On Monday morning, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, better known as the iconic French dance duo Daft Punk, released a cryptic eight-minute video on their YouTube channel titled “Epilogue.” The short film depicted one member of the masked band detonating the other, followed by “1993-2021” text indicating that the group’s run has come to an end. Daft Punk’s longtime publicist Kathryn Frazier subsequently confirmed the band’s breakup to several news outlets, including SPIN.
Daft Punk always did things their own way and kept their fans guessing, giving few interviews and never showing their faces in public, only appearing in videos or in concert in robot costumes. In 28 years, they only released four proper studio albums and mounted two large-scale tours. But thanks to memorable videos, creative stage shows, and output that included film scores, remixes, and collaborations with major pop stars, Daft Punk’s uncompromising approach to dance music made them enormously successful, winning the Grammy for Album of the Year for 2013’s Random Access Memories. It’s hard not to wonder if this is all an elaborate setup for their next triumph, but if this is indeed the end of Daft Punk, here’s a look back at their best work:
Most Daft Punk songs without a guest vocalist are either instrumental or feature minimal lyrics repeating one or a handful of phrases, usually run through a vocoder or other effects. But the ninth track on Daft Punk’s 1997 debut Homework shed some light on the album’s title, offering a litany of shout-outs to over 40 musicians that the duo considered themselves students of. The overwhelming majority of names on “Teachers” are pioneering house DJs and producers, but namechecks of Brian Wilson, George Clinton and Dr. Dre foreshadowed the wider array of influences from outside dance music that Daft Punk would channel on later records. And two producers referenced back to back, Todd Edwards and Romanthony, would turn up on the next Daft Punk album.
9. “Fragments of Time” featuring Todd Edwards
Following Daft Punk’s shout-out to Todd Edwards on their debut, the New Jersey-based house producer worked with the group twice, co-writing and singing on “Face To Face” from 2001’s Discovery and again on “Fragments of Time” from 2013’s Random Access Memories. The latter heavily featured session musicians to achieve an early ‘80s soft rock sound, with guitarist Greg Leisz’s pedal steel work giving “Fragments” a surprising country vibe.
8. “Digital Love”
The third single from Discovery epitomized Daft Punk’s knack for channeling the music of the past both with samples and with original instrumentation. “Digital Love” was primarily built on a funky jazz fusion track by George Duke, but the bridge evokes Supertramp hits because Daft Punk’s extensive collection of vintage keyboards included the same Wurlitzer electric piano that Supertramp used on hits like “The Logical Song.”
7. “I Feel It Coming” by The Weeknd
Daft Punk had long flirted with the pop mainstream via remixes and samples, and their mutual admiration with several major stars began to blossom in to frequent collaborations first on Random Access Memories as well as several tracks on Kanye West’s Yeezus. But Daft Punk made their biggest impact on the pop charts when they collaborated with Canadian R&B star The Weeknd on two tracks that bookended his 2016 album Starboy, both of which peaked in the top 5 of the Hot 100. “I Feel It Coming” was a surprisingly smooth track from two acts that often indulged in edgy sonics, with Michael Jackson acolyte Abel Tesfaye coming as close as he ever has to an Off The Wall ballad thanks to Daft Punk’s vintage synths.
6. “Disc Wars”
Daft Punk’s retrofuturistic aesthetic was an inspired choice to soundtrack Tron: Legacy, the 2010 sequel to the 1982 cult classic sci-fi film Tron. For their score, Daft Punk took cues from Wendy Carlos’s groundbreaking work on the original Tron, while bolstering their synth-driven soundscapes for the first time with an 85-piece orchestra.
5. “Prime Time Of Your Life”
2005’s Human After All featured a harsh minimalist sound that, for the first time in their career, didn’t resonate with critics: In our review, writer Adrienne Day derided much of the album as “half-hearted stabs at their former glories.”But the album’s reputation started to lift in subsequent years, particularly when they remixed and reinterpreted tracks from the album on tour. And “Prime Time of Your Life” didn’t truly reach its full potential until the live album Alive 2007, where its catchy chorus is the predominant theme throughout an epic 10-minute suite comprised of four different Daft Punk songs.
4. “One More Time” featuring Romanthony
Anthony Wayne Moore, better known as Romanthony, sang two standout tracks on Discovery. And one of them was the lead single “One More Time,” a filter house masterpiece that sampled a few nonconsecutive bars from the Eddie Johns disco obscurity “More Spell On You” and reconfigured them into an unforgettable horn riff. Romanthony died of kidney disease complications in 2013 at the age of 45.
3. “Get Lucky” featuring Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers
Although the Neptunes had remixed “Harder, Better, Faster Stronger” in 2001, Pharrell Williams didn’t collaborate directly with Daft Punk until a decade later, when he sang two songs on Random Access Memories. Williams came to the duo’s Paris studio and told them “I’m kind of in this Nile Rodgers place right now,” not knowing that they already had works in progress with the Chic guitarist. The result was the summer jam of 2013 and the biggest song of Daft Punk’s career.
2. “Da Funk”
Although Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo had been friends and collaborators for eight years by the time they made “Da Funk,” it was their first commercially successful track, the one that landed them a deal with Virgin Records and kicked off their unlikely adventures in the mainstream. Inspired by the G-funk grooves of west coast rap, “Da Funk” rode a catchy 303 bassline and an entertaining Spike Jonze video into MTV rotation alongside Prodigy and Fatboy Slim clips amidst America’s newfound love of “electronica” in 1997.
1. “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”
The vocals from “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” are best known for being sampled on Kanye West’s chart-topping 2007 single “Stronger.” But there are few sounds in the Daft Punk catalog more deliriously fun and joyously silly than the way they endlessly riff with vocoders over a bouncy Edwin Birdsong sample on the original track from 2001’s Discovery. The sound of a robotic voice intoning mantras like “Hour after hour, work is never over” would be depressing and dystopian in anyone else’s hands, but Daft Punk’s ebullient spirit managed to shine through anyway: they took their work seriously, but it always felt like they got as much of a kick out of it as we did it.