Two men are recording music at their home studio in Paris, France. It’s Thursday, 9 September 1999. The name of the studio is Daft House, and the men are Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel De Homem-Christo – aka Daft Punk. They’ve been up all night, picking apart every single detail of one track. It’s 9.09am and the regret of pulling an all-nighter really starts to settle in. As they play the track through one more time, a coffee gets spilled over a sampler. For a brief moment, the noise the sampler makes as it breaks sounds as if it could work in a different track. Both men put their ears closer to the hardware just as it explodes – they subsequently awake to a startling discovery: they are no longer human, but have become robots…
At least that’s the story Daft Punk gave to reporters ahead of the release of their second album, Discovery. And it acts as a fitting metaphor. If Daft Punk’s debut album, Homework, was the sound of raw material from within a sampler, then Discovery is the sound of that sampler exploding into life, ushering in a new era for both Daft Punk and dance music in general.
Listen to Discovery here.
A time for reinvention
Released on 12 March 2001, Discovery emerged at a time when fears over the Millennium Bug had subsided and a new world was there for the taking. It was a time for reinvention and bold new steps. It was a time Daft Punk to move into new territory.
Early in the recording process, Bangalter and De Homem-Christo decided to avoid making another album full of house tracks and began experimenting with musical styles and song structures. Flush with the fame Homework had given them, the duo also found themselves able to leverage collaborations with producers they’d always been fans of, including Todd Edwards and Romanthony, who helped further push the duo’s vision for Discovery.
Stravinsky supposedly said, “A good composer does not imitate; he steals.” If that’s true, then Daft Punk are some of the world’s best thieves. A step up from its predecessor in every way, Discovery is a much slicker album whose musical ambition is palpable from the off; using samples as their starting point for each track, Bangalter and De Homem-Christo layered live instrumentation on top until the original sample is almost unrecognisable.
A cornerstone in dance music
The enhanced production values and emphasis on live instrumentation helped Daft Punk move away from the house sound that had previously defined them, towards elements of disco, ambient, funk and electro R&B. This eclectic mix allowed them to focus more on lyrics and song structure – and, in turn, helped shape an overall theme for the album.
Discovery is believed to be a concept album. Bangalter and De Homem-Christo have suggested that it is a representation of their childhood, with varying themes and musical styles that are supposed to show how receptive we are to various influences as children before adulthood makes us more singular in our tastes. To support this, Daft Punk enlisted the help of Japanese anime artist Leiji Matsumoto to create the animated film Interstella 5555: The 5tory Of The 5ecret 5tar 5ystem, which links all the Discovery music together with a narrative.
In simple terms, Discovery is a cornerstone in dance music history. It pushed the envelope in every possible direction while introducing robot Daft Punk to the world and establishing their trademark sound. Brave and uncompromising, the album sounds as fresh as ever and has influenced a range of artists in a variety of genres.
But as these Discovery highlights show – nothing else has come close to recapturing that Daft Punk magic…