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Daftclub

The global release of Human After All: Remixes this month means that Daft Punk now have as many remix albums to their name as decent studio long players (Human After All and the Tron Soundtrack being excepted on the grounds of inconsistency and boredom, respectively).

There’s nothing too unusual about that for a dance act, you might think, other than the fact that remixes of Daft Punk tracks are consistently awful and merit more being forgotten than being neatly packed up for history.

OK, so I’m being slightly unfair: there are a handful of very good Daft Punk remixes – Ian Pooley and DJ Sneak’s takes on Burnin’, Armand van Helden’s remix of Da Funk, Todd Edwards’ unreleased take on Face to Face and Diplo’s lively remix of Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.

But by God they are outnumbered by nonsense and these three remix albums are – at their very best – a disappointment.

Why should this be? The choice of remixers has a fair amount to do with it. The Tron remixes are a case apart – of which more later – but the band have typically supported new French producers by asking them to remix their tracks. This is admirable but the results – as seen on Cosmo Vitelli’s rinkydinkily awful remix of Face to Face or Jess & Crabbe’s artless take on Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger – are frequently so horrid that you have to wonder if the producers were overwhelmed by the task of remixing such an important act. Too much respect for the source material is rarely a good thing in a remix, after all.

But the sheer number of bad Daft Punk remixes – many of them from big, respected names –  makes this idea somewhat lacking. Even Daft Punk – themselves brilliant remixers – have struggled to remix their own material, as seen on the aimless head banging of their Maximum Overdrive mix of Robot Rock or Aerodynamite, a so-so remake of Aerodynamic.

Instead, I think the answer may come down to the specifics of Daft Punk’s music. Unlike, say, Aphex Twin or Squarepusher Daft Punk don’t radically remake electronic music in their image, pushing the boundaries of production. Instead, they do the basics of dance music – a small number of brilliant elements manipulated for maximum dance effect – very well indeed.

Take Robot Rock: there’s hardly anything to it, a couple of samples, a simple vocal and some filters. But these are assembled in such an intuitively perfect way that the song itself is excellent and could happily go on past its 4.46 length.

For remixers this poses a problem. The art of the remix typically involves taking the basic elements of a song and manipulating them in new and interesting ways to bring out otherwise understated elements. But Daft Punk’s tracks have few elements to play around with and are already perfectly aligned. So how are you going to remix them, particularly if you operate in the same basic style (house and techno) as the French duo? 

“Speaking as a songwriter, I think the reason why they’re difficult to remix is because they are primarily producers and their recordings’ strength is the production (try playing any of their tracks acoustically and you’ll find it quite unfulfilling),” says songwriter and journalist Helienne Lindvall.

“The best remixes tend to be those where the production of the original recording can be improved, where the strength lies in the melody hooks. A good example, I think, is Haim’s Falling – of which the Duke Dumont remix is widely considered to be better than the original.  Daft Punk, however, have already largely distilled the sonic picture to its essentials.”

The remixes of Daft Punk tracks that do work manage to do this, teasing some element out of the original song but never straying too far from the template. Ian Pooley’s mix of Burnin’, for example, plays around with the original’s elastic bass line to great effect, while Todd Edwards’ remix of Face to Face (a track that he co-produced, of course) is really just a tweak on the original track, speeding it up a touch and giving the drums more Edwards swing.

Armand van Helden’s Ten Minutes Of Funk mix of Da Funk is the exception to this rule, in that it genuinely sounds like a departure from the original track, which is sped up significantly, gilded with house drums and stretched over 10 minutes. Nonetheless, the remix keeps very true to the spirit of the original tune and to Daft Punk themselves, adding a sample of Tata Vega’s Get It Up For Love which feels like it could have come from the French duo’s own record boxes. Not for nothing did Daft Punk include this remix in their early live sets.

It is a masterful remix but – for some strange reason – you won’t find it on any of the group’s three remix albums. So what is there instead?

