This March marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Daft Punk’s breakout album, Discovery—the one that brought us indelible electronic hits like “One More Time” and “Harder, Better Faster, Stronger.” But Discovery was more than the LP that put a couple of French nerds named Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo on the map for people outside of the dance music scene. It was also the first album that saw those two French nerds shed their humanity altogether: Though they started wearing masks to add a layer of theatricality or winking artificiality to their work ahead of the 1997 release of their debut album, Homework, the duo took Discovery as a chance to lean into the general perception of electronic music and establish a gimmick so great—and so actively maintained and endorsed—that it ultimately transcended the idea of a gimmick. In 1999 (specifically September 9, or 9/9/99), Daft Punk didn’t just start dressing like robots. Daft Punk became robots.
Since the release of Discovery, Daft Punk has become a band that is as much about aesthetics as it is about music, no matter how popular and influential and Grammy-winning that music has become over the years. That’s why Daft Punk didn’t just do the soundtrack for Tron: Legacy and leave it at that; Daft Punk is in Tron: Legacy making robot music as robots in a computer. Daft Punk didn’t just collaborate with The Weeknd on a couple of hit songs; Daft Punk physically appears in The Weeknd’s videos as larger-than-life futuristic machines with robot helmets and truly glorious capes.
This morning, in appropriately aesthetic-minded fashion, Daft Punk announced that they’re breaking up. In lieu of a tribute to how Bangalter and Homem-Christo impacted electronic and house music (or even how they then spun their talents into an incredible disco album), here’s a look back at Daft Punk’s best moments—not as artists or musicians, but as robots.
In 2003, a few years after the release of Discovery, Daft Punk and Toei Animation turned the album into Interstella 5555, a concert film/musical heavily influenced by ’70s anime. The duo aren’t the focal point of its story (which is told with zero dialogue beyond what’s in the songs, none of which were written to be used in a musical), but they do make some cameo appearances as very cute anime robots.
Released in 2006, Electroma is another musical film (of sorts). In a reverse from Interstella, though, it does not feature Daft Punk music but does feature the two Daft Punk robots—they’re not played by Bangalter and Homem-Christo, which is fun and confusing, though the real guys wrote and directed it. The movie is about a pair of robots who try to become humans—but after being rejected by society, they destroy themselves. The film formed the basis of the “Epilogue” breakup announcement video.
If the Discovery-era music videos airing on Adult Swim didn’t introduce you to Daft Punk, maybe it was Kanye West’s “Stronger,” which heavily samples “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.” The video essentially serves as an adaptation of Akira, but with Daft Punk (played by the actors from Electroma, not the real guys) giving Kanye West superpowers. Say what you will about Kanye West, but he often knows cool shit when he sees it.
In 2007, hot off its weird movie and Kanye West sample, Daft Punk went on a big world tour that involved them (or, you know, people dressed as them) doing live mash-ups of their most popular songs from inside a giant light-up pyramid. They also released a Grammy-winning live album, Alive 2007, which is funny because they are robots.
Who better to DJ at a club inside a video game than Daft Punk? Not only do they get to cameo in Tron: Legacy, but they do it in extremely slick white versions of their normal robot suits and there’s a great gag where they see a fight scene kicking off and decide to crank up the tunes. Diegetic music has literally never been cooler.
The live performance of “Get Lucky” (which slips into a bunch of different songs and gives Daft Punk a chance to make a big entrance) rules, but how many times have robots in tuxedos walked the red carpet at an award show? This effortless expression of the band’s aesthetics and the way they forced “normal” things like the Grammy Awards to accept it is what made the robot suits so cool. Like, all big entertainment industry award shows are artificial and meaningless, and not only do these guys show up as robots as an acknowledgment of how artificial everything about the event is, but then they proceed to rock the shit out of it with a great performance of a great song.
“Starboy” was The Weeknd’s big moment, with Daft Punk serving as backup while he rejected everything about himself from the “Can’t Feel My Face” era. But it’s the “I Feel It Coming” video where the robots show why “ft. Daft Punk” is the best part of any song title. With the song playing like a spin-off of the funky Random Access Memories version of Daft Punk, the video features the duo in the coolest outfits they’ve ever worn—if not the coolest outfits anyone has ever worn ever.
Finally, the end. Daft Punk is unsurprisingly a pretty secretive duo, with the “Epilogue” video serving as the only indication that they were splitting up until a publicist confirmed it. This is still really all the information we have.... And yet, despite the fact that it’s decades old, it’s kinda perfect? Daft Punk using their own aesthetic experimentation to reveal that they’re breaking up, the gimmick looping back on itself in a way that acknowledges where they’ve been and conclusively says they’re not coming back, all done in a way that no other musical act could get away with. The only better thing would be, well, another 20 years of Daft Punk albums and cool robot shit.
Bangalter and Homem-Christo are still alive, obviously, and they might come back someday as two regular French guys, but it just won’t be the same. They’re just human after all.