Backtracking is our recurring look back at the pop music that shaped our lives. Friends may come and go, but we’ll be spinning our favorite albums forever.
Pyramids, helmets, laser light shows and insane fandom: This is what we’ve come to expect from Daft Punk, who in the 15 years since the release of their debut album Homework (which was originally released on this day in 1997) have become the biggest electronic act in the world. Over the course of a decade and a half, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter have garnered a following that includes the likes of ravers, Tron fans, pop followers and even Kanye West. Let’s take a closer look at how it all started.
DJs and producers are having a moment here in the States right now — David Guetta is practically more famous than the artists who appear on his tracks, and Calvin Harris has got enough sway to land a visual credit with Rihanna on “We Found Love”. Dance music fully rules the charts right now, which may lead some to forget that four-on-the-floor beats were largely considered underground back in the mid-’90s. Other electronic acts like The Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers were giving people an alternative to the Spice Girls, Hanson and The Backstreet Boys, but most people weren’t asking for it. (At least not here in The States — modern electronic and dance music has always had a welcome home over in Europe.)
The story of these two French dudes in space-age helmets — they like to keep their faces anonymous so that the focus is always on their music — begins in 1993 when they passed off a demo at a rave at Euro Disney, which landed them a deal with Soma Recordings and eventually Virgin. Songs they had recorded sporadically between ’93 and ’97 all found their way on Homework, which may explain why the LP is a bit all over the place.
There are a variety of sounds and vibes jumping from song to song: the buzzing in “Rollin’ And Scratchin’”, the acid-washed guitar wails on “Da Funk”, the knock-knock-knocking of “Phoenix”, the zipper-pulling on “Rock And Roll”. Most of the album offers electronic valleys slowly building to modest peaks (a phenomena witnessed today in dubstep, called the “drop”), though the duo would later go on to craft pop-friendly dancefloor anthems. (Just listen to Discovery’s “One More Time”.)
Still, Homework was a landmark album for electronica that rejuvenated house music, and paved the way for other EDM acts to eventually trickle into the mainstream. Two standout cuts from the LP that have since become classics (and haven’t aged a day in 15 years) are the strut-worthy “Da Funk” and the bouncy “Around The World”, which may purposefully evoke one of the first popular synth tracks recorded, Hot Butter’s “Popcorn” from 1972.
“Around The World”
“Around The World” went to #1 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play chart and #61 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was even good enough for will.i.am to sample in a remix of his song “I Got It From My Mama” (though he neglected to get official permission from the duo to use it). It certainly helped that the video, an abstract dance of mummies, robots, skeletons, bathing beauties and broad-shouldered pop-and-lockers, was one of the weirdest, most delightful music videos to come out of that era. The clip’s director, Michel Gondry, would go on to direct dozens more mind-bending videos, as well as beloved films such as Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind.
Daft Punk had the good fortune of working with another director who would go on to become a visionary filmmaker — Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Where The Wild Things Are) on the absurd video for ”Da Funk”, featuring a dog-man with a broken leg wandering around the streets of New York. (The song also managed to top the Hot Dance Club Play charts.)
“Da Funk” live during their Alive tour in 2007:
Since Homework, the duo has released only two more studio albums — the magnetic, seminal synth-pop aria that is Discovery, and the commanding Human After All. Interestingly, DP’s biggest successes came from their two non-studio-album releases: their phenomenal live show captured on Alive 2007 (which won the band’s only two Grammys for Best Dance/Electronic Album and Best Dance Recording for the live version of “Harder Better Faster Stronger”), and their haunting, surprisingly somber score for Tron: Legacy, which became the group’s first Top 10 hit on the Billboard 200.
Homework wasn’t Daft Punk’s most critically acclaimed, most successful or most thrilling album, but it was the first, and it marked the beginning of an act that is so beloved, fan-made Coachella posters like this accurately indicate the level of appreciation mainstream tastes have adopted for these two anonymous knob-twiddlers. So c’mon, guys, and release another album one more time, we wanna celebrate, don’t stop the dancin’.