25 years ago today, Daft Punk graduated into the hottest electronic act on earth. If you gave every would-be student of dance music a starter pack to entice them, ‘Homework’ would unquestionably be part of the prospectus. And although the fresh-faced and pre-masked Parisians’ 1997 debut album generated bigger radio hits, it is the ninth track, ‘Teachers’, which unlocks the whole course.
The presence of ‘Teachers’ makes ‘Homework’ not just a great record, but a historically useful one. The song functions as a sweeping census of mid-1990s dance music, with a predominant focus on Black and Latin artists of the American Midwest, as well as a cluster from New York and New Jersey, as well as a few choice outliers (The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson has, at present, not dabbled in acid techno).
It would be easy for fans to listen and assume that this is a shout-out to friends; an ancillary assortment of planets which orbit the Daft Sun. But no: at this stage in their arc, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Man de Homem-Christo were at pains to present themselves as novices at the service of the music they loved. Like an Oscars speech set to 4/4 time, this was Daft Punk’s celebration of house and techno’s Founding Fathers.
In retrospect, two things about ‘Teachers’ stick out. The emphasis is very much on fathers. ‘Teachers’ is all blokes, a tally which sits uncomfortably, even considering how lopsided the scene was in the mid-’90s. Daft Punk wouldn’t have had to look far: they were buying records put out by Miss Djax; Stacey “Hotwaxx” Hale, K-HAND and DJ Heather were key parts of Chicago and Detroit’s cultural fabric; and if you’re adding explicitly un-DJ names like George Clinton, there’s absolutely room for Donna Summer, Sylvester or Kim English.
Also, the longer you spend with Daft Punk’s influences, the easier it is to discern what records were creatively repurposed on ‘Homework’. Well before they mastered the intricate microsampling of their Teacher and repeat collaborator Todd Edwards, the line between love and larceny does appear to blur.
To take one example: malevolent 4am favourite ‘Rollin & Scratchin’’ bears blatant similarities to ‘Sniff And Destroy’, made by Neil Landstrumm, a listed Teacher. Along with more grinding fare on Daft Punk’s third album, ‘Human After All’, this went on to inspire a hugely popular movement of electro-house headbangers in the late 2000s; from there, it was a short leap to the oft-derided maximalist meltdown of brostep and big room. Scratch the hardcore continuum — call that the buzzsaw continuum.
Today, Landstrumm laughs it off. “How many very, very crap imitations of ’90s dance music have been made? Millions? You need talent to pull it off. I can’t stress how much easier it is to misfire than to make powerful, addictive, hypnotic music with a definable soul. Daft Punk might have had access to all the gear, but to fuse all their influences and come up with something massively popular is a skill in its own right.”
‘Homework’ wound up shifting millions of copies, and in doing so, switched on countless passive listeners to artists they might never have otherwise come across. When reflecting on the album’s 25th anniversary, it’s best to head straight to its moral and spiritual core. With that, here’s an insider’s guide to some of the Teachers.
Alongside this feature, DJ Mag can exclusively share a new Daft Punk videomix by CK303 and director Dave Tynan. The film is a tribute to the Black art which influenced 'Homework', using archive material to showcase legendary Chicago dance crew House-o-Matics and the city’s mixtape culture.