Classic House Series Episode #23 – The New Wave – Daft Punk

When Daft Punk burst on to the North American consciousness in late 1996, for most of us it was via the mind-blowing, genre smashing throb of their first single released through Virgin Records, Da Funk.  Combined with its surreal video, convincing most of their fans that the group consisted of one dude in a dog mask, it was a fitting way to introduce the French lads to the world and the critical and commercial response to the single was explosive.

The single was, however, not the first or even second time the duo had appeared on wax.  After signing their very first record contract with Scotland’s Soma Records imprint, their first E.P. began making its rounds and is the real source of the early buzz behind the two mysterious producers.  Entitled “The New Wave, this is the first official release by Daft Punk and while it may not quite have had the success of “Da Funk“, it was our first introduction to what would become some of the most crucial components of Daft Punk’ signature sound.

The title track of the E.P. is a raw, almost primitive slice of techno delivered at a much faster tempo than we would see on later releases.  Appearing in its original form and an edited version, the sonic sheen that would emerge quickly via their future releases is not quite there, but plenty of their other trademark flourishes take the forefront:  the heavily compressed sound of the track, booming percussion, and the in-your-face feel of the mix were all early clues as to where they group might take their sound to next.  The track does itself sound like an unfinished production, but also strikingly similar to a cut from their debut album that was heavily featured in their live sets at the time.  Flipping the record over would provide us with the answers we were seeking.

Side 2 of the E.P. opens with “Assault”, a slightly more polished, but again minimal piece of hypnotic techno.  You don’t hear quite as many layers of sounds in this one compared to “The New Wave“, but the track does serve its purpose; repetitive, late-night, almost acid-sounding techno with a few switch-ups on the drums to keep things moving.

The final track would also prove to be the final mix of “The New Wave” complete with a new title.  The penultimate track on their debut album “Homework” first appears to close out the E.P. under the title “Alive(New Wave Final Mix).  The sonic similarities between the two track should now be fairly obvious, but compared to its original form, this mix of “Alive” is an absolute MONSTER.  Big sounding doubled kicks, stabbing synth lines and an enormous bassline close out this record on a massive note and shows us the full potential that Tom and Guy-Man had right from the get-go.  The E.P. was also released on Italy’s UMM records and is not impossible to find.  This is one release every serious fan or collector of Daft Punk music should own, or at the very least, listen to so they can experience what it was like to hear the first tunes to come from these legendary producers.

Advertisements

The Greatest Electronic Album Ever Made: Homework – Daft Punk Part 4 of 4

This is the final installment in our 4-part review of Daft Punk’s “Homework”.  Be sure to check out Parts 1, 2, and 3 as well!

SIDE D:

13.  Burnin’ – The final side of the album opens with one of Daft Punk’s most frequently overlooked masterpieces.  “Burnin'” is one of those tracks that truly defines DP’s ability to make you listen to try and figure out what exactly these guys were thinking when they literally whipped this one up, all while grooving your butt off.  Whooshing fire truck sirens, alarm bells, and a filtered subtractive synth line all build to a climax before one of the most defining basslines ever heard in house music drops and sends the track into sheer pandemonium.  The drum programming is simply brilliant here, with the lads tapping out what sounds like “Dueling Banjos” for percussion on their drum machines (including some cheeky, slightly out-of-place tom sounds just for fun).  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this tune absolutely destroy in the clubs and based on the response DP received when they added it to the slightly revamped Alive 2007 set list, this one will continue to endure as a fan favourite.

14.  Indo Silver Club– One word:  MADNESS.  This is Daft Punk at their absolute nuttiest; here they grab a snippet of “Hot Shot” by Karen Young (the only credited sample on the album) and set a bendy bassline to auto-insanity and let ‘er rip.  This is an extremely cool track, one that takes a sample so far out of its original context it’s ridiculous and the result is a great late night tune that served as the duos second Soma single, released simply as “Indo Silver Club“.  The single contained “Part 1”, a heavier, rolling, clanky techno cut, and “Part 2″ which appears on the album.  The 12” (of which I have a copy, tee-hee) is one of the tougher DP releases to track down, but well worth it if you’re a diehard fan.

