The prolific French duo Daft Punk has officially split after 28 years of making, producing and releasing music. The group decided to break the news with an eight-minute clip from their 2006 movie, “Electroma.” The duo, composed of Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo (gold helmet) and Thomas Bangalter (silver helmet), pushed the limits of electronic music while giving the genre a foothold in mainstream consciousness. The duo’s solo projects shaped electronic music forever and their consensus career highlight, the sophomore album “Discovery,” was a watershed moment for electronic music and, more particularly, French House.
Although the duo certainly pushed boundaries sonically, they were just as well-known for their public appearances and elaborate tours. Following “Discovery,” Bangalter and de Homem-Christo started dressing in robot garb; the two-robot look pushed the group into popular culture while keeping their private lives out of the public eye.
“Discovery” released to massive critical and commercial success. However, the group did not tour with this album, releasing “Human After All” in 2005. Many believed the group had lost it, citing the dreary, repetitive and lazy nature of the follow up to their magnum opus.
Daft Punk bounced back from their worst album with, arguably, their best tour. “Alive 2006/2007” drew some of the largest crowds ever for an electronic act at that time. In an era where the electronic music festival was in a relatively nascent state, Daft Punk established that dance acts could, in fact, garner mass attention. This tour was also noteworthy for its audio and visual effects.; two robots emerging from a giant, glowing, multicolor LED pyramid was a spectacle designed for shock, awe and mass appeal.
After “Alive 2006/2007,” they hit the studio and recorded “Random Access Memories” for the next five years, releasing the album in 2013. The duo has always rejected computerized music and with “Random Access Memories,” they fully embraced analog music production techniques. From legendary guitarist Niles Rodgers to Pharrell from The Neptunes, Bangalter and de Homem-Christo spared no expense or effort in the making of “Random Access.” The disco-centric album, which was a sonic departure from their previous house records and was released to critical acclaim, winning Album of the Year at the 2013 Grammy Awards.
So what does Daft Punk mean to me? I scrolled back through my iTunes library and saw that the first Daft Punk track I ever listened to was “Around the World” in 2011. At that point in my life, “Homework” and “Discovery” were critical for shaping my perspective on what music could be. Before it was cool to go to festivals in neon garb, see Marshmello or The Chainsmokers at Lolla and say you were an “EDM fan,” Daft Punk’s music provided an entry point into the electronic genre.
After listening to Daft Punk, I became a huge fan of electronic and house music. Artists like Swedish House Mafia, Steve Aoki, Tiesto and Calvin Harris became my idols. Electronic music was finally emerging from the dark, loud, packed club to the main stage of the largest festivals in the world. This early-to-mid 2010s EDM boom was not here to last, though.
What’s the current state of electronic music? Festival attendance is down, EDM culture has now been associated with frat bros in tank tops sweating it out at the Coachella main stage and electronic LPs like “Discovery” and “Random Access Memories” are a dying art form. With Daft Punk’s retirement, I hope that a new standard-bearer for the genre emerges. Daft Punk proved that an electronic act could make great music that was accessible for audiences on the largest stages. For that, all EDM fans should be eternally grateful for the two robots in the gold and silver helmets.