On the launch day in Paris last May of their hotly anticipated fourth studio album Random Access Memories, Daft Punk’s robots, a.k.a. French musicians Thomas Bangalter and Manuel de Homem-Christo, have spent most of their time in back-to-back photo shoots and interviews at Studio Daylight; a rare personal appearance marathon for the most mysterious duo in modern music.
In their unique blend of performance shyness and Electro genius, Bangalter and Homem-Christo have poured their voices into the vocoder, sculpted their melodies on the computer and hidden their physical selves behind robot helmets to create a haunting man-as-machine sound idenity which has defined our digital age and kept everyone dancing for an amazing two decades. When you take a long look at the frizzy-haired Bangalter, 38, and Homem-Christo, 39, sprawled out side by side on an old couch after the shoot in faded T-shirts and jeans, with Homem-Christo sporting a pair of righteous black and white oxfords, and their battered-looking iPhones placed identically face down, they seem more like studio musicians than star performers. It’s as if all those years letting their alter ego robots front the performances has kept them quite down to earth. And in fact, if you ask, they will tell you Daft Punk is just two guys who grew up in Paris playing music together in Bangalter’s bedroom, listening to pop, while dreaming of putting their French touch into the modern mix. The big eight year gap between 2005’s Human After All and Random Access Memories had many wondering if Daft Punk was headed for extinction.
But the time to wait for inspiration to come and the hefty budget they now have hasn’t made it any easier apparently. “This record was made differently”, says Bangalter. “Instead of being at home we were actually in a recording studio. A lot was at stake, but whenever there was something we didn’t like we could just put it in the trash. It’s like a director with a 250 million dollar budget. There was luxury, but no comfort”. The human component in a song like Get Lucky, the album’s first hit, featuring Pharrell Williams singing with the robots, might sound like a disco revival to mere mortals, but Bangalter maintains it’s deeper than that. “It’s live, feel good music coming from a place above the grid journalists and record stores use to categorize sound”, he says. “Some people might see this as a step backward to another time, but for us making dance music today, but with live musicians and replacing drum machines with a live drummer and computer sounds with live guitars was audacious because no one else is doing that right now. For us, this is a way of questioning the environment creatively. And if you jump into the sound and it makes you feel good and forget about your problems that’s instinctive”.
All the collaborations on this record were the fruit of seemingly random meetings, which in fact sprang from deep mutual admiration. There was no initial plan, but funnily enough we wanted to work with all these people”, says Homem-Christo. “We bumped into Pharrell one day and Giorgio (Moroder) wanted to have coffee with us in Los Angeles because he’s a fan and so are we. As for Nile (Rodgers), we’ve been fans of Chic since we first met when we were 12 years old. Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) approached our management two years ago to get a release when he was doing a record, but we haven’t done that in years so we asked him to sing on ours and he said yes. And Julian Casablancas of the Strokes is our favorite rock composer. So when he contacted us to meet through a mutual friend it felt like fate”.All the composing and the recording began with discussions which occasionally lasted a few days. “We worked with Pharrell on the lyrics for Get Lucky. We talked about our approach to music and what emerged was a common feeling about letting yourself get lost in it”, says Bangalter. “It’s not so much about us dancing ourselves, as it is the inner power of music that can make people move. That comes up in a song on the album with Pharrell called Lose Yourself to Dance”. The urge to move also comes from Bangalter and Homem-Christo’s early days going to clubs and raves where they recall the scene was so stiff and nobody danced.
“There were a lot good French songwriters back then like Michel Berger and Michel Paulnareff”, says Homem-Christo, “but nobody was glamourous enough. There was always something lacking. The only one who had everything right, the writing and the look, was Serge Gainsbourg. He had the whole package”. One person who has always their ear is Giorgio Moroder. “I remember on my tenth birthday I had a ‘boum’ (French slang for a surprise party) with five guys and five girls in my bedroom which became our studio after that. One of the records we played was Giorgio’s Flashdance soundtrack. After that we saw Scacrface and we knew about Donna Summer”, says Bangalter. “Giorgio came from the smallest village in the Dolomites and became a record producer. What we share with him is eclecticism and the vision to pioneer new technology”.
Thanks to L’Uomo Vogue for the news.
Photo by Pierpaolo Ferrari / Fashion editor Robert Rabensteiner / Fashion assistants Valentina Bocciardi e Francesca Ragazzi