Daft Punk Mania: Inside The ‘Random Access Memories’ Hype Machine
It all started with Nile Rodgers.
The legendary producer and guitarist, who was a founding member of influential ‘70s disco band Chic, wrote a blog post back in January in which he casually mentioned he’d worked on new Daft Punk music.
“The next time I set foot in Japan, my collaboration with Daft Punk would have started to hit people’s eardrums,” he wrote on Walking on Planet C, a blog detailing Rodgers’ successful bout against cancer.
Not long after that blog post, reports began circulating that Daft Punk had signed a new record deal with Columbia. In February, the deal was confirmed when the French dance duo released a single image depicting the iconic robot helmets of members Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo fused into one. Set on a black background with the Columbia Records logo discreetly in the corner, that image would go on to ignite a firestorm of rumors and misinformation that continue to rage around the revered band.
For the uninitiated, the current hysteria surrounding Daft Punk can seem baffling. But for fans of the long-time electronic music heroes (the band’s first album, Homework, debuted in 1997), it’s the culmination of more than 15 years of music multiplied by their now-legendary appearance at Coachella 2006 (below).
Daft Punk’s appearance at Coachella was the band’s first live show since the late ‘90s, and was the debut of their famous pyramid stage set, with the duo performing from inside the image-projecting structure. Set in the Sahara Tent, the concert became something of an instant legend, with those in attendance calling it “the best show I have ever seen in my life.” Even Pitchfork raved, “Not to get hyperbolic, but people were crying at two French robots…A seemingly impossible upward trajectory for a solid hour.” Merging the songs from their three studio albums (including club anthems like “One More Time” and “Technologic”), the shows were a complete, multi-sensory Daft Punk experience.
As word of Daft Punk’s impressive live show spread, their Alive 2006/2007 tour became one of the hottest concert tickets in the world. Of those dates, only 14 of them were in North America. Including Coachella, a mere nine of those dates were in the U.S. For all of the hype and legend built around those performances, not very many fans have ever even had the opportunity to see Daft Punk live.
“My musical influences are everywhere but electronic music, except for Daft Punk,” said French DJ/producer Martin Soveig, the man behind worldwide dance-floor hit, “Hello,” during a phone interview. “To me, they are the masters of the masters.”
All of which brings us to now, where Daft Punk mania has hit critical levels. The band has set a May 21 release date for Random Access Memories, only their fourth studio full-length (The duo also produced the Tron: Legacy soundtrack for Disney in 2010.) Promotion for the album has been minimal, harkening back to old-school tactics like billboards and most famously, a pair of 15-second TV commercials, both of which aired during NBC’s Saturday Night Live. The first clip aired on the March 2 show, with the second spot running on March 23.
The simple clips feature the band’s logo and album cover art with brief snippets of new music. Fans have taken those slivers of sound and looped them for up to 10 hours, with one industrious YouTube user marrying the loop with a video of a dancing Parks and Recreation character Ron Swanson (portrayed by actor Nick Offerman), garnering more than a quarter of a million views.
Rumors regarding the band and Random Access Memories continue to accumulate. During this year’s South by Southwest music conference and festival, mysterious handbills popped up around town featuring the cover image and the date “3-13-13,” sparking speculation of a performance. Despite reports that the band members were spotted around town that week, the date came and went nary a peep from the Daft Punk camp.
A bogus link claiming to be a leak of Random Access Memories has already been debunked, but is still making the online rounds. With speculations that the record includes contributions from such artists as Giorgio Moroder, Paul Williams, Chilly Gonzalez and Panda Bear, even newer reports would lead fans to believe that Neptunes producer Pharrell Williams features on up to three of the new songs.
“I think the reason this record is going to be a humongous deal is that it’s going to go multi-format instantly,” said Lisa Worden, music director at Los Angeles alternative station KROQ. “Usually bands will start off at alternative or rock, and then it progresses into the Top 40 world. I think this is a band that’s unique in the sense where I think KROQ, [L.A. pop station] AMP and [L.A. urban station] Power 106 — everybody is going to want to have it at the same time, and everyone will probably play it at the same time. I haven’t even heard it except for that snippet that’s out there, and I can say already that KROQ should be all over it.”
Speculation was rampant that Daft Punk would make a surprise appearance at this year’s Coachella festival, so much so that the band felt the need to issue an official statement: “Daft Punk is not performing at Coachella this year.” Still, whispers of hope persist that the pair will join headliners Phoenix for an onstage cameo, much like they did at Phoenix’s Madison Square Garden show in 2010.
“All I can say is those guys are geniuses and to think that after all these years we’ve been trying to get together, they just show up at my apartment in New York City and the vibe between us is so powerful and so strong – it’s unbelievable,” the aforementioned Nile Rodgers told Mixmag last year about working with the duo, only ratcheting up sky-high expectations. “Spiritually and artistically working with them was as good as anything I’ve ever done. It’s as great as being in a studio with Bowie, it’s great as being with Bernard Edwards, and it’s as great as the best stuff I’ve ever done with Duran or Madonna.”