• Jon Heatherly

Daft Punk’s EDM Inspires World to Play

Daft Punk’s legacy still influences music and culture writ large.

Photo by Manny Moreno on Unsplash


French House/EDM duo, Daft Punk, shocked millions of fans with their February 2021 announcement. They decided to break up! This digital duo composed dozens of electronic tracks over nearly three decades, and they inspired countless artists. Fans knew them by their robot helmets, digital synthesizers, and creative collabs.


Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo made a significant impression on EDM and Pop. They pushed musical boundaries, sampled countless tracks, inspired and worked with other artists extensively.


Bangalter and Homem-Christo likely want to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Some whisper of a final comeback tour, but that seems unlikely given minimal coverage and an ongoing pandemic.


In the meantime, let’s take a look at their backstory, progression, and collaborations.


Formative Years

Daft Punk long seemed like an enigma with secret identities. But one cannot overstate their influence on contemporary pop music. Today, we know them as the dance music duo dressed like robots. But who are they exactly?


They met at Lycée Carnot during the 8th-grade in 1987, quickly bonding over music and film from the ’60s and ’70s. This high school educated the minds of influential people like former French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac.


Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo

Guy-Manuel was born in February of 1974 and grew up in Neuilly-sur-Seine — the wealthiest Parisian suburb. His family consists of Portuguese aristocracy. His great-grandfather, Homem Cristo Filho, was a poet of international repute. Filho was also a close personal friend and journalist for Benito Mussolini, the Italian fascist dictator.


Image by BloodSushi via DaftPunk.Fandom


Francisco Manuel Homem Cristo was Guy’s great-great-grandfather Filho’s Father. Francisco was a military officer, professor, and regional prime minister of Portugal. Francisco served after the Portuguese First Republic, and people knew him as volatile and reactionary.


Guy’s parents gave him a toy guitar and piano at age 8. They also presented him an electric guitar at 14, and this led to later musical inspirations.


Friends and peers consider him to be quiet and direct in his work. At first, some fans thought he seemed grumpy or disinterested during interviews. Part of that came from being less comfortable speaking English than Thomas. Many know Guy for random outbursts and one-liners.


Image via DaftPunk.Fandom


Thomas Bangalter

Photo by Pod k via Wikipedia


Thérèse Thoreux and Daniel Bangalter brought Thomas Bangalter into this world in January of 1975. Thérèse starred in several French TV films during the 60s and 70s, such as the romance “À contre Soleil.” She also made several appearances in television features and a silent film.


Thomas’s father went by stage name Daniel Vangarde during his music writing and production career. As an ethnic Jew, Daniel Bangalter campaigned to ensure reparations for descendants of Jewish artists harmed by WW2.


His most famous hit was a co-production with Jean Kluger,Aie a Mwana,” performed by Bananarama.


Thomas first began piano at six years old. His parents enforced his practice, and he later thanked them for that during an interview in Japan. Thomas is the taller and younger of the digital duo with curly hair. He’s extraverted, whereas Guy-Manuel is not.


Images via DaftPunk.Fandom


Indie Rock band

Before using the digital synthesizer, fans knew them as Darlin’ — an independent rock band. The Beach Boys’ Hit inspired their band name; the original “Darlin’’ featured on the 1967 album Wild Honey. Darlin’ released their singles through Duophonic Records, an independent UK label by Stereolab.


This precursor band, Darlin’, consisted of Bangalter, Homem-Christo, and Laurent Brancowitz. Brancowitz played the guitar exceptionally well, but the group only released a handful of tracks together.


“The two Darlin’ tracks are a daft punky thrash called ‘Cindy So Loud’ (that’s the title and sole lyric), and a bizarre fuzz-guitar reading of The Beach Boys’ ‘Darlin’’.”


In May 1993, now-defunct British music magazine Melody Maker published a scathing review of the indie group. Reviewer Dave Jennings described them as “daft punky thrash,” and they disbanded some months later. This critique would prove pivotal in their careers.


Later that year, Bangalter and Homem-Christo would christen nightclubs under their new identity.


As Daft Punk, they started employing experimental instrumentation, and loved the high energy and BPMs of the House scene. Brancowitz later joined his brother and friends playing guitar for their French indie-pop band, Phoenix.


Phoenix’s most popular hits include “If I Ever Feel Better” and “Lisztomania.”



