As you’ve surely heard by now, last week the generation-defining French duo of Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, aka Daft Punk, officially called it quits. It had been almost eight years since they had put out any new music, so they could have easily just disappeared over the horizon and into the sunset – but they wouldn’t want to go without a bang, which their announcement duly delivered to all corners of the internet. Perhaps they just got tired of being @ed every single time there was a rumour of a ‘surprise headliner’ at a music festival, but whatever the reason, Daft Punk is sadly no more.
With their discography now, seemingly, set in stone, there’s almost no doubt that some label execs are already plotting all the ways that they can repackage it for maximum cash return. Chief among these is the inevitable Greatest Hits, and we thought we’d get a jump on it and lend a helping hand by suggesting our own track list.
Rather than simply picking their most well known (“Get Lucky”? Get in the bin!), our writers were simply asked to pick a couple of their favourites for inclusion. What results is a unique, eclectic and surely not at all contentious compilation of tracks, which features something from each of their releases – even the Tron Legacy soundtrack!
Random Access Memories’ opener marked a stark turning point for Daft Punk’s sound. Eight years had passed since the release of the contentious Human After All, and it became clear from the outset that the 2013 album was bowing out from their infamous synthesiser-heavy dance music. Instead they were focusing on creating a sound based around their 1970s and 80s influences, and “Give Life Back to Music” is all about glitz.
The song’s emphatic opening is followed by a sparkling disco-esque groove, which is then layered with a Nile Rodgers assisted guitar lead. As with every Daft Punk track, “Give Life Back to Music” is meticulously crafted and mixed – all the more impressive when you consider the changing sounds and analog live instruments the duo opted for. Perhaps the best moment is around the 3 minute 15 second mark, where there is a brief addition of a cheering crowd or audience; a delightful compliment to the instrumental, it’s as though you can feel their joy through the music. In this respect, life has truly been given back to music. – Seb Grech
02. “One More Time”
If there’s one song that has to be on a Daft Punk ‘greatest hits’, it’s “One More Time”. This song is so ubiquitous, so unavoidable, so transcendent, that there are probably thousands of people out there who’ve never heard of Daft Punk, but they sure as heck know this song.
What’s even more impressive is that, despite it being so present that it’s practically a gas in our atmosphere, it never wears out its welcome. Truly, if scientists wanted to study the effects of repetitive music on the human brain, this would be Case Study A001. There’s probably someone out there who’s counted the amount of times they repeat the phrase “one more time” in the song, but suffice it to say that it’s a lot – too many – and yet, every single time that kick comes back in, bringing with it the pinwheel firework synths, it hits as if new again.
This is the party song of our generation, as guaranteed to get played at every event as Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration” was for Boomers before us. But, with Daft Punk at the helm, it’s just as acceptable to stand on the back wall as it plays, too cool to dance – but if that is you, you’ll still be powerless to resist nodding or tapping along to this capital-A Anthem. – Rob Hakimian
03. “Da Funk”
In the annals of pop, Daft Punk will be noted as the great uniters of French House. Creating a connective line between the rock, punk, disco and electronic spheres of the 90s, their music transcended barriers, both in how it invaded closed off cultural spaces and how it fused divergent styles harmoniously. “Da Funk” (a potential homonym of Daft Punk) is a perfect example of this, a wild fusion of distorted punk riffs, funk bass, disco beat and 80s synthesizers that made it impossible to discern if the track was a digital or all analogue recording. The band cited the hip-hop sub-genre G-funk as their main instigator for the track, and with its clean beat in the foreground and distorted lead instrumentation, it quickly became a signature track of big beat, leading to a bidding war when the band looked for a label to release their debut album, Homework.
However, most would first be subjected to the track via its groundbreaking Spike Jonze directed music video, “Big City Nights”. The surreal short features anthropomorphic dog, Charles, aimlessly wandering nocturnal New York, his leg in a cast, carrying a boombox and crutch. Throughout the video, the dog is rejected and ridiculed – seemingly for the loud music, which blurs into the background repeatedly. He finally comes across a childhood friend, but is abandoned accidentally when a bus carries her off: “No Radios!” The dreamlike atmosphere – somewhere between Abel Ferrara, Wong Kar Wai and Louis Bunuel – and impressive make-up lend the short a strange nostalgia. It’s like watching a favourite childhood cartoon character age and experience real life misfortunes that come with adulthood.
