How Daft Punk’s 2006 Coachella show forever changed dance music and live performances
Whenever future generations look back over the history of electronic music, there will always be one group of musicians who’s name will forever continue to appear. The two musicians we’re referring to are Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de-Homem Christo, and the name of their group is Daft Punk.
After changing the game and releasing what many consider to be the last truly great house record with their debut album Homework in 1997, they further reinvented the electronic scene with their groundbreaking second album “Discovery”. However they split opinion with the release of their third studio album “Human After All” which received heavy criticism from many in 2005 for it’s overly repetitive heavy electro styled beats. Many people began to write the group off after HAA, but what Daft Punk did at Coachella on the 29th of April 2006 took absolutely everyone by surprise and asserted themselves once again as the best trend setters and innovators in electronic music.
Every year prior to 2006, many festivals the world over had tried to book the duo to no success. As Coachella organisers planned their lineup for that year, yet again they went to the groups management to enquire if they were touring. Initially the organisers were told no, but after they increased the cash amount the group said that they would be interested. Having asked for a huge sum of their performance money ridiculously early, the organisers of Coachella knew that something special was in the making. But little did they know that what DP were planning would change live music forever.
In the lead up to that infamous night in the desert, absolutely everyone was in the dark in regards to the groups performance, as recently revealed in the Daft Punk: Unchained documentary, not even the group’s tour manager Busy P had any idea what they were about to unveil for the world to see. He had heard the incredible set list, but the entire stage set up was unbeknownst to him until it was revealed at Coachella. As revellers prepared themselves for Daft Punk’s first gig since 1997, everyone was talking about how they were going to perform. Would they be using turntables and a mixer? Would it involve live instruments or possibly a band? What was the set list going to be? How would Human After All go down live? These questions along with countless others all buzzed around the heads of DP fans and more importantly the fans who were in attendance at Coachella.
As tensions heightened in the build up to the show, thousands flocked to the dance tent early so that they could get in the perfect position to witness the greatness. As Busy P tells us in Unchained, “There’s 40,000 people when the tent could only hold 10,000.”
The world wanted Daft Punk, and demand was so high that security had to remove large parts of the tent to accommodate for the absolutely monstrous crowd who came in their drones. For those who couldn’t even make it inside the tent Coachella had set up jumbotrons and huge tower speakers so that everyone could get a piece of the action. As the lights dimmed from the previous act of the Audio Bully’s, there was a long waiting time so that the crew could make sure that everything was set up perfectly.
And then it was time.
The unforgettable opening notes of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” rang throughout the desert before two words slowly bellowed from the speakers and gathered pace until the instantly recognisable lyrics of “Robot Rock came to formation.” As the light began to shine upon the robots, it was still largely unclear what exactly it was they were performing in. Was it a spaceship? Some form or robot transportation perhaps? In truth it was one better than either of those things, it was the now signature Daft Punk pyramid. Robot Rock’s chorus boomed throughout Coachella as fans danced in unison to it’s perfectly engineered beats, but it would be during their second song of the night during which everyone would realise just how ground breaking this performance would be.
As the classic lyrics of “Technologic” suddenly kicked in, the pyramid fully kicked in with the lyrics being displayed in synchronised fashion on the huge screen behind the robots. This was unlike anything anyone had seen before. But more importantly than anything, the music being played was unlike anything ever heard before.
The robot’s blasted through their catalog of hits, and as “Technologic” transitioned into their rendition of “Television Rules the Nation” with “Crescendolls” it became apparent how “Human After All” was having such an effect on the flow of their live set and also just how good the tracks are too. The Alive shows forced many to reconsider the album and look at it in a new light as they realised that sometimes less can be more.
As the musical onslaught continued with hits such as “Too Long/Steam Machine”, one of the true highlights of the Alive tours was the absolutely outstanding mashup of “Around the World/Harder Better Faster Stronger.” For any fan of dance music in general, this was like a wet dream as two of the groups greatest ever hits worked together in unison for one of, if not the best live electronic song ever. The real standout moment of this track is when the HBFS vocals kick in with that ridiculous synth line as the song cascades and sends the crowd into complete and utter pandemonium and chaos. Just imagine watching all of this unfolding before your eyes for the first time and knowing that you are witnessing history being made. After listening to the Alive set for over 7 years, my favourite moment is still hearing “Around the World” with “HBFS”. Goosebumps every single time.
Moving through their catalogue of hits such as “Burnin'”, the classic “One More Time” and closing out with “Superheroes/Human After All/Rock and Roll” Daft Punk left their audience and the entire world in complete and utter shock. As reports from those there on that fateful night will tell, many people stood in complete shock unable to register what was going on around them. First and foremost the music they played was completely insane as they made a retrospective blend of old and new tracks with some live elements that was unlike anything the group had ever done before. For all that the pyramid did to elevate the show, it would be absolutely nothing without the music and if they needed a setlist to back up their monumental stage set up they certainly delivered.
The pyramid itself was miles ahead of anything at the time and paved the way for the rise of the “EDM” lightshow. While deadmau5 had his cube and Skrillex had his spaceship, it was the robots who allowed them to follow these set ups. Based on the production set up alone they had already blown everything else before it out of the water and to the organisers of Coachella it became apparent as to why they wanted so much of the performance money early. Many famous producers reference how the Alive tour changed their career. Skrillex who attended one of the shows said “I didn’t have a drink, no drugs. But I was high out of my mind. It changed my life.” and of course his live set up was later inspired by the robots. Steve Angello is also quick to praise the tour, while hearing “Da Funk” at an earlier age caused him to have a “musical orgasm”, the Alive show acted as the second musical revolution in the Swede’s life. He recently celebrated the show by playing 30 minutes of the Alive 2007 album on his BBC Radio 1 residency.
deadmau5 too also cites the robots as a huge inspiration for him and of course there are countless others within the electronic music scene who have been shaped by their music and crucially by their Alive 2006/7 tour. While we wait in anticipation for the robot’s next move, it’s clear that yet again they’ll break boundaries and push the electronic music scene to new height. After almost 3 years since their last studio effort, “Random Access Memories” was released, and following the rumoured pattern of touring in the seventh year of the decade, many believe that the robots are hard at work for something big next year. We can only dream of how this would sound (and look like) and can’t even begin to imagine how they would blend both the Tron Legacy score and of course “Random Access Memories” on top of their previous three albums, but of course we have no doubts that whatever they come up with next will without question change the game once again.
So as it’s been 10 years since that infamous night at Coachella, lets take a listen and a look back at one of the greatest live performances ever, at one of the most well constructed sets ever and of course let’s celebrate 10 years since Daft Punk debuted their Alive show: