20 Years Later: Daft Punk – Discovery

On the 12th March 2001, two French musicians released an album that would change the landscape for dance music as we knew it, and forevermore. Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, more commonly known as Daft Punk, dropped their masterpiece, ‘Discovery’. 

Daft Punk – Discovery (2000, CD) - Discogs

Arriving on the scene in 1997 with the loud, abrasive house sounds from their debut album Homework, Daft Punk made a name for themselves with big beats worked into an hour and 14 minutes’ worth of tunes, destined for 2 am nightclub scenarios. Spawning influential classics such as the bass driven Around The World and the raw, energetic synth progressed Da Funk. The above mentioned and their iconic music video for Around The World resulted in Daft Punk holding no small name for themselves.  It was safe to say their next project was highly anticipated, with the pressure mounting on Bangalter and Honem-Christo to release something magical that would be compared to the game changer ‘Homework’ was. However, four years later they turned their music left, to the mainstream, and out came the transcendent masterpiece we know as Discovery. 

Opening with the insanely infectious One More Time, Daft Punk immediately make clear a change in direction. Unlike songs on their previous album, One More Time is crafted with a mainstream appeal in mind. Although repetition, a trademark of Daft Punk’s sound is still very much present, this song has a more radio friendly pop structure. There are gorgeous breakdowns that serve in the conventional way of increasing the impact had when launching back into drum and synth mania. It makes perfect sense for this song to open the album, serving as one of the leading singles of the record, and ultimately making Daft Punk a household name, thanks to its disco influenced sound fused with electronica. Almost 20 years later, the song is still pretty much inescapable, appearing in adverts and pubs and clubs everywhere, carrying its endless danceability with it. I distinctly remember dancing to this in the co-op supermarket at Leeds festival, with a bunch of strangers at 4am as it blasted over the speakers. 

The record then launches into Aerodynamic, a fast paced, energetic track with a sense of urgency, allowing itself to become a perfect precursor to the more relaxed Digital Love. One of the first songs in their career to have a more obvious verse-chorus setup. A beautiful electronic dance-pop track, essentially about a robot falling in love. Even this singular track caries a colossal influence, something about the catchiness in the robotic melodies and toe tapping chord progressions helped spawn copycat attempts at recreating the track in a career, Owl City arguably being the most obvious. In fact, looking at the first 5 tracks on the album and the way they perfectly flow into one another is absolutely astonishing. Especially here with Digital Love’s uplifting mood transitioning into the classic Harder, Better Faster, Stronger. In the whole hour of the album, this is arguably the track that goes harder than any other (as the name suggests). Oozing with determination and withholding a massive replay factor, the influence of this track is undisputed. Transcending genres, Hip-Hop legend Kanye West sampled it in his 2007 smash hit single “Stronger”. Even post-Graduation Kanye suggests this record influenced his career path, experimenting with autotune and electronic beats on it’s follow up, 808s And Heartbreak. Autotune, synths, even types of distortion – not too unlike those in Human After All – are all present on this Kanye project, and became a prompt for auto-tuned hip hop and trap following.

In an hour-long dance album, it’s very easy to contain filler, something perhaps some of the tracks in Homework were guilty of. However, Discovery contains no lengthy repetition and remains entirely engaging throughout. At no point does the listening become a chore, with many stand out moments dropping even midway through. Something About us, clocking In at just over halfway through is 4 minutes of pure electronic bliss. Certainly, the most stripped back moment of the album. A track laden with deep, funky bass and beautiful synth progressions, as well as weirdly soothing robotic vocals. Indeed, a sense of longing and desire is the theme of this one, with the lyrics “I need you more than anything in my life” becoming oddly poignant when sang by a robot. 

At this point, it must be mentioned that Daft Punk’s use of samples in the album is absolutely second to none. Gathering beats, guitars and vocals from a wide selection of funk and soul music, and ranging from well known to obscure, these samples really make the album what it is. In fact, the talent Daft Punk hold for their creativity leaves some samples still uncovered today. Songs like Face To Face reinforce the idea that Daft Punk holds so much influence for artists such as Kanye West, with 4 separate samples alone being worked into the track. The 70s funk and soul influence across the record is huge, with well known classics such as ELOs Evil Woman and Sister Sledge’s Il Macquillage Lady, all the way to the lesser known, but equally brilliant, More Spell On You courtesy of Eddie Johns. While the sampling of 70s legends such as Billy Joel in Homework was definitely notable, and certainly helped put them on the map, Discovery really kicks it up a notch. The creativity in the samples utilisation over the course of an hour is just absolutely explosive, creating futuristic, melodic beats with catchy, danceable rhythms that are also really accessible. This is what really sets them apart from their contemporaries, and puts Daft Punk at the forefront of their field. It has to be emphasized that no one was really doing what they were doing at this time with the lack of technology, and Discovery resulted in an album that truly transcended dance and became a masterpiece regardless of genre.

Of course, the announcement of Daft Punk’s breakup has been incredibly upsetting news for fans around the world (get it?). However, doom and gloom doesn’t have to get the better of longtime supporters, especially as Spotify have released never before seen facts and concept art for Daft Punk’s anime film Interstella 5555. This feature length was released in 2003, as a continuation of Daft Punk’s collaboration with the master of Japanese animation, Leiji Matsumoto. The films loose narrative involves a blue skinned alien band being kidnapped by nasty lizard creatures, while performing One More Time (the cheek!). Never was there a more perfect combination than the colourful music of Discovery and the gorgeous array of beautiful deep purples, bright blues and eye-popping silvers and golds. In fact, it becomes a real task to think of an anime that illustrates a more eye watering colour palette, with only the likes of Studio Gibli coming to mind. All in all, this sci-fi musical anime is the companion that Discovery never needed, but garners all the more appreciation for the project upon becoming aware of its existence. There’s also a scene of an alien cleaning the surface of his guitar shaped spaceship, what’s not to love?

Discovery changed everything for the dance scene, with critics and fans still drooling over its timeless brilliance today. With the upsetting news that Daft Punk are no more, make sure to have a re-listen to an album that achieved so much, something that’s so beautiful, affecting and full of courageous energy. If you have not had the pleasure of discovering (haha) this album, please enrich your life by doing so.