Daft Punk didn’t always present itself as a robot. They weren’t even the first robots in music (see the groundbreaking German electronic band Kraftwerk or the rock band Space from the 1970s). After Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter confirm the duo split after 28 years, they leave behind one of the most strictly controlled and iconic aesthetic codes in modern music. The band’s visual legacy is found not only in the work of so many dance music producers who came after them, but also in the worlds of fashion, film, and general pop culture. A bit ironic, considering that the band only took over the robot helmets to avoid having to advertise an image at all.
How did two men who met at secondary school in Paris become the most famous musical robots in the world? Take a look back at the visual evolution of the band.
Just two semi-anonymous French men in random masks
The story goes that Homem-Christo and Bangalter met in high school and briefly played together in a rock band called Darlin ‘. An early critical review called the band’s sound “dafty punk thrash,” which of course would give the name of their next project. The two became interested in dance music, gave a demo to a man with a label they had met at a rave at EuroDisney, and suddenly found themselves in a full-fledged French house project. If it looks like that, it all happened pretty quickly and arbitrarily because it did and the band didn’t think much about their image at first, other than not wishing they would. In early press photos, the duo’s faces are either behind random masks or are slightly obscured or blurred.
“We don’t want to meet people who are our age, shake hands and say, ‘Can I have your autograph?’ because we think we’re just like them, “Bangalter told MixMag in 1997.” Even girls can fall in love with your music, but not you. You don’t always have to compromise to be successful. Playing with masks is only to make it funnier. Pictures can be boring. We don’t want all rock and roll poses and attitudes – they’re completely stupid and ridiculous today. ”
The band did not appear on the cover as a robot, but in the masks of Japanese folklore.
Charles the dog guy
In fact, the first mask likely to associate the general public with Daft Punk wasn’t a robot, but that of a creepy bloodhound that looked like McGruff, the Crime Dog’s unfortunate cousin.
At the time, it was not uncommon for dance music producers to hand over music video duties to hot young directors to do what they pleased. Spike Jonez was still a few years away from filmmaking when he teamed up with Daft Punk in 1995, but he had already confirmed himself as a talent to see in the music video arena. For “Da Funk”, Daft Punk’s first commercial single, Jonez broke music video conventions and used the song merely as the backdrop for a short film about a clumsy dog man named Charles who had just moved to New York. The clip was a staple of MTV’s late-night music video blocks for years, and Daft Punk eventually produced its own sequel, which featured Charles as a successful actor in Los Angeles. Despite several attempts to intellectualize the video, the band has always dictated that it just isn’t that deep. He’s just a weird dog man who likes music and a girl named Beatrice.
All around the world sets the tone
For the follow-up single to their debut album Homework, the band entrusted their music video to French compatriot Michel Gondry, who was best known at the time for his work with Björk. The band and their mechanical alter egos show up, but the clip sets the tone for the aesthetic we got to know.
The robots rise with the discovery, but initially take a back seat to the anime
While promoting their second album Discovery, Daft Punk appeared in the earliest form of their signature robotic masks, claiming an accident in their studio depicted them as machines. Despite this new level of uniform anonymity, the band still shies away from being fully integrated into their visuals. Instead, they hired Kazuhisa Takenouchi to direct Interstella 5555, an anime film that served as the album’s visual companion. No separate music videos were ever created for the album.
After all, robots
It would be before the 2005 album Human After All before the band fully understood their robot faces as an actual image, rather than apologizing for not having a picture. The music video for the lead single “Robot Rock” was the first time the band actually appeared as a lead in their own music video, albeit in character. While Human is not nearly all Daft Punk fans’ favorite album, the collection and the corresponding Alive tour cemented the band’s visual image ten years after their first single.
A fully formed myth
When the band posed in an advertisement for Hedi Slimane’s rerun of Saint Laurent in 2013, it was clear that the band was more satisfied with their image than ever. Despite an early aversion to “rock star posing,” they had found a way to do it on their terms. In the era of Random Access Memories, robots moved around the world more than ever: in ads, on the covers of fashion magazines, with The Weeknd, on red carpets, on stage next to Beyoncé at the Tidel launch event and even as acceptors of the Grammy for the album of the year. Of course we could find out over the years that it wasn’t always the band themselves who were behind those masks, but that was always part of the point.