The Braffing of Daft Punk or…
Given folk internet’s function as psychic exhaust pipe, plus its fierce Darwinist tendencies––i.e. only the loudest and most opinionated and most cynical survive––one can imagine, with zero context, what the comments section of New York’s most popular music blog Brooklynvegan typically looks like after any given post. The section tends to attract your younger disgruntled production assistant types, DPATs who relish blowing off anonymous stuck-at-work steam about whatever new band is good but not that good, the commentary never going much deeper than the sexual proclivities of other DPATs they clash with.
But then Daft Punk played––on a drizzly Thursday night in Coney Island about a week ago, an hour/hour-plus hike for most of the thousands who’d attended. Post-Punk, I witnessed the following BV commenter ecstasies:
To call it a concert or show, is an understatement. Daft Punk called down rain from the sky & Keyspan was crackling with energy. Best in a lifetime.
With this show (read: tour), Daft Punk elevated programming to an art form that everyone could understand and be touched by. They mastered the mix of multiple mediums and presented it within the context of what they were thinking and feeling. How is this different from Beethoven scoring and conducting music that he doesn’t play? How is it different from Hendrix mauling and burning a Stratocaster on a stage? Instead of a guitar, they used touch screens. Instead of skinny pants/bedhead, they used robot costumes. Instead of guitar solos, facial grimaces and stage aerobics, they used LED screens.
It isn’t different, it’s art."
It’s worth repeating
I witnessed the second coming at Keyspan Park Thursday night. I have to contact the Vatican to tell them to drag Pope Benedict’s ass down to Vegas for the Vegoose Festival in October, before the dead start to rise."
And so on. It’s also worth mentioning that such gush comes after more than a year’s worth of anticipation, which is to say several months’ worth of non-New Yorker positivity, the kind New Yorkers tend not to be too positive about. Between 96’s Homework and 01’s Discovery, Daft Punk count for many as major dance music gatekeepers, responsible for branch-out love to Derrick May and Digweed alike, for worse or for better. But this wasn’t tour music—club music for sure, anime soundtrack material too—which may be why DP thought hard and good and strong before taking their show stateside. Coachella 2006 was the first time most Americans had ever seen the duo play live, in robot gear, locked into a pyramid-shaped sound booth they’d made for themselves, the rest of the stage taken up by a huge lite-brite-style projection screen behind them, and a triangle latticework of lights that change color and pulse along with the music. YouTube clips, concert boots, and breathless praise came immediately after, faint simulacra of awesomeness but enough for those who weren’t there to wish they had been. Some lives had purportedly been altered, ours hadn’t, and for a year leading up to the Keyspan gig, Daft Punk became the avatar of Life-Altering Live Music Experience. To train out to Coney Island on August 9 was to enter into some kind of understood contract; by any means necessary, a combination of their efforts and ours, lives would be Braffed.
Efforts were considerable. Among the ranks was a man with glasses next to me, who sang along to “Television Rules the Nation,” the lyrics being “television rules the nation,” screaming along really, as if to make perfectly clear he both knew the lyrics and 100% believed them to be true. A group of teenagers huddled around a marijuana cigarette, taking frantic drags before Daft Punk launched full-on into “Primetime Of Your Life,” bursting collectively into hysterics when one of them dropped the joint and their transcendence was perhaps permanently impeded. Two men in Capri pants struck up conversations with kids their considerable junior, pointing out on their behalf the song titles from DP albums prior to 2005’s horrific Human After All—and why anybody would come to this show if that was the only DP album they knew is beyond me. Glowstick flailing was fierce, the upwards grapeshot of glowsticks from the middle of the crowd seemed entirely sincere, and my guess is the guy who chucked his stick from the stands into the field section really just wanted to see the color trail.
Anything could have been playing, anyone could have been playing it. The robot suits were great but most wondered aloud whether DP were really under’em. Any format would have been fine too, as there was also the ongoing debate of whether the Punk had actual synthesizers and sequencers and Ableton Live in their spaceship soundbox or just a CD player and a CD-R they cut beforehand. The very premise of attending a Daft Punk concert was enough for people to flip out, but yes the music helped. The unique genetic makeup of each studio album more or less dictated how Daft Punk incorporated and reconfigured them into the set: the harder techno tracks off Homework often held down the bottom, taking full advantage of the arena rock soundsystem; the brighter, more melodic and sample-heavy tracks from Discovery were another layer, pulled in and out of the mix and for some reason manipulated more so than their other material; turds from Human After All were good for vocoder hooks and the occasional intertextual moment, like when Daft Punk cut back and forth from “Technologic” and Busta Rhymes’ “Technologic”-sampling “Touch It.” Often three or more tracks would be playing at once, fitting uncannily together, as if 1996’s “Around The World” was conceived with 2005’s “Television Rules The Nation” in mind; other times just one track would play untouched, like “Alive” towards the end, a simple one-note roller/scratcher off Homework, stacking and unstacking itself and us along with it.
“I mean i went to the show last night. I went to the afterparty. I talked to the guys in daft punk for a few minutes and i picked up the cutest girl there who just left my place so of course i had an amazing time but best show ever. Cmon. It was easily one of the better shows i have seen this year but not best. I mean its a dance party and a great one at that. The Daft Punk guys are really talented no question but what is so funny is they could put 2 of thier skilled buddies out there and you would have no idea. Hilarious to see crowd surfing and attempts at moshing at a dance concert. Fun fun show but don’t call someone a hater just cause they are experienced concertgoers who know the difference.”
