Yes, Daft Punk’s debut Vegas performance will cap the end of a stateside campaign highlighted not only by its boffo-box-office tour, but having its 2001 song « Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger » prominently sampled in Kanye West’s smash single « Stronger, » as well a theatrically released movie (Electroma) and a soon-to-be-released live album (Alive 2007, out Nov. 19). Given how it’s harder than ever for electronic music acts to achieve mainstream exposure, Daft Punk’s newfound popularity in America was a feel-good music story, during a year where the music industry had very little to feel good about. Thankfully, it’s not going to the head of de Homem-Christo, who spoke with CityLife via telephone recently.
CityLife: You know, we have our own pyramids and flashing lights. How will your stage set-up compare to the Las Vegas Strip?
Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo: [Laughs] It’s totally different because I don’t think you get the sound on the Strip! You get the traffic sound, but not the music too much. Maybe we’ll put some soundtrack to it. What we’ll try to do is have a little bit of maybe a small Strip, with one pyramid and a big sound system.
But the Strip is great, it’s really an inspirational place. If you take Paris, you have the Moulin Rouge and the sex shops with lights, but it’s not as big and impressive as the Strip.
CL: Electronic music acts don’t just sell out American sports arenas and amphitheaters like you did this summer. How does it feel to be playing the same places in America as Bruce Springsteen?
GH: I was not aware of what you’re telling me. Maybe The Chemical Brothers play these places?
CL: No. They have never attempted to headline a venue as big as the L.A. Sports Arena.
GH: Ah, O.K. The only comparison we have the shows we did 10 years ago in America, and the places we play now are much bigger. And the reaction on the whole U.S. tour was incredible. When we played Coachella at the beginning of the tour last year, we were not expecting anything … we just hoped it would go well and we’d finish the show. But when we saw at the end the reaction of the people was so intense, and with the U.S. tour two months ago where every city was incredible — it’s just great.
CL: How did you and Thomas come up with the pyramid stage set-up?
GH: We did it together, and of course with a team of people. The pyramid, for example, was custom-made for the show, and we came, Thomas and me, with all the ideas of bringing this pyramid we used previously on the « Technologic » video. In the « Technologic » video, this little robot [is] in the pyramid and we thought it would be funny to have the two of us in the bigger pyramid.
CL: In America, it seems audiences have to see their performers and want them to move all over the stage, and be very physical. Daft Punk is not really like this on stage, and it still gets a rapturous response. Is it just the lights and the music driving them crazy, or is there something else?
GH: I think everything we did, from when we started the band together, I think image has been as important as music. We’ve always worked and in fact maybe spent much more time on the visual side than the music. The two are linked very closely.
[With] the combination of everything, we try to keep it as intense and concentrated as possible. When people see the show, there’s few places for rest. As soon as it begins, for more than an hour, the music and light show is nonstop. We try to make something different and that would be intense. We didn’t tour for 10 years, maybe the expectation of fans was bigger, and Coachella showed us that.
CL: Do you think any of this would have been possible had you not played and done so well at Coachella in 2006?
GH: I think Coachella showed us that people were waiting. In the tent, people were shouting and really going crazy before the show. We didn’t know those people would be there. When you don’t do a show for 10 years and you come back and show up as robots with a pyramid with a crazy, tricked out show … it’s really a [surprise] to see they were there and really happy.
If everything had gone wrong at Coachella, maybe we would not have toured after that. But the people were so good and encouraging there, we kept on touring. … and with the Internet, as soon as we did Coachella, maybe the word spread that people liked the show there, and people were talking about it.
CL: I remember going to buy a T-shirt the day after you played Coachella, and all these high school kids were buying up Daft Punk shirts. Was it obvious to you after that performance that you were attracting a new generation of fans?
GH: We have some younger generation [fans], for sure, and maybe some older generations found out what we are doing — maybe it brings them memories of music from the ’70s. [At] festivals … people from different genres came to see the show. It’s really funny to see people gathered around what we are doing, and it’s a blessing.
CL: When did you first hear that Kanye West was going to sample « Harder Better Faster Stronger » for a song of his, and were you surprised at first?
GH: In fact, he was halfway through the process of making the song when he sent it, and what we heard was already very good. So we accepted …also because we were big fans of what he did before. We’ve been sampling music in the past and so it’s good, in the sample tradition, to give back. It’s a cycle, like a sample loop. We are happy to be part of that tradition in hip-hop and electronic music, too.
CL: Daft Punk now has the distinction of having a song it essentially co-wrote go No. 1 on the U.S. pop charts. Do you think that will help your band in the future, or do you think it will not make a difference?
GH: If it does help us, it’s good, but we don’t care, we’ve never expected anything. Everyone’s talking about Kanye West and Daft Punk and being No. 1 in the U.S. And Kanye has been doing lots of interviews and has been pushing what we’ve done — not just the song, but he’s always talking about us … as a fan and, I would say, as a colleague. He’s a producer like us, and Pharrell Williams, who we know and who likes what we are doing, too, and Timbaland. I know the popular world is really aware. As far as producing, we’ve been influenced by U.S. hip-hop and now they’re really into with what we’re doing.
Is it going to help us for our next album or project? It takes some time for people to notice what we are doing. For example, « Harder… » comes from 2001. In fact, we started to do it in 1997. That was 10 years ago. Maybe the next stuff we do won’t be noticed [until] 10 years time, y’know? But maybe not.
CL: After the tour has officially stopped, what’s next for Daft Punk?
GH: We didn’t talk about it yet. We have ideas. But we always try to stay focused on what we’re doing and we are finishing this Alive 2007 tour and promoting the CD and we are also promoting the movie. Next year, we have plenty of time to start doing some new project and we are really happy about that.
CL: Recently, the French band Justice said Daft Punk is the most important band to come out of France. How do you respond to compliments like that?
GH: I react, ahhh … maybe the impact of such comments — and there have been others about what we’ve been doing — [is] maybe more important for people outside than for us.
Maybe what we did from the beginning, staying anonymous [with robot masks], maybe we just wanted to have a regular life with regular people, and interact with everybody the same way. We like this approach and have normal communication with people, because that’s what we are — regular people. We are low-key, and we are lucky to bring people together to celebrate. And for me, it’s great to bring people together and have fun and not argue — rather, to party together with people from different countries and origins. And that’s why we don’t take these comments for real. We try to do everything from a regular, human-being point-of-view.