The ascent of Daft Punk into the most upper echelons of pop culture royalty is one of the most remarkable rises in music history. It is the story of two punkish boys (Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo) from a privileged Parisian life working their way through a subculture dismissed as drug-fueled hedonism who would go on to reach the pinnacle of the music industry, receiving its highest honor and a level of fan adoration rarely seen outside the standard pop-star mould. And all of this without ever showing their faces.
This story, like any, must begin somewhere. And in the case of Daft Punk, it all began with their debut album Homework. Exactly 20 years ago today it was given its first physical release, and in spite of the myriad of musical innovations that have occurred since, time has done little (if anything) to dilute its power to funk you into oblivion.
So to celebrate two full decades of one of the greatest and most influential electronic albums ever written, here are 10 facts about Daft Punk’s Homework that may surprise you.
1. It Was Written in Thomas Bangalter’s Bedroom
Homework is a dense record, clocking in at 75 minutes and utilizing a smorgasbord of electronic instrumentation, particularly by mid-’90s standards. So it seems all the more unbelievable that the entire thing was written in Bangalter’s bedroom.
What his parents thought the boys were doing is anyone’s guess, but they were clearly cooler than your parents. And since the whole thing was written from there, it makes sense that…
2. There Were Close to Zero Production Costs
Despite the rich sounds that dominate each track, the only instruments on the record that the boys used were the Roland TR-909 drum machine, three samplers and an assortment of synthesizers.
And as Bangalter stated in an interview at the time of its release, there were “no studio expenses, producers, engineers.” It is a prospect that may seem commonplace in today’s music scene, but one that must have been a feat of Herculean proportions in 1997.
3. It Was Written and Released Before the Robot Helmets
It may seem particularly hard to believe in the wake of Daft Punk’s pop culture ubiquity, but there was indeed a time where they functioned as a band without their iconic robot helmets.
However, this does not mean that they felt comfortable showing their faces. During their fist live shows, they would frequently employ cheap Halloween masks, which goes without saying is hella scarier than an emotionless robot face.
4. Not One, But Two Academy-Award Winning Screenwriters Made the Music Videos
The monster singles of “Da Funk” and “Around the World” were of course given the full music video treatment. Both of them were helmed by directors on the come-up, making their way through the industry through small-scale projects like these. As fate would have it, both would go on to win Academy Awards for Best Original Screenplay.
Who are these two people? “Da Funk” was directed by Spike Jonze, who would take Oscar gold for his 2013 film Her. Meanwhile, “Around the World” was conceptualized by Michel Gondry, the visionary director behind numerous other music videos of the era who would collect an Oscar for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in 2004.
5. Single “Da Funk” Sold More Copies Than the Album
“Da Funk” is one of the greatest songs ever written, electronic or otherwise, and it frankly does not seem like much of a hyperbole to say that. People immediately recognized this, and for many it was their first introduction to the French duo about to revolutionize the genre. It sold just over 30,000 units in 1997.
It was in fact so successful that Daft Punk did not intend on including it on Homework at all. “More people own it anyways than they would if it had been on the album,” Bangalter said somewhat dismissively in an interview at the time. But just what is it about this song that made it so great? Well the thing is…
6. “Da Funk” Was Daft Punk’s Attempt at Making Hip-Hop
“Da Funk” doesn’t really sound like anything else before or after it, but it is most certainly something of the electronic variety. Which makes the fact that it was written after Daft Punk spent weeks listening to old school West Coast G-funk and trying to recreate it mystifying, to say the least.
“We wanted to make some sort of gangsta-rap and tried to murk our sounds as much as possible,” Bangalter said at the time. “No one agree with us that it sounds like hip-hop.” On that point, we can all agree.
7. The Song “High Fidelity” Is Built Around a Billy Joel Sample
The track “Teachers” is a tongue-in-cheek way of Daft Punk presenting all of their influences for the album while simultaneously getting your ass to move. However, that song does not disclose the fact that the boys were serious Billy Joel fans, serious enough to chop and screw his music into oblivion on the song “High Fidelity.”
Which is only a surprise in the fact that the band has, to this day, never confirmed it. Multiple musical experts have come to the conclusion that the song is indeed a reworking of Joel’s “Just the Way You Are,” though it is essentially wrought unrecognizable.
8. “Revolution 909” Is a Protest Song Against the French Government
One of the first songs on the album, “Revolution 909” seems a typically pleasant floor-stomper. Until Daft Punk revealed that it is indeed a commentary on the brutality of French police towards the rave scene that birthed them.
“They pretend it’s drugs, but I don’t think it’s the only thing. There’s drugs everywhere, but they probably wouldn’t have a problem if the same thing was going on at a rock concert, because that’s what they understand,” Bangalter said in regards to the frequent scuffles that broke out between Parisian police and the electronic music scene. Try dancing with the same amount of fun now.
9. “Around the World” Is Inspired By One of the First Synth-Pop Songs
“Around the World,” much like the repetitive phrases from which it is built, has become inescapable. Yet the iconic song is yet another example of Daft Punk honoring their inspirations. This time around it’s a song called “Popcorn” by Hot Butter.
Which as fate would have it, one of the first and most popular songs that could be classified as synth-pop. While the boys didn’t directly sample the song, its chirrupy synth-line is unmistakably what informed the near-identical sound in “Around the World.” Which while we’re on the subject of this song…
10. “Around the World” Says ‘Around the World’ 144 Times
“Around the World” holds the unique distinction of being one of the easiest songs to learn the words to ever. If you have a memory, you’ve already learned them. But it is actually insane to think that each time you listen to the song in its entirety, you have heard that phrase 144 times.
Oh, and a little bonus trivia about this song: it was written using only five instruments. Which means that both lyrically and sonically, this is the most economical thing the band ever made.
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