More on Daft Punk: canonizing a history of EDM
This past week I got to talk about Daft Punk with Jason and Cassie at ABC’s The List. We had a great time talking, so much so that there was a lot that we discussed that couldn’t be fit into the final broadcast. There’s one thing in particular that I want to follow up on: the role of Daft Punk as curators of EDM’s past.
90s hip hop, especially (but of course not limited to) Dre’s West Coast G-Funk, functioned as a curatorial and canonizing take on 70s funk and soul. Their samples reactivated classic funk and soul licks, making them great in new ways, and thus reinforcing the canonical greatness of their original versions. I was born in 78, and though I do remember listening to early 80s radio in the car with my parents and rummaging through my dad’s stack of Motown LPs, my knowledge of 70s funk and soul comes primarily through my interaction with 90s hip hop. (I actually talk about this a bit here.) I suspect that this is common among gen-Xers & millennials (is it? fellow x/millennials, lemme know!).
I think we see a similar move happening in Daft Punk’s revisiting of 70s disco (Rogers, Moroder) and Y2K-era R&B (Williams). Their selection of collaborators traces a trajectory through the last 30ish years of dance music, anointing these collaborators (especially Rogers & Moroder) as the Mozart & Beethoven of 70s disco. I just want to pause for a second and consider how unqueer this version of 70s disco is…If this is indeed an attempt at canon-making, it’s really interesting how people like Larry Levan are written out of the story. The canonization goes both ways, I think. DP’s choice of collaborators reaffirms Rogers, Moroder, & Williams’ place in the canon, but these are already pretty prestigious figures in the first place. Their prestige rubs off a bit on DP, further legitimating them as canon-makers.
But if you think about the choice of Rogers & Moroder also in terms of their legacies–Rogers’ work with Chic leads us directly to commercial hip hop (“Good Times” is the sample on which the first commercially-released rap record, “Rapper’s Delight,” was based), and Moroder leads us directly to EDM (e.g., this). In Daft Punk’s history of pop music, hip hop and EDM are what we get from 70s disco.
Think also about their choice of Todd Edwards as their fourth collaborator. His work in the 90s is seen as a sort of precursor to grime & dubstep. So this is UK-based EDM.
Rogers, Williams, Moroder, Edwards: What’s missing in this history of EDM? House and techno (or, the American Midwest), and Madchester (again, flyover UK territory). Again, the absence of house can be read as a detour around queerness, especially queer blackness/black queerness, and the presentation of a really heterosexualized blackness/black masculinity. The absence of techno is more interesting–in a way, this can be read as a detour around Kraftwerk (Juan Atkins and Derek May often talk about the band’s influence on their early work), that is, around a certain experimental approach to electronic music. It may also be read as a detour around the history of blacks and explicitly electronic dance music. There’s a way in which Williams & Rogers represent a type of “analog” or “human” element, which stands in contrast to DP’s own digital/robot schtick.
So perhaps we get this specific story of EDM because blackness functions, in this record, as a sort of signal of authoritative, canonical importance–of the authorized history of pop music–and not the unauthorized, rebellious, outsider avant-garde. Atkins and May are left out because they’re too futuristic, too explicitly digital? Their music is too posthuman? And blackness here is supposed to signify “human-ness”? That’s not new. But perhaps what is new is the way in which blackness signifies human-ness: not as historically “primitive” and undeveloped, but as historically significant and qualitatively superior to “degenerate” contemporary pop? As Edwards says at the end of his “Collaborator” video, with this record “two androids are bringing soul back to music” (Edwards). Are their collaborators meant to be channels for this “soul”? [We also have to think about the absent referent here–Donna Summer. Moroder’s most important EDM track is “I Feel Love,” which features Summer. Obviously she’s not available to put on this record, but it is worth considering the absencing of black femininity–or well, women in general–from this record and its history of EDM.)
It’s also worth considering the difference between the black collaborators DP chose for this record, and the black collaborators that the other big French EDM artist works with. David Guetta collaborates with the young, fresh black vocalists: Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Flo-Rida, Luda & Usher, etc. So there may also be a need for DP to stake out different territory for themselves. This may also in part explain why Kanye doesn’t appear on this album, but they will appear in his forthcoming work (or so people say).
I obviously still have a lot to think about on all these issues. But I do think we need to understand the new DP album as curating a history of EDM, and consider what that history is, who’s included and excluded, etc.
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Todd Edwards is a house producer/DJ from New Jersey, his influence in Britain isn’t on grime or dubstep really but on UK garage, a mutant form of house. he’s famous for his cutting up of vocal samples with an ecstatic androgynous quality (one of his pseudonyms is the Sample Choir)…
but also Homework, Daft Punk’s first album, is absolutely steeped in house and contains the song “Teachers”, which is literally canon-making: the lyric consists of the following roll-call of names, which is packed with Chicago, Detroit and NYC house ‘n’ techno auteurs:
Dr. Dre is in the house yeah
Omega in the house
Gemini is in the house
Jeff Mills is in the house
DJs on the low
Mark Dana in the house
Tom Allen’s in the house
Romanthony’s in the house
Ceevea in the house
Van Helden in the house
Armando in the house
Sir Jordan’s in the house, yeah
probably the absence of such influences on the new record relates more to their desire to do something different with each of their records
well said Simon. DP is house, and always has been part of house regardless of their pop slant. They don’t need to reaffirm this notion with their latest record. Look up the French record label Roule. Their connection to underground dance music is well established. I’d assume that the exclusion of female vocalists was more about aesthetic choice than anything else.
Interesting read regardless, and there are certainly valid points by the author. The history of EDM is intertwined with the history of music (in general) of the last half century. Curating the canon was probably not their intention. Let them shine light on certain aspects of their lineage as they see fit per artistic project.
Romanthony, who collaborated with Daft Punk on arguably their most well known single, “One more time,” is probably a good counter argument to your post.
Romanthony is a black producer from New Jersey (I think he is specifically from Newark but might be wrong)and is definitely a direct descendant of both the Larry Levan Paradise Garage (queer)sound and the Detroit techno style you mention.
Also, I would argue that the track Aerodynamic on “Discovery” has a very strong Kraftwerk/Early Detroit Techno influence.
Simon beat me to it. I don’t think you can analyse DP’s current return to disco without taking into consideration Homework, which renders explicit their debt to Chicago house & Detroit techno & many other variants thereof. The entire sound of Homework is a wicked take on that entire tradition, especially Chicago.
Then I think you also have to take into consideration a boatload of pragmatics — that the way DP assembled the current LP is as much chance as “canonical production”. In academia we like to read in deep to such choices, not realising that most of the time, it’s serendipity. That Rogers & Williams ended up together on the same track was total luck, or at least, that’s how they tell it. And it’s probably more or less true: who was available when, what their fees were, how open they are to working with DP, etc.
I mean, there’s only so much you can do on a single LP, and DP are just mining one particular niche. Unless we want to start holding all artists accountable for representing all artists everywhere of all times.