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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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In a bold move, Daft Punk are taking full control of directing the videos for the singles from their new album Human After All, and have set up a creative production company, Daft Arts, to handle the work. Ben Cardew hooks up with the arty French duo and discovers what gets their creative juices flowing [Interview from 2005].

They may have called their current album Human After All, but the suspicion remains that Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem Christo of Daft Punk have been subsumed by their robotic alter-egos. After all, how else could they manage to juggle a successful long-term career as dance music pioneers with solo careers and running their own labels?

But now there’s another notch to their robotic belts. The band have decided to take over the reins of their promotional video career, directing the videos for the singles from the new album themselves, starting with an automaton Top Of The Pops scenario for Robot Rock and now the disturbing technological fantasy of Technologic.

The move to directing is even more remarkable, when you consider that these videos will be pretty much the only way that the band will be promoting their latest album. But then, as well as holding an idiosyncratic attitude towards publicity – they are rarely seen without their mirror-visored helmets these days – Daft Punk have always been highly attuned to the potential of creative visuals.

Indeed, the band played a central role in the development of the music video medium in the Nineties when they provided the inspiration for two groundbreaking videos: Da Funk, by Spike Jonze – probably the first video ever to double as a short film – and Michel Gondry’s Around The World – an iconic video, which was affectionately homaged in the video for LCD Soundsystem’s recent hit Daft Punk Are Playing At My House. Then, to accompany their next album Discovery, they commissioned the full-length Japanese-produced anime, Interstella 888.

With these in mind, it is perhaps not surprising that Thomas Bangalter is not worried in the least by the issue of publicity. “The way we approach the music videos is pretty much the only way we are speaking out – we are not doing any promotion,” he confirms.

“We feel we are doing this thing sincerely and with a lot of integrity, in maybe a radical way. But that’s really the way we wanted to approach this concept and this album and the music.”

Bangalter is talking from Los Angeles, where the band have recently set up a new base for their production company Daft Arts – in collaboration with producer Paul Hahn, previously at LA special effects house Method – to talk to Promo specifically about the duo’s ambitions in the sphere of the visual – which they clearly see as another outlet for their creativity, rather than a way of tying up their image.

“Right now, as creatives, we like to create things and we are more and more looking to express ourselves visually,” he explains. “We are not taking it as a plan, rather than a will and a need as artists to express ourselves by different means.”

Although 2005 has seen the band really knuckling down in the business of video production, their first foray into video-making was actually several years ago, providing the coda for the exemplary visual feast that accompanied the first Daft Punk album Homework. Bangalter and de Homem Christo directed the video for Fresh, a sequel of sorts to Jonze’s Da Funk video, featuring Charles, the lugubrious man-dog and also starring Jonze.

Highly impressive it is too, taking place on Malibu beach on a movie shoot and filmed in a single tracking shot. (It was released on their excellent DVD, DAFT: A Story About Dogs, Androids, Firemen And Tomatoes, in 1999, together with Da Funk, Around the World, Seb Janiak’s video for Burnin’ and Roman Coppola’s Revolution 909).

Bangalter reveals that despite having worked with several of the world’s most respected video directors before that, the band were never intimidated by crossing over into film-making with Fresh – quite the opposite, in fact. “A lot of them encouraged us to direct,” he recalls.

“Because of the vision that we had and the fact of knowing what we like and what we want, on some level they were all very enthusiastic about us expressing ourselves and were saying ‘Why don’t you direct yourselves?’ At one point, if you are interested in art and in film-making, the best way to get closer to it is to jump in and put your fears aside and try to do it.”

Furthermore, for a medium thought to be ephemeral even by many who consider it to be an artform, Bangalter does evidently believe in music video as a lasting statement, from which people can take their own personal interpretation over time.

“This is pretty much something that happened also with our previous album [2001’s Discovery],” he says. “When we released our Interstella DVD [2003’s full-length animated film by Leiji Matsumoto, based around the album], for a lot of people it was like a second reading of the music.”

A look back through Daft Punk’s videos proves Bangalter’s point: their remarkable quality remains completely undimmed by the vagaries of fashion or technological advancement. And as for the videos, for the current album that the duo have directed themselves, they are effectively a brilliant distillation of their own sound.

As with their music, the videos respectfully incorporate elements of the past – the Seventies feel of the Robot Rock set or the Eighties-style digital graphics that introduce Technologic – in a way that is savvy and forward-looking, rather than dated or nostalgic. “We are not trying to be too retro futuristic about creating something that could have been done in 1983. It’s more like combining influences and things that we like about textures,” Bangalter explains.

