I interviewed Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo of Daft Punk in 1997 for The Times, where I worked as commissioning editor on a Saturday arts supplement called Metro. I must have met them on 6 November 1997, since it was the day after they had played in London at the Astoria, a venue on the Charing Cross Road since demolished.
There’s so much I’d forgotten about their back story. This isn’t the greatest interview in the world – I was a nervous young man with not much time – but it’s amazing to hear them talk about their music, before all the robot heads and their recent revived interest in live musicians for the upcoming Random Access Memories.
I met Thomas and Guy-Manuel in a hotel just north of Hyde Park, where loads of bands used to be put up in those days. The tape is quite muffled, and I have no way of telling them apart, so I won’t attribute the quotes to either of them. Their PR at the time, Heather Findlay, was sat in the corner, and makes a brief appearance.
This is everything they say, or at least everything I can make out.
Where did you meet? Did you meet in Paris?
– Yeah. We met in Paris about ten years ago. and we were 12 or 13 years at that time. We were in the same class, and started to hang out together. After that we started to listen to a lot of music, buy records, hang out in record shops, then made music together quite a long time after that, five years ago, six years ago.
Did you play music as kids?
– No, no.
– I played the piano, played the guitar. It was more about listening to the music we liked. So after that we made a record with a friend, it was on a compilation with Stereolab.
[Listening back to the tape, this suddenly rung bells. The band they were in was called Darlin’. Here’s my diary from 92-93, when I was at college.
I’d totally forgotten that I had bought their first ever record, which came with a free sticker. I’ve just been in my crates and found it. The compilation was called Shimmies In Super 8.
The tracklisting on the back.
The record itself is a very pleasing white.
Inside is an insert with photocopied photos of Thomas, Guy-Manuel and other band member Laurent.
Daft Punk plus one friend, minus robot heads.
Here’s one of the two tracks, Cindy, So Loud
-We got bad reviews saying it was “daft punk”. and after that we switched to better equipment to, and we met the people from Soma in Glasgow and that’s it.
And that’s it.
-No but in terms of the chronology.
Someone gave a tape to Stereolab
– Yeah yeah.
What was the scene like in Paris?
– Even with the beginning of the band, it was very underground, the scene was at that time very important in terms of independent music scene. So yeah there was that sort of scene. So yeah later on you realise that scene was slowing down we went to the first parties that we could go to, started being 17 or 18, started going to the first raves or clubs, there was much more there than rock gigs where people were slowing down.
Had there been Riot Grrl in Paris?
– Yeah yeah
– In Paris there were very few people into it at that time.
– There was that kind of scene but
There wasn’t a political thing
– More the influence of the bands
– Yeah you know the band was named after a Beach Boys song.
[Here’s the Beach Boys singing Darlin’]
– So it was about maybe having the same taste and common points. But it didn’t last long, maybe six months, then we really managed to get some equipment like a basic sampler and a drum machine and tried to start making music in a different way
Was it just the two of you in the band
– Two then three then two
And but its still the same ethic now as what you had then. I mean there’s a change to the instruments but
– Yeah I think so. I don’t think it’s that different. We have much more control of it now, even technical control, of getting the sound you want. we haven’t changed like. OK we just like to make music we made music and here still making it we make music. In between we’ve made more discoveries about house music, so we have more influences, but the influences we had at the time we still have them. We’re not denying anything from rock and roll, we’re not saying this is shit now, we’re more maybe denying the fact that we’re probably not that interested in doing such music now. we’re probably into almost everything we were into. we’ve just added taste rather than switching.
So it’s about controlling the sound, now you can control
– Yeah, music is really about controlling the sound and the possibility of doing a record that sounds the way you want. Rather than going to big studios with producers and a lot of different people around,
Were there a lot of people doing the same thing as you were when you were fifteen sixteen?
– In Paris? (They talk to each other in French). In Paris it’s a very very small scene. We didn’t know one. Very very small scene with only two records shops and it’s not, music in paris is not so…
– The scene at the time was the same people who were at a bunch of gigs and in the record stores. So it was really small.
Do you think that could be an advantage?
– It was also maybe more of a teenager thing, trying to be kind of knowing some stuff that nobody knows about, the underground, which basically is a bit stupid. Much more creative and positive to spread music when it’s good than to keep it underground. As long as it remains of quality. What was the underground house scene now most people have the opportunity to put it out on labels. But then at the time when you’re a teenager you’re trying to dig some stuff that nobody knows.
Also in the way that if you’ve got a smaller place, it can concentrate it down. London is a big sprawl. Glasgow there’s a lot of good music now because it’s small.
