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The rise of Daft Punk

With Get Lucky already lined up to be the sound of the summer, we look at how Daft Punk's fourth studio album became one of the year's most anticipated releases.

Daft Punk perform during the Santiago Urbano Electronico Festival in 2006. Ivan Alvarado / Reuters
Daft Punk perform during the Santiago Urbano Electronico Festival in 2006. Ivan Alvarado / Reuters

Da Funk, the track that first brought the words Daft and Punk to the world’s toe-tapping masses, came out in 1996. Justin Bieber would have been two, the members of One Direction roughly the same age. But about 17 years on and, despite now being considered old hands in a dance music industry constantly spawning new genres, the French robotic maestros Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter’s fourth studio album is arguably more hotly anticipated than the most cynically promoted teen pop sensation.

To be fair, there has been some rather inspired 21st-century marketing behind Random Access Memories. Daft Punk’s loyal, long-serving fan base, many now long past their clubbing days, might have heard news that the duo had been working on another album over the past two years and even back then, there were hints of several major collaborations.

But the second quarter of 2013 has seen a drip-feed hype-building campaign likely to have its own chapter in future “How to Launch a Hit Record” guidebooks. First came a brief instrumental snippet of the first single, Get Lucky, a 15-second disco-funk teaser shown on Saturday Night Live along with a video showing the band’s famous logo (with added disco-ball glitz) and their trademark robotic headgear. Excitement began to build and while it may have been brief, to various expert ears this confirmed the presence of an artist many had already suspected: Chic’s Nile Rodgers. Then the finger-on-the-pulse hipster dial was turned up a notch. Following the revealing of the album’s name and the launch date of May 21, the track listing was announced on Twitter’s new Vine app. A series of videos called The Collaborators, made in conjunction with voice-of-the-youth magazine Vice, slowly made their way online, revealing other musicians on the album, including the disco pioneer Georgio Moroder, Pharrell Williams (who sings on Get Lucky), the garage producer Todd Edwards and the Canadian pianist Chilly Gonzalez.

By the time another album sample was screened across Coachella’s big screens – just a minute of music that added further instrumentalists including The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas and Panda Bear of Animal Collective – the anticipation was at a frothy-mouthed fever pitch. So desperate were many to hear the full version of Get Lucky that several fans stitched together snippets from the teasers and tried to pass them off as the real deal.

When the full track eventually came online, it quickly became the most streamed song on Spotify and once released on April 19 it soared to the top of download charts worldwide. Although the level of hype may have suggested Daft Punk were regulars at the top spot, Get Lucky became their first UK No 1 and first top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US.

But it would be unfair to suggest the success of the single and the inevitable album chart dominance of Random Access Memories in the coming months is purely down to a masterclass in promotion. Get Lucky, laden with Rodger’s slick guitars and the sublime falsetto of Williams, is a joyous piece of disco-funk set to be not just the song of the summer, but the song of countless weddings and office parties for years to come.

And for Daft Punk, it won’t be the first. Well over a decade since their release, tracks such as Da Funk and Around the World from their 1997 debut Homework alongside Digital Love and Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger from 2011’s Discover are still afforded regular airplay, sounding almost as fresh now as they did when they first smashed a robotic fist in the music scene.

Where Homework was raw, rasping, dance-heavy in bouncy, floor-trembling bass-lines, a genre-defining breakthrough that opened the door for many others from France’s growing progressive house scene, Discovery took a more polished route towards the slick, 1980s-era disco-pop, awash with soaring synth arpeggios and vocoders.

Human After All, released in 2005, may have been poorly received, a dark and overly repetitive affair, but Daft Punk’s subsequent Alive tour – which saw the duo perform a sound and light show from the top of a huge glowing pyramid – became the must-see event of the year (undoubtedly aided by the presence of many older songs in the setlist). Then in 2010 came the film soundtrack they were born to make, TRON: Legacy.

Although both Bangalter and de Homem-Christo have both had their own solo projects (Bangalter, most notably, was behind the 1998 smash Music Sounds Better With You), as Daft Punk they’ve hardly been prolific. But their influence on music has been unquestionable. They paved the way for the likes of Air, Justice, Cassius and a legion of artists on the Parisian Ed Banger label. They’ve crossed genres, having been sampled by the likes of Kanye West and Busta Rhymes. Their set at the Coachella festival in 2006 is often cited as a turning point for dance music in the US, now experiencing a huge resurgence with the likes of David Guetta, Skrillex and Deadmau5 commanding rock star fees to perform.

And now we have Random Access Memories, with Rodgers the flavour of the month and talk of a disco-fuelled summer. However good it is (and the first listens have hinted that it is very, very good), the album will undoubtedly sell by the bucketload. Sure, Daft Punk might have had an expert marketing team pushing the right buttons but behind the campaign, behind the robotic facade, lurks a pair of dance legends who have been honing their craft for two decades.

 

aritman@thenational.ae

• Random Access Memories is out now

 

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