French people can't make no rock'n roll, but as their culture comes from Boileau and Descartes, they can masterize the loops: that is how came to birth the French house.
The only problem is that France is neither the Los Angeles or Chicago, with a hot and soul tradition, nor Detroit or Berlin and their coldness. The quest for the French touch's identity is so a battle occurring.
And in the middle of it, we find Daft Punk, which new album Random Access Memories is the first great attempt to define the identity of the French touch.
But what is Daft Punk? Daft Punk was the gem of the French House music culture and scene from the 1990's, a scene profiting notably from the city of Paris and its discos opened to young Dj's to distract grand bourgeois and top models.
Lines and imagination, with a great sense of sound, a very important culture, a will to dance in the summer on house music: this was the culture and the American dream of French house culture.
What Daft Punk produced was indeed not fascinating, compared to the immense wealth of house music, from garage to hard house. It was easy and clean, only. A title like “Crescendolls”, on Discovery, only shows the great assiduity to House parties; it is a copied pasted of the classical gay House of the 1990's.
But in this way, it was a bridge between avant-garde intelligent house and popular music, and therefore it was recognized as a great cultural product, it became a banner.
The masses had chosen: Daft Punk's Homework, which came out in 1997, was a French classic. It was a mere expression of all culture, of all the French touch dream of producing a fresh and warm music for the clubs, in the spirit of Miami and Chicago, with in the background a fascination for Detroit.
But it was also a banner for what the French appreciate. Daft Punk – it was the French touch.
There was nevertheless a problem: sensibility and rationality always have been two antagonistic poles in France; if Homework managed to be borderline like shows it amazing songs and amazing videos like Around the world and Revolution 909, Daft Punk fell afterwards in trouble.
Discovery, from 2001, was the beginning of an attempt to continue in a clean and light techno/house direction, which failed clearly in 2005 with Human After All. It was the price for not assuming culture in itself : the duo of Daft Punk always carried masks and pretended to be independent, but had no problem to be VIP consumers in Ibiza.
Even the famous free party “Respect”, in the (then) gay club the Queen on the Champs-Elysées, didn't last.
After a fabulous beginning in 1996 and the formation of a mixed young generation, crossing all styles, the promoters of “Respect” (which was the really basis of the French touch) succumbed to the calls of New York, Bruxelles, Copenhagen, Sydney, etc.
Money and international bourgeois recognition, instead of producing a new popular culture; Marine Le Pen can say “thank you” to them: they killed the production of a new culture.
There were so two possibilities: either Daft Punk reveals its own possibility, and in fact it was only a beginning, or Daft Punk falls into open commercial dance music. Aware of this, because with an important culture of music, Daft Punk managed a leap, in two steps.
The first step was an album of 2010 consisting of the 24 tracks for the movie Tron: Legacy, or Tron 2. Tron was a legendary movie from the beginning of the 80's, cultural basis of the French touch. This was the perfect choice, and Daft Punk's work was brilliant.
The second step is the new album, that just came out: Random Access Memories. The title is an allusion to technology, of course (and RAM is also a figure of Tron).
This time, Daft Punk tried to move over French formalism, inviting many musical figures, like the famous Giorgio Moroder, the songwriter Paul Williams, Nile Rodgers from the band Chic, the musician Gonzales, Julian Casablancas from the Strokes, the House producer Todd Edwards, Panda Bear from Animal Collective, the singer and producer Pharrell Williams, or DJ Falcon a friend of Daft Punk.
Is this step enough? It is necessary to say no. It is a good step, out of formalism, in the continuity of the music of Tron: Legacy, but it is not enough. It fell too easily in repetitive dance music or intellectual poses.
The massive work on the sounds killed the integrity of it, it is still too clean, without the dignity of reality. In fact, Daft Punk's error is to have not understand the double aspect of disco.
Daft Punk - Random Access Memories tries to recreate the sound of the disco, but with technology. But the duo didn't understand that the disco's symphony is opposed to the electronic part which became High Energy (Miquel Brown's with So many men, Divine with Shake it up, etc.).
So the album tends to bourgeois apparent harmony, like a idle French dream of playing music in Miami, pretending still to be funky, when it fact it is a decadent escape.
Daft Punk forgot here the call of time: its album is well done, but childish. It corresponds of course to French society, but this an illusion. The call for everybody to dance is not a content. It just can not be enough to produce culture.
This is the difference between Daft Punk and Kraftwerk, or Nirvana, the Beatles, Youth of Today, Canned Heat, The Cure, Metallica, the Doors, etc.
Those bands were not only expression of their epoch, they were also working on it. Did Daft Punk have an influence on French society? Not yet, and it will never have any as long the perspective stays intellectual, in the French formal way.
Daft Punk could be as important as Serge Gainsbourg, but for that it must cease to live in a parallel way to French society – it must quit the American bourgeois dream of French touch.