Toasting 20 years of a dance classic...

With the duo of Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo – best known as the robot mask-wearing duo Daft Punk – just having snuck out their collaboration with The Weeknd, nestling comfortably up against previous work with Pharrell and Nile Rodgers, it's hard to conceive that this pair haven't always been pop royalty.

Yet there was a time when Bangalter and de Homem-Christo were just a pair of über-hip house music producers with a couple of arresting singles to their name – ‘The New Wave’ and the irrepressible ‘Da Funk’, released on Slam’s Soma imprint – with nary a mask in site. This was a duo with a rock past, a dud review of their work as Darlin’ for Stereolab’s Duophonic label, and a tentative decision to pivot toward the dance music that seemed to be hell-bent on usurping guitar music’s dominance.

Those early singles caught the attention of the discerning clubgoer and a bidding war began among major labels for what would become Daft Punk’s debut album, ‘Homework’, which emerged on Virgin twenty years ago this month. Majors had been falling over themselves during dance music’s halcyon period in the mid-90s to sign up the big names, allowing artists like The Chemical Brothers to migrate from the world of faceless 12” singles to the more grown-up world of the album form, often with records that hung off the back of a couple of block-rocking singles but which sometimes felt like they contained a whole lot of hastily-compiled filler.

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‘Homework’, for the most part, dispensed with the filler material and offered a genuinely new take on house music. It was fresh, clean and relied heavily on gently obfuscated samples of rare disco records, a finders-keepers hip-hop sensibility and authentic molasses-smooth funk texture. This was dance music with a unique personality, and a hybrid that seamlessly connected the dots between the eclectic 90s dancefloor and the worn-out old disco roué some twenty years its senior; good-time music with just enough of a dark edge to appeal to the least accepting of dance music aficionados, and just enough of a sense of humour to make you wonder if it wasn't a massive piss-take.

It wasn't. A listen to the track ‘Teachers’ nods firmly to the litany of forebears that Daft Punk felt they owed a debt to – techno stalwarts like Jeff Mills and Luke Slater, George Clinton, Dre, Lil Louis and countless others. It was a fusion of disparate genres that somehow, immaculately, perfectly, just worked.

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In the monster pop track ‘Around The World’, with its vocodered vocal hook, insistent groove, and deceptively simple melody, Daft Punk isolated the signature sound that Bangalter and de Homen-Christo are still playing with to this day, albeit on a much grander scale. To this day ‘Around The World’ still sounds like it was beamed in from an all-night lock-in session at the Tatooine cantina, like Daft Punk were remixing the future itself.

That big pop single sits somewhat uncomfortably next to ‘Rollin’ & Scratchin’’ on the album (originally the wild, percussive, distorted acid-flecked B-side of the ‘Da Funk’ 12”) and the equally-skewed manic filtering of ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’; here you have the polished, future-disco sound that Daft Punk would work incessantly opposite what could have been a much more radical sound, but one that would more than likely never have allowed them to migrate from the 12” format.

‘Homework’ was released to almost universal acclaim. Over time, its more basic dance music moments might have lost some of their lustre, but in the right place, in the right mood and at the right volume, most of ‘Homework’ still sounds as jaw-droppingly innovative as it did fully two decades ago.

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Words: Mat Smith / @mjasmith

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