And while Daft Punk themselves have claimed there is no greater meaning to the video, there’s clear shades of racial profiling, urban decay and gentrification in Jonze’s depiction. It’s a wild mix of artistic intention and edgy depiction and was like nothing on MTV at the time. Years later, Charles got his happy ending: in the band-directed video for “Fresh”, the dog is shown to have made it big as an actor (in an imaginary film directed by Jonze, who cameos), leg healed and happily dating Beatrix. Good boy! – John Wohlmacher
04. “Prime Time Of Your Life / Brainwasher / Rollin’ and Scratchin’ / Alive”
It’s hard to really explain the feeling of seeing Daft Punk live in 2007, like really explain. They were at the height of their powers, both sonically and theatrically, and had also recently released their misunderstood and often forgotten avant-masterpiece film Electroma. This was pre-Pharrel, pre-Grammys, pre-going a bit shite. They were true artists and they were in the prime time of their lives (perhaps).
To listen to Alive 2007, recorded in Paris, is to hear the escalating acclaim from the crowd – which in itself is spine tingling, especially in these dark times of no physical gigs. Daft Punk’s ability to build a set, to twist it in many directions, while always having the audience in the palm of their hands and never satiating them can’t be underestimated. I saw them on that tour in London, at the usually awful venue of Hyde Park, and it was mesmerising. That’s not nostalgic hyperbole. I remember looking around at the sea of smiling faces around thinking I had never been in a crowd so euphoric, so unified and so undeniably into it. Must have been the sun. Also, while you’re here, “Rollin’ & Scratchin’” is hands down their best tune. – Todd Dedman
05. “Giorgio By Moroder”
One might argue the whole of Random Access Memories (even the whole of Daft Punk’s career, for that matter) is little more than a collection of referential tributes to late 70s/early 80s dance music, but if there’s a precise moment this materialises into a full-form palpable homage it’s on “Giorgio By Moroder”. While the Italian producer knew very little about what Daft Punk were intending to do with his recorded monologue, the final result would encapsulate a sonic voyage fitting of Moroder’s own autobiographical narrative, with sounds of the past, the present, and the future intertwining effortlessly. By unveiling an exquisite potpourri of house, electro, jazz-funk, and italo-disco, the track manages to represent the very essence French Touch was built upon; and if Moroder’s crucial role in the history of electronic music would render him the ‘Father of Disco’, then Daft Punk’s heartfelt tribute can be seen as the culmination of this enthronement. – Ana Leorne
You want to hate it and even expel it from your memories altogether, but “Technologic” is arguably the most redeeming moment within what is considered by many to be the duo’s most abysmal full-length effort, Human After All.
It’s impossibly infectious and invasive in more ways than one. Aside from the song’s terrifying music video that gave many younger Millennials nightmares back in 2005, “Technologic” impresses with simplicity and a manic personality that aims to say something about its time and place where the rest of Human After All failed. With the fears of Y2K just five years in the review, the mechanical and self-observing “Technologic” is robotic in a tongue-in-cheek type of way, not to a fault, but in a manner that reduces the impending boom of the digital age to its primitive parts. From ceaseless commands, funnelled through a dystopic vocoder voice, to its all-gas-no-breaks drum’n’bass dystopia, “Technologic” is a breathless menace that maintains its energy until the very last second. Even within an album deemed notorious for its shallow and repetitive aesthetic, “Technologic” is an infectious banger that stands alone atop a mountain where the dorky idea of ‘robot rock’ came to die. – Kyle Kohner
07. “Digital Love”
As cool as they were esteemed to be, Daft Punk were prone to some extremely cheesy moments, and “Digital Love” has an undeniable arôme d’epoisse about it. Something like a re-charged and modified version of The Buggles, “Digital Love” stands out in the duo’s discography for a number of reasons. The most prominent is that it has an actual vocal line and proper lyrics – sung by Daft Punk themselves (I’m not sure either has actually claimed responsibility) – which depict a loved-up robot floating on air at the memory of a dream of his amour. Combined with luminous synths, it’s a confection so sweet that even Haribo would have sent it back to the test kitchen.
