Thursday, July 5, 2018

Daft Punk interview

Daft Punk interview
New York Times, May 15th 2013

by Simon Reynolds

Thomas Bangalter, half of the influential French dance music act Daft Punk, has a house high in the Hollywood Hills here. He and his partner, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, divide their time between Los Angeles and Paris, where their families live. But for all the duo’s jet-setting lifestyle, there’s little evidence of rock star flash to be seen (well, apart from the Porsche that Mr. de Homem-Christo has parked in the driveway). Built in the symmetrical mid-century modern style called post-and-beam, the bungalow exudes a subtle retro feel, with white carpeting, a cross-section tree trunk coffee table, and a gravel fireplace in the living room. The swimming pool, a small square of radiant Hockney blue, is visible through the floor-to-ceiling glass walls. 

The home’s d├ęcor mirrors the retro-modern aesthetic that runs through all the stages of Daft Punk’s 20 year career. From its first dancefloor smash, “Da Funk,” in 1996 through the synthetic dazzle of the 2001 album “Discovery” to the 2010 score for the remake of “Tron,” the duo’s defining balancing act has been breaking new ground while simultaneously invoking earlier golden ages of club music, like 1970s disco and ‘80s electro-pop. 

Daft Punk expanded the audience for dance music alongside late-‘90s popularizers like the Chemical Brothers, influenced Madonna and Kanye West, and has been in the vanguard of developing the visual side of live dance music performance. Their iconic robot masks and their spectacular Pyramid-shaped stage set at the 2006 Coachella festival inspired the hi-tech showmanship of younger electronic dance music stars like Skrillex. In the eight years since the duo’s last studio album, EDM has become big business, while Daft Punk-like sounds have infiltrated Top 40 radio, popping up in songs by artists as mainstream as Justin Bieber and Ke$ha. 

But after years on the cutting edge, Daft Punk has reversed course with the eagerly anticipated “Random Access Memories,” out on Daft Life/Columbia this week. Spurning the digital audio software that empowers the EDM generation, the album is an analogue flashback to the era of live musicianship, involving a crack squad of session players and contributions from the disco legends Nile Rodgers and Giorgio Moroder, as well as indie rockers like Julian Casablancas and the hip-hop star Pharrell Williams. Mr. Rodgers and Pharrell both appear on the album’s first single,  “Get Lucky”, an uncanny replication of Chic’s sparkling disco-funk.

“In some ways it’s like we’re running on a highway going the opposite direction to everybody else,” said Mr Bangalter,  38, sitting on his white carpet while the taciturn Mr. de Homem-Christo, 39, slumped on a sofa.

 It’s a dilemma that confronts many innovators: when the rest of the world catches up with you, where do you go next? In a paradox that informs the entire project, doing something new for Daft Punk involved embracing the methods and mindset of the past. The result is an album that is impressive but backward-looking, drawing on influences from disco to progressive rock to New Wave. Aspiring to the sumptuous production and arrangements of late ‘70s rock and R&B albums, “Random Access Memories” contains many songs that allude to time, transience, memory, and yesterday’s idea of the future. The album title itself is a play on the idea of computer memory (RAM) versus human memory.

The promotional campaign for the album winds the clock back to an era before tweets and album streams.  Daft Punk and its team orchestrated a suspense-building trail of hints about a new project in the form of billboard ads and teaser mini-commercials on TV.  They haven’t completely bypassed the Internet, but their digital promotion has taken an unusual form: a series of well-made video interviews with their collaborators.

But the bandmates, who originally met at school back in 1987, are adamant that nostalgia is not their primary motivation. Nor is there anything “judgemental,” said Mr. Bangalter, about the anti-digital stance that Daft Punk took with the making of the album. But he does repeatedly refer to technology like Pro Tools and AutoTune as having “created a musical landscape that is very uniform.” Instead, both members enthused about the flexibility of the flesh-and-blood musicians they recruited, like the drummer John Robinson, who played on Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall."

 “It’s an infinity of nuance, in the shuffles and the grooves,” raved Mr. Bangalter, knocking over his drink in his excitement. “These things are impossible to create with machines.”

