Daft Punk's Homework Leads the Parisian Invasion
Long scorned as a pop-music wasteland, Paris has suddenly become the unlikely vortex of house and hip-hop music, boasting internationally known acts such as M.C. Solaar, Le Funk Mob and the duo Daft Punk, currently the city's most celebrated exporter of electronica. Daft Punk's debut album, "Homework," puts a Eurotrash gloss over fat, squishy hip-hop beats and ecstatic house crescendos, and the result is exuberant, hands-in-the-air techno. Even the album's clichs -- divas wailing and waves crashing -- only make Daft musicians Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo sound more innocent in their earnest devotion to the prefab house formula. Nothing powers pop music like teenage rebellion, and much of Daft Punk's energy comes from the fact that in France today, ravers are bona fide outlaws. In the February issue of the British magazine Muzik, journalist Calvin Bush wrote, "the French government is openly following its British counterpart in forming its own special anti-rave police squad and adopting similar measures to the Criminal Justice Act, and it's time to start worrying." In America today, kids walk around wearing T-shirts saying "Fuck the Police" without giving it a second thought, but earlier this year in France, members of the rap group NTM were jailed for voicing a similar sentiment at oneof their shows. "Ask Daft Punk, placid to a fault, what they hatemost about France," Bush wrote, "and they'll answer without hesitation: the Police." That's most apparent on "Revolution 909," where a low, ominous bass line beats behind the sound of people partying. Suddenly, police sirens are wailing, and the Darth Vader-like voice that orders, "Stop the music and go home" is met by screams and jeers before the music takes over. The song recalls the promise of teenage riots that was an inherent part of the rave scene several years ago, before the popularity of noirish trip-hop and loungy acid-jazz. Though "Revolution 909," like the rest of "Homework," may at times seem unsophisticated, there's something in the song's beats and loops and bursts of disco that sounds shamelessly hopeful. There are several anthems on the album as well, tracks that were made for drugged-up late-night epiphanies, the kind of perfect moments that are usually forgotten the next day but are still the reason so many kids see dance music as their only religion. The one word repeated on "Phoenix" -- "dance" -- is so distorted itsounds like a bell, but it reminded me of all the nights I've beendancing with my eyes closed at 4 a.m., sweating until the only thing left in my brain was a senseless, pulsing joy. Take "Rollin' & Scratchin'" -- it starts with a jackhammer bass, which is gradually joined by tinny synth squiggles. There's such an optimism in the dramatic build-up that follows, it's as if Daft Punk is trying to bring the dance floor to a musical orgasm -- the scratches spiral upward, getting higher and higher, then the bass fades out momentarily before coming back for a triumphant release. Also refreshing is Daft Punk's blatant, unironic idol-worship. In their liner notes, they pay respect to artists as unlikely as Michael Jackson, Roxy Music and the Black Crows, along with pioneers like Grandmaster Flash, Herbie Hancock and Sun Ra. The track "Teachers" is one long shout-out, with a helium voice reciting the names of heroes like George Clinton, Dr. Dre and Little Louie Vega over a funky bass line. There are echoes of all these artists in "Homework," with its high, hollow, New Wave melodies and chunks of analog funk. By not pretending to be original, Daft Punk has made an album that's truly inspired.