And yet, it undoubtedly works, and it’s all down to Daft Punk’s trademark tricks. Their implementation of a sample from George Duke’s “I Love You More”, endlessly looping drum machines, a central synth melody that remains unresolved, expert use of tension and release – it’s easy to get swept up. By the time the jizztastic solo hits – some magical amalgamation of vocoded voice and guitar, it seems – there’s no way you won’t be swimming in pure serotonin, screwing up your face as you finger along on your imaginary fretboard. – Rob Hakimian
If there’s ever been a soundtrack that will long outlive its film – and surely the list of candidates is noteworthy – this may well be the one. Daft Punk’s involvement in Tron Legacy precludes director Joseph Kosinski’s knack for snagging intriguing musicians for his projects (remember how he got M83 to score a Tom Cruise movie? We do). No, even beyond that, the influence of the original Tron film was more than apparent in Punk’s robotic DNA.
The score is essentially ‘what if Daft Punk had the chance to score Star Wars?’, right on down to its epic scope and truly swelling movements. Hell, “Rectifier” is just about as ominous as anything John Williams could dream up in service of Darth Vader. Phew. Still, Punk are perhaps even better here in their playful moments, such as the pulsating excitement of discovery present in “Recognizer”, or the intense dawn of combat present within “Rinzler”. In more ways than one, the Tron Legacy soundtrack is Daft Punk at their more surprising and assured, deftly blending their danceable sensibilities with a truly epic film score that completely outdid its, at best, reasonably inspired cinematic counterpart. Much like their own legacy, their work on Tron will live on. – Chase McMullen
09. “Lose Yourself To Dance” (feat. Pharrell Williams)
While everyone was fawning over “Get Lucky” when Random Access Memories came into the world, I found myself much more inclined towards the other Pharrell-featuring track from the album, “Lose Yourself To Dance”. Maybe it was the fatigue of having heard “Get Lucky” a bajillion times over a matter of weeks (whether I wanted to or not), but “Lose Yourself To Dance” just welcomed me in like a respite tent at the end of a marathon. Its slow disco/soul train tempo, with Nile Rodgers showing the power of four simple funky chords, and that moment of robot-voiced suspended animation in the middle (“Everybody on the floor”) was sumptuous to my ears.
And yeah, I feel white as hell applauding “Lose Yourself To Dance” like some out of touch dad just discovering that music kept going after 1988, but it’s just a real, simple, unfettered pleasure for me. “Get Lucky” was all about that insistent shuffle that was almost too eager to please, while “Lose Yourself To Dance” leaves lots of open space for the listener to fill in themselves, urging a moment of pause to just be (and yeah, to dance too, I guess). Sure, I dance around my kitchen to the song like some goofy, flailing bag of peas that has exploded everywhere, but damn that’s just me losing myself as the song suggests – Daft Punk told me to. – Ray Finlayson
“Voyager”, the 10th track off the classic Discovery, is probably most fondly remembered for its smooth, infectious bassline – and it’s still immediately apparent why. Textured synth chords kick the song off, before breaking down into a vigorous dance riff centred around the bassline. For any budding electronic music artist, “Voyager” is a textbook example of how simplicity can be used to great effect. There are really only three or four elements to this track – bass and synth are all they need for the most part, but a melodic arp along with some guitar stabs join for the final three quarters. What results is a Daft Punk song which can serve multiple purposes; it’s just as easy to envisage “Voyager” in a study playlist as it is being played to a floor-filled club – and that’s the beauty of the duo’s music. – Seb Grech
11. “Around The World”
I was only nine years old when Daft Punk scored an unlikely UK Top 10 single with “Around The World” back in 1997. Still ensconced in the rosy world of commercial radio, I expected – nay, believed – every song to be about love and feature a catchy, sing-along chorus. “Around The World” (along with the Armand van Helden remix of Tori Amos’ “Professional Widow”) changed all that. Here, I was presented with a song that didn’t adhere to a verse-chorus structure and only featured three words – and not one of them was ‘love’! To say I was confused would be putting it mildly – to be honest, I was terrified; the very foundations of what I understood music to be were crumbling.
