Daft Punk: Human Touch

source: Sony Music

Text Yuzuru Sato + Hidzir Junaini
Interview Noriko Endo

Although ‘Get Lucky’ was probably the most anticipated lead single in recent memory, luck played no part in Daft Punk’s monumental success. From Homework to Discovery to Human After All, the French duo have always been held in deference, staying timeless throughout various eras and trends, and all that boils down to their dazzling cybernetic vision. Eight years on from their last album (discounting Tron: Legacy), Random Access Memories was naturally greeted with a feverish embrace and overwhelmingly positive critical adulation. In contrast to their cold and sleek robotic exterior, Random Access Memories burst with discothèque melody, building a towering opus that marries the synthetic with soulful synth, staying cool without ever being cold. This is easily Daft Punk’s most personal work yet, and it seems that their funky nostalgia stems from a yearning to rediscover the human touch.

“[Giorgio Moroder] came from the most popular mainstream music in German pop and he invented the most hipster music… You don’t have like ABBA on one side, and like Kraftwerk on the other, it was one thing at the time. Because it’s made of the same wood. “ – Guy-Man

The album title Random Access Memories is a title suggestive of the Internet age. Was this generational trend reflective in your album’s themes?
Thomas I think what we wanted to reflect was maybe… this idea of metaphor, parallel between robots and what they mean. Robots are a relationship between technology and humanity. What is between those two concepts? It’s true that there was strong difference between when we first started making music, which was 20 years ago and now, which is this idea of the computer taking over society and taking over social behaviour and having this very strong presence of a certain kind of, not artificial intelligence, but where it feels like the Internet has suddenly become an extension of human beings. The technological artefacts and the pieces of information we possess becoming an extension of ourselves plays into the idea of the similarities or differences between the human brain and a hard drive for example. Digital memory becomes data and human memories are the same, except they’re emotionally charged. There is a lot of emotion and affection, it’s the same kind of data but treated with the human brain, with the human perspective. And this emotional quality is really the idea of understanding what the difference between robots and humans is, and if the engineered piece of artificial intelligence with an emotional dimension and can really work.

We gather that that dichotomy between technology and humanity plays into the sound of this new album too? It seems to be going against trend in current EDM, which tends to be lavish, loud or gaudy.
T We feel like technology is making it very hard to express a musical idea with a lot of emotion and content. To us, it feels like emotion is very difficult to capture with a computer. We’ve never succeeded in doing that, it’s much easier with a piano, or synthesizer or drum machine, or real instrument whether they’re electronic or not. In some sense the electronic music scene right now is compensating for this inability to capture emotion with a sound that’s more energetic. And then you have a lot of energy because energy is another way to communicate with people, on a very physical level. In the same way that you can have people really in love with a very emotional connection, but if they are not in love, you can have people making love in a way that is totally much more physical and energetic. It seems music that has this energy in the scene is purely physical stimulation, trying to be closer to someone without experiencing a certain emotional quality. Because we tried to capture something more emotional, there is less need to actually be aggressive about it, and then it becomes much airier and softer. We just want to stay true to a certain sensual groove that can be physical and that can be suave, but in a light way. Something that still makes boys and girls dance, and get lucky.

Speaking of, could you tell us how ‘Get Lucky’ came about?
T Pharrell wrote most of the lyrics and as he says, it’s about relationships on the dance floor, people clicking. It’s this idea of the party. But it’s true that for this record, we wanted to take a look at how dance music can be done in a way where you have a sense of seduction but without too much aggression. In some sense, that’s maybe what this song is also about, because it has this kind of sensuality that’s not threatening, and it feels like everyone can have a good time in a very optimistic way and get together.

The artists that you collaborated with on this album come from a variety of backgrounds. Did the selection of collaborators tie into the Random Access Memories theme?
T Yes, memories are the difference between the past present and the future. And the random quality is probably the eclectic natures of all the collaborators. It feels like it goes everywhere, but music can be anything. And that’s why it’s wide open and it’s random. But we wanted to create a timeless zone, a portal to a timeless environment where music could exist and in the present, and could be connected to the past. But it wasn’t about trying to escape the present to go into the past; it was more about trying to bring the best of what the past back to the present.

It’s been said that this has been your most creatively uncompromised record. What are some of the aspects that you did not compromise on?
T The album is a succession of uncompromising events. I think everything is zero-compromise and that’s why it took five years to do. That’s why we were so radical, doing experiments until we were totally fulfilled by the experience. It’s this idea of doing things and when you look at a piece of art, and its making sense, that’s what it’s meant to be. It’s like the sculpture that’s inside the rock. Previously, we’ve been doing all of this music in our home studio, and that was a wonderful thing to show that you could do it in a studio like that, in the context of home. But we had this opportunity to do it for real, in a recording studio, at a time where people are not doing it for real anymore. It really felt like were shooting this film using a real film set at a point where filmmakers are only using computer-generated sets. We were excited to be able to live the production process that emulated some of these classic records that we love – we’re doing it the way that the producers that we love were doing it 30 years ago. And it’s such a magical experience that it became overwhelming and difficult, but so much more challenging and special. And again, we think that computers are amazing technology, people can make amazing things with it, but we felt sad when computers began compensating for the human creative process. We felt we had the luxury to do it this way but maybe also the duty to do it. It feels like established artists maybe don’t have the drive to do something like this these days… and we tried to find that drive. We were able to make these records in our bedroom and now were able do it old-school, with the real people. It becomes this very special experience and that’s why this record is for us very special, because the process is so different. Every other record that we did was really almost just the two of us, but this record was like a film, when you have a film crew. And everybody is serving a vision that we want in, and all looking in the same direction to make the magic happen.