People should be free to be open-minded or not open-minded. If they don’t want to be open-minded, that is their freedom,” says Thomas Bangalter, the loquacious half of the French electronic duo Daft Punk. “We are open-minded but we are not trying to make everyone like us. We are just trying to raise some questions with the music and art we do. We have not the pretentiousness to say, ‘OK, the answer is in this.'”
Daft Punk have set themselves an agenda few could pull off. In 1996, Bangalter and his collaborator Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo inadvertently changed the face of dance music with Homework, a debut made in Bangalter’s bedroom. It brought the French dance underground overground: Gallic groovemeisters like Cassius, Etienne de Crecy, Dimitri From Paris, Laurent Garnier and Mirwais were soon discovered by the rest of the world. Now, Daft Punk have returned with Discovery, a shamelessly giddy romp of dancing and romancing played on a Buck Rogers turntable. And it works. Their first single, “One More Time,” is a hit on mainstream American radio, as it has been throughout Europe. Like the single, Discovery is disco for a new era: part pop, part rock, part techno and everything that funks in between. But Daft Punk aren’t here just to party. In short, they are here to say that anyone can do this. From the start, they have remained faceless, donning masks in photo shoots and never appearing in videos, as a statement against artist worship in music. This time out, they’ve gone further: There is Daft Club, a unique online fan site, and there are the, er, robots.
Explaining the robots, Bangalter comes off like a cross between Jean-Luc Godard and Beck – as full of theory as he is of whimsy – stating his mind in the vocal equivalent of a black turtleneck. Check out his explanation of Daft Punk’s millennial makeover-robot heads and hands. “We had a problem with our sampler,” he says. “The 9-9-9 bug. On September 9th, 1999, at midnight, we were making music and there was a big explosion. That was the last thing we remember. We woke up with many people reconstructing us. Now we express ourselves with the scrolling LED lights in our heads. We are still the same. We have hearts, emotions. We just need a bit more oil.”
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Daft Punk’s first album was unquestionably a dance record, unique in that two unknowns, then in their early twenties, expertly summed up a decade of styles – house, techno, disco, etc. – with a dose of wry, self-aware, genre-aware humor. “On Homework we focused on breaking the rules of making techno and dance music. Now we intend to break the stylistic rules of what all music has come to,” Bangalter says. “People hear the influence of the mid-Seventies to the mid-Eighties. That is less because we are excited about that era than the fact that it was the first ten years of our life. This album is like the state of mind of a child, a time when you don’t judge or analyze things. So maybe this sounds bad on paper, but the album is a mix of heavy metal, disco, soft rock, house music and techno. And we’re trying to make it sound fresh, fun and colorful.”
Fans who buy Discovery receive an ID number that allows them to join the Daft Club, where they are treated to a slew of exclusive remixes and videos. “We consider things like Napster to be positive,” Bangalter says. “They raise questions. Now people really have a choice as to whether they will buy an album. So we will offer free content to the people that buy the CD and implement the Internet into our creation. We spent a lot of time constructing our album . . . now we will spend a lot of time deconstructing it.”
This story is from the April 12th, 2001 issue of Rolling Stone.