Sunday, April 30, 2006

Travelblogue, Coachella 2006 08: The Massive Mightiness of Daft Punk

I cannot sufficiently stress the mightiness of Daft Punk's live set. Seriously. Rarely have I seen such a spectacle in live dance music. I'd say in terms of sheer spectacle, they're on par with the Chemical Brothers, however much I prefer the headier and more spiritual sets of the Chemical Brothers. The Daft Punk set was loud, flashy, and, I would argue, universally agreeable. Behold: As you can see, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo were at the top of this big pyramid-type thing on the stage. Whatever equipment they were working with was hidden from view. Behing them was this diamond-framework of lights, and behind that a projection screen. Footage of the main stage was projected onto the two flanking screens. And, as you might be able to make out from the side screens in the first photo, they were dressed in robot suits. Sheer spectacle, and glorious for that. It was unspeakably cool to see a 50-sci-fi-style robot head bobbing along to "Robot Rock."

The set was largely similar in means, method, and content to the set immortalized on Daft Punk's Alive 1997 (an album which gets my vote for the great, un-sung live album of all time). This means a constant, mixed, mish-mash madness of their tracks from all across their three albums. Two minutes of one track, then samples from another track are brought in, then it's on to another track, and then back to the first. In the lead-in to the main treatment of the iPod-commercial-popularized "Technologic," Daft Punk took a cue from the thoughts in my head and mixed in samples of Busta Rhymes' recent track, "Touch It," which makes use of similar (related?) vocal elements. Exceedingly cool.

Shortly into the set, Daft Punk drew in a large part of the remaining Coachella audience, as they were one of the last act's playing (they actually violated the curfew, playing until 12:15 AM). Certainly, there were many lay to lax Daft Punk fans in that audience - folks who at some point, back in the day, heard "Around the World" and guiltily liked it, and relatively few folks like me, who have been following Daft Punk for over nine years. But everybody seemed to have a damn fine time. Which brings me to my next point.

There's a reason LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy cheekily references Daft Punk, saying, "I was the first guy playing Daft Punk to the rock kids. I played it in CBGBs. Everybody thought it was crazy." Daft Punk's music has, IMO, an advantage over other electronic acts in terms of appealing to mainstream audiences, and I think this advantage is based on their simplicity. Yes, Daft Punk makes simple, 4/4 based music which rarely strays from the techno/house framework. They do, however, bring a lot of personality and texture to the music, giving it an advanteage over more austere techno acts. But ultimately, I think Daft Punk may be more successful in terms of crossover appeal than other, less orthodox dance acts just because their music is so damnedly simple and primal. I'm convinced that dance music, at its core, is universally appealing, and that only the weird socialization of American culture under the dominance of record companies prevents dance music from being more popular here. When folks can relax a little and listen to the music, and get over the fact that there are no lyrics to sing along to, and realize that repetition is condusive to dancing, they all seem to have fun.

Ultimately, Daft Punk presents dance music in a package so big, loud, and garish, that it's impossible to ignore. And because of that, they gain attention, and they make converts. And for that, I applaud them.


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