There aren’t many musical acts as revered and remarkable as Daft Punk. So when they said their goodbyes on February 22, it felt like the whole world was rocked. After 28 years of being pioneers of electronic music, there’s one thing we know for sure: Not even a mask could hide the cultural impact of Daft Punk.
Ironically, the helmets might be Daft Punk’s most recognizable feature to the casual listener. But the French electronic duo didn’t always hide their faces. Masks only became a part of their uniform after the release of Homework in 1997, where they decided before their first public appearance, that they would wear black bags over their heads. The getup went through several evolutions before Daft Punk fully took on the role of the enigmatic electronic robots. Unveiled, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter would become one of the most critically-acclaimed musical acts of all time.
“We’re not performers, we’re not models – it would not be enjoyable for humanity to see our features, but the robots are exciting to people.”
– Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, Rolling Stone
Anonymity in the Age of Social Media
It’s worthy to mention that the timeline of Daft Punk’s success was parallel to the rise of social media. The early 2000s birthed Myspace and YouTube, where every day a new artist would be discovered. As the internet got bigger, the world got smaller, and fans felt the right to know who celebrities were on a personal level. A few years after, Soundcloud and Twitter became hubs for finding new music and garnering a following.
Perhaps because the masked musicians had already found success with their first two albums, they became exempt from the downsides of social media. Or maybe, they just got lucky? Either way, it wasn’t like figuring out their identity was a huge part of their careers (Read: MF DOOM). A simple Google search would lead to you find the names of the men behind the masks. But in the age of internet tabloids and the hopes of becoming besties with a star, it was pretty uncommon for people to not know exactly who you were.
Masks As Marketing
Sooner or later, people used Daft Punk’s mystery as a formula to their success… especially in dance music. Solving the puzzle of “Who are they?” almost became a gimmick. Elitism and exclusivity are found in every genre but, in dance music, it became a marketing plot. Some artists used a mask to rebrand. Some were created with ambiguity as their brand. But for Daft Punk, it was all about the two most important things: artistry and privacy.
“The robots are famous, we’re not. We’re allowed to have a normal life like regular people and interact normally with people without so much of a fake situation. That’s really important to us.”
-Thomas Bangalter, Rolling Stone
In a now-archived interview with Canoe, Thomas Bangalter said, “We don’t believe in the star system. We want the focus to be on the music. If we have to create an image, it must be an artificial image. That combination hides our physicality and also shows our view of the star system. It is not a compromise.” He later told Rolling Stone that, “people thought the helmets were marketing or something, but for us it was sci-fi glam.”
So whether we really knew who Daft Punk was or whether we didn’t isn’t the point. But it does add to the beauty of it all. Regardless of their quasi-anonymity, they were still able to establish successful careers that expanded beyond just electronic music.
Legacy Beyond the Beats
Let’s be clear: Daft Punk will never be forgotten as one of the most critically-acclaimed electronic acts of our lifetime. And they have 13 Grammys to prove it. But the artists also had such a diverse and prolific portfolio that there was no choice but to be catapulted into the spotlight.
From Homem-Christo and Bangalter’s beginnings in a rock band to their credits on tracks with hip-hop legends N.E.R.D. and Kanye, Daft Punk’s ingenuity and innovativeness are both indisputable and inspiring. Their craft led them to score an award-winning soundtrack with TRON: Legacy. Even pop culture cartoons like The Simpsons and Family Guy couldn’t steer clear of mentioning Daft Punk.
The fact that people didn’t really know who they were and didn’t care was because their legacy was always about the music. And that’s something all artists and creatives can learn from.