After a 28-year run, Daft Punk are reportedly shelving their robot helmets for good.
A publicist confirmed to Pitchfork this week that the legendary and elusive dance duo, composed of Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, have broken up. Daft Punk announced the news in a clip titled “Epilogue,” taken from their 2006 film Electroma, in which the band explodes. Their publicist gave no reason for the breakup (although they’ve been pretty quiet over the past few years).
Daft Punk – Epilogue www.youtube.com
Daft Punk formed in Paris in 1993 and put out four studio albums, finally releasing Random Access Memories in 2013 to widespread critical acclaim and worldwide recognition. But before the duo were ubiquitous on American radio, they cut their teeth in France’s house music scene, making gritty garage-house tracks that have since been considered techno classics.
To honor our favorite helmet-wearers, we’ve rounded up the 15 best tracks that Daft Punk put out over their nearly three decades together.
15. “Doin’ It Right” feat. Panda Bear (Random Access Memories)
Prior to 2013’s Random Access Memories, the record that cemented Daft Punk in America’s pop mainstream, Bangalter and de Homem-Christo were recluses who rarely accepted interviews and used robot helmets to conceal their identities — shocking, considering they had the power to command massive music festival crowds. Then arrived RAM, full of collaborations, and Daft Punk suddenly felt like the most humanized versions of themselves.
While RAM‘s high-profile features definitely garnered the most buzz, “Doin’ It Right” smartly utilizes vocals from an indie favorite named Noah Lennox — AKA Animal Collective’s Panda Bear — who grew up inspired by the sounds of early Daft Punk. His vocals, paired with a looped vocoder and a minimal, trap-tinged beat, are one of the album’s biggest highlights.
14. “Teachers” (Homework)
As much as Daft Punk were considered innovators, many of their ideas were borrowed from their forebearers. The duo thanks many techno and house pioneers on “Teachers,” which reads like a grocery list of inspirational musicians, citing Dr. Dre, DJ Funk, Jeff Mills, and many others in Bangalter’s pitch-shifted vocals. Considering “Teachers” is featured on Daft Punk’s debut, 1997’s Homework, it almost feels like the duo were predicting their own fate as musical icons.
13. “Human After All” (Human After All)
On their third album, 2005’s Human After All, Daft Punk ditched the disco-pop of their 2001 breakthrough Discovery for a heavier, more abrasive sound that backed darker and often nihilistic lyrical themes. Songs like “Television Rules the Nation,” “Brainwasher,” and “Technologic” — paired with some truly nightmare-inducing music videos — use crunchy, repetitive riffs to evoke the impending doom of glueing your eyes to the screen.
But Human After All opens on what seems like a more optimistic note, with a title track that lulls you into a state of comfort: “We are human after all,” the robots murmur over a catchy, major-key guitar riff. “Much in common after all.” Sure, it’s a pleasant sentiment, but in the context of such a dystopian album, being human is a downright damning state.
12. “Lose Yourself to Dance” feat. Pharrell Williams (Random Access Memories)
With a co-writing credit from Chic’s Nile Rogers, it should be no surprise that “Lose Yourself to Dance” — another infectious Random Access Memories cut — provides a perfect soundtrack to do just what the title suggests. The disco-house jam intersperses Pharrell Williams’ falsetto with a robotic voice tempting you to join the dance floor, making for a song that takes the best of the ’70s and updates it for a futuristic club setting.
11. “Human After All / Together / One More Time / Music Sounds Better With You” (Alive 2007)
Alive 2007 isn’t just any ordinary live album. Spanning over an hour and a half, the record is tracked like a Greatest Hits compilation-turned remix album with hardly any moments to take a breath. The setlist culminates into an epic closer that splices “Human After All” and “One More Time” with “Together,” a song Bangalter recorded with DJ Falcon, as well as “Music Sounds Better With You” by Stardust, which has become a techno standard in its own right.
While Daft Punk naysayers have brushed off the band’s music as being repetitive and tedious, “Human After All / Together / One More Time / Music Sounds Better With You” proves how well they knew their own music. The closing track to Alive 2007 is sheer bliss, celebrating the great unifier: dance.
10. “Face to Face” (Discovery)
One of the more straightforward pop songs Daft Punk made pre-RAM, “Face to Face” is made distinguishable by co-production from New Jersey-born house musician Todd Edwards, who backs the track with a chopped-up guitar and synth riff that sound like milliseconds of sound spliced together. With Edwards lending his vocals to the song, too, “Face to Face” easily had the potential to reach “One More Time”-levels of popularity.
9. “Instant Crush” feat. Julian Casablancas (Random Access Memories)
Like seemingly everyone and their mother in the 2000s, Daft Punk were longtime fans of the Strokes. It wasn’t until the making of RAM that Bangalter and de Homem-Christo finally met the band’s frontman, Julian Casablancas; fortunately, a musical connection struck.
Daft Punk presented Casablancas with the instrumental demo to a dreamy, synth-driven love song called “Instant Crush,” and Casablancas was receptive about putting his finishing touches on the album. Though his voice is processed through a vocoder, his sound is instantly recognizable, making “Instant Crush” feel a bit like a Strokes song from the future.