Daft Club

Daft Club was Daft Punk’s first remix album, born from an interesting, if ultimately failed, attempt at an early online fan club model. People who bought early copies of Daft Punk’s 2001 album Discovery received a card giving them membership to the club and allowing them to download various Daft Punk odds and sods from the official site, including several remixes. That the Daft Club failed was probably more due to the lack of broadband than a lack of interest. But fail it did and in 2003 the album was properly released.

On paper, Daft Club has a lot to recommend it: an unreleased track in Ouverture and remixes from the likes of NERD, Basement Jaxx, Slum Village and Daft Punk themselves. In practice, though, Daft Club proved a real disappointment: the big boys above never really clicked with the material (Basement Jaxx’s remix of Phoenix is clunkingly AWFUL) and the album gets bogged down in a wave of pointless remixes from smaller, briefly popular house producers, including Demon, Jess & Crabbe, Cosmo Vitelli and Boris Dlugosch. What’s more – with all respect in the world to Romanthony – his Unplugged mix of One More Time would probably have been better left in the studio.

The album, then, might not be quite as bad as an infamous Pitchfork review made it out to be – “To listen to Daft Club front-to-back is – and it’s pointless to exaggerate here – to watch a loved one be physically dismembered,” the reviewer opined – but it adds precisely nothing to your love or understanding of Daft Punk.

Human After All: Remixes

Human After All: Remixes, originally released in 2006 in Japan, then put on sale to the wider world earlier this month – in theory makes a lot of sense. Back in 2006 dance music was getting interesting again, with many producers taking their lead from the rockisms of Human After All, released the year before.

So surely getting a load of those new producers together – including Justice, SebastiAn and Digitalism – to remix tracks from Human After All would be a good move? Add in Daft Punk’s own Maximum Overdrive mix of Robot Rock, plus, in the 2014 release, Le Knight Club’s (aka Guy-Man from Daft Punk) mix of Technoloogic and you had to have a winner, right?

But no… Human After All: Remixes may well be the band’s best remix album but  – as we’ve already established – that’s not such an accolade. Most of the remixes are OK  – a 6/10 deal – but there’s nothing essential here, no radical reinvention that will make you see the album in a new light. That had to wait until the following year, when the band’s Alive 2007 tour successfully dragged Human After All out of the critical mire, mashing the songs together with classics from the Daft Punk catalogue.

It probably didn’t help that there’s are only a handful of really great tracks on Human After All to work from. But even so Digitalism, Justice and SebastiAn should hang their heads in shame at their mixes of Technologic and Human After All, while Soulwax’s take on Robot Rock is, essentially, the original but a little longer. It’s slick, maybe. But not very good.

Tron: Legacy Reconfigured

If you want a real Daft Punk remix stinker, though, look no further than Tron: Legacy Reconfigured, a remix album released in 2011 to coincide with the home video release of Tron: Legacy (hoooray!).

So bad is it, in fact, that former Daft Punk manager Pedro Winter felt moved to write a note of complaint, accusing Disney Records of taking “my robots friends so far away from good taste?”

“Of course some of it is nice, and you know there are some of my friends on this CD. But this is not enough!” he added.

“A masterpiece like TRON soundtrack deserved the best and I am sad to discover the A&R at Disney records is apparently buying most of his electronic music in airports stores…”

Ooof. He does, however, have a pretty good point on the airports: a stranger, less fitting line up of remixers for Daft Punk would be difficult to find that the motley crew on Legacy Reconfigured, which includes The Crystal Method, Moby, Paul Oakenfold, Kaskade, Avicii and Sander Kleinenberg.

I know… I know.

On the positive side, there was some vaguely appropriate names in Boyz Noize and M83 and three good if strange choices in Photek, Com Truise and Pretty Lights. But who the hell The Glitch Mob, Teddybears and Ki:Theory are – and what on earth they’re doing on a Daft Punk album – remains a mystery to this day.

And the results…. well they are as bad as you might expect. Although the unexpected bonus is that the remixers have been chose with so little care and attention that it doesn’t feel like listening to Daft Punk at all. Which is something of a silver lining in the circumstances.

