Daft Punk Unchained recently debuted on French TV station Canal+, Daft Punk documentary that has been made in conjunction with BBC Worldwide Productions France.
The documentary features interviews from journalists, collaborators, label executives, managers, and friends of the enigmatic duo who reveal how the duo became the most successful electronic act in history.
We’ve seen the documentary, and despite some dodgy subtitles it’s full of interesting insights about the duo – so here are 10 things that we didn’t know about duo and their music.
1. Before they even started Daft Punk, Daft Punk did a mean line in Sonic Boom covers
Much is written about Darlin’, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo’s pre-Daft Punk group, which featured Phoenix’s Laurent Brancowitz on guitar and gave rise to the Daft Punk name, via a scathing review in Melody Maker. But they are rarely seen in action.
One of the most revelatory clips dug up by Daft Punk Unchained, an 85-minute documentary about the band that has already aired in France, is live footage of Darlin’ covering How You Satisfy Me, a 90s psych classic from Sonic Boom’s post-Spacemen 3 group Spectrum, with Thomas on bass and vocals and Guy-Man on guitar. They both look about 13, but create a satisfyingly dense garage drone.
In 1993, Darlin’ released two tracks – Cindy So Loud and Darlin’ – on the Shimmies in Super 8 compilation on Stereolab’s Duophonic label. Daniel Dauxerre, Darlin’s manager, explains in the documentary that he believes the Melody Maker review – which claimed the band made “daft punky trash” – brought Darlin’ down from their initial wave of enthusiasm and eventually led to the band’s demise.
2. Thomas Bangalter likes being in control
At the age of 18, Thomas and Guy-Man started going to raves in Paris, discovering Chicago house. It was also, according to Thomas’s friend Serge Nicolas, a time when many people started experimenting with drugs. But not Bangalter.
“Thomas told me one day that he didn’t like [drugs] because when you take an ecstasy, you lose all critical control,” Nicolas says. “From there it was clear. Because if there is one thing that he hates, it is to lose control.”
3. Interest in Daft Punk’s first release was so great, their record label started answering the phone ‘Daft Punk’ to save time.
In April 1994, Glasgow techno label Soma released Daft Punk’s first 12in single, The New Wave, after a meeting in Paris engineered by Nicolas. “For such quiet guys, this music came over the system, it was like: Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom!” Stuart McMillan, of label co-founders Slam, recounts.
Such was the impact of the record – a very youthful Thomas can be seen in the film delighting in 15,000 sales – that Richard Brown, label manager of Soma at the time, stopped answering the phone with “Hello, Soma Records,” and started answering “Hello, Daft Punk”. “There were so many calls coming in,” McMillan says. “The momentum at that point really built so quickly.”
4. Thomas’s father helped shape their career
It is widely known that Thomas Bangalter’s father is Daniel Vangarde, a disco-era French songwriter and producer, responsible for Ottawan’s DISCO. Perhaps less known is the influence he had in shaping Daft Punk’s career. “He [Daniel] helped them to make decisions,” explains journalist Pascal Bertin, in the documentary. “He helped them to understand clearly what people were proposing.”
“He was [the] perfect person to give advice to a group doing dance music, made in France, sung in English and aimed at the whole world,” Antoine Ressaussière, a friend of the band, adds.
5. Thomas is something of an early adopter, Guy-Man is more mystical
Discussing the duo’s creative roles, Eric Chédeville, who works with Guy-Man as Le Knight Club, says that Thomas is “the machine genius”.
“He told me once around the time of the first album that he reads the instruction books for all his machines once a month,” he says.
“Thomas was one of the first people to have a Mac in France,” adds journalist Jean-Daniel Beauvallet, “which allowed him to get working on music and images by computer very, very early.”
“Thomas also finds melodies that are brilliant,” Chédeville says, “he really has a very good sense of ‘the hit’. Guy-Man is more mystical. He wants just one thing, not two. And until he finds it, everything else is shit.”
6. Daft Punk premiered their debut album to Virgin execs on a ghetto blaster
In September 1996, the band signed to Virgin Records in a deal unlike others in the industry, according to the band’s then manager Pedro Winter, giving them total control over their music and imagery.
Their ambivalent attitude to major label norms was underlined when they chose to give Virgin executives their first listen of debut album Homework in Thomas’s small, crammed studio.
“We went to listen to the album at Thomas’s house, in his little studio. We came with the team from Virgin London and some of the French team,” says Maya Masseboeuf, former artistic director of Virgin France. “It was great: a little studio with things everywhere. And we listened to the album on a ghetto blaster. We were really impressed. It was hit after hit.”
7. The band’s third album Human After All was recorded in just two weeks
The narrative around Human After All, the band’s poorly-received third album, was that it was recorded in six weeks in a bid to get back to the band’s roots. But the documentary suggests this was actually closer to two.
“Human After All was maybe made in 12 days. But that was the concept of the record, which is looking back at those rock or garage records,” Bangalter told Radio 1’s Pete Tong in 2013, in a clip used in the documentary.
“Human After All, we are really human: OK so we’re going to record an album in two weeks and see what happens,” Pedro Winter adds.
8. They considered packing in the robots around 2006
Well, maybe. The band have never talked about this and they only appear in this documentary via old interview clips. But Pedro Winter – who knows them as well as almost anyone – believes the final scene of their 2006 film Electroma, in which the two Daft Punk robots self-destruct, was telling.
“Maybe they put into images something they wanted to say, that Daft Punk will end,” Winter says. “The thought occurred to me. I thought, ‘OK, we’re going to end the robot masks and they’re going to come in the office tomorrow with a new idea where they show their faces.’ I think they thought about it.”
“We all thought the end of Electroma, when both the robots self-destruct, that that was the end of the robots,” says Tony Gardner, the designer who helped to create Daft Punk’s signature helmets.
9. The band’s live pyramid was a secret even to their manager
In 2005, the Coachella festival offered Daft Punk $250,000 to perform. They said no. The following year, Coachella upped its offer to $300,000 and got their band.
Their performance – which took place inside a giant LED-festooned pyramid – would go down in history as one of the most important in dance music history, helping to feed the EDM explosion in the US and putting the band right back at the top of the dance music tree.
But so secretive were their preparations that even Winter didn’t know what they were planning for much of the time, seeing his first audio-only rehearsal just days before the Coachella performance. “I wasn’t allowed to see the lights yet,” he jokes.
10. A Random Access Memories engineer drove the album’s master tapes from LA to Maine
The recording of Random Access Memories took place over four years in one of LA’s top studios, Henson Studio B, at a reported cost of $1m. So when they finished recording and the album needed mastering, they didn’t want to just pop it in the post. Instead, Peter Franco, one of four engineers to work on the album, got in a car with Daft Punk crew member Sam Cooper to drive the tapes from LA to Portland, Maine.
“Four years in the studio, it was crazy. So at the end when we finished mixing, there was no way we were going to let the master tapes leave our sight. So we started another journey,” Franco says. “If the tapes were lost, I think I would change my name, become a scuba diving instructor in Costa Rica. Each tape is unique and each mix is unique. There’s only one of them and they existed in that trunk of the car.”