Daft Punk started working on Random Access Memories in 2008, playing almost everything on their own and making loops, just like they had done before. But it didn't feel right. “It became clear that we were limited by our own disability to hold a groove the way we wanted for more than eight or 16 bars,” admits Bangalter. “Something we love about disco is the idea of playing the same groove over and over again—your brain can tell it's not a sample that's being replayed.”
So they enlisted technically masterful instrumentalists (the kind of guys who grace the covers of magazines like Modern Drummer and Bass Musician), put different combinations of players together, explained their ideas, laid down sheet music or hummed melodies, and collected tons of original recordings on analog tape. “The idea of working with musicians was way beyond making it sound better,” says Bangalter. “It was an opportunity to create something on a very personal level with people that we admire the most.”
To that end, they would often meet with these collaborators beforehand to talk about the ideas and inspirations behind the album before even stepping inside of a studio. Chic's Nile Rodgers, the hitmaking funk Zelig behind some of the slickest guitar licks of all-time, recalls breaking out his old-fashioned L5 jazz guitar in his living room during his first meeting with Bangalter and de Homem-Christo last year. “They just got all hyped,” he says. The three ended up recording Rodgers’ parts over the course of a few days at Manhattan's Electric Lady Studios, the same spot where Chic laid down their first single in 1977. Along with his guitar playing, Rodgers showed Daft Punk some of his trademark recording methods, too. “That's how you did it in the old days—when a person is paying you top dollar, you want to make sure that they're happy and they don't have to call you back,” says Rodgers, laughing. “So I just bombarded them with ideas and said, ‘OK, now you guys figure that shit out.’”
Indeed, deciding how to arrange what Bangalter calls “an overwhelming amount of assets” was the most difficult part of putting RAM together, and why it took so long. For instance, even though they recorded orchestra parts for nearly every song on the album, those strings only ended up on three or four tracks. Even a seemingly straightforward tune like first single “Get Lucky” took about 18 months from start to finish, as it slowly mutated from a Wurlitzer-based track to the chugging summer anthem we now know. The album's title, which was settled early on, became a guidepost and a justification for the record's whiplash jump cuts from song to song and guest to guest. “It helped us understand how all of these collaborators could live together,” says Bangalter, “because if you look at this bizarre list of people on paper, you could be like, ‘Whoa, that's gonna be a big mess.’” While figuring out what direction the album would eventually take, the two considered indexing the whole thing as one big track, like Prince's Lovesexy, or even releasing a quadruple album.
But of all the moving parts that make up Random Access Memories, the most head-scratching section to put together was the album's eight-minute centerpiece, “Touch”. The kaleidoscopic track stars 72-year-old Paul Williams, who wrote immense hits for the Carpenters, Barbra Streisand, and more in his 70s heyday, before descending into drug and alcohol abuse in the 80s, and then recovering in the 90s. Daft Punk were obsessed with Williams from an early age, largely due to his role in director Brian De Palma's schlocky 1974 pop opus Phantom of the Paradise, in which he plays a Faustian ghoul who trades his soul in order to become rock'n'roll's preeminent impresario. The movie is ridiculous, funny, entertaining, and endlessly referential—just like Daft Punk. (At one point during our interview, Bangalter let it slip that he and de Homem-Christo recently had a meeting with De Palma to “discuss some things,” though he declined to divulge any specifics.)
For inspiration, Bangalter gave Williams a book of stories about people who had died, came back to life, and remembered parts of past lives. And Williams' lyrics are about an awakening: “I remember touch,” he croons, longingly. “As somebody who has been pronounced dead and came back, I could connect to this idea in the song,” says Williams, who's now 23 years sober and the subject of the quietly triumphant recent documentary Still Alive. Meanwhile, the song warps and bends, floating through genres, epochs, and emotions with a sense of hallucinatory wonder, recalling nothing less than the Beatles' “A Day in the Life”. “It's like the core of the record,” says de Homem-Christo, “and the memories of the other tracks are revolving around it.”
As Bangalter and de Homem-Christo talk about “Touch”, there's still a sense of astonishment in their voices. “It was the most complicated thing we've ever done,” says Bangalter. “And it became so exciting because it didn't feel like we took the easy route. With this record, we had the luxury to do things that so many people cannot do, but it doesn't mean that with luxury comes comfort.” It's this high-stakes, high-wire mindset that keeps these guys in an enviable position within the collective imagination, no matter how long they take between magic tricks. Because if Daft Punk are still able to amaze themselves, there's still some hope for the rest of us.
Additional reporting by Michael Renaud
Discovery is the second studio album by French electronic music duo Daft Punk, released on 26 February 2001 by Virgin Records. It marks a shift from the Chicago house sound prevalent on their first studio record, Homework (1997), to a house style more heavily inspired by disco, post-disco, garage house, and R&B. Comparing their stylistic approach to their previous album, band member Thomas Bangalter described Discovery as an exploration of song structures and musical forms whereas Homework was "raw" electronic music. He also described Discovery as a reflection of the duo's childhood memories, when they listened to music with a more playful and innocent viewpoint.
