Register Sunday | June 16 | 2019

The French Touch

Ten years after their debut album, Daft Punk continues to push the boundaries of the genre they helped create.

Dance music is a constantly splintering genre. The newest strain, and one that has the potential to last past its expected six-month shelf life, is French Touch. Also referred to as Nu-Disco, French Touch is an amalgam of high tempo rhythms and heavy bass along with distorted guitar samples, bridging the gap between dance music's unpretentiousness and rock's showmanship.This new sound branched off from House music, the sound most people think of when they think dance music. With it's roots in disco, House music employs a kick drum sound on every beat (*boom *boom *boom *boom) and interweaves synthesizers and the occasional jazz or vocal sample for good measure. If you have ever been in any club on Crescent St., you have listened to house music. Though French Touch incorporates guitars and live instruments in the songs, nothing of the sort is ever fashioned in concert. Instead, venues around the city, including Club Soda, Cepsum, and even the Bell Centre, have sold out to patrons who mostly stand (though a few dance) and watch DJs (such as Justice, MUSCLES, and Boyz Noise) spin the records they recorded in their respective studios and adjust various knobs on their mixers. Though this might run counter to our notion of a musical performance, there is no denying its popularity. The sub-genre traces its roots to a number of dance acts, including Alan Braxe and Dmitri From Paris, but towering above all is Daft Punk. Comprised of Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, they set the blueprint for not only the sound of contemporary dance music, but also it's presentation. The Parisian duo, who recently played a sold out show at the Bell Centre in August, broke out of the  French discotheque scene in the mid-90s and crossed over into the mainstream with their idiosyncratic sound (a fusion of classic 70s disco, 80s hip-hop break beats, and guitar hero theatrics) along with their unique visual presentation, dressed head to toe in robot outfits and collaborating with some of the most visionary artists of the era.  Bangalter and De Homem-Christo entered the Parisian club scene as ex-pats from the indie rock scene, where their first group Darlin' received a harsh review (“daft” is English slang for ridiculous) that gave birth to their current name. They were not club lifers, and as such approached house music from a new perspective and gave the form a new breath. Eschewing the well worn genre staples (such as the aforementioned “four to the floor” kick drum), they incorporated guitars, the antithesis of dance music dating back to the Studio 54/CBGB's rivalry of the late 70s. And their live performances, with large set pieces, video walls, lightsand smoke more closely resemble a laser Floyd show than the stereotypical rave in the woods. Dance music prides itself on its anonymity (DJ's use several aliases and grant few interviews), but Daft Punk skirt the rules while maintaining respect in the dance community. Their robot suits protect their identity but ironically, and perhaps intentionally, increase their visibility. Add to that their avant-garde video work with world renowned directors such as Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich) and Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), and they stand out in a musical marketplace that appeals to the mall-going public (see their recent performance with Kanye West at this year’s Grammys) as well as the 2 A.M rave crowd.  Daft Punk's staying power and vitality is a feat unto itself and deserves an article on it's own. Ten years after their debut album, Homework, a generation of artists who listened and marveled at the music when they were doing their own homework are following Daft Punk's path. Both as teachers eager to impart their knowledge and as protectors over a sound they crafted, Daft Punk has overseen the genre's development. All roads lead back to them. Their production team tutored many of the vanguard artists breaking out now, such as Kavinsky, Sebastian Tellier, and the aforementioned Boyz Noise.  And Daft Punk's manager, Pedro Winter, runs Ed Banger Records which boasts a roster of successful club acts including himself (as Busy P), Ulffie, and Justice. Ed Banger Records, along with Kitsune Maison and Modular Recordings, is part of the triumvirate of French Touch, releasing another compilation or new discovery on a monthly basis, striking while the iron is hot. With the exception of rap, no other form of music eats itself faster then dance music. French touch is surely a trend that will be usurped by another wave of artists pushing the boundaries of dance in another direction. Whether the mainstream will follow is another story.