When the gods dance...

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Daft Punk Is the Apple of Dance Music


By Brian Merchant

Image: YouTube screenshot
Daft Punk is everywhere. If you can't hum the first few bars of "Get Lucky" by now, then you haven't been on the internet for the last two months. Each snippet of the song that was released—in two 15-second increments, then a minute-and-a-half bit featuring Pharrell Williams, all on SNL—inspired a legion of music bloggers to lose their minds in unison. Most everyone else was similarly enthused, and the clips spread around faster than funny cat videos. Or images of a new iPhone.

Now the full track was allegedly leaked, although it's also billed as an extended mix of the above clip. (Update: Now it's been pulled from SoundCloud, lending credence to the theory it was leaked.)

Either way, listening to that thing, you might realize that the hype is finally getting to you. I, a skeptic who just weeks ago argued that Daft Punk's persistant popularity throughout a long LP-less stretch was largely rooted in their expert manipulation of sci-fi mythology, am now officially and undeniably stoked for this record.

That leaked track, after all, moves blood like no dance tune since James Murphy hung up his Soundsystem. Not to mention that it's been unveiled like a shiny new gadget from one of our shiniest Silicon Valley companies. In fact, Random Access Memories, which is out May 21st, is sort of like a Steve Jobs-era tech product—and Daft Punk is the Apple of dance music. 

Memories is like an early iPhone or iPad, the kind of thing we held our breaths for, hated on, loved in advance, and endlessly discussed. We'd get mere glimpses of those early prototypes, and the masses would drool; by the time Jobs hit the auditorium with a mic wrapped round his chin, consumers were already setting up camp outside retailers.

Now, Daft Punk is breathing new life into their own robots—replacing their clumsier, cruder, more overtly mechanical tin men of the 90s with sexier, more minimalist helmets and vocal aesthetics. In an interview with the Rolling Stone, Daft Punk's Thomas Bangalter explained that electronic dance music is having an "identity crisis." He says "It's not moving one inch." So the duo eschewed samples almost completely, invited in guests—Panda Bear, Nile Rodgers, and Julian Casablancas also among them—and tried to bring their robots to life.

"There’s this thing today where the recorded human voice is processed to try to feel robotic," Thomas said. "Here, we were trying to make robotic voices sound the most human they’ve ever sounded, in terms of expressivity and emotion." In "Get Lucky," that brief moment after Pharrell wraps his verse and those weirdly melodic but instantly recognizable robot vocals take over is easily the highlight of track. Somewhat ironically, it's those 15 seconds or so alone that have me enthused for Daft Punk all over again.

They're shedding skin and up-selling; they're adding retro flourishes, they're smoothing contours; they're evolving to suit current trends while simultaneously aiming to set new ones. Daft Punk has managed both its image and the product itself with the care and pomp of the world's most successful tech company. 

Like Apple, Daft Punk recognized that we want our future tech (and future music) more human than machine. Also like Apple, Daft Punk has worn me down with its brilliance. I never thought I wanted an Apple product—I rolled my eyes at the breathless testimonials of early adopter friends and those who heaped praise on Apple's design and lifestyle products. But now I own an iPhone and a MacBook, and grudgingly admit that both are great.

The same's true with Daft Punk; they're so good at cultivating spectacle that part of me wanted to decry them for it. But we have every reason to be excited for Random Access—as I wrote previously, Daft Punk knows what so few dance acts know: We no longer just want to dance. We want to dance on a spaceship. And it's starting to look like Daft Punk just built a big one for us. 

For more on the making of that spaceship, see the Collaborator videos produced and directed by Motherboard's sister site, The Creators Project, which has partnered with Daft Punk on the campaign for its new record. An episode featuring Pharrell Williams debuted yesterday:

And here's one with Giorgio Moroder:

We're about to get lucky.

By Brian Merchant

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