On Feb. 22, Daft Punk released an eight-minute video in which the robotic duo split ways in the vast expanse of a desert when one of them explodes. A title card then reads “1993-2021.” The video is a cheeky and wonderful way to end one of the most impactful, imaginative, and playful careers in electronic music history. Daft Punk birthed entire subgenres of electronic music with ease. It seemed like they appeared once or twice a decade to alter the course of pop and electronic music, just to retreat back into hiding. The duo’s infamous robot costumes are ingrained in our cultural psyche. Their legacy is nearly impossible to overstate.
The duo first met in secondary school in 1987 and started making music in 1992 under the name “Darlin’.” The music they made under this name was released under Stereolab’s Duophonic Records label and was very much rock-focused. A music critic quickly dismissed them as “a daft punky thrash.” With that, the duo pivoted towards electronic music and found a new name.
Daft Punk’s debut album “Homework” was released in 1997 to critical acclaim. The album reignited house music and focused the world’s attention on the so-called “French Touch” genre. 2001’s “Discovery” saw the duo pushing more towards 80s influences and mutating things like Eurodisco and hair metal into futuristic and enticing electropop. Around this time, Daft Punk also introduced their robot costumes, which became a pivotal part of their image. “Human After All” was released in 2005, allegedly written and recorded in six weeks, and saw the duo further developing their sound and image.
At this point, Daft Punk had already cemented an incredible legacy. A trio of genre-altering albums had earned them a massive following. Critical acclaim and their influence could already be seen clearly in music and pop culture. LCD Soundsystem released a song called “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House.” Kanye West used Daft Punk as the key sample on “Stronger.” Busta Rhymes sampled their song “Technologic.” Daft Punk was bringing house music into the mainstream.
The “Alive 2006/2007” tour was their first since 1997, and it ended up being their last. Its impact, however, is undeniable. Their Coachella set is still heralded as one of the greatest in the history of the music festival. The duo managed to build incredible hype around their live sets through word of mouth and flip phone videos alone. Skrillex allegedly went to a show on the tour, and the set inspired him to pursue music. The live album “Alive 2007” captures Daft Punk’s show in Paris in all its rowdy and dynamic glory.
After swiftly rewiring how electronic music shows are experienced—it’s not a stretch to say that the flurry of 2010’s EDM festivals would not have existed without Daft Punk’s live shows—the French duo went on to soundtrack the film “Tron: Legacy.” In 2013, they released the incredibly polished and gorgeously crafted “Random Access Memories.” Their only album to top the Billboard charts became certified platinum, won several Grammys, including Album of the Year, and spawned the hit song “Get Lucky.”
Since the tour-de-force of “Random Access Memories,” Daft Punk remained relatively low-key (aside from being featured on a few songs by The Weeknd), but their star power only grew. After breaking through into pop culture in the early 2000s, they created space for electronic music to flourish in a public and creative way. Through them, genres like dubstep and electro house were able to flourish. In the early 2010s, the radio was filled with EDM-pop collaborations. They proved that electronic music could appeal to the masses and that houses can be combined with pop sensibilities with fantastic results. Music is more playful, more energetic and more interesting because of them. They achieved new craft levels in electronic production, new catchiness levels in five-second grooves, and new futuristic funk levels. It is certainly tragic to see them go, but we have to remember the legacy they left behind. A legacy of chrome-plated alien-disco songs that, after an almost 30-year career, still sound like nothing but unbridled creativity and dance floor euphoria.