When Daft Punk announced their split back in February, we not only lost a once in a generation musical talent but a duo who perfectly understood the visual language of dance music. The pair consistently found new ways to tell stories through their accompanying visual aesthetics, whether it was dropping clues to their future costumes or embarking on dizzyingly interwoven narratives that touched on important societal themes.
The French duo made up of Guy Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter dazzled audiences for over 25 years with their unique videos that were sometimes bizarre, sometimes blissful, but always bold and quintessentially ‘them.’ Their early work was organised into the D.A.F.T. collection, an incohesive selection of videos, before they created their own anime Interstella 5555 and avante-garde sci-fi film Electroma.
They continued to subvert what was expected of a musical artist by presenting mesmerising visuals that will be remembered as long as the iconic music that they accompanied. Here are 12 of the best...
Taken from their groundbreaking debut album, 'Da Funk' was an early glimpse into the talents of the Parisian duo. Directed by Spike Jonze, the video follows a hapless anthropomorphic dog in a leg cast named Charles as he limps around New York playing ‘Da Funk’ out of a boombox. After being mocked by children and annoying a bookseller with his music which it seems he is unable to turn off, he stumbles across Beatrice, a childhood friend. After agreeing to have dinner with her he tries to follow her onto a bus, but after seeing a ‘No Radios’ sign, dejectedly remains at the bus stop as she drives away. Critics have said the video represents a number of themes ranging from integration to urbanism, but Bangalter said the story was just a man-dog walking around the city. However, he did say that Charles would return in a later video…
The character Charles did in fact return in ‘Fresh,’ another track from the 'Homework' album. Following the same concept as ‘Da Funk’ where the track is used as a short film score, Daft Punk chose to direct this video themselves; instead using Jonze as an actor. Juxtaposing the moody, night time, urbanised space in ‘Da Funk’ with a sunny beach, Charles is seen to be an actor shooting a film. After discussing acting techniques, he gets picked up by Beatrice who is now his girlfriend, before they drive off to have dinner. Daft Punk wanted Charles to return in a happier setting compared to the depressing storyline that fans followed in ‘Da Funk.’
'Around The World'
One of the pair’s most recognisable tracks with its distinctive vocal sample and heavily synthesised bass, the accompanying video directed by Michel Gondry gave an early easter egg to the instantly recognisable robot costumes that the producers adopted at the turn of the millennium. Five sets of dancers – including robots, skeletons and mummies – move in time to a particular rhythmic beat of the music on a platform that represents a vinyl record. Gondry highlighted that the dancers provided a visual representation of the track, as each takes the place of a different musical element.
This distinctive video supposedly frames the French government’s negative stance against rave parties with a surprisingly wholesome recipe to making the perfect tomato sauce. Director Roman Coppola always wanted to make a video instruction so chose a tomato theme. The video starts with the muted sounds of an alleyway rave before police turn up and start arresting attendees. As a girl gets cornered by a police officer she notices a mysterious red stain on his uniform. This opens up an alternative narrative where we follow the journey of a tomato from being harvested to being made into sauce and being served in tupperware to the officer. After an over enthusiastic mouthful of pasta which leaves a stain, we follow the journey of the officer arriving at the rave. We cut back to the altercation between the girl but this time the officer notices the stain, giving the girl an unlikely opportunity to escape. As with many of their videos, it showed Daft Punk’s unique ability to pair bizarre visuals with their music to create brilliant cinematic narratives.
To coincide with the release of their second album 'Discovery', Daft Punk created an ambitious film with Leiji Matsumoto and Kazuhisa Takenouchi called Interstella 5555 which is unquestionably a must-watch for any fan. Using the music from their album as the soundtrack, the film bridged the science fiction, anime and musical genres. It tells the story of a band who get kidnapped and subsequently rescued. The music videos from the album were clipped from the film, each track representing a pivotal scene in the film’s narrative. ‘Too Long’ is the ten minute finale where the band are returned to their home planet to great acclaim, but as the track draws to a close, a Daft Punk vinyl spins while a young boy sleeps, implying it was all a dream. This is the duo’s best example of visual and sonic storytelling, creating a masterful ode to what they enjoyed as children and showing the magical power of imagination.
