ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Their first album produced hits that went global.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AROUND THE WORLD")
DAFT PUNK: (Singing) Around the world, around the world.
SHAPIRO: They came back even harder.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HARDER, BETTER, FASTER, STRONGER")
DAFT PUNK: (Singing) Harder, better, faster, stronger.
SHAPIRO: And over the course of 28 years, they were more than fortunate.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GET LUCKY")
PHARRELL WILLIAMS: (Singing) I'm up all night to get lucky.
SHAPIRO: Well, today, the French electronic music duo Daft Punk announced they're breaking up. The group was one of the biggest dance music acts of all time. Music journalist Simon Reynolds joins us to remember Daft Punk and their signature robot head masks.
Good to have you here.
SIMON REYNOLDS: Nice to be with you.
SHAPIRO: First, I have to ask how seriously you take this breakup announcement because there have been musical acts that announce they're dissolving. Then they get back together, or it turns out to be a PR stunt. Daft Punk says this is the end. Do you believe it?
REYNOLDS: You know, there's always the chance that someone will make them an offer they can't refuse, and they'll reform. And it'll be a huge deal. But I think in a funny sort of way, they have quite a serious group. They take what they do seriously, even though a lot of it's very fun and sort of camp and that - there's a lot of ideas behind it.
And I think they have probably run out of directions to go with their music. Their last album came out 2013, and it kind of completed a circle for them. They started out very sample-based, using loops from, you know, disco records and all this great music of the '70s and '80s. And then they kind of got to the point where they were making it themselves. You know, that's an arc. That's a really interesting arc from being very digital to being totally analog. Where could they go next?
SHAPIRO: So take us back to their breakthrough in the '90s. What was it that set them apart and made them pop?
REYNOLDS: There was a time when a lot of dance music was very minimal and hard, and they kind of brought back this sort of fun and this kind of sashay, you know, by sampling a lot of disco, looping it in this sort of insanely addictive, hokey kind of way. There was a sort of transcendent artificiality to their sound. And then that got even more pronounced on the album "Discovery," where they were drawing on things that were very unhip at that time, you know, from the sort of '70s soft rock era but weaving that into modern dance music. And I think, you know, there's a lot of irony and there's a lot of kind of love and awe for pop music in what Daft Punk do.
SHAPIRO: "Get Lucky" was the big track off their 2013 album "Random Access Memories," which was such a different vibe from their earlier work. Tell us about how they evolved and what they were going for at this point in their career.
REYNOLDS: They were maestros of sampling and taking these fragments from all kinds of records, finding the gold, you know, in often quite undistinguished records and turning them into tracks. And then they decided they were tired and that they actually wanted to work out how to make the kind of music that other people would sample, you know, 'cause they wanted to get that sort of feel and funk of the records that inspired them. And so it was like a huge project, and it took them 2 1/2 years. And they - it was almost like a kind of time travel exercise, going back to how records were made in the '70s.
SHAPIRO: How much do you credit them with creating this massive U.S. mainstream market for electronic dance music that we see today?
REYNOLDS: They had - Daft Punk had a very big influence on the EDM explosion. And, you know, the way that Daft Punk hid their identities behind a mask, behind these sort of robot helmets, is very similar to the way that Deadmau5 wears this giant mouse head, you know? And they introduced this idea that electronic music, when presented onstage, didn't have to be just two dudes behind some computers, just looking very nondescript. You couldn't make a show of it, you know? They turned dance music into this audiovisual spectacle.
SHAPIRO: That is Simon Reynolds on the career of dance music duo Daft Punk, which is calling it quits after almost 30 years.
Thank you, Simon.
REYNOLDS: Good to be with you.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.