Homework is the debut studio album by the French electronic music duo Daft Punk, released on 20 January 1997 by Virgin Records and Soma Quality Recordings. The duo produced the tracks without plans to release an album. After working on projects that were intended to be separate singles over five months, they considered the material good enough for an album.
Homework's success brought worldwide attention to French house music. Homework charted in 14 different countries, peaking at number 3 on the French Albums Chart, number 150 on the United States Billboard 200 and at number 8 on the UK Albums Chart. By February 2001, the album had sold more than two million copies worldwide and received several gold and platinum certifications. Overall, Homework received positive critical response. The album features singles that had significant impact in French house and global dance music scenes, including the U.S. BillboardHot Dance/Club Play number-one singles "Da Funk" and "Around the World", the latter of which reached number 61 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Background and recording
In 1993, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo presented a demo of their electronic music to DJ Stuart Macmillan at a rave at EuroDisney. The contents of the cassette were released on the single "The New Wave" on 11 April 1994, by Soma Quality Recordings, a Scottish techno and house label co-founded in 1991 by MacMillan's band Slam. Daft Punk returned to the studio in May 1995 to record "Da Funk", which was released later that year alongside "Rollin' & Scratchin'" under the Soma label.
The increasing popularity of Daft Punk's singles led to a bidding war among record labels, resulting in the duo's signing to Virgin Records in 1996. Their departure was noted by Richard Brown of Soma, who affirmed that "we were obviously sad to lose them to Virgin but they had the chance to go big, which they wanted, and it's not very often that a band has that chance after two singles. We're happy for them." Virgin re-released "Da Funk" with the B-side "Musique" in 1996, a year before releasing Homework. Bangalter later stated that the B-side "was never intended to be on the album, and in fact, 'Da Funk' as a single has sold more units than Homework, so more people own it anyways [sic] than they would if it had been on the album. It is basically used to make the single a double-feature." The album was mixed and recorded in Daft Punk's studio, Daft House in Paris. It was mastered by Nilesh Patel at the London studio The Exchange.
Bangalter stated that "to be free, we had to be in control. To be in control, we had to finance what we were doing ourselves. The main idea was to be free." Daft Punk discussed their method with Spike Jonze, director of the "Da Funk" music video. He noted that "they were doing everything based on how they wanted to do it. As opposed to, 'oh we got signed to this record company, we gotta use their plan.' They wanted to make sure they never had to do anything that would make them feel bummed on making music." Although Virgin Records holds exclusive distribution rights over Daft Punk's material, the duo still owns their master recordings through their Daft Trax label.
Daft Punk produced the tracks included in Homework without a plan to release an album. Bangalter stated, "It was supposed to be just a load of singles. But we did so many tracks over a period of five months that we realized that we had a good album." The duo set the order of the tracks to cover the four sides of a two-disc vinyl LP. De Homem-Christo remarked, "There was no intended theme because all the tracks were recorded before we arranged the sequence of the album. The idea was to make the songs better by arranging them the way we did; to make it more even as an album." The name Homework, Bangalter explained, relates to "the fact that we made the record at home, very cheaply, very quickly, and spontaneously, trying to do cool stuff."
"Alive", first single released from Homework, is the final version recorded of "The New Wave", which was the first song made by Daft Punk.
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"Daftendirekt" is an excerpt of a live performance recorded in Ghent, Belgium; it served as the introduction to Daft Punk's live shows and was used to begin the album. The performance took place at the first I Love Techno, an event co-produced by Fuse and On the Rox on 10 November 1995.Janet Jackson sampled "Daftendirekt" on her song "So Much Betta", which was included in her tenth studio album, Discipline, in 2008.Homework's following track, "WDPK 83.7 FM", is a tribute to FM radio in the US. The next song, "Revolution 909" is a reflection on the French government's stance on dance music.
