Following Classic Clash Cover Features with Foo Fighters and Kanye West, now it’s the turn of a certain French duo. We spoke to Daft Punk around the time of their live LP, ‘Alive 2007’, as they graced the cover of issue 23.
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To me it’s the final year of the recording industry as we know it…
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As your fans are so hungry for more material, why was the focus of 2007 put on a live album instead of a new studio album?
Thomas Bangalter: I think the question for us was how can we innovate and how can we express ourselves in a new way and try to experiment with things. We thought at this time that there was an importance to experiment with the live show and the performances and we wanted to favour that form of expression rather than making new album. We thought with a live tour we would have more opportunity to experiment than with a new album.
2007 seemed to be very much about live music, as recorded music and album sales didn’t do that well. Why do you think there’s been such a shift?
Thomas: To me it’s the final year of the recording industry as we know it. It’s true that it’s the end and it is due to self-destruction. I think it’s an interesting thing that it’s not the record labels that control the live tours, it’s completely different – so it’s maybe proof of a more artist-controlled environment and approach to have more and more shows. At the same time I think it’s maybe a fine-tuning of a ‘redefinition’ of what the record industry will be both now and in the future.
There’s a lot of thinking to be done about the format of music in general and how the artist wants to bring music to the audience and how the audience want to listen to the music. Whether this is through doing shows or different ways of receiving albums or singles. The fact that there isn’t a ‘market’ anymore makes it much more significant and re-centres the music allowing an interesting initiative for artist and musicians to express themselves and be heard or do experiments and complete something that the older generation hasn’t done.
What do you think of Radiohead’s latest move of giving their latest album (‘In Rainbows’) away as a download for however much the listener wants to pay for it?
Thomas: I think it’s by far one of the most exciting and experimental approaches that an important artist has made in a long time. It’s great to see that artists like Radiohead are experimenting and not exactly knowing where it will take everybody – it’s very bold and very brave. At the same time I don’t think that it should overcast the record; it’s a great album – that’s what is important alongside bringing new ways to rethink of the music and rethink the relationship between the artist and the audience, and rethink a possibility for a small economy outside of the industry.
A good thing about the death of the music industry is that music is coming out of the industry. The live show we are doing now is not an industrial thing; it’s artistic, it has a level of work but it’s not industrial and I think what Radiohead has done isn’t industrial either – and that’s exciting because it’s the idea that musicians can live an important and artistic life how they want. I think that when Radiohead released the album was definitely a very important day for music history.
I know that you regard everything Daft Punk does as an ‘experiment’. Would you like to go down a similar path of downloads now that you are out of contract with your label (Virgin) and have freedom to release what you like?
Thomas: I think it’s an idea we’d explore and the freedom allows us to experiment more – this is definitely important. The good thing with experiments is that the process allows some conclusions to be drawn. We have no intention of doing exactly the same thing as Radiohead because there is a certain beauty to pioneering factors. The triggering and the dialogue that Radiohead have started definitely has encouraged us to think of similar ways and work in a very freeform way and reinvent the relationship between music and the people that want to hear it.
Also, we like the idea to reset the cost of music, so it isn’t set by the record company – and that’s a good thing. Ultimately music is more for free because the new generation are not used to paying for it anyway.
Would you say that the French music scene has experienced a big change this year? How much of a reinvention has occurred there?
Thomas: No, I wouldn’t say reinvented. I think that French music, and there’s a lot of great electronic acts coming out now, they haven’t reinvented anything. They have followed a genre, but it’s really hard to be innovative in electronic music today apart from just making great electronic music.
It’s a bit like rock, which is a genre itself now, and once in a while you get a really, really good band. I don’t think anyone is trying to reinvent rock but instead just follow a genre – which is great. To me the problem is that electronic music today is very hard to innovate as the music has been so accepted and so it’s not part of the counter concern anymore.
At the same time, I think there is a generation of producers today that are bringing a very high quality of music, in a very fresh way. But at the same time I don’t think I would be making electronic music if I was 20 years old because there’s a level of controversy of the destruction of an existing system and I don’t really find interest in this process of making music rather than really try to destabilise the previous order of things.
