Reporting Scott T. Sterling
The seeds of Daft Punk’s hype-redefining fourth album, Random Access Memories, were effectively planted on the band’s 1997 full-length debut, Homework. Featuring hits “Da Funk” and “Around the World,” the album’s gatefold sleeve features an image that appears to be a teenager’s desk. Among the transistor radio, Playboy, audiophile magazines and Iron Man comic book lurks a copy of “Stage Fright,” the 1981 single by disco pioneers, Chic.
It was Chic guitarist and producer Nile Rodgers’ January blog announcement of his Daft Punk collaboration that kicked off a public frenzy that made Random Access Memories the most talked-about album of 2013.
That Homework gatefold image also features a poster for a 1976 KISS concert at New Jersey’s Roosevelt Stadium. This nod, though small, serves as a clue to what Daft Punk could become – a precursor to their evolution from fresh-faced Frenchmen spinning records in a Wisconsin field in 1996 to the mysterious, helmeted robots who are likely to own the year in terms of musical conversation. It’s about being everywhere without being seen.
Daft Punk have quite successfully captured the imagination of not just the music world but the pop culture public at large, and done so in a way that would’ve surely impressed the late Bill Aucoin, legendary manager of KISS during their ‘70s heyday, who’s credited with elevating the band’s commercial status with inventive and relentless marketing moves. Where KISS utilized a bombastic stage show and their larger-than-life characters to launch everything from made-for-TV movies to comic books (which boasted band members’ blood in the ink), Daft Punk have carved their own similar but still unique path to cultural ubiquity.
Despite a successful career as dance music producers with albums like the revered 2001 release, Discovery, and the much-maligned but fruitful Human After All from 2005, Daft Punk’s profile exploded in 2006 with a single performance at Coachella 2006. It was in the California desert that the robot duo debuted their now legendary Alive 2006/2007 tour, with the band performing in the heart of a giant, LED pyramid. Mixing tracks from all three of their studio albums into concert mega-mixes, the shows have taken on a mythological status, with dubstep superstar Skrillex crediting the L.A. date of that tour for being a major influence on him even making electronic music.
While not performing live since a string of Australian dates in December 2007 to end the Alive 2006/2007 tour, the duo maintained their quietly increasing public profile with a series of finely-tuned collaborations that reached beyond just the music world. They teamed up with Kanye West to perform his song “Stronger,” which samples Daft Punk’s 2001 single, “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger,” during the 2008 GRAMMYs, the duo’s first live TV performance. For the 2010 World Cup, the band was featured in a splashy Adidas commercial that plunked them into the famous Star Wars cantina scene, sharing screen time with characters Han Solo, R2D2 and C-3PO as well as Snoop Dog, Liam Gallagher, Ian Brown of the Stone Roses and more. 2010 was the same year Daft Punk was tapped to compose the score to Disney film Tron:Legacy, as well as appear in the movie.
From branded Coca-Cola bottles to designing a t-shirt for Playboy, Daft Punk’s subtle assimilation into pop culture culminated with the band signing to Columbia Records to launch the Random Access Memories campaign that’s still in motion.