From iconic "Homework" clips to dialogue-free abstract films, check out this breakdown of Daft Punk's visual history.
"Interstella" also demonstrated the increasingly big-picture direction that Daft Punk was moving in with their albums. "Homework" may have been a collection of singles, but "Discovery" most certainly was not -- tracks bled into one another with obvious care and thoughtfulness, with the album ebbing and flowing in such a dramatically satisfying manner that it was frequently referred to as a "concept album." Nonetheless, the idea that "Discovery" should eventually receive full motion-picture accompaniment was hardly surprising, and like the album, "Interstella" works much better experienced in full, rather than parceled out into individual videos or singles.
PART III: ROBOT ROCK
It would have been hard to get much more ambitious with their next project than the duo was with the "Discovery" and its accompanying "Interstella," both of which seemed like the duo spent every hour of the four years since "Homework" plotting for. Indeed, with third album "Human After All," Daft Punk didn't even try. The album was famously created in just a six-week window, primarily using just a couple of guitars and a drum machine, devised partly as a response to the breathtaking scope and lush productions of "Discovery." The final album was certainly a step back from that, and many fans struggled to adapt to the duo's new sound -- a rawer, even further-dehumanized brand of electro-funk that, for a group coming off one of the most immaculate-sounding LPs of the 21st century, bordered on being lo-fi.
The new set of music videos that came with "Human After All" further reflected this about-face turn in direction. The group returned to live-action for the "Human" clips, but did not enlist a director dream team as they had with "Homework," instead directing two of the videos themselves and passing one off to longtime collaborator Tony Gardner. Also in contrast with the "Homework" videos, the "Human" set comes off as low-budget and somewhat low-concept: first single "Robot Rock" is just the duo, in full robot gear, rocking out to the song in a retro performance clip, while "Technologic" also features the duo, performing in a Duran Duran-like video set, as a sort of baby robot doll recites the song's lyrics behind them. Only "The Prime Time of Your Life" has any real kind of narrative to it, where a normal-looking girl who seemingly exists in a world of skeletons decides to strip off her skin... but even that video has a fuzzy, low-quality look to it, and is mostly set in one single room.
The "Human After All" videos also have the effect of reflecting some of the album's creepier, more purposefully soulless qualities. The baby doll in "Technologic" is an extremely unsettling creation, obviously robotic but with human gums and teeth. The resolution of "Prime Time" -- in which the girl sheds her flesh, possibly killing herself in the process, only for it to be revealed that she was delusional about the skeletons all along -- is absolutely horrifying, a far cry from the cute dance numbers and stories about dog-men of the first album's videos. Even "Robot Rock," an innocuous performance clip, becomes decidedly tiring and semi-depressing by video's end. It was a new direction for Daft Punk, and an arguably rewarding one for those who could wrap their heads around it. But it's not surprising that it turned a lot of people off.
PART IV: DEREZZED
Daft Punk took its longest album gap yet in between "Human After All" and fourth album "Random Access Memories," but they were not completely removed from experimenting with music, and especially video, over this time. Most notably, the duo worked on both sides of film scoring, first providing the film for "Electroma," a dialogue-less, snail-paced, abstract road movie, in which the two Daft Punk robots attempt to become human and then attempt to self-destruct, scored with music by artists like Todd Rundgren and Brian Eno. Then, the duo did their first feature-film scoring work, providing the music for the Disney release of "TRON: Legacy," mostly forgoing their own musical trademarks for a more traditional orchestral soundtrack. Ironically, the vivid, futuristic glow-in-the-dark visuals for "TRON: Legacy" were much closer to what one would expect from a Daft Punk movie than those of the stark, minimalist "Electroma," but both seemed to indulge the duo's thematic fascinations with the blurred lines of reality, humanity and identity.
However, as rich as Daft Punk's visual history has been, it seems to have come to an odd impasse with the release of "Random Access Memories." As incredible an amount of hype as the album has had, the promotion for it has been entirely about the music -- mostly the collaborators who worked with Daft Punk on the album, listed in a trailer premiered at this year's Coachella Festival, and then interviewed about themselves, the album and the Robots in a series of leaked videos. There have been no official music videos, no live appearances (and none announced for the immediate future), nothing but a one-minute clip of the duo performing lead single "Get Lucky" with collaborators Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers that aired during an "SNL" ad -- though the demand for Daft Punk videos is so high that some enterprising sorts have re-cut that brief amount of footage into a full-length clip for the song, some of which have garnered 400,000 YouTube views.
Really though, it wouldn't be totally shocking if Daft Punk took this album off from visuals altogether. The entire marketing campaign behind "Random Access Memories" has been geared around the album's back-to-basics qualities, getting at the essence of dance music (in the classic, Giorgio Moroder-era disco sense) without modern-day trappings. Indeed, many of the songs on the album sound like they easily could have been recorded before MTV's 1981 debut. Pharrell has already talked up the inherently visual qualities of the music on "Memories," saying “It’s beyond 3D. It’s like 4D. It’s in your mind. You don’t need MDMA for this music. Cause the music is so incredibly vivid."
Perhaps this is Daft Punk's attempt to prove that their music requires no imagery beyond that conjured in the head of the listeners. Such a transition would be somewhat jarring for the duo, given how important visuals have been for them throughout their career, but they've done so much with audio-visual synchronization already -- videos, live spectacles, animated movies, scores, live-action films -- that maybe the biggest challenge for them now is doing it with no visuals at all. Or perhaps by the end of the week, they'll announce that they're starring in their own Broadway musical based on "Random Access Memories." With Daft Punk, nothing is ever all that surprising.