Daft Punk

THIS interview was based around a phoner interview with Guy-Manuel de Honem-Christo about Daft Punk’s Electroma film. It ran in Flux Magazine in October, 2007.

* * *

IT’S time for my big question.

What’s your view on the future relationship of technology and humanity? On one hand we’re moving towards artificial intelligence, where machines are able to learn things and on the other, humanity seems to be losing the ability to think for itself. What do you think about all that, Guy-Manuel? Guy-Manuel?

The line goes dead.

Talking to Daft Punk as they travel from Seattle to Colorado probably wasn’t the best idea – especially when the Rockies start interfering with Guy-Manuel’s mobile reception – but it’s been a real slog to get even this close to the enigmatic duo. Even today, the interview has been postponed once again as, it turns out, they’re now in a different time zone to the one they were in yesterday.

A few minutes later, tour bus halted, contact re-established, I ask Guy-Manuel my long, complicated and slightly daft question about the relationship between humanity and technology once again.

“That’s a very big question,” he agrees in halting but perfectly understandable English. “To talk about it in five minutes would be difficult and, I think, a little facile.”

Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo never really do what you expect them to do. The duo posses a level of well-mannered contrariness that goes way beyond the kind of stereotypical Gallic haughtiness we expect to find at the other end of the Channel Tunnel. Sometimes, it seems like it is Daft Punk against the world.

No one was particularly interested in French music before Daft Punk’s thudding, heavily filtered house came along. The duo confounded expectations – albeit misguided and ignorant expectations – by the very fact that they were French and producing some of the best music on the planet. Their debut album Homework was the kind of coherent, credible and enthralling collection knob-twiddling dance acts were supposedly incapable of producing.

Just like Kraftwerk batted a European take on disco back to the USA, so Daft Punk slam-dunked house music 20 years later.

The last few years have seen the duo retreated into a particularly obtuse way of presenting themselves to the world, in the form of two robots, in the guise of which they play live, do press and appear in videos. It’s no more than the Residents did years ago but it’s not the kind of thing your genuine, actual pop starts often do today.

“I think the most important stuff for us is to have the most freedom possible,” explains Guy-Manuel. “And that maybe means for us we are free to do what we want to do, whatever that is.”

Their latest project, Electroma, is a strangely affecting short film about their robotic alter-egos’ quest to adopt at least the outward vestiges of humanity. Perhaps not surprisingly in an hour-long movie that may as well be subtitled, One Big Metaphor, it all ends badly.

The duo describe the film as “music for the eyes”. The pace is slow – and free of dialogue – but it’s an interesting trip, and Electroma throws up some startling and arresting imagery among the shifting sands of the desert and the slow, hypnotic thrills of travelling down endless roads.

The sun-bleached wide open spaces and arid emptiness of their setting is mirrored in a soundtrack which, the odd Todd Rundgren and Curtis Mayfield track aside, has long periods of absolute silence.

Much of the film finds the two leads very isolated and marginalised. Do you and Thomas feel that, within the entertainment business, you are stll outsiders yourselves?

“I don’t know if we feel marginalised,” replies Guy-Manuel, “but we have always been the producers of what we do, even when we have been signed to a major company for more than 10 years now.

“We have our own personal way of doing things, of making decisions, and Electroma, for example, I don’t really think it is as uplifting and energising as maybe the music we do. Basically, we do what we want, sometimes it can be a surprise for people. But we have the freedom to experiment and do things that maybe are different, without doing things that are too much linked to a business or whatever.

“Maybe with Electroma, the audience might be even more disappointed than with the music,” he adds with a laugh. “It’s really an experimental movie, a meditative movie, the rhythm is really more slow than our regular music we do.”

Daft Punk tracks often has a very full sound with lots of different things going on at the same time, but Electroma is almost the exact opposite.

“We always try to think differently every time we do another project, and never do the same thing twice. Electroma is a good example of that. We like to surprise ourselves, and then maybe the listener or the viewer is surprised also. Electroma is something different and we are really happy with that, that’s great to us, and it’s totally different to what we did just before.

“And it was a challenge also for us to not to have any Daft Punk music in the movie. It was great to have a movie without dialogue, with not too much music – especially when it’s not Daft Punk music.”

Without wanting to give too much away, the movie ends with scenes of the desperate protagonists sacrificing themselves for their ideals, which is an idea we’re still getting our heads around in the West but seems to have a lot of currency in other parts of the world. Is there anything you and Thomas would sacrifice yourselves for?

“It’s a big question,” says Guy-Manuel slowly. “I dunno. We’ve always had integrity in what we do, and we still have that. We have quite a strong idea of what we like and what we don’t like. I don’t know what we would die for, but what I know is, what we live for is what we believe in. That’s what I can say. And with the work we have been doing for the last ten years, maybe that’s why we’ve had a little bit of success with it.

“It’s really hard sometimes, to stick to what we believe in, to be free to do what we want to do, and to make as few compromises as possible.

“But it is what keeps us going on. Y’know, when you are fulfilling your dreams without compromising, it’s not about fame or money or whatever, it’s just like a kid’s dream and fulfilling it.

“It’s really simple. It’s about passion and having fun.”

[This interview first ran in Flux magazine in October, 2007]

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