Musical Technique

Folks knew Daft Punk for the diversity of both their instrumentation and artistic inspiration. They combined years of musical study, modern digital augmentation, and a novel sampling of disco and funk tracks from the past. As a result, they produced a unique sound, and their creative synthesis fascinated fans, artists, and revelers the world over.


Bangalter favors the keyboard and bass, and Homem-Christo most often plays the guitar. Yet, both can play all three instruments. Their roots in punk rock and disco nurtured the development of their digital musicality.


Their music began within the French House subgenre of EDM. Popularized in the 1990s, it merged elements of House, Disco, and Funk. It combined disco samples with funky basslines and a filtered voice.



Image by Malagalabombonera via Wikimedia


Digital Experimentation

What instruments besides analog ones did they play? They utilized drum machines like the Linndrum 9000 and Roland’s MPC, TR-808, and TR-909.


Their musical arsenal also included synthesizers like the Juno-106, Minimoog, and the SC’s Prophet and Vector Synthesis.


Many of these retro devices now exist as software applications to emulate the original sound, like this one. Check this out for a more exhaustive list.


Daft Punk also included vocoders to alter their voices by adding more musicality and precise tonality, as a computer can do.


Photo by Marinegirl via Shutterstock


They often used a vocoder. It electronically deconstructs and reconstructs the voice to sound more like an instrument. Essentially, you talk into a microphone while playing chords like a piano.


Here’s how to recreate their vocal sound using Fruity Loops Studio, a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). Take these ideas and create your own Daft Punk-inspired sound!


The daft duo also applied auto-tune tastefully in their work. However, they used this technique before it rose to prominence, and only a few, like Cher, saw the magnificence of auto-tune early on. In an interview with The Irish Examiner, Daft Punk said it’s a fun effect like the wah-wah pedal. But, they agreed that pop music relies too much on its application to “perfect” the human voice.


Eclectic Sampling

So, where do Homem-Christo and Bangalter find their muses? As mentioned, their parents likely influenced some of their first music tastes — what with the disco and ’60s-’70s. They later included ’80s influences. But of course, they are a product of their time, and their beginnings dove deep into electronic dance music and lively night scenes of the ‘90s.


One could find Thomas and Guy rummaging through used LP bins at record stores during their early years. They searched for unusual sounds with which to make music. Let’s start with a couple of examples from their Discover album. “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” sampled the 1979 track “Cola Bottle Baby” by Edwin Birdsong.



Take a look at WhoSampled for a complete collection of samples in the songs of Daft Punk and others. The robots took samples from genres like soul, funk, and especially disco. For example, their classic “One More Time” from the previous album sampled Eddie Johns’ 1979 classic, “More Spell on You.”


Yet, Eddie Johns spent the last decade between LA homeless shelters uncompensated. The 70-year-old Liberian singer had a stroke in 2011. This caused disability, preventing him from working and pushing him to the streets. His case manager, Alyssa Cash, started this drive to get Johns what the publisher owed him.


French publishing GM Musipro acquired rights to Johns’ music in 1995 yet said they could not contact him. Their founder, Georges Mary, said he would take it upon himself to find and compensate Johns. This was according to a piece published in The Los Angeles Times in May 2021.


Their Homework album featured the hit “Da Funk,” which sampled several other works. Part of the beat comes from Barry White’s 1973 track “I’ve Got So Much to Give.” There’s another sample from Vaughan Mason and Crew’s 1979 “Bounce, Rock, Skate, and Roll.” In addition, they included effects from The Hollywood Edge Sound Effects Library.


We could talk for hours about their samples' sources, but let’s finish with what equipment they used. Guy-Man and Thomas frequented sample devices such as the E-mu SP-1200, Ensoniq ASR-10, and Roland S-760.


Inspire and Collaborate

Daft Punk logo via Wikipedia


One would be remiss in failing to mention where else Daft Punk left their musical mark. The two produced many tracks with other artists, and they influenced the musical evolution of countless others. Disney even hired them to use their “daft punky thrash” and write an entire film soundtrack. So let’s go a bit deeper.



Artists They Inspired

Entire careers may never have existed if not for them setting the new standard for electronic music. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Daft Punk,” DJ Zedd tweeted.


Likewise, LCD Soundsystem’s lead singer, James Murphy, invited people to his house party by dropping “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House.”


