For more than two decades, elusive French duo Daft Punk — comprised of Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo — have revolutionized dance music. Director Hervé Martin Delpierre gets fairly close to unmasking the robots in his documentary Daft Punk Unchained, which chronicles the duo's career from the beginning to their massive Grammy night in 2014 and premieres on Showtime tonight, December 10th, at 9 p.m. EST/PST. Watch an exclusive clip above.
In the scene, Daft Punk's ex-manager Pedro Winter and music journalist Michaelangelo Matos recall Bangalter and Homem-Christo's debut of their now-famous pyramid stage set at Coachella 2006. More than 40,000 people attempted to catch them in a tent meant for 10,000 bodies, and the festival appearance helped break the duo into the mainstream.
"No one had seen anything like that," Matos recalls. "No one had seen that level of production. Everybody who was in the tent was texting everybody else: 'You are missing this! This is the greatest thing I've ever seen! You're missing the greatest performance of all time.'"
Via email, director Delpierre detailed to Rolling Stone the journey of making Daft Punk Unchained and the conclusions he came to about the pair while filming the documentary, which also features input from Kanye West, Pharrell Williams and Michel Gondry.
What was your first encounter with Daft Punk?
My first experience with Daft Punk goes back to 1996, in a nightclub in Paris. Everyone was already talking about Daft Punk as the new "fashion," this electronic music band. A band whose prestige was already recognized in nightclubs around the world. There was a special intonation in the voice of the people when they said, "Ah ... Daft Punk ...," as if not knowing them was a huge handicap to having a Parisian cultural life. But I must admit that I was surprised because I did not hear electronic music, but rather music with a rock band, but also funk and pop influences. [They were] a group that had decided that the guitars were no longer the indispensable instrument to make music and to be cool.
And on stage, when I saw them one night, I saw two very regular boys. Nothing in their faces, their hair, their clothes seemed to want to say, "I need to create a look for myself every morning, with more than one hour in front of the mirror to prove to the world how cool I am."
I realized later, when I thought of that night, that everything in Daft Punk was about freedom. To be free, musically, artistically, you must already be free in your head and your body. And those two boys were already visibly free in their mind and spirit.
How long has this documentary been in the works?
When Patrice Gellé, producer of the documentary called me with the offer to make the first documentary on the history of Daft Punk, he had already worked for over a year with the group's management and was the first from BBC Worldwide to have access to Daft Punk for a documentary. Without this access to their music, it would have been impossible to consider making a movie, obviously. And then you had to be able to use certain rare archives [and] see exclusive archival material of the group. Next, my co-author Marina Rozenman and I worked for almost a year on the script, to understand the true history of the group and meet their close friends, who knew the real story of Thomas and Guy-Man — and not just the official version that the journalists used for 20 years to talk about the group. The shooting lasted several months between Paris, Los Angeles, New York and Tokyo and I locked myself into editing for almost six months to construct my movie!
"The manager of Daft Punk ... asked me not to destroy the magic of the robots." —Hervé Martin Delpierre
How involved were Daft Punk in the curation of the documentary?
With Patrice and Marina, we met Paul, the manager of Daft Punk, for the first time in Los Angeles, and Paul told me that the boys know my work, respected me as an artist and would leave me free to put my focus on the group, and he also asked me not to destroy the magic of the robots since it had taken them many years to build that relationship with the public and I should respect that. Coming out of that first meeting, I thought, "OK, we are free but this will inevitably change over the months." And no, that did not change; they kept their word throughout the making of the film. And they did not ask to see it before the first public screening. Many artists who talk endlessly about creative freedom behave like true dictators, but they, Thomas and Guy-Man, considered that the freedom of other creators, even creators like us who look at their story, were also free like them.
What were some conclusions you came to, as a filmmaker and fan of Daft Punk, about the duo's influence on music and culture while reflecting on their history?
I came to the conclusion that certain groups exist with the desire to sell the maximum amount of records and other groups like Daft Punk seek above all to create, protect their creative capacity to protect their dreams, their original wishes, their view of the world. A group like Daft Punk has had a lot of influence on the world of music for 20 years. At the end of it all I’m curious to know what genre of music has been most influenced by them because I believe that it is their artistic position — what we call the freedom to create — which is the most successful aspect to Daft Punk. This example has no limits on genre, style, race or language. This is the best example of the most exciting young artists today.