Of course, these intangible but essential qualities of feel and vibe exalted by Daft Punk are necessarily inaccessible to most of today’s young music-makers, whose do-it-yourself dance tracks depend on the same sort of computer technology that launched Daft Punk’s career in the Nineties.  A kid in a bedroom with a laptop and software can make records that sound like a million bucks. Making music the way Daft Punk has actually requires a million bucks, or more.

It also takes time. Begun in 2008, then interrupted when Daft Punk worked on the “Tron” score, the album took two and half years to complete. But the challenge of learning how to get results from live musicians rather than compliant machines was an important step for the duo. 

On their two most influential albums, 1997’s “Homework” and 2001’s "Discovery," Daft Punk proved themselves sampling virtuosos. They had a knack for locating the killer riffs secreted within otherwise deservedly obscure songs from the past and, through deft recontextualization and processing, unleashing their incandescent potential. Now with “Random Access Memories,” the goal is to make music that others might one day sample. Mr. Bangalter talks about the thrill of “starting every sound from scratch, creating a sonic world from the ground up.” Indeed there’s just one sample on the album, in the final track “Contact,” a blasting surge of sound that starts with the voice of Eugene Cernan, the last astronaut to stand on the Moon’s surface. That, plus the trademark electronic processing on their voices, is the only real continuity with their old methodology. 

Albums by megabands like Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles, with their no-expense-spared attention to detail, served as the model for “Random Access Memories”’s intricately layered production. “The late ‘70s and early ‘80s is the zenith of a certain craftsmanship in sound recording,” said Mr. Bangalter. For Daft Punk there is a subtle but crucial distinction between flawlessness as a goal pursued through human effort and the perfection easily achieved through digital means.  Mr. Bangalter’s complaints  about the standardization and sterility of the computer-created dance-pop that dominates contemporary radio ironically recall the derogatory language directed at disco by many rock fans in the ‘70s, who decried it as soul-less and mechanistic. Random Access Memories is, in part, a celebration of the rarely acknowledged musicality of disco, whose greatest exponents, like Earth Wind & Fire, were nothing if not great players. 

“They wanted the classic Nile, almost like we were doing a record back in the day,” said Mr. Rodgers, the  guitarist of Chic and one of the most in-demand producers of the ‘80s. This time travel sensation was intensified because the sessions took place at Electric Lady studio in New York, where Chic’s first hit “Dance Dance Dance” was recorded.

Daft Punk have always had a strong sense of history. Reverence for their musical ancestors inspired the “Homework” track “Teachers,”a roll-call of house music and techno pioneers. Its equivalent on “Random Access Memories” is “Giorgio By Moroder.”But the collaboration with Mr. Moroder, who pioneered the electronic style of Eurodisco, was not musical. Instead Daft Punk took snippets from two long interviews with the producer and layered them over an epic track incorporating a pastiche of the Moroder sound. The song jumps from his earliest days as a struggling musician to the 1977 recording of the futuristic Donna Summer song “I Feel Love,” whose metronomic rhythm track and pulsating synths spawned genres like ’80s synthpop and ‘90s trance. “One day I’ll type out the whole interview and that’ll be my biography,” said Mr. Moroder. 

Although Daft Punk’s collaborators on “Random Access Memories” include musicians their own age or younger, like Panda Bear (whose real name is Noah Lennox) from Animal Collective , it’s the partnerships forged with elder legends like Mr. Moroder and Mr. Rodgers that are most revealing of the project’s intent. This applies to the seemingly unlikely collaboration with the actor-singer-songwriter Paul Williams, who penned tunes for The Carpenters and the Muppets. Daft Punk have been fans since their early exposure to the 1974 cult movie “Phantom of the Paradise,” Brian De Palma’s rock satire in which Mr. Williams starred as a malevolent svengali. Mr. Bangalter describes it “as our favorite film, the foundation for a lot of what we’re about artistically. It embodied everything we liked when we were 13— horror, glam, esotericism. ” Speaking from his office in Los Angeles, Mr. Williams noted wryly that the movie was a flop everywhere apart from two cities: “Paris. And Winnipeg.”

