Daft Punk — the duo of musical robots also known as Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo — have broken up. And in appropriately Daft Punk-y fashion, they announced their break-up with a bittersweet, cinematic announcement video that, not going to lie, got me a little teary-eyed. (The video, for what it’s worth, repurposes footage from the duo’s own 2006 sci-fi film, Daft Punk’s Electroma.)
My first encounter with Daft Punk occurred when a roommate got a copy of 1997’s Homework. Soon enough, “Da Funk” and “Around the World” (and their music videos) were in constant rotation in my circles. To call the duo “influential” or “important” would be an understatement. Their music, though filed under “electronic” for obvious reasons, was grandiose, nostalgic, and over-the-top in the very best of ways, nimbly walking the line between heartfelt and sincere, and gaudy and kitschy.
Daft Punk’s music was a little sonic universe all unto its own and quite unlike anyone else. (That, and their concerts were the stuff of legend. One of my great regrets is that I never got to see Daft Punk live outside of YouTube.)
Daft Punk’s final album was 2013’s Random Access Memories, an elaborately arranged magnum opus that paid homage to the music of the ’70s and ’80s that originally inspired the duo. The album found them going 100% analog and working with an orchestra, a choir, and various collaborators including Giorgio Moroder, Panda Bear, Nile Rodgers, Paul Williams, and Pharrell Williams.
Random Access Memories was a critical and commercial success that won multiple Grammies, including “Album of the Year” and “Best Dance/Electronica Album.” The duo also gave a showstopping Grammy performance that year alongside Rodgers, Pharrell, and Stevie Wonder. (I was so taken by said performance that I wrote this Christ and Pop Culture piece about the duo’s generous approach to music-making.)
I know this will sound cheesy, but awesome beats and gorgeous arrangements aside, what I enjoyed most about Daft Punk was how they brought mystique and wonder back into popular music. From their classic silver and gold robot helmets, which they wore whenever in public, to the secrecy surrounding their projects and reticence concerning interviews, Daft Punk successfully remained enigmatic even as the zeitgeist demanded more openness and access to celebrity.
Dismiss it as a gimmick, publicity stunt, marketing ploy, or what have you, but it worked, as evidenced by this 2013 Pitchfork feature. As frequent collaborator Todd Edwards put it, the duo were “a shining example of what can be accomplished when the goal is excellence, not fame.”
Of course, as the aforelinked Variety article points out, the band’s announcement video could be a publicity stunt, too: “[I]t seems likely, considering the group’s famously contrarian and convention-mocking history, that they will continue to release music, videos and whatever other projects strike their fancy. It is even possible that this announcement could be the beginning of a new project.”
That may be wishful thinking, but whatever happens, there’s no denying that Daft Punk’s robot-shaped shadows loom large over the cultural landscape. Their songs will continue to delight, fascinate, and enchant listeners for years to come — and get them dancing all the while.