Hey everybody, did you hear that there’s a new Daft Punk album coming out? It’s been hard to miss. At a Coachella Festival pretty heavy on chill French guys doing kinda weird collaborations with notable R&B fellas, the electronic duo trumped everyone by just sitting in the VIP area, drinking froofy cocktails, and playing a prerecorded trailer for Random Access Memories that announced some of its details. It might be the first time that a festival audience was tricked into wildly cheering for a music blog’s news post? The Coachella tease was perfectly timed with a Rolling Stone interview, dropping the mask ever-so-slightly on “The Robots” secret identities, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo (names way harder to remember than just, “The Robots”). All of this perfectly played hub-bub is meant to make us forget that the duo’s actual last album, an attempt to get “back to basics” by recording really fast, ended up being kinda lousy. And these clips are doing a really good job! Everyone is really excited about every drip of detail or cryptic SNL commercial. They are more excited about thinking about this potential record for a second than they are to watch a super expensive music festival happening right in front of them!
In the RS interview, the guys talk about wanting to return to the quaint glamor of billboard ads and TV spots for upcoming records. But they fail to mention that they wouldn’t be allowed to do that if all of their plans didn’t also slot perfectly into a news-hungry Internet culture that’s handing them all the real, valuable social network-shared advertising they really need. What’s the point of debuting their record in the middle of an Australian farm convention? It’s weird! People will write about it! Not that some farmers who probably don’t care will somehow feel their slick disco music more authentically. The videos they’ve been rolling out through Vice’s Creator’s Project to spotlight the album’s illustrious collaborators are even more aggressively modern in a way the guys pretend to reject.
Letting legends like Giorgio Moroder talk about his legacy and how it continues on the new Daft Punk record is really smart. It fits perfectly into the theory the Vice dudes espoused in that New Yorker profile, an attempt to make advertising compelling again by having it resemble content more than it resembles advertising. They’ve made it really easy for blog editors and Facebook posters to get the word out, and make all the associated brands (Daft Punk, Intel, Creator’s Project) seem hip and artistically unimpeachable in the process. (Psssst…This is not old-school glamor.)
Legendary funk guitarist Nile Rodgers stars in the most watchable of these. He’s warm and engaging, and I could watch him talk about writing new wave guitar parts and David Bowie drinking orange juice all day. You can be cynical about it, but you can’t say this isn’t a fun watch. (Anyone else looking forward to Julian Casblancas’ wildly inarticulate video? Panda Bear’s mumblecore one?)
The gist of the testimonial videos is basically: Isn’t it ironic that robots are playing real instruments rather than using modern computer presets! How ironic that these cyborgs are teaching us what it means to get back to humanity again? Sorry, but no. Let’s try—It’s slightly awkward that these two human musicians decided their costumes are too recognizable to give up at a moment when they are trying to present themselves as ultra authentic? Or…It’s goofy to talk about deep and meaningful changes in artistic philosophy while showing grainy photos of robot mascots in sweatshirts playing the keyboard in the good ol’ days? Their robot selves could have been used to make a funny, knowing parody of all the life-changing anecdotes we’ve been fed about the making of records over the years, but the clips are way too earnest to suggest that intent.
I’ve long thought that Daft Punk were really genius to make living, breathing logos of themselves. Like if the Rolling Stones were just anthropomorphic tongues rather than rapidly aging husks. A Daft Punk show in five years will be the perfect replication of one five years ago, or twenty years from now. You’re never going to get bummed out that the Robots look so old. They can do this until they die. Maybe longer.
Watching Kraftwerk perform as old men, I found it unexpectedly poignant. Their music was still mathematically precise, but their humanity was suddenly glaring. Trying so hard to narrate the arc of a career as they are, now would seem like the perfect time for these guys to take it all the way to unmasking in public. But having set the scene for the slightly embarrassing juggernaut of EDM music, Daft Punk now wants the respect associated with “real” musicianship, without actually becoming vulnerable at all. Guys so obsessed with the 70s remember how KISS looked without the makeup. And they’d rather stay pretty, get a fashion designer to make them into shinier action figures. (The Knife just made a very different decision about this sort of thing.)
Rodgers’ clip accidentally reveals the real point of these vignettes. And despite funny clashes of artifice and authenticity when he says “The Robots have really evolved as artists,” the point isn’t really keeping up a myth. When talking about the hit-making of smash Chic singles in the high disco era, he gives the simple pure-pop goal of creating a song that DJs and dancers could hear once, get, and remember. “Get Lucky” the single teased over and over again in these clips, is a modest epic at over 6 minutes, but it’s hook is super simple by design, and ruthlessly catchy. I wonder if they’re nervous that modern attention spans are too short to guarantee even that first listen all the way through? Repeat it over numerous commercials, and we know and get the song at negative one listen! (The full single is supposedly released later today.)
Everything about that video clip screams Muppet Show to me. And obviously, that seems super fun. But does it seem authentic and important and an epochal return to the music, man? Are we preparing for the most fun album of the summer? The most important? The most important fun that’s humanly possible, made by shiny fashion robots going back to the essence of true musicianship, who found the future by teaming up with really old disco guys and Julian Casablancas? It’s pretty confusing!
Luckily, I’m not sure we’re going to think about it too much. Robots! Sunshine!!