Daft Punk: More Than Just a Duo

A reflection on iconic music duo Daft Punk’s legacy after nearly three decades of redefining the world of music

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After 28 years of making music together, the electronic duo Daft Punk have parted ways. Musicians Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter left their community of fans with “Epilogue,” a cryptic eight-minute YouTube video announcing their split.

“It’s pretty rare that an artist goes out on a high note like that,” said Brian Lee, an avid listener of Daft Punk. Many fans were shocked by the split-up, as well as saddened, but despite the fact that they will no longer be making new music, their impact on the industry is everlasting. Daft Punk’s trailblazing ways have changed pop music, stage productions and visual music as well as paved the way for many artists and DJ’s to soar into popularity. 

Most people know Daft Punk for their few most popular songs, such as collaborations with rapper Kanye West in “Stronger,” and Pharrel Williams on one of their most popular songs, “Get Lucky.” These songs have been played in stadiums throughout the world, even making an appearance in the 2014 Olympics when Russian police sang a cover of “Get Lucky.” Because of Daft Punk’s mainstream exposure, most people can recognize their songs. 

“They’re really kind of household beats even though people don’t know who did it,” Lee said. 

Daft Punk was a duo of many firsts—they were entirely unique and because of their innovation of techniques, sound and visuals, they inspired and influenced countless artists including Madonna, Kanye West, Skrillex and others. But to limit their influence to inspiring individual artists would be unjust, because perhaps their most significant achievements was the popularization of EDM elements in music across the industry.

“They helped influence a lot of sound engineering, and digital production that moved into pop music,” Lee said. “They started using synthesizers and lots of electronic mechanisms to start making pop music, which was a lot less common before.”

Their debut album, “Homework,” released in 1997 introduced heavily-filtered music into mainstream music, and was soon followed by Madonna’s album “Music” in 2000 which included resemblances of this style. Album after album they created entirely new-sounding music and shifted the pop industry each time. 

“Most people, especially professionals in the industry, consider Daft Punk to be influential to most music that we’re listening to now, and most music that involves a computer,” Lee said. 

Additionally, Daft Punk can be credited with popularizing big stage productions at shows, especially EDM shows. “They have big screens that are showing and doing things rather than just a DJ up there with some random lights,” Lee said.

From 2006 to 2007, Daft Punk did a world tour, which they later turned into their album “Alive.” One of their most notable shows during that tour was a 2006 Coachella performance in which they took to the stage on a platform inside a huge, color-changing pyramid structure. The sides of the pyramid and elaborate array of lights around them changed colors throughout the show. This, combined with smoke and head-banging music, led to a revolutionary and awe-inspiring performance.  

“That [their Coachella performance] was huge and influenced a lot of the stage production for a lot of other really really big acts,” Lee said. “They were inspired by the giant, big spectacle idea of it.”

This performance not only influenced stage productions, but also popularized EDM music in the United States. American DJ Skrillex, cites that performance as his first exposure to EDM music. Five years later, in 2011, he was named best EDM artist of the year by MTV. Even now, Skrillex’s shows bear lasting resemblance to Daft Punk. 

“That’s the kind of vibe he [Skrillex] wants to give to a live show, really high energy,” Lee said. 

Additionally, Daft Punk was a pioneer in the music industry off-stage. They produced two short films that tell the stories of two of their albums. The movies “Interstella 5555” and “D.A.F.T.” are visual accompaniments for albums “Discovery” and “Homework” respectively. The animated film “Interstella 5555” tells the story of an abducted interstellar band and their adventures through space and on earth amid their rescue by an alien space pilot named Shep, who dies saving them.

While Daft Punk was not the very first to make films for their music, there’s no denying it overall contributed to their popularity. Seven years after “Interstella 5555” was released, Kanye West released the film “Runaway” that is a visual accompaniment to songs from his album “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.”

Daft Punk did it, they were loved by everybody.”

— Brian Lee

“He [Kanye] does all the songs in a different way, with a visual that tells the story,” Lee said.

The Daft Punk fandom has expanded over the years, first starting with just electronic listeners, but once they collaborated with Kanye West, Pharrel Williams and The Weeknd, Daft Punk amassed a following of fans from the pop and rap industries combined with their original followers. “It’s very hard to make music that bridges any divide but especially that divide [between pop and EDM], Daft Punk is able to make music that almost everybody likes,” Lee said. “Daft Punk did it, they were loved by everybody.”

Their music merged into so many different playlists, no matter the preferred genre of the listener. “Their music is played across the globe and across so many different communities,” Paly senior Alex Wasburn said. Washburn has been listening to the duo since late-elementary school.

One of the many reasons why their music is and can be loved by a variety of people is because it includes so many different rhythms that can go along with anything. “[Their music] is good for a dinner party or good for when you’re driving,” Washburn said. 

The last album they produced was “Random Access Memories” in 2013. Eight years is a long time without coming out with any new materials for any artist. The last collaboration recorded was when the duo collaborated with The Weeknd in 2016 for his album “Starboy.”

Many fans, including Lee, saw the split up as less of a shock, as they hadn’t come out with any new material. “I wasn’t expecting it, but I understand,” Lee said. “I’m not surprised or disappointed.”

When Washburn found the news, he reminisced on their music. “When I heard they split up, I just listened to them for a day and that brought back some pretty strong memories,” Washburn said. 

Not only was Daft Punk loved for their music, many fans also enjoyed the mystery of their masks. The motorcycle helmet shaped masks are one of the quintessential elements that made Daft Punk who they are. 

Washburn saw the masks as more than an article of clothing. Since artists in the music industry are subjected to inevitable scrutiny and judgement, the masks provided more than an intriguing look. “The masks really just omit all that [criticism] and allow people to focus on their music,” Washburn said.

The masks really just omit all that [criticism] and allow people to focus on their music.”

— Alex Washburn

Although Daft Punk’s time is over, their legacy will live on forever. The impacts they have made on the music and film industry have been astronomical and long lasting. Whether it was collaborating with artists from different genres to headlining at Coachella, they have further influenced the EDM community as well as other artists to show that nothing is impossible. 

• Art by Declan Greicius and Kellyn Scheel