Can Robots Make Good Music?

Daft Punk

Since my first contributions to the Weekly Music Commentary, I found that my reading increased greatly. Not just overall reading, but reading about the music industry and developments of artists within their record companies.  During the span of a month I may read information about a variety of artists before deciding upon a particular feature. Such is the case with this weeks’ featured artist: Daft Punk.

I recall during my research for information needed for other features, I kept seeing the name Daft Punk pop up every day. Strangely, I knew nothing of the French duo of Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter or their music. Therefore, what you are currently reading is the result of very recent research. Obviously the group is super hot and popular, and that meant it was easy to get access to their music. I made the investment and included their current album Random Access Memories on my MP3 player. I must tell you that this is one of the best albums of music I’ve heard this year. Not really a big fan of electronic music, I lack the inside knowledge to make insightful comments about the genre. However, I do know house and disco music, with both styles being the backdrop of Daft Punk music…. among other musical styles.

Another factor that speaks volumes about Daft Punk music is the musicians who collaborated with the duo throughout the years and on the current album. The major summer hit Get Lucky features work from Pharrell Williams and Chic front man and guitarist Nile Rodgers. Veteran studio bass player Nathan East also made his contribution to the project. Random Access Memories also enjoyed collaboration from long time veteran singer/songwriter Paul Williams and master record producer Giorgio Moroder. The people who worked with the duo on this album are a stamp of musical authenticity in the crowded world of musical recordings. After hearing their music, and reading about their musical history and work on current album Random Access Memories, the only thing left was to see the duo. Interestingly, I found that they wore costumes – appearing in robot masks in all public appearances.

I understood that their genre of choice was electronic house music, and that possibly lead to the robot appearances. I still wanted to learn a little more about how they chose this particular visual aspect of their art. In their more visible Discovery years, they appeared wearing robotic headgear and metallic gloves for publicity photo shoots, interviews, live shows and music videos. Thomas Bangalter once stated, “We did not choose to become robots. There was an accident in our studio. We were working on our sampler, and at exactly 9:09 am on September 9, 1999, it exploded. When we regained consciousness, we discovered that we had become robots.”

Why do they continue to don the robot masks and not seek the fame and notoriety of their contemporaries?  Bangalter later stated that the costumes were initially the result of shyness. “But then it became exciting from the audiences’ point of view. It’s the idea of being an average guy with some kind of superpower.” When asked whether the duo expressed themselves differently within the robotic suits, Bangalter stated “No, we don’t need to. It’s not about having inhibitions. It’s more like an advanced version of glam, where it’s definitely not you.” Reading the Daft Punk philosophy helped me to think about some of the aspects of the music business that complicates the creative process. The “business” demands more from the artist than just good music; especially in our time of visual importance. In a rare interview, Bangalter was asked if stardom can be avoided. Here is how he answered:

“Yes. I think people understand what we are doing. I know many people who maybe like the way we are handling things. People understand that you don’t need to be on the covers of magazines with your face to make good music. Painters or other artists, you don’t know them but you know what they are doing. We are very happy that the concept in itself is becoming famous. In France, you speak of Daft Punk and I’m sure millions of people have heard it, but less than a few thousand people know our face—which is the thing we’re into. We control it, but it’s not us physically, our persons. We don’t want to run into people who are the same age as us, shaking our hand and saying, ‘Can I have your autograph?’ because we think we’re exactly like them. Even girls, they can fall in love with your music, but not with you. You don’t always have to compromise yourself to be successful. The playing with masks is just to make it funnier. Pictures can be boring. We don’t want all the rock n’ roll poses and attitudes—they are completely stupid and ridiculous today.”

I think because the duo took this stand early on in their development, it has helped them to endure and enjoy musical success without some of the pitfalls of fame. Can robots make good music? Definitely so, and the robots Daft Punk have made good music for years. As long as they continue to be robots, they will bring us good music for many more years.

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