– You can’t quite compare France and the UK. The UK so diverse and there’s so much stuff happening. In France there is like nothing happening in terms of underground scenes. Now there’s an underground house scene, with DJs producers and stuff, but still, its very very new, so you can’t say things are happening. In UK you’ve got Melody Maker, NME, every week you have the new best band in the world, and this is totally different. there are thousands and thousands of bands in the UK, and a dozen, very very few bands in France. The structure and the media to cover it, it is starting with House but it’s very small, the House scene in Paris, there’s some exposure around that but it’s really ten or a dozen people.
Clubs in London are more interesting for you.
– Yeah maybe.
I mean um. Do you find Paris good to work in?
– There are our friends, I don’t know yeah.
– I don’t know what I think is now there’s more things, it’s quite good, it’s nice all the more, it’s more exciting to work where there’s emotion and people rather than when there’s no-one doing it and you’re alone doing it.
What was it made you stop with guitars and go with drum machines and samplers
– It was just what we said about the control and also the scenes that we were more, the age 17 or 18 started going to clubs and all that kind of environment. It was changing, and we were discovering all that. And music and people being quite open to listen to some music that they didn’t know, rather than the old always listening to hits and rock. Was much more interesting, we thought, and really you can do your own stuff without anyone helping and it’s not like a demo. that’s the nice thing
Do you ever miss that, would you ever do it again, or is that past now?
– No it’s just like the way we do music. we don’t care picking one instrument over another. The only thing we’re trying to do is be innovative. We could use use machines, I don’t know, we don’t make plans
The stuff you’re using you’re using like instruments anyway, using it like a guitar
– It’s minimal, like basic stuff, very minimal, that’s what we like in House music, you even more appreciate the sound of the machine when you listen to it well. This is just the way we see the music. We’re not saying we like that kind of music or don’t like that kind of music, we’re not saying we’re never going to do that or that, we’re just saying, we’ve done this, and we’ve done that, and after that, we don’t know. we’ve not got a list of stuff we’re not going to do, maybe in terms of starting a new rock band.
Have you ever actually used a big studio [Homework had been entirely recorded in Thomas’s bedroom studio]?
No no. We start recorded in my bedroom on very basic, small, not at all like in a studio. We could have recorded it in a bigger studio if we wanted, but that’s not the way we wanted to do it, and that’s the way we want to keep on doing. I don’t think when you have that kind of music, you can’t reproduce it the same, because of that not being able to reproduce that, want to keep that raw, sometimes it sounds better in the mix but you can’t have the same feel of all the randomness of when you record it.
And it seemed live last night you were doing it then
-Yeah exactly. live it will never be the same. It just sometimes you feel something and the second time there is no more feeling.
It seems that some people are scared of making a synthesizer sound like a synthesizer
– When you have machines you have to forget that these are machines, not being fooled by the yeah this sounds a certain… When you have a pen you write something, look at the pen look at the texture, you can manage to have the best writing style whatever the way you do it, but what matters in the end is the thing you do with it. So in the end we try to focus on to use the machine in a way that we’re thinking is this good music, if the sound fits well it just seems natural, that’s it. we’re just trying to put the tracks to be the best
What’s the first music you were aware of?
[one of them whistles]
– Think it was more radio, no style. Singles.
– When I was young for example I loved Matt Bianco on the radio. Or Kid Creole.
I liked The Buggles.
-Yeah it’s like music on TV or on the radio.
[The phone rings]
[Heather, the PR, answers it and says, “Hello”]
[I say something to Guy-Manuel and Thomas, and they reply, but can’t make it out]
[Heather says into the phone, “Hi, we’re just finishing up, bye”]
[I say to Heather, “How long have I got?”]
[Heather says back, “About five more minutes?”. Either Guy-Manuel or Thomas is talking about the British acceptance of French music]
– I think it’s maybe a new thing for the UK to see French stuff coming out that they can like, French are very very bad past music being exported, even the good stuff in France because of the language it’s difficult, touching the people in the UK. Because it’s a new thing, in France the articles are that we are the first one of the techno France, we’re an experiment in that we’re the first one, I think it’s understandable. i don’t mind.
Tell me about the clubs in France. is it bad the legislation against it?
[I’ve searched online to find out what I’m referring to, but can’t find any record of it. There must have been some move in France at the time restricting clubs]
– Yeah it’s not legislation, it’s a directive, they just decided, it’s not a law, but it’s a list of stuff regarding avoiding cancelling the water supply in raves and the government on one side the Cultural Minister is saying techno is very important, and on the other side the Police Minister is cancelling parties, it’s frustrating, maybe if you can make things progress a little bit and try to widen ideas and show that there’s this music [and then from hereon in the tape mumbles to its end]