"Revolution 909" is followed by "Da Funk", which carries elements of funk and acid music. According to Andrew Asch of the Boca Raton News, the song's composition "relies on a bouncy funk guitar to communicate its message of dumb fun." Bangalter expressed that "Da Funk"'s theme involved the introduction of a simple, unusual element that becomes acceptable and moving over time. Sal Cinquemani of Slant Magazine complimented the song as "unrelenting", and Bob Gajarsky of Westnet called it "a beautiful meeting of Chic (circa "Good Times", sans vocals) and the 90s form of electronica." The song appeared on the soundtrack for the 1997 film The Saint and was placed at number 18 on Pitchfork's "Top 200 Tracks of the 1990s" list. "Phœnix" combines elements of gospel music and house music. The duo considered "Fresh" to be breezy and light with a comical structure. Ian Mathers of Stylus Magazine criticized the song, stating that it "doesn't feel like the beach just because of the lapping waves heard in the background."
The single "Around the World" carries influences of Gershon Kingsley's hit "Popcorn". Its music video was directed by the Academy Award-winning French filmmaker Michel Gondry, who compared the track's bassline to that of "Good Times" by Chic. Chris Power of BBC Music named it "one of the decade's catchiest singles". He stated that it was "a perfect example of Daft Punk's sound at its most accessible: a post-disco boogie bassline, a minimalist sprinkling of synthetic keyboard melody and a single, naggingly insistent hook." Ian Mathers of Stylus Magazine commented that "there is no way you'd want to have a Homework without 'Around The World'." The track "Teachers" is a tribute to several of Daft Punk's house music influences, including future collaborators Romanthony, DJ Sneak and Todd Edwards. The song "Oh Yeah" features DJ Deelat and DJ Crabbe. "Indo Silver Club" features a sample of "Hot Shot" by Karen Young. Prior to its inclusion on Homework, "Indo Silver Club" was released as a single on the Soma Quality Recordings label in two parts. The single lacked an artist credit in the packaging and was thought to have been created by the nonexistent producers Indo Silver Club. The final track, "Funk Ad", is a reversed clip of "Da Funk".
Homework features singles that had significant impact in the French house and global dance music scenes. The first single from the album, "Alive", was included as a B-side on the single "The New Wave", which was released in April 1994. The album's second single was "Da Funk"; it was initially released in 1995 by Soma and was re-released by Virgin Records in 1996. It became the duo's first number-one single on the BillboardHot Dance/Club Play chart. The song reached number seven on British and French charts. The third single, "Around the World", was a critical and commercial success, becoming the second number-one single on the Billboard Hot Dance/Club Play chart, as well as reaching number 11 in Australia, number five in the United Kingdom and number 61 on the Billboard Hot 100. In October 2011, NME placed "Around the World" at number 21 on its list of "150 Best Tracks of the Past 15 Years". The album's fourth single was "Burnin'"; it was released in September 1997 and peaked at number 30 in the UK. The final single from Homework was "Revolution 909". It was released in February 1998 and reached number 47 in the UK and number 12 on the Billboard Hot Dance/Club Play chart.
In 1999, the duo released a video collection featuring music videos of tracks and singles from the album under the name of D.A.F.T.: A Story About Dogs, Androids, Firemen and Tomatoes. Although its title derives from the appearances of dogs ("Da Funk" and "Fresh"), androids ("Around the World"), firemen ("Burnin'"), and tomatoes ("Revolution 909") in the videos, a cohesive plot does not connect its episodes.
Homework's success brought worldwide attention to French progressive house music, and drew attention to French house music. According to The Village Voice, the album revived house music and departed from the Euro dance formula. In the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, critic Alex Rayner stated that Homework tied the established club styles to the "burgeoning eclecticism" of big beat. He contended that it served as a proof that "there was more to dance music than pills and keyboard presets."Clash described Homework as an entry point of accessibility for a "burgeoning movement on the cusp of splitting the mainstream seam." In 2009, Brian Linder of IGN described Homework as the duo's third-best album. He catalogued as a "groundbreaking achievement" the way they used their unique skills to craft the house, techno, acid and punk music styles into the record. Hua Hsu of eMusic agreed, applauding Homework for how it captured a "feeling of discovery and exploration" as a result of "years of careful study of the finest house, techno, electro and hip-hop records." David Browne, writing in Entertainment Weekly, stated that the duo knew how to use "their playful, hip-hopping ambient techno" to craft the album. He named Homework the "ideal disco for androids". Sean Cooper of AllMusic called the album "an almost certain classic" and "essential".