Many consider artist Skrillex a leader in dubstep, an EDM subgenre. He described attending their Alive 2006–2007 tour as “like walking into the portal of my destiny.” He told The Guardian in an interview, “they left an indelible mark on my psyche.” Skrillex, also known as Sonny Moore, described how the robots ‘pushed pop forward.’


Busta Rhymes sampled some, too, with his 2006 release “Touch It.” Incorporating elements of Punk’s “Technologic,” Rhymes creates a new song featuring Mary J. Blige and Missy Elliott. Another hip-hop artist would soon do likewise.


Kanye West also sampled Daft Punk with his 2007 hit, “Stronger.” Thomas Bangalter made remarks on West’s hit for free broadcast and internet radio platform, Audacy, saying:


“It’s a funny thing. It’s quite symptomatic of this circle of sampling and being sampled and passing it along to the next producer.”


Who They Worked With

Daft Punk collaborated with more folks than one can count. American Romanthony produced and sang, and he provided vocals for “One More Time” and “Too Long,” among others. By this time, our computer friends had signed with Virgin Records for their first several albums.


Photo by Internet Movie Database via Wikipedia


After the release of Discovery in 2001, they worked with Japanese film company Toei Animation to adapt it into a feature film anime. It also combined the genres of music and science fiction, and there were no words or dialogue.


A military force kidnaps alien band Aerodynamic. This force wipes the band’s memories and changes their identities. The mercenaries hide them on Earth with human disguises. Watch the film for free online called “Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem.”


Jay-Z also worked with them to produce “Computerized” in 2003. While it was never formally published, you can find it on YouTube. Apple also featured “Technologic” in a 2005 iPod commercial.


When Disney wanted to remake Tron, Legacy director Joseph Kosinski approached them to compose the film’s score. Unfortunately, they delayed response due to focusing on the Alive 2006/2007 tour. Later they obliged, and the soundtrack accompanied the film in 2010.


Columbia Records released Random Access Memories in 2013, and it ended up being their final full album together.

Within R.A.M., they created a more original sound using less sampling. Pharrell Williams graced us with his sultry, smooth vocals in “Get Lucky” — an inescapable earworm that summer. The synthpop pair also joined the classic Julian Casablancas, lead singer of American rock band The Strokes, in “Instant Crush.”


Daft Punk later teamed up with The Weeknd for “I Feel It Coming” and “Starboy,” which became their only track to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2016. Nonetheless, their cutting-edge work inspired an entire generation of entertainers.


 

Daft Punk knew with a bit of hard work, they might “Get Lucky.” They felt an “Instant Crush” with the techno scene, and they believed in their success if they tried “One More Time.” Thomas and Guy wanted you to “Lose Yourself to Dance.”

The music came “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.” They both looked at each other and thought there was “Something About Us.”

Broadcasting a “Robot Rock” required an “Aerodynamic” finesse if they wanted fans to realize “Da Funk” of their “Technologic.” With some “Digital Love,” “Superheroes” like Italian ‘Father of Disco’ “GiorgioMoroder helped them “Give Life Back to Music.” He asked where they were going with their music, or “Veridis Quo” in Latin, but they could only answer this “Face to Face.”

You just read their 17 most-viewed tracks in order according to YouTube metrics.


Photo by Can Yesil via Shutterstock


With a legendary career spanning 1993–2021, Daft Punk produced an eclectic discography. They published seven albums, with the first in 1997 and last in 2013. In order, their albums include Homework (1997), Discovery (2001), Alive 1997 (2001), Human After All (2005), Alive 2007 (2007), Tron: Legacy (2010), Random Access Memories (2013).


Daft Punk achieved several prestigious nominations and awards over the years. They were nominated for 12 Grammy’s and won 6. Critics also awarded them with a 2014 Brit Award and an MTV Europe Music Award in 2016.


Thomas Balganter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo pushed House and electronic music to ubiquity on the radio waves.


As Alexis Petridis of The Guardian said, Daft Punk may well be the “Most Influential Pop Musicians of the 21st Century.” They bridged a gap from analog to digital that recreated the sounds of the past and defined “a sound of the future,” as Giorgio puts it.


Guy-Man and Thomas shaped an entire era of music, and they set the course for its further evolution into the foreseeable future. Regardless of a potential comeback tour, they live on through the hearts and music of millions.



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