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Buy It, Use It, Break It, Fix It

{mosimage}This Saturday night at the Vegoose Festival in Las Vegas, Daft Punk will conclude its revelatory summer American tour. Praised by both critics and fans as one of the best shows of the year – and by many as the greatest show in the history of electronic dance music – the veteran French house duo's performances saw them perched atop a magical pyramid as a feast of effects and epiphanies swarmed from floor to rafter. L.A. Weekly recently spoke by phone with Thomas Bangalter, who, with partner Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, comprise Daft Punk.

L.A. Weekly: I'm trying to get a sense of your mindset when you converged on Los Angeles to begin rehearsals for your summer American tour. What were your goals, and what were your expectations? 

Thomas Bangalter: We've really been on a world tour since that first show at Coachella in April, 2006. We played all summer in Europe last year, and then we played South America and Asia, and also in the fall of last year, too. And we went back to more rehearsals and then played in America, and now we end up in Vegas and then in Mexico and Australia. But it's true that the headquarters of this tour, are, in a sense, Los Angeles, where we have our creative offices right now. So the tour has been linked to L.A. since before we played in L.A. in July. The rehearsals took place between February and April of last year, 2006, and then there were more rehearsals and more changes in L.A. between April and May of this year.

Were you refining things during those L.A. rehearsals, making changes?

We were changing things, refining things, making the show longer because last year there were many festivals, and these would be stand-alone shows. It's been a constant evolution. There's not always an opportunity to change things between one show and another, because it's so involving technically, and with so many different technologies we bring together, musically and visually, and in terms of the crew. So we spent a lot of time designing and refining things. The goal was to try and bring a complete global experience to the audience.

The people who talk about the shows on this tour get this little twinkle in their eye. It was a really magical, profound experience for a lot of people, and I'm wondering whether you got that sense while you were performing.

Yes. You can definitely tell when there's a good connection between the crowd, the artist, the setting and the environment. We chose the Sports Arena because we like the vibe of the place, and the people were not disappointed by this environment. And it's true in retrospect that the U.S. tour this summer was extremely exciting and fun to do, and this summer it really felt like we connected with the audiences, where we felt a lot of people there – at Red Rocks in Denver, in Chicago at Lollapalooza, in New York and in Berkeley at the Greek Theatre – connected with our music and what we're trying to bring musically and visually. The whole experience, the whole idea, is to do something different than a regular concert.

So that's really you up there in the pyramid, right?

You know, the people who ask that question don't seem to realize this – when you've got 20,000 or 30,000 people completely screaming at you up there, why would we want someone else in our place? If you were us, would you be somewhere else? I answer that question with a question.

Well, I would be very tempted to sneak out into the crowd at some point to see it from their point of view. How could you resist taking a fifteen minute break, outfitting a roadie with a helmet while you stand out in the crowd?  

Yeah, well, you've got your answer and I've got mine. I would not trade my place with someone else – obviously in a lot of respects.

For the past few years electronic music has gone a bit more underground than it once was, but it seems that the Daft Punk tour has served as a sort of energizer, or alarm clock. It feels like right now something that was dormant is reawakening.  

It's definitely been fun, and surprising, because we've been doing Daft Punk for – it's going to be fifteen years next year – so it's been many years in the spotlight. And it's really been a constant evolution and a project that we've taken into this world  -- where things go so fast and change -- especially in the world of music, where it's always about the next thing. We might not have thought that we would have had so much opportunity to do this for such a long amount of time. So the most validating and surprising and exciting thing is to realize that people seem to be into what we bring them more than ever. And it's definitely surprising because we didn't expect it.

Few artists can say that, especially in electronic music.

Yeah, but what's happening in the record industry right now, the self-destruction of it, and all the changes, both with the technology and the economy, maybe artists are going to be seen as bringing creative content that is not so much linked to record sales. And that's what we've really felt. We've  sold a lot of records in the past, but it seems that now the people that are interested in music or an artist are not -- thanks to the internet and the different means of discovering music -- so much focused on who's on the charts or who's on the radio or who's on TV, but rather who makes something interesting or exciting, and how can I experience it, and how can I have access to it quite easily and fast. So it's true that while in the past a lot of what we were doing -- being robots, doing weird music videos, things like that – people could think that it was marketing for selling the music. But I think more and more people understood or realized that it was not really so much a marketing approach than a general creative approach. We've just been trying to do cool stuff and interesting stuff in every creative domain, with every art form we could use. And that's what I think maybe people are validating through the excitement they bring, which is not linked to the economy of the music industry. Because that's not viable anymore, in a way.

And it seems as though the nature of popularity is changing. An artist is successful not necessarily just because you've sold 5 million copies of your CD, but because a devoted group of fans, be it 100,000, or a million or 500 people, are interested in supporting what you do.

And they're doing it through a very interactive process of discovering what you do. And in that act of discovery, they're making an active choice, and not just a passive choice of  being told what music to listen to or being told what content suits you. It's all the more focused on art and creativity in music than maybe on sales or exposure in terms of the economy.

Although your music was sampled by one of the best selling artists in the world today, Kanye West.

Kanye West approached us with a creative request, using a sample of our song, and the song was creative and fun, and ultimately that's how it happened. We respect him as an artist and like that he's doing his own thing. We respect that and like that. But I don't know to what level it's exposing our music directly or indirectly to other people. I think the fun thing is the ability to work on different levels, and do underground things as much as things that can be obviously very exposed. We're as excited about having the Kanye West song at number one in America as having midnight screenings of our DVD all over the world seen by 200 people at a time at small theaters – in a very confidential way like that. It's smaller, but nevertheless as exciting. It's not a question of numbers, but rather the ability to get excited by something, and the opportunity to share it with people. And in that sense we're extremely fortunate to not only do what we like, but get it to people who are interested in discovering it.