Chris Power of BBC Music compared Homework's "less-is-more" approach to compression's use as "a sonic tribute" to the FMradio stations that "fed Daft Punk's youthful obsessions." Sal Cinquemani of Slant Magazine wrote that "while a few tracks are more daft than deft," more recent groundbreakers like The Avalanches could never exist without "Da Funk". Ian Mathers of Stylus Magazine noted that "there's a core of unimpeachably classic work on Homework, hidden among the merely good, and when you've got such a classic debut hidden in the outlines of the epic slouch of their debut, it's hard not to get frustrated."Rolling Stone awarded the album three stars out of five, commenting that "the duo's essential, career-defining insight is that the problem with disco the first time around was not that it was stupid but that it was not stupid enough."Rolling Stone ranked Homework at the top on their list of "The 30 Greatest EDM Albums of All Time" while affirming that Daft Punk's debut "is pure synapse-tweaking brilliance." According to Scott Woods of The Village Voice, "Daft Punk [tore] the lid off the [creative] sewer" with the release of Homework. Ryan Schreiber of Pitchfork awarded it 7.6 out of 10. He stated that "Homework provides sixteen whole tracks of modern-day boom box bass n' drum and unlike your science project, it doesn't require a lot of intricate calculations to figure out how it works." In his view, "It sounds like an Atari 2600 on a killing spree." By contrast, Robert Christgau of The Village Voice cited "Da Funk" as a "choice cut", indicating "a good song on an album that isn't worth your time or money". Darren Gawle from Drop-D Magazine also gave a negative review, stating that "Homework is the work of a couple of DJs who sound amateurish at best."
Daft Punk wanted the majority of pressings to be on vinyl, so only 50,000 albums were initially printed in Vinyl format. After its release, overwhelming sales of Homework caused distributors to accelerate production to satisfy demand. The album was distributed in 35 countries worldwide, peaking at number 150 on the Billboard 200.Homework first charted on the Australian Albums Chart on 27 April 1997; it remained there for eight weeks and peaked at number 37. In France, the album reached number three and stayed on the chart for 82 weeks. In 1999, it reached Gold status in France for selling more than 100,000 copies. On 11 July 2001, the album was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America, indicating sales of 500,000 copies in the US. By October 1997, the album had sold 220,000 copies worldwide, although Billboard reported that, according to Virgin Records, two million copies had been sold by February 2001. By September 2007, 605,000 copies had been sold in the United States.
All music composed by Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo.
|2.||"WDPK 83.7 FM"||0:28|
|7.||"Around the World"||7:04|
|8.||"Rollin' & Scratchin'"||7:26|
|14.||"Indo Silver Club"||4:32|
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- —Thomas Bangalter, in regards to the duo's creative control and freedom
It might seem like a whole lot of fun and games, but being a music critic comes with a heavy cross to bear. When it comes to analysing and critiquing albums for publications just like this, our occasionally hastily-prepared thoughts can sometimes miss the mark. And when that happens, the stinking artefact remains online for the world to mock for all time.
With 2016 marking 15 years of Daft Punk’s landmark LP Discovery, seasoned music reviewer DAVE RUBY HOWE has brushed the dust off a creaky corner of the internet to find a number of album reviews that music journalists probably wish they could take back now. Because despite the reception at the time, a decade and a half later Discovery stands as one of dance music’s most important albums ever.
Music snobs didn’t always love Daft Punk
Today we know Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo as perhaps the most celebrated dance music outfit of all time, but at the turn of the century dance music wasn’t as keenly embraced as it is now.
After the success of 1997’s breakthrough hit Around the World, Daft Punk were known as the pair of kooky Frenchmen who’d managed to infiltrate the mainstream and were now dressing up in robot costumes. As such, some weren’t ready to roll with Discovery’s concoction of disco, house and funk, and critics served up plenty of lukewarm reviews when the album dropped in 2001.
Let’s start with Pitchfork. In his review, site founder Ryan Schreiber gives an underwhelming grade of 6.4 to Discovery, expelling particular gall on One More Time with this old-man-yelling-at-clouds impression: “Maybe I just haven’t taken enough ecstasy and horse tranquillisers to appreciate the tinny, sampled brass ensemble, the too-sincere ‘chill out’ midsection, or the fat drum machine beats that throb in time with my headache.”
