BLOG: A final word on Daft Punk's
Random Access Memories
My thoughts on their new album and the surrounding furore
“We tried to demonstrate that you could make music in a bedroom 20 years ago with Homework [and later] Discovery, and that was something completely new at the time: fighting for electronic music to be accepted. Now that it’s been accepted, now that it’s totally possible to do it in a bedroom - not only that it’s possible but also that it almost became this mandatory thing that everyone was doing it on a laptop - we said ‘OK, maybe there’s other things now that are worth fighting for’. It’s not just the ideas of the future... it’s some ideas from the past that might start to disappear right now.... which is a certain idea of craftmanship or an idea of how you can create something magical. And it’s true that this human adventure which is putting craftmanship and live performances and try to create something different and not formatted which you can’t just do on a laptop seems to be an interesting challenge. And that’s why we thought it was just worth trying, because it’s actually quite difficult. Just because music can be made for nearly no money on a laptop today, does it mean that there’s still not other ways to look at other projects that can be a little more ambitious?” - Thomas Bangalter, May 2013
I’ve been a Daft Punk obsessive since I was 12 and Da Funk blew my tiny mind. They are my ultimate musical heroes - probably as much for their Roulé and Crydamoure labels as for their own output. Seeing their live show in 2007 in Hyde Park was the greatest night of my life, and the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to one of those religious episodes people talk about. I WASN’T EVEN ON ANY DRUGS. Imagine that.
I’m not going to attempt to review Random Access Memories, but wanted to give my thoughts on it as a whole and on some of the furore going on around it. I think that it’s a fantastic record overall, with only one or two less agreeable moments. It sounds incredible, even on a low-quality iTunes stream (I had it cranked up on some tasty Acoustic Energy bookshelf speakers with the bass reverberating through me on first listen to compensate somewhat).
It’s ambitious. The songs are hella catchy. The arrangements and some of the ideas are fantastic. The songwriting is largely excellent. The aesthetic is glorious. It holds together as a cohesive piece of work very well on the whole. I’m baffled by Touch and think a couple of tracks could have been a little shorter and there’s the occasional slightly too pastichey ‘70s soft rock guitar solo - but these are criticisms of mine that crop up a handful of times on what I think is an excellent piece of work and a satisfying, logical and commendable next step in the DP canon.
Daft Punk have always been innovators. So were they really ever going to rest on their laurels and create another sample and synth heavy album? Electronic dance music is bigger than it ever has been globally, and their decision to fly in the face of it and attempt to create a sort of dance-pop hybrid with real instruments, vintage equipment and some of the world’s greatest musicians is the perfect antidote and contrast to the deluge of ‘in the box’ productions that litter the airways and dancefloors in 2013.
Who wouldn’t enlist the help of some of their favourite artists of all time given the budget available to them? Random Access Memories is the sound of two kids in a candy store, attempting to regain some of the magic and majesty of the music of their youth without depending on samples of old records to do so. But it’s not as if they have cast aside their own opus moderandi in doing so. For the most part, the album manages to not only re-enact but also reinterpret sounds and processes of a bygone era, all funnelled through the powerful capabilities of a modern DAW and processor. The best of the old and the new combined, if you will.
People hating on ‘Daft Punk going disco’ seem to not have a huge grasp on the fact that disco has always been a huge part of what they’ve done - from Burnin’ on Homework, to the disco cut-ups and re-edits of their respective vinyl labels, to Discovery’s crate-digging and later into Moroder-esque explorations on Human After All and the TRON: Legacy soundtrack. And as for unabashed disco infiltrating cheese - have you heard One More Time? Or So Much Love To Give? Make Love and Emotion on their last artist album also pointed a finger towards some of the honeyed sound of their new record. And anyway, it’s not like there aren’t moments of electronic intensity on this album anyway - the bold arpeggios of Giorgio By Moroder or the epic Chemical Brothers-esque (they’d hate me for saying that I’m sure) finale Contact for a start.
And to those slating the rather saccharine, soft, “cheesy” nature of some of the tracks on Random Access Memories - did you not hear Something About Us on Discovery? Or Digital Love? Many of the tracks on this new album are direct descendants of earlier works like these. Works which, in the context of the Daft Punk oeuvre pre-2001, certainly jarred at the time. It took me a long time to learn to love Digital Love, as it wasn’t what I knew and loved of Daft Punk at all. Years later and I recognise it for the classic slice of dance pop it is.
See what I’m saying? This album needs some time. Its grandiosity is understandably off-putting for many people, but if you are one of the sorely disappointed Daft Punk fans out there, I urge you to give it a few more goes to let it grow on you. Wait for the CD/WAVs to arrive and listen to it loud on a set of good speakers with lashings of bass. If you still don’t like it then, fair play.
The haters and slaters cite the ‘overhype’ of this record as a source of frustration and annoyance and ultimately, disappointment, claiming that people are giving Daft Punk too much benefit of doubt simply for what they have done in the past and are too keen and quick to praise. The irony is that their haste in slating the album - and so vehemently too - is just as hyperbolic as anything on the other side of opinion and the hype that surrounds this LP. As for accusations of self-indulgence or excessive pomp, a friend on Facebook (Philip Rust), put it perfectly: “To accuse them of being overblown... or indulgent is to miss the point; they're French guys in robot suits that perform inside a flashing pyramid. I mean, did anyone listen to Aerodynamic?”
If this one simply isn’t for you, then fair enough. But Daft Punk shouldn’t be criticised for their ambition with this divisive album, for wanting to subvert current norms, for introducing new generations to legends like Nile Rodgers and Giorgio Moroder, for wanting to rediscover some excitement in the production process and for wanting to rekindle a lost spirit that is nowhere to be seen in the commercial, large-scale end of dance/electronic music. Who else is going to take a risk like this? Deadmau5? Get Lucky is going to be played at weddings in 30 years time (in a good way) and I’m confident that this album as a whole will be deemed as another classic once the dust has settled.
Final thought. How many of you Random Access Memories haters who think Get Lucky is good thought it was any cop when you first heard it?