When sat in our bedrooms, daydreaming about becoming global rock stars, there’s a good chance that we’re not imagining our faces being covered. It feels the very antithesis of why an artist would pursue such a globalised reach for their music. Most stars are driven by enough ego to ensure that their face is front and centre whenever they perform, so for two of the music world’s biggest stars to totally reject such a notion is a little out of leftfield. However, Daft Punk never really did do things the normal way.
The band, famed for some of the most iconic pop songs of all time, were formed in Paris in 1993 by Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter and announced their split in 2021 following an impressive career. It’s one that has spanned across three decades capture thousands of fans while producing songs and albums that have sold millions around the world. If you walked into any nightclub in the western world and made yourself a semi-permanent home on the dancefloor, there’s no band who would illicit as large a response from the shufflers and two-steppers on the grimy floor as Daft Punk. Their music has been rightly championed as the perfect Venn diagram of leftfield nuance and mainstream appeal — and they did it all from behind the guise of two dance music-making robots.
Since their inception, the Daft Punk duo has worked feverishly in a bid to keep evolving. Passionately pushing the boundaries of genre, the band split time between touring and the studio with a work ethic like no other. While they worked relentlessly, Daft Punk focused heavily on the importance of quality and, during their time together, they only released four studio albums with Homework in 1997, Discovery in 2001, Human After All in 2005 and, most recently, Random Access Memories back in 2013.
Following the release of Homework, the duo made the bold decision to cover their faces whenever they were in public. It’s a stunt that has often seen attention lauded on their purveyors, and it certainly worked for the Frenchmen. However, rather than pursue make-up or some other kind of masks, the group eventually decided on the idea of becoming robots. “We’re not performers, we’re not models – it would not be enjoyable for humanity to see our features,” de Homem-Christo said when speaking to Rolling Stone, “But the robots are exciting to people,” he added.
It wasn’t always a robot, but the band’s pursuit of anonymity has always been a part of their success. In the nineties, they used black bin bags to hide their mugs, later using Halloween masks before eventually settling on the wondrous helmets. Designed by the group’s friends, the original incarnations even included some pretty vulgar attachable wigs. In 2001, the group threw away the wigs as it was much “sleeker” and have since gone on to have several different helmets designed. Some include communication systems for live show conversations while others are fitted with air conditioning — they even have some reserved, especially for photoshoots. But all of them are heavily guarded by non-disclosure agreements which guarantee one of their biggest assets remains a closely guarded secret.
What isn’t a secret, however, is why the duo needed masks at all. The helmets provided a narrative point for the audience within a musical genre that often lacks a real storyline. “We’re interested in the line between fiction and reality, creating these fictional personas that exist in real life.” While many people saw the adornments as gimmicks, they actually provided a reflection of their main influences: “Kraftwerk and Ziggy Stardust and Kiss; people thought the helmets were marketing or something, but for us it was sci-fi glam.”
There were more sincere reasons too, simply put, they rejected the idea that the world needed their human faces to make great music.
“We don’t believe in the star system,” Bangalter once said as a reason why the duo avoided appearing in music videos. “We want the focus to be on the music. If we have to create an image, it must be an artificial image. That combination hides our physicality and also shows our view of the star system. It is not a compromise. We’re trying to separate the private side and the public side.” Very few artists have set out to achieve such duality in their lives, and even fewer have succeeded.
Such a bold move has seen the duo guarantee their anonymity, something that allows their lives, and therefore their music, to be infused with the commonality that so many superstars lose following their first successful record. “One thing I like about the masks is that I don’t have people constantly coming up to me and reminding me what I do,” Bangalter says. “It’s nice to be able to forget.”
With Daft Punk calling it quits after 28 years, the duo can lie back and enjoy their stardom without the need for constant conversation. Now that they’ve sold millions of albums, sold out tour upon tour upon tour, and guaranteed themselves a place in the musical history books, the helmets, which had seemed such a frivolous gimmick, have now proven themselves to be more valuable than anyone could have imagined