On “Random,” Mr. Williams wrote lyrics for the songs “Beyond” and “Touch.” He also sang on “Touch,” a grandiose song-suite that merges prog-rock and pop schlock. Of his first hearing of the finished version of “Touch,” Mr. Williams recalled asking “’Can I see it again?’” and described the whole album as “an intensely visual experience.”

For Daft Punk, Mr Williams seems to represent some kind of pure spirit of entertainment.  It’s this belief in the magic of showbiz  that attracted them to Los Angeles in the first place.  The duo had a presence in the city as far back as 1996, when they met with Spike Jonze to enlist his directorial skills for the video for “Da Funk”. In the mid-2000s they established the company Daft Arts Inc here to develop the visual aspects of their work, including their feature-length film Electroma. 

But the attraction to LA is as much mythic as it is practical.   Gesturing out of the window towards the Hollywood lurking at the foot of the canyon,  Mr Bangalter talks about the “classic dream factory.”  Whether it’s the pulp fictions manufactured by the studio system or  the glitterball wonderworld of disco, for Daft Punk pop culture is all about fantasy, escape and self-transformation.  The idea for the robot masks they wear to protect their anonymity came from superhero comics and movies.  A delicate poise between kitsch and sublime is the hallmark of their greatest songs, from 2001’s “Digital Love” to the new album’s “Fragments of Time”.  Mr de Homem-Christo breaks his silence to talk about the near-mystical power of music. “You get that extraordinary feeling, that otherworldly feeling, of being transported somewhere.  I think we have a little bit of that edge, me and Thomas, these past 20 years. “


^^^^^^^^^^^^^^



fan-made video made out of old Soul Train footage (i'd much rather be listening to the music these kids were dancing to originally than DP & Pharrell's retropastiche wouldn't you?)



directors' cut mix

Daft Punk interview
New York Times 2013
by Simon Reynolds

High in the Hollywood Hills nestles the Los Angeles residence of Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter.   He and musical partner Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo divide their time between LA and their hometown Paris.  But for all the duo’s jet-setting lifestyle, there’s little evidence of rock star flash to be seen chez Bangalter (well, apart from the Porsche that Mr de Homem-Christo has parked in the driveway).   Built in the symmetrical mid-century modern style called post-and-beam, the bungalow exudes a subtle retro feel, with white carpeting, a cross-section tree trunk coffee table, and a gravel fireplace in the living room. The swimming pool, a small square of radiant Hockney blue, is visible through the glass walls.

“Retro-modern” is the aesthetic through-line connecting all the stages of Daft Punk’s 20 year career.  From their first dancefloor smash “Da Funk” in 1996 through 2001’s Discovery to their 2010 movie score for the remake of Tron, the duo’s defining balancing act has been breaking new ground while simultaneously invoking earlier golden ages of club music like Seventies disco and Eighties electro-pop. Daft Punk have also been in the vanguard of developing the visual side of dance music live performance.  Their iconic robot masks and Pyramid spectacular at 2006’s Coachella Festival have inspired the hi-tech showmanship of EDM stars Skrillex and deadmau5. But after years on the cutting edge, Daft Punk have reversed course drastically with their new album Random Access Memories. Spurning the digital audio software that empowers the EDM generation, the album is an analogue flashback to the era of live musicianship, involving a crack squad of session players and contributions from disco legends Nile Rodgers and Giorgio Moroder. 

Making music the old fashioned way gobbled up time and money. Random Access Memories was self-financed, explains Mr Bangalter, who is seated on the white carpet while the taciturn Mr de Homem-Christo slumps on a sofa.  Begun in 2008, then interrupted when Daft Punk signed on for the Tron score, the album took two and half years to complete.  But the challenge of learning how to get results from live musicians rather than compliant machines was an important step for the duo.  In a paradox that informs the entire project, doing something new for Daft Punk involved embracing the methods and mindset of the past.  

Mr Bangalter repeatedly denies there’s anything “judgemental”  about the anti-digital stance  that Daft Punk have taken with Random Access Memories, whose title plays on the idea of computer memory (RAM) versus human memory. But he does repeatedly refer to technology like Pro Tools and AutoTune having “created a musical landscape that is very uniform.”  Conversely, Daft Punk enthuse about the flexibility of the flesh-and-blood musicians they recruited, such as John Robinson, whose drumming pedigree includes Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall. “It’s an infinity of nuance, in the shuffles and the grooves,” raves Mr Bangalter, knocking over his drink in his excitement. “These things are impossible to create with machines.”

