Aside from having one of the most awesome health care systems in the world, the Louvre, and an overall sense of sophistication, France is responsible for Daft Punk's entrance into the world and the subsequent rebirth of a limitless club culture. Sure, we've got R. Kelly and Slayer, both of whom are as culturally relevant as the Paris duo, but unlike the aforementioned American icons, Daft Punk have scaled an aesthetic fence, resuscitating what many considered a moribund French music scene in a dynamic way that exceeds tabloids and all things shredding.
With or without their now-infamous mystique as masked robots, Daft Punk's Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo have dominated dance floors with dynamic robohouse releases like 1997's Homework, 2001's Discovery, and 2005's Human after All (all Virgin), which murdered charts in the United Kingdom and France while assaulting those in the States. But it's not the grinding electropower of "Da Funk" that's entirely responsible for the group's forefront standing it's all about the Daft Punk vision.
In a genre brimming with predictable dance floor restrictions (i.e., the same four synth sounds and 120 bpm repetitions) and an overwhelming need to crowd-please, Daft Punk have never followed 4/4 guidelines or era-aligned clichés. After an intense bidding war, signing with Virgin, and hitting megastatus with Discovery, the duo immediately began realizing their ambitions, working with Japanese animation kingpin Leiji Matsumoto for the $4 million<\d>budgeted operatic film Interstella 5555. Released in 2003, Interstella revolves around a "discovered" robot band taken hostage in space, with a separate episode for each Discovery track. Both MTV and Cartoon Network hosted the first few episodes, and many critics heralded the band for its satirical take on the entertainment industry.
Without supporting Human after All with a series of elaborate tour dates, the duo spent time prepping another cinematic addition to their creative canon and directed Electroma, a 70-minute silent-film opus. Based on the story of two robots driving through a desert in a 1987 Ferrari on a quest to become human, the film has already been compared to endeavors like Matthew Barney's Cremaster Cycle. Electroma is far from a low-budget, art-school project, though: the futuristic costumes, for example, were dreamed up by Hedi Slimane.
In typical Daft Punk fashion, Bangalter and Homem-Christo maintained their sacred anonymity by choosing to direct the film and hire actors to live the robot dream. For the soundtrack, the duo also enlisted France's psych tastemaker Sebastien Tellier and selected some moody hymns by Brian Eno and Curtis Mayfield, to name a couple. There have been several midnight screenings at clubs across the globe one at Mezzanine is forthcoming and the DVD will be released in August by Aztec International/Vice.
Speaking of which, Daft Punk have also earned a place in electrohouse history with their ties to the new French revolution namely, Ed Banger Records and affiliates like the aforementioned Vice. Founded by production monolith and Daft Punk manager Pedro Winter, a.k.a. Busy P, the label has become synonymous with the gritty analog sound that Daft Punk carved into dance culture. Including many young French producers like Sebastian, Justice, Mr. Oizo, and Feadz most of whom are barely old enough to legally get hammered at a stateside club Ed Banger has earned its place at the top of the in-demand live-act pyramid, and its crew isn't tied to serving out bangers exclusively either. Oizo recently directed the forthcoming film Steak, which was scored by Sebastian, Tellier, and himself.
Then there's Kitsuné Music, another Paris label, which is nestled between Ed Banger and the Rapture on the list of Daft Punk's top MySpace friends, a lofty position for those engaged in the cybernetworking circuit. Acts like Digitalism, Crystal Castles, and Riot in Belgium have earned near-cult status through Kitsuné and its heavily rotated compilation series.
With the exception of a few Coachella dates and one-offs, Daft Punk haven't officially toured since supporting Homework in 1997, and now the duo are tearing through the States prior to Electroma's launch. Playing select arena dates, the duo are performing alongside their well-groomed legion of the new French crooners, including Kavinsky, Sebastian, and the Rapture. Most of the dates are already sold out, but in homage to Daft Punk's legacy, the James Friedman<\d> and the Rapture<\d>owned Throne of Blood imprint is throwing a series of after-parties including said supporting acts no Daft Punk, sorry in clubs rather than in enormous amphitheaters.
Whether or not Daft Punk will eventually start building sculptures, go to medical school, or return to the realm of everyday club crushing remains unknown, but their place in dance culture is as solid as Bangalter and Homem-Christo's impenetrable robot helmets.*
Fri/27, 8 p.m., $48.50
UC Berkeley, Gayley Road, Berk.