The album was recorded at Bangalter's home in Paris between 1998 and 2000. The album features extensive sampling; few samples were from older records, while others were recorded by Daft Punk playing live instruments themselves. Fellow electronic musicians Romanthony, Todd Edwards, and DJ Sneak collaborated on some tracks both musically and lyrically. For the album's music videos, the group developed a concept involving the merging of science fiction with the entertainment industry. Inspired by their childhood love for Japanese anime, the duo collaborated with Leiji Matsumoto to produce Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem, an anime film with the entirety of Discovery as the soundtrack.
In the lead-up to Discovery's release, the duo adopted robot costumes, claiming they had become robots as a result of an accident in their studio. They also launched Daft Club, a website which featured exclusive tracks and other bonus material. Discovery was a critical and commercial success, peaking high across several charts internationally on release. Critics praised Daft Punk for innovating the house music scene in the same manner they had done with Homework. The album spawned six singles; "One More Time" featuring Romanthony was its most successful, and became a club hit. Other musicians, including Kanye West, have sampled tracks from Discovery in their own works.
After their debut album Homework was released, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo spent most of 1997 touring on the Daftendirektour. For the first half of 1998, the duo was focused on their own personal labels, while also working on the video collection D.A.F.T.: A Story About Dogs, Androids, Firemen and Tomatoes. In 1999 and 2000, their time was split between making music for their own labels and recording Discovery.
Discovery was recorded in the duo's own studio, Daft House, located at Bangalter's home in Paris, France. Daft Punk started work on the album in early 1998, and produced it over the course of two years. Bangalter and Homem-Christo made music together and separately, in a similar process to their debut album Homework. Although they used the same equipment as they had for Homework, the duo sought to record tracks that were more concise than their previous work. For Discovery, the group used different samplers and synthesizers, including Akai MPC, E-mu SP-1200, Oberheim DMX and LinnDrum. The track "Short Circuit", which features a Sequential Circuits drum pattern, was previously heard in Daft Punk's 1997 live sets. For vocoders, the group used a Roland SVC-350, Auto-Tune, and a DigiTech Vocalist. Production on the album also incorporated a PC with an early version of Logic. Every track on Discovery uses a different phase shifter. The album was mastered by Nilesh Patel, who also had mastered Homework.
One of the first tracks to come out of the Discovery sessions, "One More Time", was completed in 1998 and was left "sitting on a shelf" until its single release in 2000. After completing "Too Long" early in the album's production, Daft Punk decided that they "didn't want to do 14 more house tracks" in the way the genre is usually defined, and thus set out to incorporate a variety of styles for the record. The album features musical contributions from Romanthony, Todd Edwards, and DJ Sneak. Romanthony and Edwards were some of the producers that had the most influence on Daft Punk. The duo had wanted to work with them on Homework, but found it difficult to convince them to do so since they were still relatively unknown. DJ Sneak wrote the lyrics to "Digital Love" and assisted in the song's production.
Discovery is recognized as a concept album. It relates strongly to Daft Punk's childhood memories, incorporating their love of cinema and character.Thomas Bangalter specified that the album deals with the duo's experiences growing up in the decade between 1975 and 1985, rather than it just being a tribute to the music of that period. The record was designed to reflect a playful, honest and open-minded attitude toward listening to music. Bangalter compared it to the state of childhood when one does not judge or analyze music. Bangalter noted the stylistic approach of the album was in contrast to that of their previous effort. "Homework [...] was a way to say to the rock kids, like, 'Electronic music is cool'. Discovery was the opposite, of saying to the electronic kids, 'Rock is cool, you know? You can like that.'" He elaborated that Homework had been "a rough and raw thing" focused on sound production and texture, whereas the goal with Discovery was to explore song structures and new musical forms. This change in sound was inspired by Aphex Twin's "Windowlicker".
Discovery is a departure from Daft Punk's previous house sound. In his review for AllMusic, John Bush wrote that Discovery is "definitely the New York garage edition" of Homework. He added that Daft Punk produced a "glammier, poppier" sound of Eurodisco and R&B by over embellishing their pitch-bend, and vocoder effects, including loops of divas, synth-guitars, and electric piano.Stylus Magazine's Keith Gwillim asserted that it is a disco album that draws on the genre's "danceable" and "sappy" elements, including its processed vocals and "prefabricated" guitar solos. Other critics also described the album as post-disco. Retrospectively, Uproxx said the album also incorporates French house.
