The Daft Punk Coachella comeback set that changed the course of music
Daft Punk could make an 808-break sound like John Bonham, turn a synth soundscape into a holographic reincarnation of Hendrix and most importantly, adrenalise your brain cells with a jolt of euphoric high-frequency humanised electricity.
The 2000s burst into life brilliantly, at least in a musical sense. In many ways, Daft Punk’s 2001 album Discovery elucidated the Baroque expression that Robots could be capable of. Like all masterpieces, there was an inevitable glut of copycats who always seemed to cling to the worst elements of the Promethean feat that inspired them. What started with a glorious technicolour explosion of electric sound was soon downloaded and reduced to a zip-file abstraction of soulless auto-tune heartbreaks, entirely oversaturated and completely unoriginal. Daft Punk, however, once more soared above the ash-heat of electronic pop that their sorry imitators had created like a sexy neon phoenix when they unleashed the soundtrack to eternal summers, Random Access Memories. In the interim between these two records, the band performed an iconic set at Coachella Music Festival’s Sahara Tent at 11:00 pm on Saturday, April 29th, 2006, that irrevocably changed the course of music. Following the band’s decision to call it quits earlier today, we’re looking at the performance and legacy below.
In 2005 Daft Punk released their third album Human After All. It was basically the only record in the band’s arsenal that did not receive critical adulation. Although the titular track along with ‘Robot Rock’ and ‘Technologic’ all still reside as iconic tunes of artistic merit, the LP, on the whole, fell short of the consistent product that they had very slowly released in a career that proved so far from prolific that they essentially made a mockery of the efficiency expected of robots.
Following the mediocre effort of Human After All, critics wondered how much further Daft Punk could take their futuristic trope when a great awe-inspired hush descended over the cynics in the form of one of the most legendary live sets of all time at the Coachella festival.
The band began with the intro theme for Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, announcing their otherworldly intentions before bursting in a ‘Robot Rock’ / ‘Oh Yeah’ mash-up that fucked with the fabric of time as an awestruck crowd seemed to be frozen in the rictus ecstasy of cacophonous sound in ceremony.
Like a hypersonic missile of beatific intent, the set bolted on through the majority of the bands back catalogue in a seamless mix of sound akin to the symphonic endurance of sprawling classical pieces from the European pompadour piano-masters of old. By the time they reached the final crescendo in the form of the expertly mixed triumvirate of ‘Superheroes’, ‘Human After All’ and ‘Rock ’n’ Roll’, it was clear to the mind-walloped onlookers that something cataclysmic had unfurled before their eyes, and music would never be the same again.
The performance had been such a profuse propagation of sonic exhilaration that the music scene could surely never survive unchanged. It was a set that affirmed their legacy as one of the greatest electronic acts of all time and true music luminaries.
For those who weren’t there, this might seem like an overblown response to the band’s fateful break-up, but the fact that this set coincided perfectly with the rapid uptake in EDM music the world over is proof of its seismic influence.
The French duo had already revolutionised dance music with their first two records, Homework and Discovery. Still, with this performance, they had transfigured the genre into something new, something that the mainstream could palate and could refuse to ignore. They had captivated the Californian festival-going masses, and with that singular achievement, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo had ensured that this disco overture would enter the mainstay. Coachella is a unique festival that meddles the mainstream with acts from the acclaimed alternative realm, thus with the good, the bad and the ugly of pop-culture in attendance, the widespread reverberations of such a seismic performance were inevitable.
Following the set, the Billboard charts were flooded with an influx of synth-heavy songs; dance music Google searches peaked, kids were flocking to buy mixing decks instead of guitars, and disco stars of old like Leo Sayer were coaxed out of retirement.
The legacy of the performance was not, however, limited to uptake in EDM interest and a surge of inspired young fans. A year later, Kanye West released a remixed version of ‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’ that went on to be a simply unavoidable pop-culture sensation that unmistakably altered hip hop and made Drake’s auto-tuned mainstream take-over possible.
What people like Giorgio Moroder had started way back in 1969 with That’s Bubblegum – That’s Giorgio, for better or for worse, finally came to fruition and spawned the almost entirely synthetic music industry that we have today. The worst elements of this legacy should certainly not be held against these pioneers because Daft Punk by no means forced an electronic overhaul on the industry. They merely produced a performance too good to ignore. As Hervé Martin-Delpierre puts it in the Daft Punk Unchained documentary, “Everything about Daft Punk was about freedom.” And everything about their zenith at Coachella embodied this mantra to scintillating perfection.