Settling back into their studio, the duo took a risk on nostalgia, setting forth to record a disco-inspired album called Discovery. I once heard a rumor they wrote the song “One More Time” and then sat on it for two years, waiting to see if it sounded “timeless.” During this time, they concocted a cool story about a studio explosion that left them disfigured and close to death.
“We did not choose to become robots," Bangalter is reported to have said. "We were working on our sampler, and at exactly 9:09 a.m. on September 9, 1999, it exploded. When we regained consciousness, we discovered that we had become robots." From then on, they appeared in full body suits, topped with light-up helmets that change ever so slightly for each musical era, setting a new (and subsequently much-followed) standard for producer anonymity in the process.
Discovery came out in 2001, a weird, sleek, and at times borderline-cheesy amalgamation of pounding 4/4 beats, robo-Van Halen guitar shreds and extraterrestrial wah-wah'd funk. It was far from an expected sound for the era, but it did become a global hit. “One More Time” even landed on the Billboard Hot 100, at No. 61.
People imagine that Daft Punk were always beloved international icons, but that's because they see them through a modern lens. Being into Daft Punk and even “dance music” in the early 2000s made you a pretty weird kid. Joke was on the rest of the world, because the weird kids all remember that night in 2001 when Cartoon Network's Toonami played the first four music videos from Daft Punk's animated feature film Interstellar 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem.
Directed by Kazuhisa Takenouchi and produced by the iconic anime studio Toei Animation (Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball), the film sets every note of Discovery to a narrative. An alien band is abducted by an evil force, brainwashed and enslaved to become pop idols. It does not paint a pretty picture of the music industry, and it is in fact amazing.
From there came Daft's most underrated, and in some ways, their most important release. Human After All was written and recorded in six weeks, a minimalist exploration of humanist themes and emotional depth. By design, it's the most robotic sounding thing Daft Punk ever created, and the themes of its austere lyrics tackle love and mindfulness, being in the present moment, commercialism, industry and, literally “Emotion.”