8. “Da Funk” (Homework)
If “Da Funk” reminds you a bit of ’90s hip-hop, you’re probably not alone. The track, a standout single from Homework, was inspired heavily by G-funk, a subgenre that evolved from West Coast gangsta rap. While “Da Funk” is only an instrumental, its laid-back beat and jittery riff, made with a Roland TB-303 synthesizer, make the song feel effortlessly cool. It’s since become a house music classic.
7. “Technologic” (Human After All)
If the Chucky-like robot in the music video doesn’t make it evident enough, “Technologic” is intended to disturb. A pitch-shifted voice utters a list of commands: “Buy it, use it, break it, fix it, trash it, change it, mail, upgrade it,” go the song’s first lines. Then, Daft Punk’s gnarled guitar riffs come in, making for a darkly entertaining dance track.
While “Technologic,” on paper, seems a bit divisive, it continues to receive acknowledgement from artists across genres. New York rapper Busta Rhymes turned Daft Punk’s chants into a set of NSFW taunts on his 2006 track “Touch It,” while Dua Lipa used them in a reworked livestream performance of “Hallucinate” last year.
6. “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” (Discovery)
Discovery is likely Daft Punk’s most funk-forward record, an aesthetic they achieved by crate-digging record stores for songs to sample. That’s how “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” came about, based around a riff from the late Edwin Birdsong’s “Cola Bottle Baby.”
“[I recorded ‘Cola Bottle Baby’] 30 years ago, and then here come some guys from France, their name was Daft Punk,” Birdsong said in 2016. “I asked them, ‘Where did you find the music?’ And they said, ‘Well, I was going through bins and it popped out.'”
Birdsong received a songwriting credit for “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger,” which became the subject of multiple viral videos. And then, of course, Kanye West’s “Stronger” came along, which prominently sampled Daft Punk’s version — the duo even joined the rapper for his 2008 Grammy performance of the song. For many, this marked the beginning of Daft Punk’s immersion into America’s mainstream.
5. “Around the World” (Homework)
Like an expertly-crafted Dr. Seuss poem tailored for the club, the only lyrics of “Around the World” are the three words in its title, repeated 144 times. Yet the seven-minute song somehow never grows stale, as the minimal instrumentation shifts and creates an irresistible momentum. With its ascending bassline, “Around the World” is a journey in dance.
4. “Get Lucky” feat. Pharrell Williams and Nile Rogers (Random Access Memories)
Sure, Daft Punk were hitmakers and Grammy nominees even before “Get Lucky” arrived. But was pop radio ready to accept two robots? Not quite — at least until Pharrell Williams and Nile Rogers lent their contributions.
In an interview series Rolling Stone conducted around the collaborators of Random Access Memories, Williams recalled meeting “the robots” in a studio in Paris, and he mentioned to the band that he was in the midst of a Rogers kick. Sure enough, Daft Punk had already asked Rogers to record the rhythm guitar part of “Get Lucky.”
“When I heard ‘Get Lucky,’ it just reminded me of this exotic island — not sure if it was on this planet or not,” Williams said. “But it just felt like a place where it was forever four in the morning.”
3. “One More Time” (Discovery)
Rarely has house music sounded as euphoric as “One More Time,” the opening track of Discovery. Here, Daft Punk boil down life’s necessities to dancing, celebration, and freedom, reciting these tenets of happiness over a melodic loop that repeatedly builds tension and then releases it throughout the song.
Depending on your age, either “One More Time” or “Get Lucky” is Daft Punk’s biggest song; but while both are guaranteed dance floor burners, “One More Time” carries the air of nostalgia, a reminder of “the good times” — whenever those were for you.
2. “Around the World / Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” (Alive 2007)
Of the many highlights from Alive 2007, “Around the World / Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” best encapsulates the thrill of Daft Punk’s live shows. From their towering pyramid, backed by an elaborate light show, the robots intertwined their deep cuts and biggest hits flawlessly, keeping the familiarity of “Around the World”‘s steady bassline as the gradual buildup evokes the excitement of hearing the band’s songs for the first time.
Some otherwise fantastic live recordings are unfortunately muffled by crowd noise, but the frequent cheers, wallops, and singing along from Daft Punk’s crowds only elevate Alive 2007. Close your eyes, and it’s not too hard to imagine yourself shouting “harder! Better! Faster! Stronger!” with thousands of perfect strangers in a stadium.
1. “Digital Love” (Discovery)
The first chords of “Digital Love,” a standout track from Discovery, turn a 1979 George Duke sample into one of the best love songs of the 2000s. “Last night I had a dream about you / In this dream, I’m dancing right beside you / And it looked like everyone was having fun / The kind of feeling I’ve waited so long,” the robots sing in the first verse. “But suddenly, I feel the shining sun / Before I knew it, this dream was all gone.”
Bittersweet, campy, and complete with an iconic vintage synthesizer solo, “Digital Love” is also one of Daft Punk’s most recognizable songs, thanks to its prominence in a number of commercials. But the general success of the track doesn’t take away from its magic; the legend of the love-at-first-sight, the type that always feels like a once-in-a-lifetime dream.