Throwback: Daft Punk - Discovery (2001)
Listening to Daft Punk’s album Discovery was my go-to when I needed to get pumped up before going out. My friends and I would play it on vinyl (oooh so cool) and dance way too hard (like usual). Daft Punk was really my introduction to house music, and although I haven’t explored too deeply into the genre, it has a place in my heart. Daft Punk isn’t simply just house music, however. They were part of a movement called French House that used samples of Disco hits from the 70s and 80s. The beat is usually straight and repetitive and the samples are manipulated and made to sound robotic. It’s no wonder that they always wear those helmets, giving the illusion that they themselves are robots.
Discovery was released in 2001, but as I listen to it today, it still sounds relevant. They truly were able to accomplish a sound that will stand the test of time. Electronic and house music, although it has evolved in some marvelous ways, really hasn’t strayed too far from the sounds of Discovery. Even with their most recent release, Random Access Memories in 2013, they were able to reach a wider audience and win Album of the Year at the Grammy’s. Granted, that album has a significantly different approach to it, but there’s still that classic Daft Punk brilliance.
The first track on Discovery, and one of their biggest hits, “One More Time,” features Romanthony singing over and over “musics got me feeling so free, we’re gonna celebrate, celebrate and dance so free.” From the start of the album, you’re given a soundtrack to dance freely to. You can really hear the disco and funk influence in some of the melodies, but it’s disguised under technological, futuristic, machine-like sounds. When I learned that “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” samples the song “Cola Bottle Baby” by Edwin Birdsong, I appreciated even more the art of sampling. It’s funny to think that a lot of people actually know the Daft Punk song because Kanye West sampled it in his own version of “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.”
The songs are composed to perfection, almost as if it was computed to be that way. The layers build on each other strategically, making a repetitive sample take on a whole new life. For me, the best example of this is in their song “Superheroes” where the sample literally repeats “something’s in the air” over and over again for 3:57. It reminds me of Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe paintings. You’re looking at the same thing on repeat, but it’s slightly manipulated each time. Daft Punk seems to approach music with more than just feeling, but also logic and analytics.
Some people might question the authenticity and musicianship of Daft Punk’s music because of their heavy reliance on electronic sounds. However, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo actually uses guitar when writing, which is notable in songs like “Aerodynamic” and “Something About Us”; both of which have heavily manipulated guitar-like solos, referencing classic rock. Also, playing a synthesizer and creating different unique sounds is a challenging and technical task. Serious study and dedication goes into learning how to manipulate sounds to create whatever you can imagine. The possibilities are endless in electronic music, and Daft Punk is one of the greatest displays of that. Listen to the tracks “Digital Love”, “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”, and the instrumental track “Short Circuit” and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
To accompany the album, Daft Punk created an animated film entitled Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem, under the visual supervision of Leiji Matsumoto. It involves a band from another planet that gets kidnapped, brainwashed, and turned into a money-making machine on Earth. The story is told entirely through the songs on the album and there is no actual dialogue from the characters. It merges science fiction with the music industry and is a wonderful display of the ability that music has to tell a story.
Daft Punk has a perfect mix of aggressive dance hits and sad, slow, undulating instrumentals. They use samples, but also use their own vocals - digitized to an extreme - making them sound robotic. The synths go from spacey, to disco, to classic rock, to electronic. They have such a broad range and don’t limit themselves to a specific set of rules. Discovery will always be one of my favorite albums because it caused me to discover a whole new world of music.
by Amber Harris