‘It would not be enjoyable for humanity to see our features’: why Daft Punk put on the robot masks

"We are not actors, we are not models": Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, also known as Daft Punk - Invision
In the final scene of Daft Punk's 2006 art-house film Electroma, a robot breaks sunlight through a broken glass and sets itself on fire. The night is burning and the credits are rolling.
Daft Punk revisited Electroma this week when the French electro duo released a video announcing the split after 28 years. Two robots - representatives of the band members Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo - wander in the desert. Finally they take a break. You manipulate a device in the back of your companion. A countdown begins to beep. The robot steps back and destroys itself. Music swirls in. It's Touch, a melancholy mid-tempo workout from their 2013 album Random Access Memories.
It would take a metal heart to avoid a sting when Daft Punk bowed. It feels telling, however, that the sequence they chose to use is from the earlier movie, before the second robot goes up in smoke. Apparently, a robot setting itself on fire is not a metaphor Daft Punk wanted to deal with when they left the stage. They could give up being pop stars. But they couldn't quite get away from being artificial humans. At least one robot stays away at the end of the farewell clip.
Pop stars hiding their identity behind a person are nothing new. David Bowie did it with Ziggy Stardust. And by the early 1980s, Kraftwerk - Daft Punk's Teutonic forerunner - had taken its "man machine" concept to the next logical step by acting robotic in public (and, rumor has it, private too). More recently, groups like the London music collective Sault have mysteriously arrived. Who are they really Nobody knows.
Daft Punk took the imagination to extremes, however, in that they seemed as invested in obfuscating their identities as they were in conjuring up pop stars with alternative roles. After putting on robot masks for the first time in the run-up to the 2001 album Discovery, they seemed not so fascinated by the idea of ​​playing robots as they were by keeping their real appearances under lock and key.
This felt like a bit of a misjudgment about their brand awareness. Yes, hits like Da Funk and Around The World had catapulted Daft Punk into the charts. But this was Chemical Brothers / Crystal Method celebrity - not Britney Spears besieged at the barbers. Even if the whole world knew what she looked like, it is quite possible that they would have been stomping through Paris or their adopted home Los Angeles. A French house duo was way down on the gamut of famous people you're likely to meet in Hollywood.
Even so, it hadn't taken Bangalter and de Homem-Christo long to find out that they weren't interested in plastering their pictures everywhere. When their 1997 debut, Homework, became a blast, they took evasive maneuvers. They carried garbage bags over their heads and plastic masks that blurred their features. Or turn away from interviewers. This year they posed for the front of Mixmag and wore devil masks.
Nobody cared enough about getting involved in the drama, like they did or didn't really look like. Partly because their music was so great that it dwarfed the two very humble men behind it. But also because of the anonymity culture of dance music. The duos of Orbital, Chemical Brothers, and Leftfield all looked interchangeable like your older brother or possibly your father. Few fans were invested in these musicians primarily as celebrities. The whole point of techno is that it was extraordinary music created by ordinary people.
Daft Punk Plays Live 2006 - Getty
Daft Punk's robotic masks came later and debuted in a 2001 Photo shoot for Face magazine in Los Angeles. Initially, the new look was taken as an ironic comment - in a memorable setting, the two robots met with members of a nudist colony.
"They wanted to portray a day in the life of Daft Punk," said Luis Sanchis, the photographer behind the shoot, recently to Creativeboom. “I've come up with some scenarios, like the one with the naked people. This picture was actually taken in the Los Angeles house they were living in at the time. We hired people from a real nudist colony and when I was setting up the lights they came in - and suddenly they were naked! "
The masks were more than props. Daft Punk worked with Hollywood special effects designers and was inspired by the robot Gort from The Day The Earth Stood Still. He spent a fortune on the helmets and seemed to have put as much creative energy into them as he did into their music. The employees had to sign confidentiality agreements. This should prevent fans from getting their hands on the mask plans. When copycat helmets began to circulate, Daft Punk was pleased to find that the dimensions differ slightly - "the proportions are really hard to get just by looking at pictures," said Bangalter.