Senior year of high school, this all-boys Jesuit school in Philadelphia, where overclocked jocks rule but no-sexed nerd-pranksters fare fine enough, we had this nun named Woody who took us on trips. These trips weren’t religious so much as spiritual, intent on awakening empathetic tendencies in a group of thirty or so 17-year-olds––to get them to realize that all people, regardless of socioeconomics or race or age or whatever, go through some serious, psychically heavy, shit. Barring this one frankly amazing student/teacher sex scandal, KAIROS was the school’s most highly guarded secret. Anyone who had gone on KAIROS, as it was called, Greek for "right time," was forbidden to speak of the trip with anyone who hadn’t yet. The buzz though, vague as it was, was borderline fanatical. It wasn’t uncommon to see hulking football players, when prompted about Kairos, to say it was the best experience of their life, that it changed them considerably, that they’re entirely new persons and seriously respect their parents, that they’ll never forget to “live the fourth,” the meaning of which was nebulous. Now if this kind of buzz is the only thing you hear about a trip for three and a half years, this magical three-day retreat that turns hard men soft and makes friends of enemies and reveals some serious truth about the human condition that’d totally been going over your head like forever, you’d feel an intense pressure to make it the best experience of your life too.
Yet with considerable irony, KAIROS, intent on making me be myself and know myself, was the first time I could remember feeling textbook peer pressure––in this case pressure not to be the asshole on the trip who, unlike the rest, doesn’t have any serious personal problems. Because in this context, to admit no hurt is ostensibly the same thing as to be afraid to admit—to avoid looking one’s self in the mirror, identifying the issues, starting the life-rebuilding process, etc. Typical confessions on KAIROS include addiction, self-doubt, sex abuse, homosexuality, parental issues, usually with the pops, divorce-inflicted pain, sadomasochism—and between the guilt of not having to deal with such heavy stuff and the aforementioned pressure to have some kind of personal breakthrough, lest Sister Woody pull you aside and tell you you’re not trying hard enough, some fiercely psychological fire-and-brimstone shit, between the guilt and the pressure, you’re likely to mountain an emotional molehill, and from systematic sleep deprivation and relentless group sessions, actually start to believe said emotional molehill is mountainous. I’ll never forgive myself for the ridiculous “talk” I tried to have with my father the weekend after that trip, in the Montgomery Mall food cart over Sbarro slices, when I complained to him, like a backwards Kurt Cobain, that he was being my father, but not being my dad. Which, among other things, was way off base.
"Oh shut the fuck up, hater. Are you gonna nitpick on technicalities when someone says the show they went to last night was the best show ever? Do we need a dose of reality over here? Who the fuck cares?! Last night was amazing, I woke up on a downtown 6 train in Spanish Harlem at 5am, still very very drunk, and I still think last night was amazing. Daft Punk got you laid and your trying to rain on someone’s parade, wtf?"
Anyone who wasn’t personally transformed by the DP show—those who liked-not-loved it, who enjoyed themselves but found Daft Punk perched precariously between the expectations of both band-like performance and DJ-like non-performance, since let’s face it, at the end of the day the show amounts to an outdoor light show and two guys pushing buttons you can’t even see, who at one point loop the word FUCK on their big screen like an Asperger stutter, who start the show with the word ROBOT and end it with HUMAN and encore with HUMAN TOGETHER, there being no better example of the dumb funspace Daft Punk inhabit—was soon after crucified for crimes of jadedness, rockism, classism, hipsterism, post-hipsterism, homosexuality, homophobia, and all-around too-cool-for-schoolness. Indiscriminate positivity seemed, for the night, the new indiscriminate negativity; some people hadn’t gotten the memo.
I wonder sometimes whether there is some kind of moral imperative to seeking out and celebrating and defending moments of near-unanimous popular culture, ones that cut through socioeconomics and politics and everything else that otherwise divides a people. To avoid, say, Harry Potter—I wonder if this constitutes some kind of civic crime, or at least an avoidance of responsibility. From these moments I expect some kind of irreducible clarity, out of nowhere or simply one that I can’t prepare for, only undergo. And so I partake in these moments not with high expectations but with wide ones, with a heart for the time being impossibly huge, and when the click never comes, which happens sometimes, I am both miserable, for I am not like you, and overjoyed, for you are not like me. Daft Punk are not near-unanimous popular culture.
My favorite concert happened in December 31, 1999, at some hotel in Atlantic City. I was playing trumpet in the Stu Weitz Orchestra, my dad played the drums. This was by no means one of those mega-hot New Years parties but we had our Y2K sunglasses with the zeroes as eyeholes, and that was fine enough. We were a wedding/bar mitzvah band that played the occasional corporate function; the night’s song list was as usual preordained. Prince’s “1999” was played on the hour, except at midnight, when it was played a few minutes after the hour to accommodate some sweet “Auld Lang Syne.” Around 1 am a man with extremely long curly hair, a silk shirt unbuttoned to about halfway, size 28 denim, and cowboy boots approached the bandleader and asked if he could sit in. He played guitar and wanted to play a song or two, he said. He said he wanted to play “Born To Be Wild.” My immediate thought was that there are no trumpet parts in “Born To Be Wild” but that’s beside the point.
Nobody in the band knew how to play “Born To Be Wild”; nobody knew the lyrics exactly. The man already had his guitar out of his gig bag, a piece of twisted rare wood whose color I can’t remember. The band tended to be very particular about having the right lyrics. There was now talk of not playing “Born To Be Wild” and doing something else. I don’t mean to drag this out. In the middle of discussions, which were in the middle of an extended outro for “Lady Marmalade,” Barry Sylvester double-thwacked his snare, the guitar guy turned loose that ridiculous riff, B.S. belted out the lyrics, and when the toms rolled I looked out and saw a bunch of 45-year-old women grinding up on a bunch of 60-year-old men, the first time for both in who knows how many.