In 2010, Ben Linsenmeyer and Ron Diep were booked to play a college Halloween party. As two DJs who came of age during the French electro renaissance, they thought it would be both funny and poignant to tackle the gig in full Daft Punk regalia. So, decked out in silver android helmets and silicon suits, the Phoenix, Arizona duo took the stage with a rudimentary wooden pyramid evoking Daft Punk’s iconic 2006-2007 world tour.
Eight years later, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter remain in self-imposed exile from the touring circuit, and Linsenmeyer and Diep’s Daft Punk tribute act, One More Time, is thriving. That one-off Halloween set has blossomed into a legitimate touring business in which the Arizona DJs imitate the French robots the best they can, using a setlist based on the live album Alive 2007 and a production team that approximates the architecture of Daft Punk’s final tour to date. That dedication has powered world tours – including headlining gigs at New York’s Brooklyn Bowl and Los Angeles’ Regent Theater – and delightfully uncanny in-costume photoshoots with the real Deadmau5. Like it or not, One More Time may very well be the closest you’re going to get to an authentic Daft Punk concert experience in this lifetime.
One More Time are the most successful act in what is now a booming EDM cover band scene. Take Argentina’s Livemau5, who wears a bootleg light-up mouse head at his shows, occasionally joined by someone sporting a Marshmello mask. On the other end of the visual spectrum is Calvin Harrison, which is just a guy playing Calvin Harris songs. (Veteran U.K. DJ Jamie Lukas tells me he “researched and recreated” the real Harris’ sets to bring fans a “festival feel without the price tag.”) There are also tons of other, less prominent Daft Punk tribute acts, like London’s Digital Love and Australia’s Discovery. Daft Punk brought a new sense of spectacle and splendor to live electronic music, so it makes sense that they’d be the most imitated act.
There is nothing stopping anybody from playing a bunch of Daft Punk songs to a crowd of people; that happens every weekend in cities around the world, costumes or not. One More Time also isn’t recreating the music live in the way that a Zeppelin tribute singer might do their best Robert Plant wail at a local dive. Instead, the pair are essentially shuffling through the same Daft Punk files you can find on Spotify. Their selling point is the pomp and circumstance: the helmets, the pyramid, the lights, the brief drips of suspended disbelief that might let you believe that you’re actually watching the Frenchmen in the flesh. “We grew up DJing in clubs and parties, so we had to try and bring a sense of that culture with us,” says Diep. “[It’s] what pushed us to bring more production, more stage presence, and a larger-than-life aesthetic to our show.” If they get that right, everything else melts away, and you’re left to bask in millennial wistfulness.
Thomas Dunkley, the owner of the New York party promotion firm GBH Events, recently discovered that he could do great business by mining similar pockets of nostalgia. Every week he books dance nights that immortalize a particular segment of the mid-2000s cultural lexicon. At Take Me Out, DJs spin dance-punk records by Bloc Party, LCD Soundsystem and Hot Chip; The Drop brings vintage dubstep wobbles from Skrillex and Rusko; at The Black Parade, you’ll hear your favorite tunes by theatrical emo-pop bands like My Chemical Romance and All Time Low.
In March, Dunkley put on a show headlined by an act called Rough Justice – a one-night-only tribute performance to the bloghouse duo who first blew our minds with Cross. Dunkley handled the boards alongside fellow DJ Alex English, and together they transported the room back to a simpler time, also known as 2008. “We talked about putting on wigs and fake mustaches, but that was a level of commitment we weren’t prepared for,” he laughs.
Dunkley has been in this business long enough to remember booking the actual Justice, so it’s a faintly ironic twist that he now finds himself imitating them. I ask what he thinks is behind this moment, when reformed clubgoers in their twenties and thirties are lining up outside the door to re-experience an era that, if we’re being honest, is barely a decade old.
“There’s something that’s been lost in music right now – a certain excitement,” he says. “Nostalgia is like a drug. When you go out to a bloghouse night, you put on a tune by Crystal Castles and you see the rush people are getting. It’s a natural high. That’s what they come for.”