China: 20 Years of Homework

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Daft Punk – Homework

Released January 20th, 1997 on Virgin Records

Twenty years ago MTV (MuchMusic here at home) started playing a weird video where a bipedal dog in a dirty jacket and a leg in a cast took a gander at the nightscape of an urban neighbourhood he’d just moved to while he carried around a radio blasting some dirty, distorted synth-funk.  That song was “Da Funk” and it, along with “Around The World” were the sort of crossover radio-club staples that most electronic groups could only dream of.  The key, of course, was that it eschewed Euro Pop formulas in favour of hard French house, and brought French house shuddering into mainstream American attention.

The duo of Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter weren’t always stylish and cool futurists playing house music for an audience stuck in the past.  Prior to picking up synthesizers and drum machines, the two played in an indie band called Darlin’, who played, as Melody Maker put it, “a daft punky thrash.” After that band fell apart, the duo took up electronic instruments, ultimately presenting their music to a DJ at a EuroDisney rave (tell me that doesn’t make sense).  They recorded a slew of tracks, intending them to be a long series of singles, but eventually they realized that they would be better served releasing a full album since there was just so much music recorded.  The result was Homework, a relentless barrage of pounding house music that sounds as at home on the festival main stage as it does in the club, which would become very influential on DJs as the 21st Century began to unfold.

Homework was the opening salvo in the rave invasion of suburban North America, one of the albums released in 1997 that would strip away many of the alt-rock fans that hadn’t by then turned to hip-hop.  One could make the argument that the initial shots were fired by Becoming X and Better Living Through Chemistry (and, in a sense, by Aphex Twin’s “home-listening techno”) but neither Fatboy Slim nor the Sneaker Pimps would become really big until 1998, after Daft Punk, the Crystal Method, the Prodigy made executive housing developments safe for rave culture.  While the repetitive hooks of “Da Funk” and “Around The World” probably annoyed the hell out of the Boomers who had to listen to them even peripherally, they galvanized their kids and brought a whole new form of expression to their creative ideas.

Daft Punk – “Random Access Memories”

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Random Access Memories has become something of a divisive thing on certain online communities.  There are many long-time Daft Punk fans who were salivating over a return to their Discovery glory days, and were loudly annoyed when they discovered through their leaked pirate links that the French duo had traded in big house tracks for a smoother, more chilled-out disco sound.  Others, naturally, were very much turned on by these sounds, and with good reason:  the album is likely the best disco album in years.  There’s more than a whiff of California highway, Steely Dan-level breeziness surrounding the more upbeat tracks, such as the singles “Get Lucky” and “Instant Crush”.  This love letter to the glory of the pre-punk era is still filtered through some essential Daft Punk synth-work; “Contact”, the closer, features a signature arpeggio riff repeated into infinity, with squalling support work revving things up to a Formula One-style racing speed.  The drums, however, are much more organic, and that’s the point to Random Access Memories – at long last, eight years later, Daft Punk are finally human after all.

 

This turn towards the organic comes at a price, and those are the slower tracks on the album.  “The Game Of Love” is at least erotic, like a Seventies sex jam with a vocoder, but “Within” and “Touch” both strive for some sort of artistic statement and fail to rouse even an ounce of such energy.  They succeed on that level with “Giorgio By Moroder”, a nine-minute ode to the European disco era that arouses nostalgia I didn’t even really know existed, through an odd, captivating spoken word segment.  As a revivalist album, it succeeds on multiple levels; since the modern music scene is hungry for reinvention of their parent’s sounds, expect these tracks to gain some real traction on both internet and terrestrial radio.  Whether this is a “Daft Punk” album is up to the individual, but regardless of who made it, or why, it succeeds on its own shuffling merits.

 

FINAL MARK:  A