Tuesday, May 28, 2013

plus de pensées sur le sujet de Daft Punk

There's an irony to DP's rhetorical framing of RAM as a return to "life", feel, music that breathes, the human touch versus mechanistic, sterile, sonically uniform EDM/ Top 40 dancepop. All the references they're making are to music that in the late 70s would have been regarded, by many people (new wave- punk-postpunk people, but also quite a few funkateers and old soul fans) as  overproduced, polished, prissily arranged, slicked out to such a degree that it verged on the inhuman. And to an extent it was aspiring to a superhuman flawlessness, using session musicians so trained and professional they were virtually robots. That would be the start of the era when musicians played to click tracks. At the time, your typical postpunk or funkateer type would have regarded these records as "airless" and "clinical", cold and gritless.  They would have located the model for sonic integrity in earlier forms of black music (just as people of similar outlook had, in the early 70s, rejected the slick sweet sumptuousness of Philly, Tom Bell, et al as "overcooked", and yearned for the raw of Wilson Pickett, Booker T, etc).

But more than that, these late period Analogue Era records, with their multitracking and overdubs, bum notes edited out and  use of comping to build a perfect vocal take,  are really analogue aspiring to digital: producers using all the analogue means available to them to anticipate the kind of micro-editing and rhythmic precision that would become routine through digital technology. The end-of-Seventies producers and engineers DP venerate for their combination of human touch and supreme craftsmanship would have been the first people to embrace sequencers and MIDI and Fairlights  in the Eighties (in part because they could afford the equipment). In other words, they would have been in a hurry to abandon the human touch and gladly trade "life" for unerring precision and reliability.

A revealing sequence of tracks, caused by fortuitous changing of radio channels in the car.

First, Zapp, "Doo Wah Ditty". Not one of their first division tunes, but typically Troutmantastic blend of lubricious and ludicrous.

Then, Diana Ross, "Upside Down". The Chic Organisation at the top of its songwriting and production game + one of the greatest vocalists of all time. An unusual groove for Rodgers & Edwards too, piano and strings driven, guitar only making a subdued appearance in the last minute.

And then Daft Punk, "Get Lucky".

Now "Get Lucky" sounds fairly feeble on the radio, juxtaposed with the audio-steroid stacked dancepop of today, with its massive drum sounds and brickwall compression and Auto-Tune sugarglaze. And that stands to reason: DP have deliberately handicapped themselves in this particular sonic race, like an athlete who nobly refuses to have recourse to all the performance enhancements available and that everybody else on the field is using.

What is harder to explain is how "Get Lucky" sounds less forceful than a 30 year old Chic production, less vigorous than even a second-division Zapp track.  


Or, compare/contrast: