Watching Daft Punk collaborate with Kanye West at the Grammys underlined their many achievements. How did two faceless musicians dressed as robots make electronic music one of the most exciting live attractions on earth?
The science-fiction freakiness of Daft Punk's live show cannot be understated. It's more like an alien invasion than a rock'n'roll concert. When I saw them at Coachella in 2006, they stole the show outright. Wearing robotic helmets and head-to-toe black leather, they appear from inside a glowing Illuminatus-style pyramid and conjure up a hallucinatory light show so intense it leaves the audience all but gene-altered.
Though they commemorated their live show in an album (the brilliant Alive 2007), Daft Punk have resisted the mandatory live DVD because their fans have captured the show so extensively on YouTube, feeling this fan-made documentation is more compelling than anything they'd make themselves. It's a very Daft Punk decision.
Since their beginnings with the independent Glaswegian dance label Soma, they have always maintained complete control. Daft Punk have taken the lessons learned from the punk rock and dance worlds and applied them to their major label deal with Virgin. They license the tracks and have sole responsibility for their image, their sound and what they release.
When Justice released their album last year, it was practically a tribute to the Daft Punk sound. When Daft Punk were asked if they were bothered by the clone act they said they weren't. Their manifesto was to have electronic music accepted at a mainstream level and they were happy that they not only achieved it but had a massive influence on others. You can point to other dance acts such as Basic Channel, Luomo, Theorem, Supermayer and Ricardo Villalobos who progressed and experimented with dance music: in any given music genre, there will be artists in the underground pushing things further. What Daft Punk have done is make cutting-edge electronic music for the masses. Eleven years after the release of Homework you could arguably say that Daft Punk is the only band left out of that mid-90s wave of electronic music that is still cracking the mainstream. Critically, it has not been an easy ride. All their albums after Homework have been love or hate affairs. Even their schedule is interesting: the four years to follow up Homework with Discovery, then waiting four years to follow that up with Human After All, an album which was recorded and mixed in just six weeks.
The Daft Punk Live Revue and Alive 2007 to me suggest another manifesto: they want to prove that rock'n'roll is not the only music form that you can take to the live stage convincingly. Rockists may point out that even Daft Punk recognise what they do isn't traditional rock'n'roll so Alive 2007 couldn't possible succeed as an exciting live document. Daft Punk even refer to themselves as the people who run the Daft Punk machine and party but that still doesn't detract from the warm quality of everything they touch. Since the beginning of Daft Punk, both Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo have been obsessed with Brian Wilson and the idea that music can make you feel loved. An equally strong fascination with Primal Scream's Screamadelica means that they combine the precision of electronic music with the humanity of rock.
The idea of an electronic act releasing a live album is funny. Live albums are generally tedious - you might hear the crashing drum solo that elongates a song, or an audience member shouting "woo!" or the cover song that they drag out for the encore that has been recorded for the completist. I can barely think of more than five live albums that are any good, but I know that Live 2007 is up there. File it alongside the Rolling Stones Love You Live, Neil Young's Weld and Spiritualized Live at the Royal Albert Hall.
Reproduced by Kind Permission of Alan McGee