material in it. This is not something we could have done without modern technology, without computers. On a very technical level, we were at, like, 96 kHz sampling rate bouncing all the analog tapes that were recorded. To work with over 250 tracks at 96 kHz is not even something that was possible to do five years ago, for example. So even though we used all that equipment, we used computers not in the instance of music instruments or sound manipulation, rather [for] more editorial systems and asset management.

Daft Punk at Artform Studio, L.A. Photo by Nabil Elderkin with Warren Fu.

Daft Punk at Artform Studio, L.A. Photo by Nabil Elderkin with Warren Fu.

 

Can you talk a bit about your use of the vocoder? 

Thomas: It really felt important for us based on the direction we were taking with all these musicians. We were doing our music with drum machines and synthesizers. If you take “Around the World” [from Homework], I was playing bass on an analog synthesizer, the drums were drum machines, and we were doing the talk box. For this adventure, going the route of working with musicians and session musicians to play our music and our compositions, it felt important to keep the vocoder as this conceptual bridge. The vocoder is our voice. It’s our voice conceptually, it’s our voice musically, and it’s our voice as robots. We felt that was defining us. The voice of the artist—I’m using the word “voice” in the philosophical sense as much as in a musical one—is what really defines him. As much as this was a quest in audio fidelity and in musicality of music performance, it was the opportunity. The occasion brought this record out of the robot personas, and the robotic consistency of it was done around a preeminent presence of vocoders and of the voices. This record is thirteen tracks, and there’s only one that doesn’t have any vocal element in it, so this idea of using the verbal point of view [is prevalent].

Nowadays, the trend in technology is to make human voices sound more and more robotic with Auto-Tune and lots of modern technology. Here, our approach was to work with really vintage, very heavy, great-sounding vocoder systems and talk boxes and try to make them sound as human as possible. We had Pharrell on voice with us on vocoder as well. The interface was different, but it felt like the idea for the same artist. The same voice made it very clear that in this context of musicians and craftsmanship, the presence of the vocoder and the voice would be predominate and important in this idea of a certain robotic feel. That’s why we spent much more time on the vocoder this time than before. Initially, it was this kind of very monotonic, monophonic, stepped robotic voice, where here, there’s the whole intonations, the vibrato. I think a very strong influence on that was Herbie Hancock. We would play that and put the vocoder on and really work with the melodies on the right hand, and all the intonations, vibrato, legato, and portamento on the left hand with the modulation wheel. Everything is done like that, and we spent weeks recording vocals like that. To really try to grab those intonations that almost feel like the robot voice is getting more and more human, but it still has that robotic quality.

Is the first track, “Give Life Back to Music,” meant as a critique of, not necessarily the quality of pop music, but the formula you mentioned earlier? 

Thomas: It’s a statement that is the concept of the record. But at the same time, it’s a play on words, because what can it really mean? There are so many ways to interpret this thing; it’s very open ended. The lyrics, “Let the music in tonight, just turn on the music.” It has that kind of Heatwave/Rod Temperton groove.

Guy-Manuel: It’s true that now in this context, people might take this title as something pretentious. If it was from the ’70s, with the title “Give Life Back to Music,” it could be amongst everything. But now, without [me] being a critic, there’s less maybe soul and life in music in general.

Thomas: The way it’s sung, it’s full of optimism; it’s an optimistic statement. And it’s got a certain innocence that the ’70s were filled with. No cynicism of any kind.

Guy-Manuel: At the same time, maybe I find that I am missing some kind of depth and soul in music. At least mainstream pop, mainstream music is a bit dull. So I guess there’s a little bit of that soul missing today. I don’t know what you think about that.

I would agree. 

Guy-Manuel: You have a lot of great music, and a lot of great indie bands. A lot of people making great stuff. But on a more mainstream level, it’s kind of a little bit dull. And the sound of it is always the same too. It’s funny, when we came up with that title, it just fit what we were doing without being critical. Just trying to bring things up, rather than criticizing. But it can have different meanings.

Thomas: Going back to the “Hey Ya!” thing, the music is down, then these words come, and it feels just right. It feels like this thing kind of makes sense. It made sense with this approach, but it’s not a demand like “Fight for Your Right to Party.”

What is it about the mid-’70s/early ’80s L.A. vibe that you’re drawn to?  