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Electronic music is the soundtrack to today’s generation…
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What do you mean “destruction of an existing system”?
Thomas: The way we have tried to do things 10 or 15 years ago was very much at the margin of what could be considered music or not, which was sometimes like: ‘Oh techno is music for drug takers’ – to some people it’s just noise. When you are on the margin of what has been accepted socially or musically you are really trying to push the boundary in that sense. I think so much work has been done in that direction that this music has been accepted and now it’s a genre – so now the problem is that the music becomes less innovative, because you don’t need the same attitude of experimentation because it’s been really accepted. And as such electronic music is the soundtrack to today’s generation.
Do you feel privileged to have come through when you did and to have so much impact?
Thomas: I don’t know. We feel privileged and fortunate when it comes to a question of timing. But at the same time as an artist I always think there’s a way to experiment and do new things and really think that things have never been done. I think that every artist should try and do something that hasn’t been done before, and to that sense I think we are very lucky.
If you were an 18-year-old growing up now, what kind of music do you think you would be making?
Thomas: I don’t know. I don’t think it’s a question of age. And that is why we maybe haven’t put out five or six albums of sound in a certain genre of music, and for each record trying to restart from scratch or going against what we have done in the past or going into a different direction.
What we are doing now (with the ‘Alive 2007’ tour) are the things we think we can try to experiment with. The idea and the show that we have done, we think it’s something we couldn’t have done five years ago, both from a conceptual and technological point of view. Combining images, lights, film and music to this performance we felt is something exciting; I don’t know whether it’s just from a pure musical point of view or general approach of combining different art forms and working so conceptually, and working around such a larger aesthetic that we have tried to do that makes it a challenging. The main thing for sure would be that if I was an 18-year-old today I would to do something that hadn’t been done 10 years ago.
That’s very hard these days, surely?
Thomas: Yes it’s hard but it’s also getting easier because the world has changed so much technically in terms of the way people listen and make music. It’s not something so possible just musically, but every art form now tends to join themselves together whether you are a photographer today or a musician or a writer – you can use the same interfaces, which can be for example a laptop, and these things were not the same 10 years ago.
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‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’ (‘Alive 2007’ version)
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Doing such a big live show is difficult. Do you think you achieved a new live experience with the tour?
Thomas: It’s not for us to judge, you know? To me it’s pretty close to the precedent which you questioned of how we can and try to do something different that hasn’t been done before, even in a very humble position; so we feel really humble and always try to make the smallest difference. There is an objective thing and a subjective thing. The subjective thing will always be: is it a good experience? Is it a good show? Do people enjoy it? We can’t answer that.
What happens if you need a piss during your show?
Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo: If I drink too much water there’s nowhere to go. But we didn’t have any ‘mishaps’ yet. Fortunately everything until now has been fine.
What’s the most challenging part of performing in robot outfits?
Guy-Man: Oh! Just even doing it is the big challenge, especially doing mostly summer tours and now we go to Australia in our winter it will be summer for them. So it’s really like being in Formula One as it’s really, really getting hot in there and we are losing so much fluid every night. It’s pretty sweaty when we come off stage.
We are really focused on what we have to do and we are so supported by the energy of the show we don’t have time to think about it. But it’s very, very hot.
So Thomas hasn’t fallen off the stage or accidentally unplugged the entire power supply?
Guy-Man: Not yet, no.
When you started using the masks it was about the facelessness of techno, yet do you feel that it has come now full circle and your robots are icons?
Guy-Man: Yeah maybe. Yeah, yeah. It’s not come full circle for us but it definitely has come full circle for the robots. It’s a great achievement because one of the biggest reasons that we do that was that it was to emphasise ‘creation’ and put emphasis on the robot look and have the excuse to create once more. Now they are in the spotlight, so for the facelessness of techno, it’s great for them and great for us. They still look great after 10 years. Though they don’t light up anymore. That’s a different era of the robot suits.
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Words: Matthew Bennett
Portraits: Jay Brooks
This is an edit of the cover interview from issue 23 of Clash magazine. If you’ve still got a copy of it, well done you – you can see the bits we’ve missed out here. (We assume, these days, you don’t need much on the back-story of Daft Punk.)