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[Weekly Time Warp]

Chatting with a robot: Our 2007 interview with Daft Punk

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Editor's note: No, I didn’t see his face, but I heard his voice. On October 16, 2007—10 days before Daft Punk performed at the third and final Vegoose music festival—the robot with the visor helmet, aka Thomas Bangalter, called me just after 10 a.m. for his scheduled interview with Las Vegas Weekly. He was generous with his time, thoughtful in his answers and a bear to transcribe afterwards, the downside of his badass and thick French accent. —Spencer Patterson

Have the two of you ever been to Las Vegas? We’ve been many times, we just haven’t performed there. It’s fun that our last [North American] performance will be in Vegas. It’s a fascinating place, and it’s really about entertainment and showtime and lights and magic and a dream state, which obviously have connections with our show. So conceptually and symbolically we feel it’s fun to perform there on Halloween weekend. It’s definitely something that we didn’t expect a year ago, but as long as we end up doing surprising things for ourselves and other people it’s worthwhile.

Will Vegoose really mark the final appearance of the Daft Punk pyramid on U.S. soil? It’s true that this will be the last performance in America of this tour and with this setlist and a lot of this universe that we brought in. We might or might not come back with a few songs or some ideas that we’ve had from this show, but there’s no plans for touring in 2008, and it’s very unlikely that we would come back with something similar.

Should we read into that, then, that this could be Daft Punk’s final U.S. show ever? We hadn’t toured for 10 years, so we definitely took this North American tour as strong encouragement from the audience to try to put us back on the road more often, but at the same time there are other projects we’re interested in. But hopefully there will be more possibilities to perform in the future.

What was last year’s Coachella Music & Arts Festival pyramid debut like for you? It was a very important moment, very emotional, very exciting and encouraging enough that it was really worth trying to travel and tour and perform as much as we could to share our experience with different audiences all over the globe.

So going into that show, you didn’t necessarily have plans to tour further? We were supposed to do one or two other shows, but the show is extremely complicated and expensive and intricate and sophisticated, with a lot of different challenges, so I think that a not-so-successful response from the audience might have made it less possible to travel and present it to other audiences. So it’s really an excitement around this show that made the tour possible.

There were rumors before Coachella that Daft Punk was considering calling it quits. Was that ever close to being the case? No, even in those 10 years [between tours] we did two studio albums and worked on an animation film in Japan for two years ... but at the same time we were quite secretive and were not expressing ourselves extensively, so there’s all kinds of rumors that can see the light of day. But it’s never been the case that we were thinking of retiring. In general, we feel we have a lot of things to express, and we’re always trying to find the most innovative or experimental way to do it. This tour, in a way, has been a very avant-garde, large-scale experiment. We felt that we were trying to do something new that’s not really been done before.

In layman’s terms, explain what you guys do during a performance. Basically, what we’re doing in this setup—which is different than what we were doing 10 years ago with dozens of machines onstage—is that we’ve pretty much re-created, in a software environment, our entire studio, with a lot of different samples and drum sounds and pad sounds which we access through remote controls and some synthesizers that are in the pyramid. All of these elements are combined together ... the easiest way to explain would be that it’s similar to what a DJ does sometimes, but instead of having two or three sources, there are sometimes up to 15, 16, 17 different sources, all combined and shuffled and looped and all operated more or less in concert with the lights as well as the video. And all trying to stick to the story that the show tells, which is really a combination of sound frequencies and light frequencies, a very global experience, and trying to be as intense as possible.

What function do your helmets serve? We transformed ourselves very early to these robots, and now we perform as these two robots in these environments. We are able to communicate between us on intercom and really perform and do everything that we need to do in them. And at the same time they have become our alter egos.

Did the positives associated with the high-quality bootleg DVD that emerged after Coachella—namely what it did to spread the legend of Daft Punk’s live show—outweigh any financial downside? That was very exciting, because we started out trying to really do something experimental, this show, and a very new, almost experimental thing happened, with people appropriating these images and posting thousands of clips, not just of Coachella but of all the subsequent shows. The audience was really doing something new with technology that they could not have done five or 10 years ago, a new [version] of what had been done with the Grateful Dead’s shows, for example, but really in a very new, experimental way. So we’ve really encouraged that. At the same time, from a video point of view, that’s one of the reasons we decided not to release a DVD, because we felt that the amount of data and video that was online was much more compelling from these different points of view than anything that we could have captured ourselves. But audio-wise we saw a possibility to release an official version of the Paris show at the highest fidelity possible [Alive 2007] with a booklet of photos from the tour.

What do you think of Kanye West’s “Stronger”? We’re very pleased with his interpretation of some elements of our song and how he’s made it his own. We’ve always been influenced by African-American music in the past, as well as American music in general, and it’s really satisfying for things to come full circle and to reinject some of our music that has those influences back into hip-hop. And Kanye West is an important American artist, so it was pleasing.

How about LCD Soundsystem’s “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House”? Like any musician, when you start a project, you don’t think that anything that you’re going to do will somehow have cultural impact, but we’ve been fortunate enough to have been doing this Daft Punk project this long—it’s going to be 15 years next year since we recorded our first single—and it’s been rewarding in a way to have this validation from other artists. But also very weird because we’ve never expected that kind of reaction.

Have you ever been tempted to actually play a house show? I don’t know ... anything is possible. We’ve always tried to do different things ... so, yeah, why not? If it’s worthwhile, of course.

Do you watch HBO’s Flight of the Conchords? No, but I’ve heard of the skit where they are dressed like robots. I remember also a reference in 25th Hour, the Spike Lee film ... there was a scene where a girl was like, “Oh, I’ve been to this dressing room. I was with Daft Punk there.” That’s obviously very unexpected and really weird for us, as detached as we are, to experience that.

So now that you’ve built and toured atop a giant, glowing pyramid, what can Daft Punk possibly do next? Yeah [laughs], that’s the tough part, but at the same time this show is like a dream machine, and the good thing is that if you’re careful enough, dreams don’t stop. Sometimes you have more and more ambitious ones, sometimes smaller-scale dreams, but as long as we feel that we have things to say or to do, we’ll try to do it. Our evolution has never been measured in terms of goals of scale, doing bigger and bigger things, but rather doing challenging things that can be exciting and trigger the imagination, a little bit between fiction and reality. That’s what these robots are, and that’s what we are and will continue to be as long as we can.

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Spencer Patterson

Spencer Patterson is Las Vegas Weekly's Managing Editor, having previously served as Arts & Entertainment Editor, Music Editor and a ...

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