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Long before every pop singer on the charts was playing with Auto-Tune — and every wannabe DJ with oversized headphones was writing music on a laptop — there was Daft Punk.
The French electronic duo burst out of the late-'90s dance movement and rocketed up the charts with music they produced in a home studio. They gained a cult following while cultivating a robotic persona, literally wearing robot helmets in public and while performing.
Daft Punk is back this week with new music and a different attitude. Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo made the fifth Daft Punk LP, Random Access Memories, in a real studio and with real musicians. The first single, "Get Lucky," features vocals from Pharrell Williams, and it's a collaboration with the disco superproducer Nile Rodgers — two of many big names who helped Daft Punk take their music in a new direction.
"The music of today is a lot of different styles, a lot of different genres. ... It's a lot generated by computers," de Homem-Christo says. "And what was really lacking to us is the soul that a musician can bring."
As for the album's title, which closely resembles the computer data storage format RAM, Daft Punk says the reference is intentional — but also contrary.
"Well, it's really the parallel between computers and hard drives and the human brain," Bangalter says. "But it's really also having fun with the word 'memory,' which has become a very technical, very sterile term. And obviously when you use the plural, which is 'memories,' it's something that is totally different; it's something that is highly emotional. This felt interesting to us right now, in a world that is predominantly technological."
If that mission seems at odds with the duo's robotic image, Bangalter says, this album represents an effort to meet humanity in the middle.
"The fiction and the story is about these two robots ... that are trying to feel an emotion, or trying to have their robotic side going toward humanity, in a world where humans are gradually now becoming robots in a certain sense," Bangalter says. "Mixing both is what makes us excited about the future — getting the best of both worlds, combining the superpowers of computer processors with ideas and real stuff and real things that we can put together."