There are many ways to feel about Daft Punk's sudden break-up, no matter where you are – their influence travelled around the world, pun intended. But the robotic French house-disco duo left a distinctive imprint on Australia, over just three strange events in their 27-year career. Here is a history of their three visits to the country – only one of which was a tour.
1998: A One-Off Music Festival Appearance, On The Cusp of Fame
In 1998, Daft Punk were not yet robots. The duo of Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter were the subject of a major label bidding war after a smattering of singles in the early '90s on the Scottish techno and house label Soma Recordings. Virgin Recordings sensed French house was about to become eminently marketable and signed them.
Tipped for success, Daft Punk began recording their debut album Homework mostly at home – in a time before home recording was simple and ubiquitous. The songs were initially intended as a string of unrelated singles, without any theme or consistent aesthetic – grouping them into an album was a convenience. The record was a global success upon its 1997 release, though particularly in Europe as it awoke to French progressive house. In Australia, it peaked at #37 on the ARIA Album Chart.
It was with this frugal notoriety that Daft Punk were booked for their first Australian performance – Apollo Music Festival 1998's inaugural and only event. According to the definitive oral history of the event by Red Bull Australia, festival organiser Richie McNeill wasn't receiving a response to his gig offer, claiming their agent didn't take it seriously. McNeill got his definitive yes when he pressured them via German DJ Ian Pooley and DJ Sneak, who were in the studio with Daft Punk at the time. The pay was a measly $6400 in today's Australian dollars.
But when they met Daft Punk at the airport, only Bangalter and his girlfriend turned up. de Homem-Christo was apparently not over a fear of flying, and so couldn't bring himself to brave the 24-hour flight. It didn't seem to matter to McNeill in retrospect – he waxed lyrical to Red Bull about a young, unmasked Bangalter.
"He was just so happy to be here. To come all the way to Australia, he was kind of blown away. Thomas was still very innocent – it was all fresh and about making great music. We went to see kangaroos and I took him to eat Chinese in Chinatown," he remembers.
Bangalter's sets in Melbourne and Sydney – the latter to a reportedly "OK-sized crowd" – were done crate-digger style, with a swathe of vinyl records. Also on the lineup was a DJ version of Basement Jaxx, playing to a similarly diminutive group for a small fee.
Apollo Festival would never happen again – it was too expensive, ambitious and lacked the widescreen appeal of the Big Day Out. But a year afterwards, Daft Punk transformed into something far more mainstream and palatable, albeit artificial.
2007: Daft Punk's only Australian tour
Before the millennium bug, there was the lesser-known "9999" virus – the glitch that made Daft Punk into robots. On the 9th of September 1999, some computers and technical hardware confused the date "9/9/99" with the code "9999", used to specify an unknown date. The band were recording a song at the time, and their sampler "crashed, exploded" in a flurry of sparks.
"We were hurt a little bit so we had to make a little surgery and then we became robots," Bangalter said, with all sincerity in 2000.
From that point onwards, Daft Punk could only be seen as two helmeted robots. It was a timely decision to disappear from the public sphere, as their second album Discovery reached stratospheric levels of success off the back of singles "One More Time" and "Harder, Faster, Better, Stronger".
Around the same time, an ambitious concert promoter named Stephen Pavlovic, known for bringing Nirvana to Australia on their Nevermind tour, founded a label named Modular Recordings. With an electro-rock pastiche sound, it began the careers of The Presets, Cut Copy, Van She, Wolfmother, Tame Impala, Bag Raiders and more.
On the precipice of The Presets and Cut Copy's most successful albums (Apocalaypso and In Ghost Colours, respectively) in 2007, Pavlovic snagged the promotional rights for Daft Punk's largest, and what would turn out to be their last tour: Alive 2007. Pavlovic wasn't satisfied with merely getting the elusive cyborgs to antipodea – he mocked it up into a touring festival called Never Ever Land, with The Presets, Cut Copy, Van She, Muscles, SebastiAn, Kavinsky, and more in tow.
Never Ever Land was the fastest-selling Daft Punk event ever. It was also the last string of concerts they would ever do (excluding the one-off Grammys performance in 2014). Not only did it wow an entire Australian generation of electronic music fans, it legitimised the world-beating nature of the local electronic artists who performed alongside the robots inside their pyramid.
But it wouldn't be the last time Daft Punk would host an event on Australian shores.
2013: The premiere of Random Access Memories in the town of Wee Waa, NSW
Daft Punk put the tiny New South Wales town of Wee Waa – population 2100 – on the global map when they decided to host the world premiere of Random Access Memories there in 2013. The reasoning behind the decision was oblique – it matched the "community spirit" of the album's making. This only applies very broadly, if you consider the superstar features Julian Casablancas, Pharell Williams, Nile Rodgers and Panda Bear as "community".
Nevertheless, Daft Punk positioned their premiere within the heart of the Wee Waa community by making it the headline event at the 79th Annual Wee Waa Show. Usually, the three-day regional get-together was an agricultural affair, fit with pet shows and woodcutting competitions. This time, a purpose-built sound stage and LED dancefloor took up much of the venue's flat clearings.
Despite being relatively clear the French duo were not actually going to fly to Wee Waa for the event – hard to imagine at this stage of their superstar careers – bizarre rumours of a chartered flight for the pair persisted. The local record label, Sony, probably to encourage ticket holders to attend, refused to deny that they weren't coming. This need to keep tickets became an imperative when Random Access Memories leaked three days before the premiere. Daft Punk, wanting to own the situation, began streaming it themselves on the now-antiquated iTunes.
But the Wee Waa event still went ahead, with approximately 1500-2000 people in attendance. In retrospect, it looks like a last ditch attempt to make the album launch sacrosanct pre-streaming services – to "Give Life Back To Music", if you will. The decision was a binary for potential attendees: opt for the instant gratification and hear the leak, or restrain yourself for a special first listen, somewhat live.
It's worth noting Daft Punk didn't get to release an album into a Spotify-dominated environment. Their records have always been highly-controlled blockbusters, paired with the glossiest promotional aesthetics money can buy. Streaming makes records disposable by design, with a need for a constant trickle of new music for artists to remain "relevant" in PR terms. Daft Punk's metallic vision of the future was always tinted with an old-school attitude to what makes music great, and perhaps this new model never fit.
Each of their three Australian visits represented a coming together. It's fitting Daft Punk leave us when coming together isn't quite possible any more.
Written by Josh Martin, a Melbourne-based freelance music and media writer with words in MTV Australia, NME, Junkee, Crikey, etc. Follow him on Twitter @joshmartjourn.
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