29 May, 2013
“What the hell is this?”
Anisa isn’t impressed. I smile at her.
“Just… give it a moment,” I placate.
I had fallen out of love with Daft Punk after their first record. Homework was a solid album, and fit in nicely with my DJ Shadow-dominated time as a student. Homework didn’t quite have staying power for me, though: I found it overindulgent (I maintain that Around the World is just over seven minutes too long), and Teachers, while clever and heart-felt, just doesn’t belong anywhere other than at the end of an album.
For all its flaws, though, Homework enjoyed some regular eartime, even if it would find itself mercilessly pruned and cherry-picked by skip buttons. Beyond Homework, I didn’t follow Daft Punk.
That changed when the Tron: Legacy soundtrack hit. That was a masterpiece, and it was hard to believe the level of musicality on display. These were the guys who managed to scam “Robot Rock” (no, I’m not linking that piece of crap up for you) into the charts, and here they are producing works of pure beauty.
I was getting interested again.
Then the hype started to build, and I saw the internet divide opinion on Get Lucky. At first blush, nobody could even agree on whether the leak was the real deal. There was enough derision that I lost interest again almost immediately, and once more Daft Punk dropped off my radar.
I’m sure the pair lost some serious sleep over that shit.
So the album launch lurches around and passes on by and I don’t really pay much attention, till finally I see enough people hating on it on twitter that I crack. “Fuck it,” I think. “I like rubbernecking a trainwreck as much as the next white westerner. Let’s bring this shit on.”
So I cue up the opener and dare the Punks to make good on their impossible, robot-voiced promise to Give Life Back to Music. The opening stabs roll my eyes for me, and I brace myself for some horrendous robot-funk-fest, laden with drops and stutters and other modern tropes, like Justice but without all the restraint. And then…
I still can’t listen to that opening track without a huge grin ripping its way on to my face. Here’s a track that knows precisely what it’s doing. It’s perfectly tuned to do one thing, and that’s to make you feel every beat, every punch, every soul-stopping moment of its swagger.
Daft Punk has managed the impossible with this record: they’ve killed post-modernism.
Everything about this record predicts a self-indulgent mess hiding behind the shit-shield called Irony. In less deft hands, this record would have been swallowed by the endless torrent of “check out how scratched up and shitty I can make my $600 state-of-the-art-camera-phone’s photos look!” retro-porn that fills our overprivileged world with increasing rabidity.
Not ten minutes from the opening, Daft Punk wheels out Giorgio. On paper, this reads like a desperate attempt to cash in on an ageing legend’s low pension funds in exchange for some bragging rights, and maybe a self-important stab at credibility.
And yet, here we have a track carved almost entirely from solid, freshly quarried virtuosity. The pair weave beats and clicks and strings and basslines and swirly Dr Who effects around Giorgio’s inspiring narrative: an origin story with the music as its soundtrack. Giorgio talks with simple humility about his desire to create “a sound of the future”.
“Wait a second!” he says, and it suddenly hits you that Daft Punk has delivered—is actually delivering, right now, into your very ears!—on that desire.
And this is where it gets interesting, because the album channels all the most futuristic sounds from the 70s and and 80s, but does so with neither credulity nor sarcasm. It’s a record that takes those sounds, and blends them with everything that has been learned about the art of producing synthesised music in the intervening decades.
This is no sneering teenager, delighting in the ridicule of its parents, jaws dripping with cynicism. Neither is it a shameless graverobber, trawling the depths of the past to produce something we can analyse and navel-gaze into some sort of faux-academic credibility.
No, this is the moment when electronic music matured. When it became able to look its parents in the eye and wonder at how they ever put up with his childish antics, while simultaneously realising that it doesn’t have to be them to be respected by them.
Daft Punk has helped prove that this genre has nothing to prove any more, and that “what it means” no longer matters so much as “how it feels”.
“Okay,” Anisa admits, after the suggested moment, “this is pretty amazing.”
There we go.