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The album's opening track, "One More Time", features heavily Auto-Tuned and compressed vocals from Romanthony. The next track, "Aerodynamic", has a funk groove, halt for an electric guitar solo, and ending with a separate "spacier" electronic segment. This solo, which contains guitar arpeggios, was compared to Yngwie Malmsteen by Pulse!. "Digital Love" contains a solo performed by the duo using a Wurlitzer piano, vintage synthesizers and music sequencers; it incorporates elements of pop,new wave, jazz, funk and disco. "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger", the fourth track on the album is an electro-leaning song. It is followed by "Crescendolls", an instrumental. "Nightvision" is an ambient track. "Superheroes" leans toward the "acidminimalism" of Homework. "High Life" is built over a "gibberish" vocal sample, and contains an organ-like section. "Something About Us" is a downtempo song, with digitally processed vocals by Daft Punk and lounge rhythms.
"Voyager" has guitar riffs, harp-like 80s synths, and a funky bassline. "Veridis Quo" is a "faux-orchestral" synthesizer baroque song; according to Angus Harrison, its title is a pun on the words "very disco". "Short Circuit" is an electro-R&B song with breakbeats and programmed drum patterns. "Face to Face" is a dance-pop song featuring vocals from Todd Edwards, and is more pop-oriented than the other tracks on Discovery. In the context of the album, Bangalter noted that the preceding track "Short Circuit" represented the act of shutting down, and "Face to Face" represents the consciousness of reality. "Too Long", the album's closer, is a ten-minute-long electro-R&B song.
A significant amount of sampling is present on the album. Rather than creating new music using only the samples, Daft Punk worked with them by writing and performing additional parts. The Discovery liner notes specify permitted use of samples for four tracks on the album: Part of George Duke's "I Love You More" is featured in "Digital Love"; Edwin Birdsong's "Cola Bottle Baby" was sampled for "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger"; The Imperials' song "Can You Imagine" is used for "Crescendolls"; Barry Manilow's "Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed" is credited for "Superheroes". It is believed that "One More Time" contains a sample of "More Spell on You" by Eddie Johns, but this is uncredited in the Discovery liner notes. Bangalter reportedly denied using any samples for the song. A later report, however, indicated that the sample of "More Spell on You" had been officially approved.
Several websites list many other samples present on the album, but Bangalter has stated that half of the samples he had seen listed are not true. He also stated the sampling they do is legitimately done, not something they try to hide. Bangalter elaborated that the newly recorded elements were implemented in a way that was equivalent to "creating fake samples [...] where people think there are samples from disco records or funk records."Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo estimated that half of the sampled material on Discovery was played live and re-recorded by the duo, and emphasized that the resulting quality of the music was more important than the ego of who played which instruments.
Promotion and release
See also: Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem
The ideas for the album's music videos formed during the early Discovery recording sessions. Daft Punk's concept for the film involved the merging of science fiction with entertainment industry culture. The duo recalled watching Japanese anime as children, including favorites such as Captain Harlock, Grandizer, and Candy Candy. All three brought the album and the completed story to Tokyo in the hope of creating the film with their childhood hero, Leiji Matsumoto, who had created Captain Harlock. After Matsumoto joined the team as visual supervisor, Shinji Shimizu had been contacted to produce the animation and Kazuhisa Takenouchi to direct the film. With the translation coordination of Tamiyuki "Spike" Sugiyama, production began in October 2000 and ended in April 2003. The result of the collaboration was an anime film featuring the entirety of Discovery as the soundtrack.
Daft Punk adopted robot costumes in the lead up to Discovery's release. The group told to press they were working in their studio at 9:09 am on 9 September 1999, when their sampler exploded. They had to undergo reconstructive surgery, and, regaining consciousness, they realized they had become robots.
Shortly before the album's release, the group launched Daft Club, a website which offered exclusive tracks and other bonus material. Every Discovery CD included a Daft Club membership card bearing a unique number that provided personalized access to the website. Bangalter said this was "our way of rewarding people who buy the CD". The service provided by the site ended in 2003; most of the tracks were then compiled into the remix album Daft Club.
Discovery received generally positive reviews from critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream publications, the album received an average score of 74, based on 19 reviews.AllMusic's John Bush said that, with their comprehensive productions and loops of manifold elements, Daft Punk developed a sound that was "worthy of bygone electro-pop technicians from Giorgio Moroder to Todd Rundgren to Steve Miller."Q magazine wrote that the album was vigorous and innovative in its exploration of "old questions and spent ideals", hailing it as "a towering, persuasive tour de force" that "transcends the dance label" with no shortage of ideas, humor, or "brilliance".Joshua Clover, writing in Spin, dubbed Discovery disco's "latest triumph" and said although it "flags a bit" before the end, the opening stretch of songs was on-par with albums such as Sign o' the Times (1987) by Prince and Nirvana's Nevermind (1991). Stephen Dalton from NME found the record's pop art ideas enthralling and credited Daft Punk for "re-inventing the mid-'80s as the coolest pop era ever." In Entertainment Weekly, Will Hermes wrote that the "beat editing and EQ wizardry" still excite after Homework, despite the newly imbued sense of humor.Mixmag called it "the perfect non-pop pop album" and said Daft Punk had "altered the course of dance music for the second time".
