Not So Random Success: Daft Punk, ‘Random Access Memories’

Although the anticipation for a new album from the electro legends sponsored much of the album’s success, part of it can undoubtedly be attributed to its message.

Daft Punk, the French kings of electro-rock, having been practically inactive for 10 years, finally released an album in May 2013; obviously it’s going to be a million-dollar hit, no surprise there. Although the anticipation for a new album from the electro legends sponsored much of the album’s success, part of it can undoubtedly be attributed to its message. Random Access Memories (2013) is an effort to redirect electronic music back to what Daft Punk intended on it becoming after they left the music scene in 2003: a beautiful harmony between rock and the sounds of the future, that being any synthesized sounds apart from the head banging, dubstep genre, Skrillex type.

As a Frenchman, I have a personal attachment when it comes to French electro; I love Breakbot, C2C, Justice, Phoenix, Nicolas Jaar…I even loved David Guetta at the beginning of his career (god forbid what followed). I personally believe that the French duo, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo are trying more than ever to redirect electro music back to its roots, back to the late 70s, early 80s. The founders of electro-rock did not intend for electronic music to take a turn towards dubstep, heavy bass electro-house and much less to fuse with modern day commercial Hip-Hop as is the case with artists such as Nicki Minaj, amongst others. They meant instead to pave a path to fusion between artificial and acoustic sound, between the Moog modular synthesizer and the classic rock guitar.

Random Access Memories (2013) is an attempt to reconvert electronic music back to its origins: disco. The album title contains the word ‘memories’ as in remember the sound of the 1970s. No surprise that the majority of instruments played in the album are the guitar, the bass, the drums, the piano, the percussions whilst they attempt to limit the use of electronic sounds, more than in any of their previous albums. Once again a reminder that electronic music was born out from natural, acoustic instruments, and that its progression must always have at its core acoustic sound and rhythm. There is no surprise that Daft Punk included artists and musicians such as Nile Rodgers, Paul Williams, Giorgio Moroder, Todd Edwards, DJ Falcon, Chilly Gonzales, Panda Bears and Julian Casablancas in Random Access Memories (2013) whose core styles takes us back to the 1970s.

I think a great example of a group following in Daft Punk’s footsteps after 2003 would be Gramatik or to be even more bold: Parov Stelar, Boogie Belgique, Caravan Palace, and really the rest of electro-swing. This genre not only juxtaposes organic and synthesized elements but also creates a harmonious blend of eclectic sounds. Electro-swing embraces and incorporates the classic, natural sound of acoustic instruments, whether they be jazz or rock, whilst building off these classical sounds and fusing them with new, artificial sounds and music technology.

However, Daft Punk took a new turn with Random Access Memories (2013) when they were influenced by the changing tides of electronic music by introducing vocals in their latest album. Now, their lyrics must match the brilliance of their rhythm and music. Lyricist and vocalist Pharrell Williams was given this task. I will let you be the judge of whether the lyrics live up to the music, or not.

The entire album is practically a story line about a sad robot. I interpret this allegory in the album to an abuse of synthesized sound and artificial music. These sound robots, synthesizers, have been corrupted to create unnatural and unfounded sounds. The robot, a metaphor for the synthesizer, is trying to fall back in love with the electro sound that it was built to create; the sound of the 70s.

It is also interesting to know that as opposed to all their pasts albums, the production of Random Access Memories (2013) was entirely self-financed by the duo as they didn’t want to answer to any demands from any music publishing company. Although, huge record labels approached them on multiple occasions, they decided to independently record their own music because they knew that their music was unconventional to the electronic music we listen to today on the radio or MTV. This can be interpreted as a message in itself, as a recall to the birth of electronic music in the 80s. In the beginning synthesized music was frowned upon, being created in artists’ basements as they attempted to create harmony with artificial sound. Now, these very record label companies are corrupting electronic music, and the only way to return to the roots of electronic music is to create it yourself, independently. There is no surprise that today’s best electronic music is found on Soundcloud and YouTube and not on huge record labels, as they have succeeded in shifting electronic music’s reputation from unique and innovative to commercial and dull. Indeed, Random Access Memories (2013) is an attempt to revive the creativity of electronic music at its core, to put the genre and its reputation back on track.

Words: Oliver Harrison

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