Daft Punk, who announced their split on February 22nd
Initially, the helmets had “brown wigs”. At the last minute, the duo ripped out their hair extensions en route to that fateful nudist colony shoot. Later versions would come with air conditioning and sophisticated communication systems. Another set was specially developed for media appearances: They were shinier and better photographed.
In 2001, however, the masks were viewed as only one component of Daft Punk's playful new image. In fact, the real focus was on her shapeshifting sound, which had evolved from floor-filling electronica to a kind of fantasy R'nB - influenced by house music, but also by film music and the Gallic-Japanese aesthetic of cartoons like Ulysses 31 , with its incredible theme by Denny Crockett and Ike Egan.
If Daft Punk were obsessed with the idea of ​​seeing themselves as robots, audiences wouldn't be drawn in until the duo embarked on their first major world tour in 2006. Here, their anonymity was part of the fun as they hopped domes out of an LED pyramid in their shiny chrome robot.
One rumor at the time was that Daft Punk had stayed home and sent lackeys to do the gigs. This was a delicious imagination - and a better one than Kraftwerk, who had publicly speculated that a day might come when they could put their feet up and send robots on tour for them.
Sculpted Daft Punk helmets from Alterian Inc. pic.twitter.com/WIUgrc6Ena
- Daft punk fandom? (@Daft_Wub) February 18, 2021
Suddenly the robots made sense. Techno artists were always thrilled to watch them live. In the nineties it was always easy to see Paul Oakenfold or Carl Cox in their baggy T-shirts on stage. But electronic music played by a duo of shiny-headed robots - it was a spectacle that could sweep you away.
"We are not actors, we are not models - it would not be pleasant for humanity to see our characteristics," de Homem-Christo told Rolling Stone in 2013, "but the robots are exciting for people."
This was one of several interviews they gave to promote Random Access Memories. This record was a deliberate move away from electronica to a warmer retro pop. And yet, most of the media coverage surrounding the LP has focused on their looks - especially how ordinary they looked.
Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo (left) and Thomas Bangalter (right) from Daft Punk in 1999 - Alamy
"De Homem-Christo, 39, has a broad face, delicate features, stubby cheeks and long brown hair," said Rolling Stone, as if describing a rare geological phenomenon rather than an electronic musician in the early Middle Ages. "The 38-year-old Bangalter is tall, slightly wrinkled, bearded, thin, has a kind of cinema professor - he's funny, good at eye contact, and obviously eager to make himself understood," added a GQ profile at the same time.
Stubbly cheeks, thinning hair - everything was so unremarkable. If the couple hadn't invested so thoroughly in the secret of their looks, it would be certain that no one would have cared about it. When did anyone wonder what the members of The Chainsmokers look like?
With Daft Punk making so much of a fuss about their "secret" identities, it was inevitable that someone would take a look at their internal circuitry. And so, pictures of the pals started circulating in their off duty types. "Has Daft Punk been exposed?" A Vanity Fair story went on in 2014 - that same year they accepted their Grammy for Album of the Year in white robotic tuxedo suits.
"As early as June, the electronic duo The Knocks published a photo on their Facebook page in which the French daft punkers - Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter - were exposed and were playing champagne beer pong in the Sony offices,” he said the piece continued. "The picture was immediately removed from Facebook, the Knocks were completely banned from the music world ... and the internet suddenly had a pretty good idea of ​​what these guys looked like."
It was to reveal a new snap allegedly belonging to the couple in LAX. Los Angeles Airport. "One appears to be wearing a blue Texas Rangers hat," Vanity Fair said. "The other one might be wearing a trucker hat."
These and other photos that made the rounds didn't quite shake the world of pop. It turned out that Daft Punk - two middle-aged French musicians - looked exactly as expected. Like two middle-aged French musicians.
As fans today process the duo's breakup, they will experience a flurry of conflicting emotions. Grateful for the wonderful music, sorry that Daft Punk didn't have at least one more classic recording in it. But one thing that nobody cares is what these escapist electronics partners look like in real life. If anything, this masked riddle served as an unhelpful reminder that Daft Punk was just as invested in marketing and hype as any other pop star - that they were human, after all.
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