On their two most influential albums, 1997’s Homework and 2001’s Discovery, which inspired mainstream artists as diverse as Madonna and Kanye West, Daft Punk proved themselves sampling virtuosos. They had a knack for  locating the  killer riffs secreted within otherwise deservedly obscure songs from the past and, through deft recontextualisation and processing,  unleashing their incandescent potential. Now with Random Access Memories, the goal is to make music that others might one day sample.  Mr Bangalter talks about the thrill of “starting every sound from scratch, creating a sonic world from the ground up.” Indeed there’s just one sample on the whole album, in the final track “Contact.” That, plus the trademark electronic processing on their voices, is the only real continuity with their old methodology.

One of Daft Punk’s best-loved songs is “Digital Love”, from Discovery. But Daft Punk appear to have fallen out of love with the digital world. The promotional campaign for the new album winds the clock back to an era before tweets and internet leaks.  The group and its team have masterfully orchestrated  a suspense-building trail of hints in the form of billboard ads and teaser mini-commercials on TV.  “In some ways it’s like we’re running on a highway going the opposite direction to everybody else,” says Mr Bangalter. 

Even Daft Punk’s business strategy could be construed as a throwback. When their contract with Virgin expired several years ago, they could have self-released their own album to their huge fan base via the internet, as Radiohead did with In Rainbows in 2007 and My Bloody Valentine has with m b v earlier this year. But instead the duo signed with Columbia, the most major of major labels, which Mr Bangalter hails as “the first record company, the inventor of the 33 rpm record”.  Comparing the record business in its Seventies and Eighties heyday to Hollywood’s studio system, he sounds wistful for the era of  “sonic blockbusters” like Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours or “Off The Wall,” albums that everybody heard or at least heard about.  “Pop culture is the monoculture,” he argues.  “Today the only monoculture is brands.” Using the marketing muscle of an entertainment conglomerate like Columbia, which is owned by Sony, Random Access Memories attempts to swim against the historical tide of popular culture’s fragmentation into niche markets and micro-genres.

Albums by megabands like Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles, with their no-expense-spared attention to detail, also served as the model for Random Access Memories’s sumptuous, intricate production.  “The late Seventies and early Eighties is the zenith of a certain craftsmanship in sound recording,” argues Mr Bangalter. For Daft Punk there is a subtle but crucial distinction between flawlessness as a goal pursued through human effort and the perfection easily achieved through digital means.  Ironically, though, Mr Bangalter’s complaints about the standardization and sterility of the computer-created dance-pop that dominates contemporary radio recalls the derogatory language directed at disco by many rock fans in the Seventies, who decried it as soul-less and mechanistic.  Random Access Memories is, in part, a celebration of the rarely acknowledged musicality of disco, whose greatest exponents, like Chic or Earth Wind & Fire, were nothing if not great players.

“They wanted the classic Nile, almost like we were doing a record back in the day,” says Mr Rodgers, Chic’s guitarist and one of the most in-demand producers of the 1980s. “I walked out of my room in the 2013 and I was back in 1979.” This time travel sensation was intensified because the sessions took place at Electric Lady studio in New York, where Chic’s first hit “Dance Dance Dance” was recorded.  The original plan was for Mr Rodgers to lend his trademark sparkling rhythm guitar to just one song, but the sessions were so electric he ended up working on three, including the album’s first single, “Get Lucky”.

Although Daft Punk’s collaborators on Random  Access Memories include musicians their own age or younger, like Noah Lennox from Animal Collective and Pharrell Williams of the Neptunes, it’s the partnerships forged with elder legends like Mr Rodgers that are most revealing of the project’s intent. This applies to the seemingly unlikely collaboration with actor-singer-songwriter Paul Williams, who penned tunes for The Carpenters and the Muppets and popped up on American TV screens for decades as a sort of celebrity-without-portfolio.  Daft Punk have been fans since their early exposure to the cult movie Phantom of the Paradise, Brian De Palma’s satire of Seventies rock in which Mr Williams starred as a malevolent svengali.  Mr Bangalter describes Phantom “as our favourite film, the foundation for a lot of what we’re about artistically.   It embodied everything we liked when we were thirteen— horror, glam, esotericism. ” Speaking by telephone from his LA office, Mr Williams describes  Phantom as “a cartoon done with real people” and notes wryly that the movie was a flop everywhere apart from two cities. “Paris. And Winnipeg.”