15.  Alive – Many people are surprised to learn that “Da Funk” was not the first single released from Daft Punk.  In 1994, the duo released their debut E.P. on Soma and UMM Records entitled “The New Wave“, containing two versions of the title track, an early techno number, “Assault”, and what appeared on the single as “Alive(New Wave Final Mix)”.  It is this version that is presented on “Homework” and if you listen to the original arrangement of “The New Wave”, the similarities are present, but not quite as polished as the “Final” product.

Let’s not mince words; “Alive” is a monster of a track.  The final mix is slower in tempo and it starts off heavy with some kicks put through a nice doubling reverb and a single-note bassline.  The effects and synth hooks follow with everything building towards a huge climax before kicking in even harder.  It’s perfect 1996 rave music and shows a marked improvement in terms of arrangement over “The New Wave”, which seems to rely a bit too heavily on its faster tempo and somewhat scattered sounding sequencing and engineering.  “Alive” has endured as a consistent fan favourite, included in both their Alive ’97 and Alive 2006/2007 live shows and lending its name to the tours themselves.  The main thing is it sounds fantastic in a club, even better when the boys tear it apart and put it back together, and is the perfect tune to close an amazing debut album from two unassuming kids from France who banged out a masterpiece in one of their bedrooms and changed the course of house music forever.  Right?

16.  Funk Ad –…..Well, kinda.  Let’s face it, from day one Daft Punk has always approached everything they do with slightly cheeky humour.  The masks, the dog in the video for “Da Funk”, not appearing in their videos themselves (at least not until the release of “Human After All“), you get the idea.  Many will argue for and against the merits of closing such a fantastic debut with a 50-second snippet of “Da Funk” played backwards, but who cares what the real reason behind it is.  Maybe it’s a joke, a DJ tool, a subliminal hook that helps ingrain the album into the fabric of your brain (surely I can’t be the only person this has happened to), or just something more to add to an album that was longer than just about any album released during this time period(73:53).  At this point, after listening to the sheer brilliance of the 15 tracks that preceded it, you would almost come to expect something like this from the guys who knocked out “Rollin’ & Scratchin'”, “Oh Yeah”, etc.

CONCLUSION

“Stands the test of time” is an accolade that’s been misused to the point of being mostly meaningless these days.  “Homework”  is a record that accomplished much more than that, but if we choose to focus on the music alone for a minute, there is a definite timelessness to the album that can be observed simply by looking at how well the tracks hold up to this day in 2012.  Seriously, put on “Around the World” and then show me a current “hot” single or song that is anywhere near as funky as this.  Skrillex‘s “Bangarang” is a decent tune, but if “Da Funk” didn’t exist who’s to say it would either?  If you’re a house DJ and you’re gigging this weekend, pull out “Burnin'” and just watch what happens.  Maybe you’ll thank me on Monday.  The quality of every track on here is light years ahead of where the curve was in 1996 and, quite frankly, where it is today.

One of the reasons why the album has endured and received further acclaim in the years after its release may well be because it was, in fact, too far ahead of its time for most people.  Thomas & Guy-Man introduced a novel approach to making electronic music without deviating too far away from the pop sensibilities that made their tracks instant classics.  Remember too, this was an LP designed with the DJ in mind.  This may have worked a little too well, since Virgin even had difficulties in deciding how best to market the album since DJs of various genres were playing every single track out!  The arrangement of the tracks themselves are very DJ-friendly, consisting of full versions instead of radio edits.  Hmmm…the easier it is to mix and play out the tracks, the more people will play them!  No wonder everybody was on Daft Punk in some form when this album dropped.

At the end of the day, the main reason I selected this recording as the Greatest Electronic Album Ever Made is simply because it is one of the few albums of any genre that I can actually listen to all the way through and it is still a pleasure to do so.  It grabbed me by the ears and soul and hasn’t let go since.  Daft Punk simply made people sit up and say “woah….what is this???”  It broke away from the Eurodance sound that was dominating the genre at the time and made people realize that with a little imagination, some half-decent gear and respect for house music’s founding fathers, you can actually do this yourselves.  This record has influenced everything from my DJ sets to how I approach making my own tunes and has most definitely become one of my “deserted island” records.  I haven’t stopped playing this since I got it and have no plans to stop any time soon.

No album is perfect, but for me, this one definitely comes close.  If you want to hear how half a dozen different house sounds and styles got started, do a little Homework and give this one your attention.

Da funk back to da punk, come on!