It appears that the idea of texture is an important one for the band, both musically and visually. Bangalter says that he and de Homem Christo are “obsessed about texture”, whether it comes from frequencies or filters, as in music, or through a judicious use of film-making equipment to create a visual warmth. He compares the choice of the right camera or lenses to picking the correct microphone or perfect synthesiser sound and he says that the band spend a lot of time testing and combining equipment, both old and new, as a way of paying respect to the legacy of vintage equipment in film making.
This may be a fairly time-intensive approach, but Bangalter believes that the audience will respond to the careful use of texture.

“In a way, everybody is very sensitive to texture,” he says. “There’s a lot of people who are like, ‘Oh yeah I saw that last Star Wars movie but you can tell it’s CG.’ People can see when something is different in terms of texture.”

And there is little question that Daft Punk are serious about expressing themselves through image in the future. While Daft Arts may still be in its infancy, the company has already produced a video for Smog’s I Feel Like The Mother Of The World, starring Chloe Sevigny, and they are currently working on a video for Human After All, the next single to be taken from the album.

There is also a video in the offing for album track Prime Time Of Your Life, to appear on a DVD EP later in the year. This latter piece is not being directed by the band, but by long-term collaborator Tony Gardner – the man responsible for the band’s own robot look of the last five years and as the gruesome robot baby of the Technologic video. Do not expect anything as cute as the robot helmets though – Bangalter confidently predicts that Prime Time will be both “unusable for marketing purposes” and “almost impossible to play on TV”.

You can almost hear the smile as he says this over the cracking transatlantic phone line. Bangalter sounds happy with this state of affairs and his excitement as the new film-making venture is palpable.

“It’s very rewarding to work with people and not just being the two of us in a studio making music,” he says. “This approach of being a team and working with skilled people, being able to extract something together, that’s a very human approach. Music is an important part of the spectrum, but image is a very important source of inspiration, of creation that we really want to play with.”

Daft Punk – Technologic (Virgin)
Directors: Daft Punk
By itself, the song Technologic comes across as a disco ode to the joys of technology, with a strangely helium-addled voice playfully urging the listener to “buy it, change it and format it”. But, with the video in tow, it’s an entirely different matter: as it unfurls, the song takes on a oddly unsettling edge and it becomes clear that this new technology may not be the simple joy that it seems.
“It addresses how people can perceive technologic and technology in general – it is something with a very seductive appeal, but at the same time there is a mixed feeling – something between heaven and hell,” explains the band’s Thomas Bangalter.

The promo starts with a small robotic monster – something like a junior de-skinned Terminator crossed with Chucky, complete with gigantic eyes and beetling eyebrows – watching TV in a darkened room, flanked by the band in full robot gear.

At first, a TV flashes up the song’s consumeresque lyrics, but this soon changes to show a startling landscape filled with orange pyramids. In one of these, flanked by the Daft Punk duo playing along on guitars, stands the robot monster’s double, mouthing the lyrics.

While the first monster, though certainly ugly, has a look of wild-eyed innocence, this double looks unquestionably evil. The “good” monster is spellbound, watching the TV with a naïve fascination. Soon, whether through fear, a desire for unity or some other unknown emotion, he slowly holds hands with the Daft Punk robots, in a strangely touching moment. As the song climaxes, he approaches the screen and holds it in a desperate embrace.
The robot monster character was created by special effects ace Tony Gardner, the man responsible for the look of the band’s robot mask over the last five years and director of Daft Punk’s forthcoming video for Prime Time Of Your Life. The boggle-eyed beast is a remarkable figure, with the ability to convey both a sense of creeping evil and harmless innocence.

“It’s the alter ego,” Bangalter suggests. “At the same time the little character is watching TV with the viewer, kind of scared and addicted to it, he has this alter ego in control on the other side of the TV – which we do too, when we are watching TV.”

The robot’s facial movements – all rolling heads, shifting eyebrows and staring eyes – are so captivating, that possibly the strongest shots in the whole video come when the screen is filled with just his giant mechanical face. The movement – a mixture of puppetry and computer effects – is filmed in simple, almost crude shots, which frame the face, enhancing the visual power of the set-up.

“These shots are our favourites,” says Bangalter, “because you just show something that is very weird or amazing, but it is shown in a very simple way so that the images can really go straight at you.”

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