Is it possible to assemble a “Daft Punk’s Greatest hits” compilation? Can you even break a top 25 without making some jarring, unsightly omission? Would one dare to forget the blinding, extra-terrestrial epic “Contact” (Random Access Memories, 2013) or any sum of the burning, cerebral numbers from 2010’s gloriously underappreciated TRON: Legacy soundtrack? Must the industry forget “Derezzed” (Tron: Legacy, 2010) on yet another heralded “best of” blog post, or criticize the power of 2005’s Human After All? Tell me, can you praise the crunchy grooves of “Face to Face” (Discovery, 2001) while ignoring “Verdis Quo” (Discovery, 2001) – and is it even possible to place “Aerodynamic” (Discovery, 2001) on the same level as any other art in human history? The mere possibility is blasphemous.
Since their debut album Homework was released in 1997, Daft Punk have maintained a lasting power over worldwide collective consciousness. Somehow, their sound is both modern disco and classic rock ‘n roll – an unlikely intersection between polar opposites that not only works, but is nearly impossible to replicate. Their discography is sprawling, sculptural, and stylish; with each release, they surprise us with something both wholly visionary but strangely familiar. In 2013, the duo released their most accessible effort yet – a little something called Random Access Memories. The album is a rare creature in modern popular music, appealing to fans of nearly all genres with a sound alien to pop airwaves. I would hardly dare to declare an album “perfect” – Random Access Memories surely isn’t, as for all its glitzy collaborators, it feels incomplete without a single female voice – but it’s closer to “perfect” than any other album of its time. It’s closer to perfect than humans could ever get.
Daft Punk are not human… or are they? One of the major motifs in their body of work is the relationship between man and machine, from the perspective of the machine. This is especially present in 2005’s Human After All. There is an undercurrent of unrelenting desire for the machine to become man – Daft Punk’s Electroma, the band’s 2006 film, specifically follows the band members’ (credited as Hero Robot No. 1 and Hero Robot No. 2, respectively) own unsuccessful quest to become human through a visual medium. Without spoiling too much, the story is deeply disturbing – there are melting latex faces (!), robot towns (!), explosions (!) – and intensely provocative. At the end of the day, across all auditory and visual efforts, Daft Punk reluctantly asserts that they are more machine than man. And yet, they still continue to tease that they just might be one (…two?) of us.
Half the fun of Daft Punk is the mythical nature of the group. They rarely grant press, and their live performances are few and far in-between. The group announces a (small) formal tour only once every ten years – their previous live resurgence was memorialized in the album Alive 2007, which is just as vital to the Daft Punk discography as any of their studio releases. It captures the duo’s 2007 performance at the Palais omnisports de Paris-Bercy in Paris, the band’s hometown. Previously in 2001, they also released the live album Alive 1997 – begging us to wonder, when will we get a concrete date for the coveted Alive 2017?
While we may not have the answer to when – and where – to expect Alive 2017, we do know that Daft Punk are making their live return tonight at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards, performing alongside The Weeknd. Celebrating the return, the band launched a week-long pop-up in West Hollywood filled with artwork, merchandise, instruments, lots of helmets, and iconic memorabilia from the band’s nearly 25-year career. It may be the most accessible the band has ever made themselves – at least to us spectating, clueless humans. And yet, in our current world – a world filling increasingly with robots (both within and without Washington DC) – perhaps Daft Punk are the most human of us all.
The Daft Punk pop-up is open until February 19th at 8818 Melrose Ave. in West Hollywood. If you live in Los Angeles, please go. Megan lives across the country and she is foaming at the mouth with jealousy.
Words and illustration by Megan.