By Nate "Igor" Smith
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South Florida's thriving dance music scene affords the opportunity to tire of Paul Van Dyk, Paul Oakenfold, and even Tisto because they are in town so often. But live appearances by French electronic duo Daft Punk have been precious and rare. Sadly, after Saturday's performance at the Bang Music Festival, such performances will cease: Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter announced last week that the Bang show will be their last in-concert effort.
Live shows by artists who are primarily computer programmers have always been a tricky sell to audiences because of the lack of axe-wielding spectacle and the general value placed on anonymity in the electronica genre. However, Daft Punk has always worked well live, in the robotic, futuristic, costumey manner of Blue Man Group. Plus DP has a string of hits that flows like a smooth DJ set at a club from 1993's "Da Funk" to 2001's ubiquitous radio anthem "One More Time" to this year's commercially co-opted single "Aerodynamic." Then there's the whole performance-art aspect to Daft Punk's shows. They are an interactive whoosh of orbiting planet models, illuminated pyramids, video projections, and a corps of space-suited dancers.
"Our shows and music have always been integrated so they affect you on more than one level," said Bangalter via telephone from Paris in an interview this past week. "We represent the theatrical side along with the musical. What we set out to do when we started was Daft Punk was not to be derivative of other bands. The nonmusical aspect, and I think especially our video work, further sets us apart."
He is referring to Homework, the 1997 collection of videos directed by now-famous cinema auteurs Michel Gondry (The Science of Sleep) and Spike Jonze (Three Kings). While the soundtrack was an influential album of techno and house, the video grouping established the pair's nonidentity identity; they appeared in character as robots sporting metallic "virtual touch" gloves and complicated helmets capable of various LED effects. They were photographed wearing animal costumes while frolicking in Times Square. And when uncostumed, they performed with their backs to the audience. The work was subtitled D.A.F.T.: A Story about Dogs, Androids, Firemen and Tomatoes.
Bangalter says the lack of cohesive meaning is intentional. "Our performance pieces don't necessarily go perfectly with the lyrics to our songs, but very generally they have to do with American and European culture," he said. When it's pointed out to him that this mission statement is maddeningly vague, he elaborated, "We would not do a piece, say, about Osama bin Laden. Bands like Arbeid Adelt! have very specific political motifs. I think that's artistically valid, but our point is a little more oblique."
Bangalter denies that the cessation of Daft Punk's live performances is the result of an incipient split with de Homem-Christo. The latter has been credited with the duo's initial approach as indie-rockers who happened to be visual artists. He also designed the band's well-known logo and recently premiered a short film (notably lacking the music of Daft Punk) at the Cannes Film Festival.
"Our music-writing is the effort of the pair," Bangalter said. "Sometimes I write the chord structures; sometimes he does. Some arrangements we work out together; some come out of improvisation."
But the pair's most recent full-length studio album, 2005's Human After All, failed to recapture the seeming spontaneity of "Da Funk." Its thin-sounding singles "Technologic" and "The Prime Time of Your Life" went ignored by DJs more focused on bass-heavy jams.
In any case, Bangalter promises that this farewell performance will be triumphant, rancor-free, and a bit simplified. "We will be wearing some headgear, but as far as costumes go, I think we'll still go with plain black jumpsuits."