Guy-Manuel: There’s a part of the sunshine that you can put subtly into music. It’s like having the sun on a record. It’s crazy! But that’s the era of like the Doobie Brothers…

Thomas: Brothers Johnson.

Guy-Manuel: Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, that sunny part of it. And then the sound of it is really kind of timeless.

Thomas: And yet distinctive.

Guy-Manuel: It’s the golden age of the sound we like, the production we like. Between ’78 and ’82. Maybe in California before that, with “Hotel California.” The sounds were warmer possibly, the bass crispier. It’s an apogee.

Thomas: Even the spirit somehow, if you take the Doors or Led Zeppelin records that were recorded here even before. In the same way, that there’s so much of Jamaica in reggae itself. It’s really strange to understand why so much of the environment of the city and California seem to be in those recordings. It’s funny because when you’re in the studio in New York City, it’s so different from being in the studio in L.A. Nile’s a good example. You listen to the Chic records, and it’s so East Coast with this kind of frenzy and hyped-up super tightness.

Daft Punk at Artform Studio, L.A. Photo by Nabil Elderkin with Warren Fu.

Daft Punk at Artform Studio, L.A. Photo by Nabil Elderkin with Warren Fu.

 

And slick. 

Thomas: Slick, yes. L.A. is this place that’s so much out of fashion; it’s not even like five years late, it’s just like five years off about everything. [laughs] It has this sort of slick thing in a different way, a sort of hyperrealism. It’s this hyper reality that we would see in the Quincy Jones productions of that era. It’s the same hyperrealism I would find on the airbrushed billboards on Sunset Boulevard. It only happens here, [but] you can put it somewhere else. It’s the same thing about Hollywood movies. Movies that are made in Hollywood are different, and yet they appeal to the rest of the planet. That’s what a lot of music here historically has. It’s this idea of movie magic in the music itself. I don’t really know why, I guess the weather and how remote it is from everywhere else. A certain laid-back thing that [it] almost has in common with some Jamaican music. If you hear “Could You Be Loved,” there’s five percent that’s an L.A. vibe. So it’s probably a little of the sun somewhere. And this “Give Life Back to Music” thing is really this optimistic statement. The fun thing about L.A. is that even musically it’s easier here to see the glass half full than half empty.

You mentioned the cross-generational vibe on the record earlier, one great example of this are the tracks with Pharrell and Nile. Why does it take two White French guys to unite two giants of American R&B?

Thomas: [laughs] Maybe we’re like little Giorgios. Like Giorgio comes from Germany, and he takes techno and he gets Donna Summer, and he does that same thing.

Is it the outsider perspective? 

Thomas: It’s really strange, everything happened randomly. We’ve known Nile for fifteen years and we’ve known Pharrell for twelve years. So it was probably meant to happen one way or another. But a lot of things about this record are usually questioned with, “Why hasn’t that been done before?” I think the technology aspect is not something that we’ll probably say in many interviews, but I think you and the people who read your magazine have this strong sense of collecting and what music’s really about—how the recording and attention to detail is so important. If you really look at the different attempts to do this, nothing was forced.

Guy-Manuel: It wasn’t planned either. There was no plan for them to be together on a record. The entire record itself; at the end of the process, we realized we had a record. We didn’t know we had a record until we were almost five years on it. In the last months, you realize you have this [material], and it turns out to be a record. Before, it was just a process with lots of bits and pieces. At the end, you have Pharrell and Nile on a record, and as you discovered, you have this crazy thing happening. We were spectators of it too. What’s funny is that Pharrell, when we made him listen to a couple songs he sings on, he was talking to us about Nile and Chic. He was exactly on the same wavelength, you know? So this, you cannot really explain. Life is like that; it turns out to be like that. Pharrell was in the same spirit, and that’s why he really clicked on the track [“Get Lucky”] and sang beautifully. Out of his register, I think. He has a really special voice and way of singing that’s really fitting for the song. And he came up really fast with the lyrics. We did it together, and it was really natural.

Daft Punk at Artform Studio, L.A. Photo by Nabil Elderkin with Warren Fu.

Daft Punk at Artform Studio, L.A. Photo by Nabil Elderkin with Warren Fu.

 

Can we consider “Giorgio by Moroder” an homage? 

