In the early 90s, a small group of 3 young Frenchmen conceived a band named “Darlin”. This trio would go on to have massively successful musical careers, and two of these members would change the face of electronic music forever. The failed band lasted for only a year, as their music was shunned by many and laughed at as “daft punky trash” by British magazine Melody Maker. This would not deter the ambitious group of young, foolish artists and so deciding to go their own seperate ways after two of the members fell into the world of drum machines and synthesizers was probably the best decision “Darlin'” ever made.
The 3 members of this ill fated “Darlin” group were Thomas Bangalter, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Laurent Brancowitz. The latter of the three would go on to form successful rock band Phoenix while Thomas and Guy took the negative review from Melody Maker and turned it into something a bit more positive as they used it for the name of their next group-Daft Punk.
Daft Punk would released what many consider to be the last truly great house album with “Homework”, blending elements from Chicago, Detroit house and techno while at the same time adding their own French touch onto it too. “Homework” cemented Daft Punk as a force to be reckoned with, but it was the group’s second album “Discovery” which would change the landscape of dance music forever.
This week that monumental record turned 15 years old.
Following on from “Homework”, the dafties would mould their own style of dance music with French house as exhibited in some of the tracks from their debut album as well as their side projects, the biggest of which was Thomas Bangalter’s work on Music Sounds Better with You. This style of house music was very distinct, it was funky, relied heavily on the usage of old disco samples from the 70s and 80s and most importantly- it set dance floors alight. The two Frenchmen would use elements from this as the basis for Discovery which contained several samples throughout but moved away from the heavy techno beats of “Homework” and more towards commercially accessible electronic ballads such as Digital Love.
Daft Punk are known for doing their own thing and making 100% sure that they would never make compromises with their music, Discovery really showed this off as an album which would be a huge risk but one which we all know paid off. The album would alienate a chunk of the fans of their older sound, it wasn’t what they were used to. It wasn’t the pounding techno beats. It wasn’t the groovy Chicago house. It was different. But Daft Punk had changed, they weren’t two nerdy French kids making house music anymore.
They became the robots.
“People are often afraid of things that sound new.” Thomas Bangalter is quoted as saying this from an interview with remix mag in 2001 and “Discovery” most certainly was something new. From the opening horn hook of One More Time all the way through to the last beat in Too Long, the masterpiece of a record would take listeners on an emotional journey that would traverse feelings of euphoria to melancholy to hope. The blend of dance and pop elements would allow the group to access the American market in a way they never had before and tracks like Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger are still heard regularly today. The opening track itself (One More Time) was voted as the greatest dance track ever by Mixmag and quite rightfully so. While it’s impact was not immediate, time would show just how truly great of an album this really is and the effect it has on today’s dance music scene in insane.
This album changed the game in a lot of ways, but most importantly it inspired an entire generation of electronic artists to think outside of the box. Bangalter is once quoted as saying “This is new music, so it’s a new way of doing things. There is nothing to follow. There are no rules any more.” and Discovery helped to break down every single barrier that held many dance producers back. Thomas and Guy took every formula of writing dance music and tore them apart. This led so many producers to realise that not everything has to be over 120 bpm and four-to-the-floor in order for it to be dance music, and that there’s more to music than a drum machine and synthesizer. They unlocked a much more emotional quality to electronic music and created anthems which would define electronic music as a genre. Even Kanye was so inspired by their work that he went on to work with the robots on the now classic Stronger.
“There’s an emotional point that fascinates me: when you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. In choosing samples and harmonies, we wanted to reach a certain point, something very visual, cinematographic. Beauty can both move you and make you happy. It’s a mix of happiness and nostalgia that we can’t explain. It’s like the dynamic of our songs: we don’t know what it rests on, but there’s this ability to go further, to reach the limit and keep going. One and the other are the results of the experiences we had on the dance-floor. The dynamic, it’s the physical side of the music and the melancholy, our emotional side”- Thomas Bangalter.
This idea of going against the grain is a common trend in Daft Punk’s music. Whatever everyone else is doing, Daft Punk are not and their following albums would well and truly prove this with “Human After All” being widely considered as the rebel album.
Perhaps one moment when “Discovery” would cement itself among dance music folk lore would be during the robots Alive 2007 tour. The Alive tour blended all 3 of their albums together in a way which hadn’t been seen before and just so happens to be this writers favourite album of all time. Skrillex went to this fateful tour on a whim with no ticket and managed to scalp one for well over face value. “I didn’t have a drink, no drugs. But I was high out of my mind. It changed my life.” This show would change the then emo rocker into the hard working producer he is today who would go onto have his own success as we’re all aware of. Eric Prydz is another artist who would be influenced by the robots as seen by his recent homage to their iconic pyramid in one of his EPIC 4.0 shows. deadmau5 too was influenced by their work as seen by his remix of Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.
Love it or hate it, it’s quite impossible to deny the success and influence of an album which is one of the greatest electronic records of all time. There is not one person who hasn’t dance along to One More Time or imitated the robotic vocals of HBFS. It was an honest and true piece of art by two French magicians who wanted to explore something different. It is the album which defined a generation and it’s tracks are still commonplace in DJ sets which is a testament to it’s longevity. If it was released today it would still sound fresh and revolutionary. There’s a reason why this album is considered by many to be one of if not the best electronic album of the 2000s and you just have to listen to the first few minutes of Discovery to understand why. It really was a discovery of a different side of music for many people, which the influence of is still heard today. Quite simply a masterpiece.
“We create our own rules, so everyone can create their rules, which means there are no rules anymore.”
— Thomas Bangalter, Mixmag 2001