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Unlike the rest of this list, this isn’t one of their most spectacular pieces of music. However, ‘Robot Rock’ makes the cut as it was the first time the pair featured at the fore of one of their videos. Normally leaving their art to do the talking, we saw the two artists in full robot costumes performing on a stage surrounded by flashing lights. The shaky VHS style of filming adds some nice character, giving the final video a look that wouldn’t be out of place in a piece of archived footage from Top Of The Pops in the late 80s. Unlike a lot of previous videos where a lot was left up to imagination, ‘Robot Rock’ saw the Frenchmen clearly mark for the viewer the audio change they were undertaking, with Thomas Bangalter playing a double-neck guitar.
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'The Prime Time Of Your Life'
This is perhaps the most visually shocking video from the pair, and represented the change in sound they took on their third album 'Human After All'. Gone was their traditional French house sound, as they adopted a more minimalistic approach with heavier guitars and electronics. The video was directed by Tony Gardner, a special effects makeup artist whose daughter also played the lead role. The young girl struggles to accept her impending fate as she sees all adults as skeletons. Rather than waiting to age, she enters her bathroom where she strips her own skin revealing her muscles underneath. Just before death she recognises adults no longer as skeletons, implying her fears of ageing and a sense of body dysmorphia. The intensely powerful drum outro coupled with a visual of her parents finding her on the floor leaves a perturbing ending for the viewer.
‘Derezzed’ was a song taken from the Disney movie Tron: Legacy which was scored by the French pair. A notable sonic departure from their most recognised work, the soundtrack for the film chose to focus more on orchestral elements than their previous synth-led sound. The music video was quite simplistic, with an obvious nod to the film itself with the setting being within a virtual reality arcade game. Bangalter and de Homem-Christo enter the game where they joust in light cycles in the grid. Watched by an unknown programme, Prog 2 wins the joust, before being revealed to be Tron character Quorra, played by Olivia Wilde.
Moving towards the darker side of Daft Punk’s visual aesthetic, ‘Technologic’ was the third video the pair directed themselves. Similar to ‘Robot Rock,’ the androids are playing guitars on stage. Perched in front of the stage is a disturbing robot baby with no skin but human teeth. Throughout the video the baby chants the lyrics and seems to direct the actions of the pair on the stage. The robot was created by Tony Gardner who also wrote and directed the even more deranged video for ‘The Prime Time of your Life’ and is said to have been the same puppet used in the black comedy The Seed of Chucky the previous year. The pyramid stage the duo perform on is also similar to the design they used for their dazzling Alive tour in 2006/07.
The lead single taken from Daft Punk’s fourth and final album 'Random Access Memories', ‘Get Lucky’ is a disco track that features the collaborative efforts of Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers. It was certified as diamond by the SNEP in France and reached number 2 in the Billboard top 100. Quoted as Williams as representing sexual chemistry and the joy of connecting with someone, the track was a departure from the more experimental, darker beats that Daft Punk explored in the mid-noughties. The video sees the artists performing on a blacked-out stage as a four-piece, with de Homem-Christo and Bangalter returning to their positions seen in ‘Robot Rock’ of playing guitar and drums. Sleek, shiny suits, shimmering disco balls and a resplendent shot silhouetting the four against a warm sunset, this was Daft Punk announcing a new hold over pop culture.
Featuring the vocals of The Strokes’ frontman Julian Casablancas, ‘Instant Crush’ was the fourth single from their critically-received fourth album. Heavily synthesised and with Casablancas’ voice fed through a vocoder, the track is a bouncy, funk-driven slice of 21st century pop. The video was directed by Warren Fu and the costumes and models were designed by Tony Gardner as he collaborated with Daft Punk for a third time. The video tells the story of two wax models – a French soldier bearing the appearance of Casablancas and a maid – in a museum who fall in love. After seeing a family, the soldier gets a vision of the two models standing in the centre of the hall together. Over time the models get replaced and put into storage, where they stand alone. A fire breaks out causing them to fall to the floor together, where they hold hands, staring into each other’s eyes as they begin to melt.
Daft Punk wouldn’t be Daft Punk if they didn’t announce their split with a certain degree of mystery. On the day of their break-up a video entitled ‘Epilogue’ was released, containing footage from the ending of their 2006 film Electroma. The two robots have a long period of reflection before saying goodbye. One turns around revealing a switch on its back before the other reluctantly initiates a timer that counts down before detonating. The latter part of the video features the music to their track ‘Touch’ featuring the vocals of Paul Williams playing over a sunset while the dates of their partnership flash up on the screen. Even at the end, the pair kept their cryptic spark alive, with many wondering if they had planned this ending ever since the original film fifteen years earlier.
Paddy Edrich is a freelance journalist. Follow him on Twitter here
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