Thomas: It’s both an homage and a metaphor for music, creation, and freedom in general. This track, the way we did it, is as much about him as an artist, but also about any artist that has a fifty-year-long career whose art is like life. The great thing with Giorgio is that his career spans so many different styles. And goes from the most trendy and hip thing to the most mainstream mid-’60s German pop. We always like the idea of breaking the barrier between the hip and the non-hip. There’s a form of music that is beyond these distinctions. So it was pretty symbolic to have these two godfathers of dance music with Giorgio and Nile. Also having a seventy-two-year-old man that speaks about, “Oh, I did techno music. It was a very long time ago.” It’s an ironic and fun way to put in perspective what is modernity today and what is electronic music. Is it something new? No. It’s actually even older than disco if you look back to some synth music from the ’60s. So it feels like it’s something new, but it’s not really, and it’s refreshing to put that in perspective.

You mentioned the whole “Disco Sucks” phenomenon earlier, but EDM has made a big return, in part due to your success. Where does it go from here now that it’s arrived

Thomas: I think this record is an invitation and a proposition. Again, I think it’s really the way technology has exploded and taken over in some sense with computers and music. They have allowed so many opportunities, but at the same time started to restrict the format in certain ways. There’s a sense right now that a certain part of electronic music has definitely exploded, and it has almost kind of swallowed and killed pop music in a very strange way. It’s a little bit of a vicious circle that it’s successful and has become very formatted in its own success. It’s interesting to keep on experimenting one way or another. Or really try to not lose musicality, that’s the challenge today. At the end of the day, this is music. If it can be forward thinking, it’s great, but music doesn’t have the same place in society that it had.

The best way for us to answer that question would be to answer it with a question. That’s usually what we like, to answer a question with a question. In that aspect, this record we just did is our own question to the people. We dig it and we had fun, and I think the music on this record is very different from the music that’s on the radio right now. It’s an invitation as a question, saying, “Okay, are you game? Are you down for that?” That’s actually a fun thing to witness. The fact that this very weird record in some sense, is getting a significant amount of exposure and attention is fun. Because it seems that a lot of people’s ears and eyes are pointed towards it. But it’s not formatted, so in the end, that’s always what we try to do. We did three records that were quite influential to a certain degree and we ended up making a fourth record. But the idea of this fourth record was for us to try to do a record that we hadn’t done yet. Each time, that’s problematic. As much as people like certain things we’ve done, if we’ve done the record, we can’t really do it a second time as thrilling as the first. We’ll see, but I think what the music needs back is a point of view, and that’s something we tried to put in this record. It’s about music, but it’s also about expressing an idea.

Guy-Manuel: And an emotion.

Thomas: Of course, but an emotion is a point of view.

Guy-Manuel: Yes, but dance music today and music in general, sometimes, there’s a big lack of depth and emotion.

Thomas: So it’s an open-ended answer, and we tried our best to contribute to the collective brainstorming of what’s next.

The robots certainly seem to have captured the imagination of popular culture.  

Thomas: Yeah, it definitely grew out of proportion. But what you pointed out with Nile and Pharrell, we had this same kind of feeling when we would go to Chicago and meet up with some guys from [the house-music label] Dance Mania. Some proper ghetto producers, and we’re just two little White kids from Paris. Why are we crystallizing that with Homework, our first record? We’re basically doing that in some sense. Putting all of our teachers, all of the founding fathers of techno and house music, and we’re just out of nowhere making that connection. It’s very unlikely and very weird. We were just like anyone else who likes this music, we’re fans as well. Just putting it in the sense of, “Oh, wow, you have the ability to do something.” But it remains until that day, so unlikely because of background and culture. It’s so remote and there hasn’t been a lot of history of these kinds of opportunities. Especially in France, with French music, the odds are very against this. But why not? Every step of the way, it felt like, “Why did it take this?” But in the end, I think it’s the people in the audience that put us in this position. They embraced the music, they embraced the robots, they embraced this show of something like magicians, like a magic trick. And people are like, “Wow, that’s really cool.” We’re like the Wizard of Oz, we’re showing something that you don’t want to believe, but in the end…

I think that’s what everybody that came together on this record was excited about. Most of the time, we feel more like the producer of the robots, which have developed their own personality. So in some sense, everyone was like, “Okay, let’s do this record for the robots.” We’re just the producer on this thing, so everybody was excited. These are personas that people are digging. In some sense, between fiction and reality. But there’s so much distance.

 

Photos of Daft Punk shot at Artform Studio (Haircuts & Records), Los Angeles, exclusively for Wax Poetics by Nabil Elderkin with Warren Fu.

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