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3001xtra

In 2011, when I was news editor for Music Week, 1Xtra invited me along to its playlist meeting. It was at a time when the station – along with sister station Radio 1 – was trying to throw off some of the secrecy of how it put together the playlist and I was the second journalist to be invited along to the meeting.

Three years is a long time in music, of course: music fashions change and staff move on (and whatever did happen to The Bullitts?). But I think a lot of what is in this article remains valid – the relationship the station has with R1, the obsessions with stats, grime versus dubstep (which led to an almighty argument in the meeting, if I remember rightly) and the various concerns over commerciality and artist backgrounds.

 So I’ve reposted it here for you enjoyment or otherwise.

Inside the 1Xtra playlist meeting

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FrenchTouchFG_VisuelBD

As Britain in the 90s frothed over Britpop, on the other side of the Channel the French were having their own patriotic music awakening, thanks to the French Touch, a one-size-fits-all term applied to the disco-led house music that filtered its way out of Paris in the mid to late 90s.

At the time, it seemed the two could hardly be more different: Britpop was a brand of Kinks-ian guitar music designed for lagery indie discos, while the French Touch combined smooth house beats, disco bass lines, French chic and sophisticated night clubs. It’s only now, looking back from 20 years on that I can see how much they have in common.

Patriotism and awakening

Britpop was seen as solidly British pop, long marginalised from its 60s boom, patriotically returning to claim its rightful chart crown.

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dj-falconWhen DJ Falcon appeared as the seventh instalment of the Daft Punk Creators video series last year you can imagine a few eyebrows were raised.

Who, you might have wondered, was this amiable looking French bloke who followed in the footsteps on legends such as Giorgio Moroder and Nile Rodgers among the Daft Punk collaborators?

It’s a good question. Falcon – aka Stéphane Quême – introduces himself as the video as the childhood best friend of Pedro Winter, Daft Punk’s erstwhile manager. He’s also been the Daft Punk tour photographer, worked in Virgin Records A&R department and is cousin to Alan Braxe (Alain Quême).

But Falcon isn’t just the best connected man in French house. He’s also a producer of rare quality, with just five solo tracks to his name, a handful of remixes and three collaborations, each one bursting with brilliance.

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Rainy City logoManchester doesn’t just do things different musically, it also has a strong history of house music, staking a good claim to be the first place in Britain to have played the emerging house sound back in the 80s.

By the 1990s the Manchester house scene was led by Paper Records, which released records by the likes of Salt City Orchestra, Dirty Jesus and Crazy Penis, while label founders Miles Holloway and Elliot Eastwick DJed all over the city.

But if the Paper Records duo were Manchester’s Deep Dish – that’s to say, smooth, deep and successful – then Rainy City Music was perhaps its KDJ, bringing a rougher, live edge to underground house, which looked to the US, Brazil and Africa for inspiration and proved very different to other electronic music being made in Manchester at the time.

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20131115_230714Barcelona must surely be the world capital of events that take dance music very seriously indeed. Take Sonar – it’s not just a massive rave in an exhibition centre on the outskirts of town; it’s an “international festival of advanced music and new media art”.

Mira, a festival of “music and visual arts”, which took place in the Catalan capital last week, fits very snugly into this lineage: it is set in Fabra I Coats, a vast old factory turned art space; most acts are accompanied by VJs and there are also artistic installations for revellers to check out as they wait The Haxan Cloak to make their ears bleed.

But if this sounds like a bit of a chore, it’s not. Barcelona is also a global capital of having a lot of fun and the two worlds collide with ease at Mira. There are people with arty moustaches checking out the installations, sure, but they are typically to be found, beer in hand later, making a disgrace of themselves later to Spanish producer Begun.

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Quincy JonesHowever much you think you know the work of Quincy Jones, he still has the power to surprise.

You know, of course, that he produced Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall and Thriller, revolutionising pop music in one amazing purple patch. But the sheer scale of his achievements is astounding.

Towards the end of our interview, the talk turns, inexplicably to football. Warming to the subject, Jones starts to sing The Self Preservation Society. “I wrote that, you know,” he adds, a glimmer in his eyes. “And they still sing that at football matches. Beckham told me.”

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