Feel like hearing about more writers pissing on the bible? Good-o, because there’s a whole bunch of other blunderous reviews to revisit. Bombastic American rock critic Robert Christgau gave Discovery a sorry C+ mark in the Village Voice, calling One More Time an annoying novelty and decrying “there are better beats on the damn Jadakiss CD”. Burn! (This coming from the guy who gave The Avalanches’ Since I Left You a paltry two stars, by the way.)
“Being trapped in eternity listening to Daft Punk is one definition of hell” – The New York Times
It gets worse. The AV Club’s Joshua Klein describes Daft Punk’s sophomore effort as “resoundingly stupid”, while the record received just two stars in the Guardian with Alexis Petridis contending Discovery “just sounds like Daft Punk’s first album”, singling out the fan favourite Aerodynamic as “disjointed and episodic” and symptomatic of the album’s failings.
Perhaps too far afield from his preferred genre, the late New York Times jazz critic Mike Zwerin poured cold water over Discovery with his conclusion that “Daft Punk is worth a listen or two (three might be stretching it)” and that “being trapped in eternity listening to Daft Punk is one definition of hell”. (No shade, Zwerin – no critic is perfect and I’ve written stuff here on inthemix I’d rather recant a few year down the track.)
The real legacy of Discovery
But a decade and a half later, it’s clear that Discovery was Daft Punk at the peak of their powers. As well as shifting units in the multi-millions, the album’s cultural impact is unparalleled.
The disco resurgence of the ‘00s owes everything to Discovery, not to mention the influence the album had on the next generation of dance music makers – James Murphy, Mylo, Justice and new wave stars like Porter Robinson, Madeon and Zedd. When he ran inthemix through his favourite albums of all time, Robinson declared that he thinks he’ll “die still calling this the greatest album of all time”.
Years after its release, Discovery still had extended moments in the sun. In 2007, Kanye West showed his appreciation for the Robots by sampling Harder Better Faster Stronger for Stronger in the pre-Yeezus days, introducing a new generation to the sounds of Thomas and Guy-Manuel.
And One More Time, the track Pitchfork suggested you’d need ketamine to enjoy? It currently boasts 93 million YouTube views, was voted the #1 dance track of all time by Mixmag readers in 2013 and placed at #5 in Pitchfork’s own list of the best songs of the noughties. In 2016, you won’t find a working party DJ in Australia who doesn’t still have it on their USBs as an ace up the sleeve.
While reviews for newer Daft Punk albums Human After All and Random Access Memories have been fairly mixed, Discovery now enjoys near universal acclaim fifteen years on from its release – even among the publications who initially wrote it off.
Pitchfork, for instance, devoured a substantial serving of humble pie when naming Discovery the third best album of the last decade. Likewise, in Rolling Stone – who awarded the album a paltry three stars at time of release – Discovery clocked in at #8 on the mag’s list of the best “EDM albums” of all time (joining rank with the likes of The Chemical Brothers, Moby, Juan Atkins and Daft Punk’s own Homework LP).
And in The AV Club’s round-up of the best LPs of the ’00s the album ranks at #20, a severe about-face from calling Discovery “resoundingly stupid”. Funny how things change, isn’t it?
Why we’re still spinning Discovery
Back in 2001, inthemix wrote, what made Discovery excellent was that it did things differently.
“The true genius of Discovery is that Daft Punk have broken the rules. They’ve released house from its shackles and announced to purists that music can be fun, it can be different and that most of all, the only person you have to be true to, is yourself,” writer Andy Pickering assessed. “It’s dance music, but not as you’ve heard it before. Discovery has a thick electro-disco pulse that runs right through it, but it’s also hot-wired to a joyously glam-rock sense of performance, fun and showmanship.”
Ten years later, ITM named Discovery the second best album of the 2000s (losing out only to The Avalanches) and set out to describe its genius as simply as possible. “There’s a reason that Daft Punk’s Discovery is rated so highly amongst fans: It’s just freakin’ great. Basically every track on the album stands out as staples of modern dance music.” Now, ain’t that the truth?
Dave Ruby Howe is the Music Director at triple j Unearthed. You can find him on Twitter.