The Cadence: Daft Punk Is Playing At My Clubhouse
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Last night marked the impromptu launch of The Cadence on Clubhouse. For two wonderful hours, we dropped out jaded industry pretensions and remembered what it was like to be fans as friends from across the world reminisced about the duo who, as Tommie Sunshine put it, “deserves all the praise,” before noting how nice it was to lionize someone(s) who isn’t dead.
In 2021, news of Daft Punk splitting up is about the best bad news one can imagine. In fact, it was the bad news we needed as it opened up a space where people across the Internet could fondly reflect on the unmitigated joy that the robots had brought into our lives. You might not personally like every phase of Daft Punk’s career, but only a few were calloused enough to publicly dislike the duo.
So it felt like an end, but not a loss. I think many just assumed that having completed their perfectly-paced rise from underground rave darlings to mainstream pop superstars, the pair would likely just let time do what it eventually does to all ephemeral pop culture. Even robots eventually turn to rust.
But to have been Alive™ in the time of Daft Punk was to have witnessed a project that perpetually trended upward, using whatever cultural capital was accumulated with each success the access the next level of artistic expression. That in itself is something to celebrate. Plus, they made some bangers.
Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter defined the “french touch” sound, but their early releases came via Glasgow imprint Soma Quality Recordings. 1995’s “Da Funk” put the young Parisian producers exactly where they wanted to be — in the middle of the European rave scene in the middle of the 90s. It also helped get them one place they wanted to go, the American Midwest that was home to so many of their techno and house music heroes.
I wrote an article for Vice in 2015 about the New School Fusion Vol. 2 mixtape by beloved Chicago DJ Terry Mullan that introduced the b-side, "Rollin' & Scratchin,'" to an entire generation of Midwest ravers, myself included. It put them in direct musical conversation with Midwest innovators like DJ Sneak, DJ Funk, DJ Deeon and Green Velvet (whom they would pledge allegiance to on the 1996 album cut, “Teachers”)
That album, Homework, marked the duos arrival on the major label side of what was still largely underground music. They partnered with directors Spike Jonez and Michel Gondry to do videos for “Da Funk” and “Around the World” respectively, at a time when both men were right at the cusp of their feature film careers. Bangalter and de Homem-Christo declined to appear in either video and began wearing masks that hinted at the anonymity that was to come.
Now ensconced in the pantheon of MTV-approved “electronica” acts like Underworld, Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy, Daft Punk used their increased resourced to carefully craft their second album, Discovery. Breaking off from Homework’s sturdy techno-house foundation, the record was sleek and poppy like many of the best 80s dance hits. “One More Time” was a white label dance floor hit for months before its official release in late 2000.
The CD dropped in early 2001 and Daft Punk gained two new fans for every one acid techno purist they lost. Yes, the music was more accessible, but it was also the duo’s new robot helmets, which became their permanent visage during the Discovery era, that made them appealing to the style press as well as the music specialists.
Discovery was also arguably the last great album of the electronica era that was quickly becoming stale as the first real wave of Millenial youth turned their attention away from their older sibling’s JNCOs in favor of retro-rockists like The Strokes. But that was less consequential than the fact that this next generation convinced itself that all music should be free, without much consideration to what that might mean for those who actually make and sell music.
Into this abyss, Daft Punk released what might be their one lateral move, 2005’s Human After All. A stripped-down affair, written and recorded in just six weeks, the record had its moments but felt neither of the times, nor particularly like it was breaking the mold. And it’s only through revision via performance that songs like “Robot Rock” and “Technologic” are now considered classics.
I could go on (and on, and on) about how Coachella changed everything, turning Daft Punk’s three-album catalog into an instant greatest hits collection while igniting the EDM explosion with its revolutionary live visual show. There is zero doubt that were it not for the famous pyramid, we would not be talking about Daft Punk today. I could talk about how performance and presentation technology — from touchscreens to LEDs — made shows possible that were unimaginable a few years earlier. Or how the proliferation of pre-iPhone digital cameras and the beginnings of YouTube created an entirely new networking effect to spread music through user-generated content. And it might be nice to think that Daft Punk had some sort of master plan to capitalize on all of these things. I kinda doubt it. But they did put on a helluva show.
It’s hard to under-estimate what the next few years meant for Daft Punk’s legacy. They toured the pyramid throughout 2007, including a headlining set at Lollapalooza. They spiritually headlined again in 2008, when Kanye West performed “Stronger” to the crowd decked out in peak stunna shades. In clubs around the world, Serato could play millions of songs, but they were all somehow Ed Banger, Justice or a million other bloghouse disciples.
The year they released the Alive 2007 album, Daft Punk were ranked #71 on the DJ Mag Top 100 DJs list. In 2008, they were #38 and by 2009 they reached #33. This despite the fact that they had zero performances or releases those years.
Daft Punk instead focused their energies on creating music for TRON: Legacy, the sort of ultra-high profile soundtrack work that hardly existed in the 2010s, but recalled classics from previous decades like Vangelis’ score for Blade Runner, John William’s Moog-heavy music for Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Giorgio Moroder’s Scarface and Tangerine Dreams contributions to Risky Business.
If Daft Punk had previously used their underground cache to artistically engage with their Detroit, New York and Chicago heroes, they were now leveraging their wide fame for the opportunity to create their own version of multi-platinum movie music.
And from the success of TRON, it was finally time to do the blockbuster artist album that, given their popularity by the early 2010s, one would assume Daft Punk had already made.
Of course, blockbuster albums in the mold of 20th century masterworks like The Wall or Thriller haven’t existed in years. But their final album, Random Access Memories certainly had fun cosplaying as a blockbuster, with a capital M major label marketing campaign funded by Capitol Records, a slew of superstar session musicians and a perfectly executed song-of-the-summer global pop hit, “Get Lucky” that brought to bear all of the musical charisma that Nile Rodgers and Pharrell Williams could muster.
The throwback to a storied music business of the past worked, as we know. At the time, I somewhat cynically wrote:
I stand by that critique, although the barbs are meant to be directed at the Grammys, not Daft Punk.
In his 2015 book, The Underground Is Massive: How Electronic Dance Music Conquered America, author Michaelangelo Matos used Daft Punk’s massive Grammy win as the narrative conclusion of electronic music’s 40-year rise in America. It is now apparently the end of Daft Punk’s story — more or less.
It’s been eight years since RAM’s release, so their collab with the Weeknd notwithstanding, it’s safe to say the Daft Punk has been done for a while, already.
What delineates inactive from broken up might be the shuttering of Daft Punk’s boutique-quality merchandising business, gone from their official site since the farewell video went up yesterday morning.
In 2017, Daft Punk pop-up shop in LA was perhaps most notable for the fact that almost none of the attendees interviewed by Vice claimed to be serious DP fans. It was event-as-Instagram-background. A way that artists who’d cut themselves off from touring revenue might cash-in on the brand equity they’d built up over two decades. It could be a footnote. Or it could be a final prescient move to be followed by artists looking to make their way in an always shifting industry.
But the product Daft Punk produced better than any other artists in the history of dance music is memories. As almost 700 people discovered last night on Clubhouse, one more time is now time for one more (story).
The most salient statements from recent industry articles.
Flush with cash and approaching 1999 levels of revenue, The Economist wonders if the smart money in music is ready to cash out.
Takeaway: Artists offered $200,000 to sign in the morning command $500,000 by day’s end.
Whether remote work results in a distributed talent utopia or a loss of critical creative concentration relies largely on what becomes of all the empty spaces.
Takeaway: We have no plans to give up any of our existing real estate; instead, we are re-evaluating what our existing spaces can offer.