It’s been a tough couple of days for the ever-changing landscape of music.
Maybe you’re not familiar with the French duo with the tongue-in-cheek name Daft Punk, and maybe you didn’t know that after almost 30 years of reshaping concepts of modern music, they bowed out Monday and called it quits.
Maybe you don’t know anything about them. But if you do, you know why they matter — and why they matter to me.
Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, a pair of students in Paris, tried to write and perform 90s music together in 1992. A scathing review called their efforts “daft, punky trash,” writing them off as just another pair of posers, irrelevant to the music of the day.
So instead, they wrote the future.
Snipping tape and splicing scraps of audio, “Daft Punk” resculpted the entirety of dance music. Transforming simple, repeated lines of audio and two- to three-second clips of songs from decades prior, they created novel sounds and new structures in which to arrange them.
Prior to college, I’d only ever heard one thing like them in my dad’s collection of music — the Edgar Winters Group’s “Frankenstein” from 1972, which was also created by splicing dozens of clips of their work together into something new, totally divergent from their usual work. It was a surprisingly popular anomaly, one that — when added to the Electric Light Orchestra’s habit of inventing new digital instruments as they went — began to tell me what I really wanted to hear when I got to pick the music.
I went to college in 2006. Before that point, I’d been mostly home-schooled, so I’d only heard music my parents had regularly listened to, a few songs nicked from our dial-up internet, and the country/Western music of the 90s/2000s on my car radio. Since that was the only radio station I could get at my house or in my car, that combination of sounds was, to me, what music sounded like. Plus some Mongolian long-song, because my mother is as much a nerd as I am, just in a different direction. And it’s because of her copy of the vinyl album “Switched-On Bach” that I knew what Moog synthesizers sounded like, so…
Finding Daft Punk on my college’s intra-dormitory network reshaped my audioscape for the next decade and change. People who’d been making music since before I was even 5 years old burned their beats into my mind, invigorated my daily runs around campus, and sent me out looking for more.
I moved on to discover every high-octane piece of electronic music on offer. If you could hear it at a roller-skating rink when kids weren’t allowed on the floor, I was a fan. Finnish producer Darude’s iconic “Sandstorm” with its unrelenting instrumentals? Fantastic. Britain’s “Happy Hardcore” movement with its rapid synthesizers and frenetic piano jams? That was my sound.
Daft Punk even animated an entire movie-length production, “Interstella 5555,” with lyrically simple and rhythm-focused songs adding depth to visuals to tell a story of pain and loss, a fight against exploitation and greed, and a triumphant return to loved ones.
Daft Punk inspired and shaped dozens of artists and creations over their shared career, from Kanye West, to Pharell Williams, to creating the entire soundtrack for Disney’s “Tron” sequel, “Tron: Legacy.” They showed me a whole world of music, outside the confines of American pop and country, outside of contemporary religious offerings, and even outside what I thought was possible.
Because they sounded like the future.
So while the present is a bit rough, and I’ll always regret not seeing them in concert, the future’s brighter for having had Daft Punk shaping it.
Mitchell Bonds is a giant nerd and a copy editor/page designer for West Hawaii Today.