Meeting up with legendary electro hitmongers Daft Punk backstage at NASA for a short interview, just minutes before one half of the eclectic duo took the stage to perform a rare DJ set, the pair made abundantly clear just how French they really are. They took time to contemplate every question, their answers cloaked in thick accents and served up in the thoughtfully abstract and wordy manner that has for the past century been a staple of French thought. The reason for Daft Punk’s visit to Reykjavík wasn’t of the sonic variety, however, rather they were here as guests of the Reykjavík International Film Festival to follow up a screening of their recent film Electroma, which chronicles two robots’ quest to become human.
It became clear early in our conversation that Thomas Bangalter does most of Daft Punk’s talking, his companion, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, sporadically offering helpful comments while silently contemplating his surroundings (when asked why he doesn’t talk more he replied, “We are on the same wavelength, for the most part”). The pair is legendarily reluctant to be photographed without some sort of mask or robot costume hiding their faces, so it seemed natural to begin by asking if it was really them.
“No, we kidnapped the real Daft Punk in Paris and came here pretending to be them. [Laughing.] Daft Punk is actually a group of 10-15 people in Paris; we are just their spokesmen. But no, not really. We are Daft Punk, the one and only.” Bangalter then turns the subject to their motivation for making Electroma, and why they deliberately decided against using any of their own music for the dialogue-free film’s score. “We’ve done lots of music in the past, but have always been interested in the visual aspect as well. To that end, we’ve directed videos and designed a table, for instance. For Electroma, we basically wanted to do the opposite of what we usually do as a pair and immerse ourselves in the visual aspect itself. Working on the film as a whole is enough work without composing the music as well, writing the story, directing, doing the cinematography, choosing the right music… ensuring our vision, basically.”
We discuss their foray into filmmaking further, and compare it to their successful career making music. They tell me Electroma could be interpreted as their attempt at making “a kind of music for the eyes”, and that it is probably less accessible than their music because of the format. They add, however, that there are similarities in the way they approach the creative process of each. “It maybe lies in working with the raw material, processing it. At a base level, everything we do is linked to technology, so when we started to make music we worked with textures and frequencies and the like, really physical elements – just the same as in the move we focused on the film’s grain and texture. It is, for example, like the way you view a painting: half of you will research the grain of the canvas and the way it interacts with the paint, a very down to earth thing that is not the abstract part of the creative process. It has to do with the elements you really use, the wood, the film or something like that. In that way we approach film and music similarly, because we approach it not so much in a conceptual way, rather a physical one.”
They tell me that an important aspect in anything they do is spontaneity, even projects such as Electroma that will eventually take a number of years to conclude. “We try to do everything we do in a spontaneous manner; through it we are able to share our world view with the people. The ideas may take a long time to execute but are in their essence always spontaneous. It may take two years to realise a creative endeavour that was conceived in seconds, it doesn’t mean that two years of creating were involved.
“We try and please the spontaneous desire that started us on our way, we stick to this desire and it’s important to keep ones eyes on it. The problem with creating with technology is that has grown limitless, in a way. A computer can help you make both the best and worst things that lie in your possibilities, with 16 million colours at your disposal. It’s almost a problem with the creative process now, how limitless computers have made it. Limits and boundaries are, in a way, important to creation.”
/// Is there, in your opinion, a big difference between the artistic fields of filmmaking and music?
– Well, filmmaking is definitely one of the most collaborative art forms. When we’re making music by ourselves, it is a rewarding process but one very different from making films, where there may be fifty or sometimes even hundreds of people involved. You get to collaborate, learn new things. Working on movies is a good thing, it gets you out of your cocoon or shell or something.
/// Making a movie under the Daft Punk moniker invites the question if you conceive the project as a continuation of your work in music, and if you prefer to work together at all times?
– We’ve done many things under the Daft Punk name. We want to tackle different art forms and learn as much as we can in the process. It’s definitely true that we’ve had a lot of success and exposure with making music, but we don’t want this attention to restrain us or forbid us from work on other projects that are exciting. And we mostly work together, but not always.”
/// Assuming that music is a way to communicate sentiments that cannot be said with mere words, what, if anything, are you trying to get across with your music? Are you theorising, even?
– Exactly, our music is about expressing the things words cannot say, but without theorising too much. As I said, we work with a very spontaneous concept of communication, one that is at the same time conscious and unconscious. Music making is a therapy for us, which means expressing our unconscious, but it is at the same time a conscious attempt to do so. Then again, I don’t know if what we do can really be referred to as communication because it is very self-involved. We do it for ourselves, we share it later, but our main motivation for making music is a selfish one. A lot of musicians have the talent and ability to communicate to a mass of people and express their emotions. People like Bob Dylan or John Lennon are really frank and gifted like that. I think we are more in our own room, and revolve more about a sound. When we write something, we can take years to finish it before we share it. At that point we are only speaking to ourselves and pleasing ourselves.
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