What's your philosophy on unauthorized remixes? I know a few weeks ago will.i.am. was forced to remove a YouTube video that included a Daft Punk sample. Can you talk about that?

On that topic, we don't have any comment.

What about in general terms?

In general, I think we're part of the sample generation, and we've sampled music and asked for requests of sample uses, and we've allowed a lot of music in commercials and with artists like Kanye West or Busta Rhymes, and there have been sometimes a lot of bootlegs coming out. So in general we're definitely completely open to uses of our music. There was a song in Entourage recently. “Technologic” was used in an iPod commercial a few years ago. We're always trying the change the system from within, and at the same time this is pop culture, and we are definitely appreciating this kind of recycling and going from making music and using a sample and it being used for other things.

But ultimately it's your creation, and you should have the ability to decide how that's used?

I don't know. It depends. Obviously it's – yeah, I don't know. There have been a lot of bootleg mixes in the past and we've done nothing. It all depends on the motive, where people, I guess, are coming from. Sometimes the artist is a guy that makes a little remix of your song and puts it on his MySpace page and is doing it for his friends. He's done something creative, and it's all good. This is part of what house  music is, you know? However, we've had people that are doing things from a much more money-making, promotional point of view, or you have people pressing thousands of records without asking you. that's something different. But in general, I think, it's all good.

Are you based in Los Angeles right now, and if so, do you plan on doing more soundtrack work?

We're based in Los Angeles and Paris. I would say I spend half my time in Paris and half my time in L.A. And right now we're focused on the Daft Punk project, but I've been doing soundtracks in the past. I worked on Gaspar Noe's Irreversible, a French film. But right now we're working on Daft Punk. We might do more soundtrack work in the future. What that comes out of, basically, is if they're exciting projects. It's exactly the same thing as what you were asking about usage and remixes and things like that. If the project is exciting, it's the best thing, and if it's not – it's just from an artistic point of view. It's nothing financial, you know?  We ended up granting use to a Kanye West song because we liked the song very much. That was the only thing. It's not because we thought it would be number one, you know? That's not how we function.

Do you still pay attention to what's going on in the clubs in Paris and Los Angeles?

Yes, yes. I mean, maybe a little less because we go out a little less, although we're from a generation in which electronic music was so new, and so innovative, and so radical in its approach to changing things musically – much more than I think it is right now. I'm not so focused as I was in the past because there was really a drive or thrill to do something different, where I think, in a good way, the environment right now is more about having a good time, and the party, and doing good music. It's not so much about trying to revolutionize electronic music, mostly because it's getting harder and harder, and mostly because electronic music right now is the soundtrack -- so to speak -- of the western world. It was so underground and so confidential at the time, and we were part of the people fighting for it to get accepted. And it's true that once the fight is won, and people finally accept it, that the entire society embraces it artistically, it becomes really a different approach to what then becomes the place and the role of the underground. I don't know if it's an underground thing rather than I would say a more exciting club scene in smaller clubs with good music and people wanting to have fun – and there's probably more good music right now than there was in the past, but with a very simple, open-minded approach to the party. Which is what any teenager, the 18-25 generation, wants to do and should be entitled to do.  

Where in the past it was all about making new sounds, and figuring out how to harness the technology to explore the aural frontiers, now it's about examining structure, and the understanding the craft of creating a solid piece, be it a four-minute song or a ten minute song.

Yes and no. In the past, there were more limits technically than there are now. The growth of computers now to explore music has exploded in the last five or ten years. You can do anything you want with any sound that you want, and it's true that that's not necessarily increasing creativity. All the more, it could be the opposite. It becomes harder and harder because there are no limits, and because there are no constraints -- or a creative one where you have to work more on your inspiration -- now you have these synthesizers on your computer with like 2,000 or 3,000 sounds, you know? It's easier to get lost in it, and it was not so much when we did our first album, when there was fifteen or twelve seconds of memory in our sampler. So the music has changed. In a way, a sampler does not exist anymore, because the computer does it now and you have as much memory as you want in your hard drive. It's definitely evolving and changing the way to make music. But that's exciting, because it's not duplicating.

Are you thinking about your next studio album yet?

Right now we're touring until Christmas, and after that we'll be back in work mode and working on other projects, with many more images. It's an exciting thing to rethink formats, and to what extent we are able to use them to express ourselves.

Right, so what is released wouldn't have to be a twelve-song compact disc necessarily.

It could, but not necessarily. I think that it's not the time to – the format of the album was linked to technology. It was 40 minutes on vinyl, or sometimes 60 minutes with a double LP. It was 74 minutes for the compact disc. And it's always been a buffer between the artist and the audience, as far as what a physical album was. And at a time when physical albums are starting to not even exist anymore – I'm not saying that it shouldn't be that, that it shouldn't be 40 minutes or it shouldn't be 74 -- but it's open, the question of what this is. The choices that were made were based on the format. And now the question is what should be done now that there is this freedom of distribution and not so much the format constraints.

Are you developing an answer to that question for Daft Punk.

No, no. But as an artist, and musicians, we've always been focused on the interaction between art and technology, as well as the theme of what we're doing to the content, to the form itself, and I think it's interesting. We've always been interested in doing things that haven't been done in the past. And I think the interesting thing is that when we ask ourselves, 'What can we do next?,' we are saying, 'What can we do next that we couldn't do five or ten years ago?' That's always the question that we've asked ourselves on the day that we are doing something. When we did our first record, we asked, 'What could we do that wasn't done five or ten years ago?' Second record, the same. For this tour, 'What could we do with a show that was not done five or ten years ago?' It's always been the main thing, you know? And this will be the question that we ask ourselves musically. Because there is no interest for us to do something that we could have done before.
 


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