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AFTER THE DUST SETTLES – DAFT PUNK: RANDOM ACCESS MEMORIES

2013 was the year of Daft Punk. That much is clear. Sure, we finally (phew!) came up with a word for self-taken photographs and some dude messed up the sign language at a pretty important funeral, but the rest of the time the entire world was listening to Get Lucky.

The disco robots seamlessly meshed new and old; in musical terms but also in the broader spectrum of the ailing record industry. The release of Random Access Memories was a show in itself as the synth wizards and Columbia Records put on a masterclass on how to promote LPs in the 21st Century.

Electronic dance music was pretty much shunned in 1990s American culture, written off as little more than candy coated 1s and 0s, only accessible to pill-popping, pony-tailed Eurotrash. Daft Punk had enjoyed a modicum of success in the New World off the back of their groundbreaking Alive 2007 tour and had attracted attention for their ho-hum effort at breaking into Hollywood with the all-filler, no killer soundtrack to 2010 flop Tron: Legacy. 

2013 marked the year the French duo launched headlong into the US mainstream. They put their own spin on the ‘controlled leak’ method of album promotion, with teasers on Saturday Night Live and at Coachella proving so effective they spurned their own fan-made hits.

The Collaborators Project, a series of short films featuring artists who contributed to RAM, also proved hugely popular as anticipation grew that the record would be one for the ages. Interestingly enough, the PR exercise also marks the precise moment at which Daft Punk reneged somewhat on an earlier promise to shun the media spotlight.

In a 1997 interview with Mixmag, Thomas Bangalter – the more talkative of the duo – gave the following take on the idea of Daft Punk as celebrities: ‘We’re trying to separate the private side and the public side. It’s just that we’re a little bit embarrassed by the whole thing. We don’t want to play this whole star system thing…we think the music is the most personal thing we can give. The rest is just people taking themselves seriously, which is all very boring sometimes.’

The Collaborators is an absorbing treat for any music fan, however it is full of people taking themselves very seriously (except, perhaps, for Pharrell Williams, who just appeared to be extremely high). There is no denying that Nile Rodgers is a funking genius who has long been highly regarded in session music and disco circles, but he was hardly a household name for the average music fan 18 months ago. Since the release of RAM, Chic featuring Nile Rodgers have been riding the disco renaissance wave spectacularly well, selling out shows and headlining festivals, despite a virtual two decade hiatus.

Now, I’m the last person to start bagging Daft Punk for this ‘marketing by proxy’. I’ve been blasting their music for more than half my life, I rank their Alive 2007 show in Melbourne among the best I’ve seen and have had RAM on constant rotation since it was released. Clearly it was the standout record of 2013. Impeccably produced, it received worldwide acclaim and cemented the duo’s status as the premiere dance act of the last two decades.

The question to be answered, and one that has been bugging me since hearing the earliest Get Lucky snippets, is where does this record stand among Daft Punk’s other efforts? It wasn’t Nile Rodgers nor Pharrell who have been given the credit for giving life back to music. The robots reign supreme and their gold and silver helmet motif was surely one of 2013’s most recognisable images.

I’m not going to gush ejaculative bullshit at you, dear reader, as you’ve probably read enough of those reviews already and are sick of the adjectives. Nor will I give you a track-by-track analysis of the record, as the best way to do this is for you to actually listen to the thing and, let’s face it, you’ve probably done that several times by now. Instead, as everything must be ranked, I want to determine just where RAM stands as a Daft Punk record.

My concern is not that the record lacks quality. It oozes the stuff, but where is that Daft Punk touch? Their genius is apparent, alongside that of their collaborators, but something about the record sits uncomfortably with me. Perhaps it has the ring of finality about it and I, along with many old-school Daft Punk fans, am worried that it may be their last hurrah. There have been no mentions from Bangalter or his partner in rhyme Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo about the potential for new music, and they have only briefly alluded to touring in support of RAM. This record was a response to the way house music has shifted from underground clubs to festival main stages and gained that most generic of all monikers; EDM.

Sure, the electronic music genre is awash with phony DJs trying to emulate Daft Punk’s sound, and the pop-friendly EDM flooding the market today would make Kraftwerk cringe. But Daft Punk simply do it better than everybody else. In fact, I really liked their repetitiveness. Around the World sums it up best; it goes on and on and on, but never gets dull. Every loop is so brilliantly yet slightly different to the one before that by the time you can put your finger on it, it changes again. I can see why they are so enamoured with Nile Rodgers’ licks.

RAM in the background would make a night with Josef Fritzl sexy. But, I’ll be honest, I’d probably skip past a few tracks. I usually do when I play this record. And if I’m looking for that endorphin release, that shiver down my spine to begin the weekend, I’ll turn to older Daft Punk for stimulation. Come back boys. Blow my head off with some beats. You know you need it. I need it too.

4/5

This post originally appeared on podcoost.com

Brendan Park