Daft Punk have split up. It’s truly the end of an era.
The robots ruled underground dance music and then transcended into full-blown pop stars before turning into a mythical entity that rarely made public appearances. Their entry into the music hall of fame is written and their legend as one of dance music’s greatest acts is sealed.
The myth and the music meant that even without new releases or live shows Daft Punk’s popularity remained at a fever pitch, which is why so many hearts were broken when the band released their farewell video clip. Fans had been clinging on to the hope of another live tour, another studio album or soundtrack, even just another TV appearance – any sign of life from the robots who had left their older audience with sweet memories of The Pyramid and their younger following with the belief that they too could experience the power of Daft Punk again one day.
Reaction to the split was mostly positive, with an outpouring of love and respect for the duo who took dance music to the mainstream while banging out a run of highly influential hits that still sound brilliant today. But there was some anger from superfans who seemed to expect another Alive tour and cynicism from those who believe they haven’t released any good music for two decades anyway (these people must be really fun at parties).
So why did the punks break up? What made them call it a day seemingly out of the blue? And why did they do so without much ceremony for fans who had been praying for them to step back out onto the stage, even just for one more time? Some theories below…
THE WEIGHT OF EXPECTATION
Daft Punk rumours spread across the internet like wildfire. The rumour machine surrounding them is an industry in itself: producers fake Daft Punk ‘music’ as a marketing tool before revealing it to be their own, superfan pranksters forge major label documents to make it look like a new album is coming, and most recently the robots went viral after a bunch of people on Reddit thought they’d appear during The Weeknd’s Superbowl performance. Their legend is so great that they don’t even have to do anything to make headline news.
While they’ve never cared what anyone thinks and have always done their own thing, the further we get away from their last studio album (‘Random Access Memories’ in 2013) and their last live shows (2007), the more hype and expectation will build. Part of being an artist is having the freedom to create without inhibition – do the duo really want to live with the pressure of producing more music and live shows with such weight on their shoulders? And especially when they’ve ticked all of the music bucket list off already? It’s doubtful.
THE LIVE TOUR
In 1997 Daft Punk blew people’s minds by taking their home studio out on tour and playing reworked versions of their tracks live on stage (that run of dates was called the Daftendirektour and was immortalised on the Alive 1997 live album released in 2001).
During their next tour in 2006/7 they not only blew people’s minds (again), they set the template for the mainstage/big room dance music experience by creating a groundbreaking audio-visual live show in which they played live from from a neon pyramid that pulsed in time with the fast, frenetic mash-ups of their album tracks. The live experience of dance music would never be the same again as acts from underground techno to EDM donned costumes, created elaborate stage productions and sought to outdo each other in terms of epicness (these shows were called Alive 2006/7 and also immortalised on a live album).
So where do Daft Punk go from there? We know for a fact they won’t repeat themselves, rest on their laurels or turn into a nostalgia act living off former glories. Another tour would have to be, ahem, harder, better, faster and stronger than what they’ve delivered previously. Given how forward-thinking and technologically advanced Alive 2006/7 was at the time, it would require a huge amount of resource to better that in the 2020s, not to mention the cast of musicians needed to pull off the music from ‘Random Access Memories’ live. Brining Daft Punk to life now would be a huge logistical challenge and one that might be impossible due to the personnel needed. Perhaps the IRL version of Daft Punk is best conjured in the imagination…
Daft Punk have collaborated with one of the inventors of dance music as we know it, Giorgio Moroder, Chicago house music royalty Romanthony, two of the most influential hip hop producers-turned-pop stars and conceptual masterminds Pharrell and Kanye West, king of disco Nile Rodgers, house and garage OGs Todd Edwards and DJ Sneak, prince of rap The Weeknd and a host of fellow French pioneers like Sébastien Tellier, Kavinsky and SebastiAn. That’s not to mention their fashion and video work with Hedi Slimane, Leiji Matsumoto, Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry. It’s quite the CV and, much like their live show, you have to wonder if the robots are safe in the knowledge that they’ve done all they set out to do.
One of the more interesting recent rumours about Daft Punk – and one that may have some truth hidden in it somewhere – is them working on the score to the new Dario Argento film. An enthusiastic Argento quietly let slip that he would be working with the duo but soon after the idea was quashed by his people. Given their love of the esoteric, there’s no doubt the idea of scoring an Argento film would pique their interest but because of the frenzy around any Daft Punk activity, not to mention the behind-the-scenes admin involved, it might be easier for Thomas and Guy-Man to crack on with passion projects and labours of love such as soundtracks without their helmets.
THEIR APPROACH TO MUSIC, BEING MUSICIANS AND THE MUSIC INDUSTRY
Daft Punk appeared on the cover of Mixmag in ‘97 with the quote “there is nothing to follow. There are no rules any more”. Their approach to music and being musicians has always been on their own terms and they’ve refused to sit still, always outwitting fans and critics by taking each project they’re involved with to the next level. Their stock in trade is groundbreaking music, visuals and merchandise and they’ve never pandered to the press or people who slate them (their name is famously taken from a bad review of their previous indie band project). So, having achieved seminal live tours, released a phenomenal amount of hits, won awards and worked with the best musicians and producers in the business, there’s no way they’d make more music or go out on tour for the sake of it – or even for the nostalgia. They’d much rather put the mothership on autopilot and bow out gracefully, having reached the zenith of dance (and pop) music success. The Epilogue video clip only strengthens their legend as they vacate the earth and ride off into the galaxy….