The usual measure of Gallic reserve isn’t enough for Thomas Bangalter and Guy — Manuel de Homem-Christo — the two Parisian mavericks behind Daft Punk. The dance/ pop duo’s visual modus operandi involves the donning of masks and costumes to hide their identities.
“We like to play with fiction and reality,” Bangalter explains. “Dividing the public image from the private one is a very personal statement. But by wearing masks in the past and being robots now, we believe people actually see more of our personalities through the music we create.”
Despite this manifesto, Daft Punk has been catering to excited global music pundits (sans get-up) via days of back-to-back interviews on behalf of “Discovery,” the duo’s first studio effort since 1996’s influential “Homework” (which earned a Grammy nomination for the single “Around The World”). Due from Virgin March 12 internationally, “Discovery” will see a U.S. release the following day.
For “Homework,” the Daft Punk duo wore such gear as oversized, exaggerated dog masks. “Discovery” sees the pair take a cue from electro-dance pioneers Kraftwerk, as their drag has evolved into robotic wear replete with programmable masks.
Youthful hunger for experimentation is the common denominator of “Homework” and “Discovery.” Like boys delving into a chemistry set, Bangalter and de Homem-Christo have turned their studio into a groove laboratory, where each track is the product of some wild concoction of disparate ingredients.
Examine “Digital Love,” which mixes elements of new wave (e.g., the Buggles’ “Video Killed The Radio Star”) and jazz/funk (sampling George Duke’s “I Love You More”) into a rhythm soup of filtered disco loops. The downtempo love song “Something About Us” intertwines ’70s wah-wah effects, ’50s lounge rhythms, and the processed vocals of Bangalter and de Homem-Christo. “Aerodynamic” is awash in metallic guitar licks, a rubbery, Chic-hewn bassline, and austere synth beats à la Giorgio Moroder. On “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” (which borrows from Edwin Birdsong’s “Cola Bottle Baby”), the act delivers an electro-leaning burst of workout aggression.
American underground club veterans Romanthony and Todd Edwards are the featured vocalists/co-producers on “Too Long” and “Face To Face,” respectively. Romanthony also guests on the album’s hit lead single, “One More Time.”
Along with spending two weeks atop Billboard’s Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart, “One More Time” debuted at No. 1 on singles charts in France, Italy, Portugal, and Canada. In the U.S., Virgin issued “One More Time” last December, taking it in mid-January to top-40, modern rock, and rhythm radio. Outlets from WKTU New York and WPOW Miami to KYLD San Francisco and KTFM San Antonio have championed the disco-charged track. To date, the single has sold 27,000 units in the U.S., according to SoundScan. (“Homework” has scanned 489,000 units in the U.S.; worldwide, the total equals 2 million, reports Virgin.)
The single’s momentum could pick up if the video for “One More Time,” lensed by 70-year-old Japanese anga/anime artist Leiji Matsumoto, falls into rotation at MTV.
In lieu of touring, Daft Punk will focus its energy on its Internet music project, Daft Club, which — together with Virgin, Zomba Music, and digital-rights management company InterTrust Technologies — it introduced at the MIDEM trade fair in Cannes. The artist-led and label-approved Daft Club (accessible via a password-protected software application included in all “Discovery” CDs) allows fans to become members of the act’s online club, with access to free visuals and unreleased tracks.
“It’s our way of rewarding people who buy the CD,” Bangalter says. “We see it as a constructive and positive way to offset Napster. It’s profitable for everyone. Retailers don’t lose out, because they’re selling the CDs. And because a transaction has occurred, more value is added to the music online. We’re happy that our label had the willpower and vision to join us in breaking the rules of yesterday. It’s reassuring to know that minds remain open.”
At this, Virgin Music Group worldwide vice chairman Nancy Berry says, “It’s all very exciting. Thomas and Guy are incredibly proactive in coming up with new, innovative ideas, both musically and in the world of new media. At the end of the day, it really is about discovery.