The untold story of Daft Punk’s first Australian tour
As Daft Punk’s long-standing label EMI presents its Electrospective catalogue, inthemix goes into the vault to capture a fascinating chapter of Australian dance music history.
“For us, it’s not about being faceless. It’s more about emphasising the music.” That’s Thomas Bangalter, an erudite 22-year-old explaining to Sweater Magazine why he and his buddy Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo prefer to do photo shoots in masks. The year is 1997. The journalist Jim Greer is sitting in a Parisian basement surrounded by stacks of records, listening to Bangalter’s account of how Daft Punk came to be. Guy-Manuel is there too, but he’s staying silent. Upstairs their manager Pedro Winter is going about his business. It’s a few months after the release of the duo’s first studio album, Homework, and the world is waking up to Daft Punk. “So far the album’s starting to be quite successful in Europe,” Bangalter deadpans. “Nevertheless we are very interested by the record being released in the States.” After all, world domination can’t be rushed.
Listen again to Da Funk now, the track that made Daft Punk, and the exhilaration hasn’t dimmed. The twisting, hypnotic bassline, the kick-drum, that guitar riff cleaving right through it. It was one of the singles that sparked a record label bidding war for Homework (won by Virgin Records), but stalwart techno imprint Soma was clued into the genius of Bangalter and de Homem-Christo years earlier. In 2011, Soma unearthed a vintage Daft Punk production from 1994, Drive, in their vaults. “Imagine our surprise when we discovered a tape simply titled ‘Daft Drive’,” Soma rep Chris Lamb wrote. “In amongst the hiss and crackle, a monstrous 909 kick drum began to thud – Daft Punk’s Drive track had been rediscovered. Playing through was live Daft Punk: the freaky vocals, pounding Roland drums and synths and that distinctive DP compression.” As it turns out, this slab of unvarnished techno was put aside so Da Funk could be completed. There’d be much more where that came from.
If Daft Punk’s mission came down to “emphasising the music”, 1997 was a good year. Homework ignited, and the album’s second single Around The World staked its claim as the house anthem you’d never forget the words to. “As a DJ, I would play everything from the album, and I was not the only one,” David Guetta has said. “It was the first time we were proud to be French, really.” As personalities, though, Bangalter and de Homem-Christo preferred to stay in the shadows. “Daft Punk have a reputation for being difficult that would shame Dave Clarke,” Mixmag’s Alexis Petridis wrote when he met them in ‘97. While the robot reincarnation was a way off, the mystique was already there. Onstage on the Alive 1997 tour, they worked their drum machines, synths and sequencers in inky darkness as strobes pummelled the dancefloor. There was no podium to showboat from, and it was heads-down and blank-faced the whole way. “We enjoy it inside,” Bangalter told Petridis. “We might not smile, but we’re enjoying it. Maybe we’re not enjoying it like dancing or singing, but…we like the concept of doing it.”
In late 1997, 10,000-odd miles from Paris, a new plan was coming together for Daft Punk in a Melbourne office. A consortium of promoters had secured the rising stars to DJ at the first-ever Apollo Festival, which was pitched as ‘Australia’s biggest-ever 100-percent electronic/dance music festival’. Apollo would come to Sydney on 7 February 1998, then do Melbourne the following Saturday. As the festival booklet later put it: “Daft Punk will be spinning their sound of young France for three hours exclusively at both festivals in their only Australian appearances. They’re not daft. They’re not punks. Just two French funkateers putting France on the house map with one of the most hyped debut albums for a long, long time.”