It may sound like an overstatement, but I have a feeling that “Around The World” may have had that effect on a whole generation of young listeners – while those already au fait with club music were surely just lapping it up for its retrofuturistic brilliance. Over the years, “Around The World” continued to intrigue me – a fascination only deepened by the excellent Michel Gondry video – and each time it re-appeared in my environment, I would start to realise more and more about it.
Once you’ve heard a song this simple enough times, your brain can’t help but pull apart its elements – and there are really only a handful in “Around The World”. Once past the eerily unhuman vocal, the bass is what first consumes; a melody and rhythm worthy of any great pop song. Next comes the beat, metronomic and addictive, pushing and pulling without ever missing a step. Finally, the synths that whoosh and sparkle, ascending where the bass descends, encircling the whole glorious package. Then your brain snaps it all back together again, and you realise you’ve witnessed mastery at work. – Rob Hakimian
12. “Veridis Quo”
A classic Daft Punk grower and one of the meditative moments of their second album Discovery (and of their anime sci-fi fantasy Interstella 5555), “Veridis Quo” possesses that late night tragic quality quintessential to disco and easily identifiable in most dance classics. Dressed in faux latin and faux orchestral, the track’s self-reflective qualities are as synthetic as the cheapest lamé polyester, indispensable for the wildest of nightclubbings. Although taking it too seriously would be a naive mistake, there’s an intrinsic dual nature to “Veridis Quo” that makes it simultaneously classy and tacky, sad and loving, vintage and futuristic. It pushes you to the dance floor like a soft heartbeat with everything seemingly happening in slow motion, and marks the crucial turning point of a hypothetical film when the protagonist wonders if it’s the side effects of the cocaine or if it’s, in fact, love. The uniqueness of “Veridis Quo” resides exactly in the ambiguity of the answer. – Ana Leorne
Even with the announcement that Daft Punk is no more, many will hold on hope that a follow-up to Random Access Memories will soon meet their ears. But, if it really is true that the 2013 albumis the last original music we’ll ever hear from the French House pioneers, then “Contact”, RAM‘s closing track, is a fittingly triumphant goodbye from Daft Punk. There’s truly no better way to cap off a legendary career than with a billowing epic like this. It emits the feeling of moving on, while also channeling the idea of stumbling upon something new to behold – the feeling we all felt when diving into Daft Punk for the first time. Eight years ago, the masked duo probably never intended “Contact” to be their parting shot, but considering Daft Punk first used it in a DJ mix back in 2002—at the height of their fame and influence—you get a feeling that their fate was manifested long ago. “Contact” will never be mistaken as an earworm, but it is uniquely remarkable merely for the atmosphere it fosters. It’s simultaneously soaring through the sky and collapsing toward Earth, all the while pointing to a future that Daft Punk foresaw, whether it included them or not. – Kyle Kohner
14. “Human After All / Together / One More Time / Music Sounds Better With You”
If there’s to be an enduring image of Daft Punk – well, OK, it’s two guys wearing big helmets. But, zoom out from that a little bit and you can’t help but envision them at the centre of a giant pyramid of polychromatic lights that seems to be floating in mid-air, the duo spinning discs as if it’s just another night at the local bar. Whether or not you actually got to attend their world-beating 2006/07 Alive tour – and most of us didn’t – you still know exactly what that epochal stage set up looked like. Daft Punk didn’t even need to release a concert film for that tour, the Alive 2007 album captures the euphoria perfectly, and your imagination does the rest.
As the finale to a furious and sweaty (even if you’re listening on your own at home) hour and a half, “Human After All / Together / One More Time / Music Sounds Better With You” is a tour-de-force mash-up of everything that made the duo great. From the epically vocoded “HUMAAAN” that signifies a beast rising once again and makes your hairs stand on end, through the warp-speed house of “Together”, and then the unexpected reprise of “One More Time”, the duo make it seem like they’re spinning a dozen plates at once, while simultaneously chain-smoking cigarettes and checking their watches to see if their set is almost over yet.
That they drop in “Music Sounds Better With You” almost seems unfair – they’ve already steamrolled us with their unending string of bangers and then they remind us that Thomas Bangalter’s fingerprints are also all over another most enduring pop-house crossover tracks of the 90s. It’s a moment that snaps the needle right off the excitement dial, and it’s the only proper way for an act this great to bow out. – Rob Hakimian