On Random Access Memories, Mr Williams wrote lyrics for two songs, “Beyond” and “Touch”, and sang on “Touch”.   “I’ve never been more blown away by something,” he says of his first hearing of the finished version of “Touch”, a grandiose song-suite that merges prog-rock and pop shlock.  Mr Williams recalls asking “ ’Can I see it again?’” after his first exposure to the whole album. “It’s an intensely visual experience.”  He praises Daft Punk for the risk they’ve taken by breaking with the sample-based sound that made them rich and famous. “It would have been so easy for them to recreate what they did before. Ride that to another commercial success. But this album feels like an event.”

For Daft Punk, Mr Williams represents some kind of pure spirit of entertainment.  The magic of showbiz is what originally attracted them to Los Angeles.  They’ve had a presence in the city since 1996, when they met with Spike Jonze to enlist his directorial skills for the video for “Da Funk”. In the mid-2000s they established the company Daft Arts Inc in LA to develop the visual aspects of their work, including the Coachella pyramid and their feature-length film Electroma.  “Almost everything we’ve been doing visually has been designed and engineered in this environment,” says Mr Bangalter.  But the attraction to Hollywood is as much mythic as it is practical.  Daft Arts’s location, which they requested be kept secret, is inside a complex of lots and studios whose storied past goes back to the earliest days of the movie industry.  Mr Bangalter discourses knowledgeably about the “classic Hollywood dream factory” that was based in “a few square miles, really just a few blocks.”

Daft Punk have always had a strong sense of history. Reverence for their musical ancestors inspired the Homework  track “Teachers”,  a roll-call of house and techno pioneers.  Its equivalent on Random Access Memories is “Giorgio By Moroder”.  But unlike the tracks with Mr Rodgers, the collaboration with Mr Moroder, who pioneered the electronic style of Eurodisco, was not musical. Instead Daft Punk took snippets from several hours of interview with the producer and layered them over an epic track incorporating a pastiche of the Moroder sound.  “One day I’ll type out the whole interview and that’ll be my biography,” says Mr Moroder, speaking by telephone from his LA home.  

The narrative of “Giorgio by Moroder” jumps from his earliest days as a struggling musician performing in German discotheques to the 1977 recording of “I Feel Love”.  Completing a Donna Summer album that contained songs evoking different periods like the Fifties and Sixties, “I Feel Love” was conceived as “a sound of the future”.  Combining a synth pattern with the machine-like regularity of a click track, Mr Moroder  created a sound that would indeed spawn futuristic genres to come like Eighties synthpop and Nineties trance. But as he recalls on “Giorgio by Moroder”, “I didn’t realise how much the impact would be.”

Daft Punk’s painstaking recreation on “Giorgio by Moroder” of a sound that once represented musical futurism encapsulates the contradictions at the heart of Random Access Memories, an album limned with references to time, transience and memory.  In the Nineties Daft Punk and their comrades in the techno-rave underground were pointing ahead to the digital future. Now, with EDM and Top 40 dancepop dominating the contemporary soundscape, that future has not just arrived, it’s become ubiquitous to the point of banality. So where next for yesterday’s prophets? The way forward is the way back, seems to be the argument of Random Access Memories. But that’s not something that young artists and emerging producers can emulate. Digital technology allows a kid in a bedroom with a laptop and some software to make records that sound like a million bucks. Making music the way Daft Punk have on the brilliant but backward-looking Random Access Memories actually requires a million bucks, or more.  Mr Moroder describes the duo’s strategy as “‘Get the human touch back in.  Make music without loops, played live.”  That may be a solution for Daft Punk, but it’s simply not feasible for the vast majority of music makers. 

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