Ben Ratliff from Rolling Stone was less impressed and wrote that few songs on Discovery were on-par with the grandiosity of "One More Time". He found most of them "muddled - not only in the spectrum between serious and jokey but in its sense of an identity." In The Guardian, Alexis Petridis felt Daft Punk's attempt to "salvage" older musical references resembled Homework, but was less coherent and successful.Pitchfork critic Ryan Schreiber found their "prog and disco" hybrid "relatively harmless" and claimed that it was not "meant to be judged on its lyrics", which he dismissed as amateurish and commonplace.Robert Christgau, writing in The Village Voice, facetiously said the album may appeal to young enthusiasts of Berlin techno and computing, but it was too "French" and "spirituel" for American tastes. In a retrospective review for The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004), Douglas Wolk gave Discovery three-and-a-half stars and wrote that "the more [Daft Punk] dumb the album down, the funkier it gets" with an emphasis on hooks over songs.
Q listed Discovery as one of the best 50 albums of 2001. The album was later ranked number 12 on Pitchfork's Top 100 Albums of 2000–04 and number three on their Top 200 Albums of the 2000s. In 2009, Rhapsody placed the album at number twelve on its 100 Best Albums of the Decade list. It was also named the fourth best album of the decade by Resident Advisor. In 2012, Rolling Stone included Discovery at number eight on their list of The 30 Greatest EDM Albums of All Time. The album also was included on BBC Radio 1's Masterpieces in December 2009 presented by Zane Lowe, highlighting the increased reception of the album over the decade.
The album peaked at number two in the United Kingdom and France, and number twenty-three in the United States. The album was certified triple platinum in France (in 2007) for shipments denoting 600,000 copies. As a result of sales, Discovery was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) on 11 October 2010. As of May 2013, the album has sold 802,000 copies in the US. The album's lead single "One More Time" was its most successful, peaking at number one on the French charts and the BillboardHot Dance Club Songs charts, and peaked within the top ten on seven other charts. It remained the group's most successful single until the release of "Get Lucky" in 2013. The album's fifth single, "Face to Face", reached number one on the BillboardHot Dance Club Songs chart in 2004. Discovery has sold at least 2.6 million copies as of 2005.
Several songs from the album would later be sampled by other artists. Kanye West's song "Stronger" from the album Graduation features a vocal sample of "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger". A live performance of "Stronger" was featured at the 2008 Grammy Awards, with Daft Punk performing in their trademark pyramid structure while Kanye West was on stage rapping.Wiley's song "Summertime" from the album See Clear Now features a sample of "Aerodynamic".Jazmine Sullivan's song "Dream Big" from the album Fearless features a sample of "Veridis Quo".
All tracks written by Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, except where noted.
Adapted from Discovery liner notes.
- Daft Punk – vocals, vocoders(tracks 3, 4, 9), sequencers, sampling, synthesizers, Wurlitzer electric piano, guitars, bass, talkbox, drum machines, production, concept, art direction
- Romanthony – lyrics, vocals (tracks 1, 14), co-production (track 14)
- DJ Sneak – lyrics (track 3)
- Todd Edwards – lyrics, vocals and co-production (track 13)
- Nilesh Patel – mastering
- Alex & Martin – concept, art direction
- Cedric Hervet – concept, art direction
- Gildas Loaëc – concept, art direction
- Simon Scott – concept, art direction
- Daniel Vangarde – concept, art direction
- Pedro Winter – concept, art direction
- Mitchell Feinberg – liquid metal photos
- Luis Sanchis – piano photo
- Tony Gardner, Alterian – bionics engineering
- Tamiyuki "Spike" Sugiyama – Tokyo connector
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- ^ abcdDiscovery (liner notes). Daft Punk. Virgin Records, a division of Universal Music Group. 2001.
- ^ abc"15 Things You Didn't Know About Daft Punk's Discovery". Ministry of Sound. 26 February 2017. Archived from the original on 6 October 2017. Retrieved 6 October 2017.
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- ^Homework (liner notes). Daft Punk. Virgin Records, a division of Universal Music Group. 42609. 1997.
- ^ ab"Daft Punk Embark on a Voyage of Discovery". MTV. Archived from the original on 27 March 2006. Retrieved 22 February 2007.
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- ^DJ Sneak | French Touch Information. frenchtouchinfo.com. Retrieved on February 22, 2018.
- ^ abcDalton, Stephen (10 March 2001). "Daft Punk: Discovery". NME. London: 31. Archived from the original on 21 April 2013. Retrieved 20 April 2013.