We may not necessarily thank them for it – they probably wouldn’t thank themselves for it – but Daft Punk undoubtedly helped to lay the path for EDM, the nebulous trend that saw Electronic Dance Music filter its lurid way into the global consciousness in the late-2000s, particularly in the US. House music and techno are American inventions, born in the clubs of Chicago, New York and Detroit. But it took EDM, riding on the electronica trend of the 1990s and a new interest in electronic sounds among hip hop producers, to bring this music into the mainstream in its home-land. And Daft Punk were integral to its rise.
Before 2006, Daft Punk had enjoyed cult success in the US. They were part of the first wave of European dance acts to re-import dance music to the US in the 1990s, alongside The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim and Underworld, and 'Discovery' reached 23 in the US charts on its release.
This golden period had rather dimmed by 2005 when 'Human After All' peaked at 98 in the States, part of the album’s generally poor chart performances. But Daft Punk’s 2006 live performance at the Coachella festival was, according to Philip Sherburne, then writing in Spin, “the tipping point” for EDM in the US, a gig that “truly introduced Daft Punk to the rock kids” thanks to a nostalgia for the late-90s and the band’s incredible live spectacle, which saw them perform inside their iconic pyramid for the first time.*
“We knew it was going to be good,” Paul Tollett, the co-founder of Coachella, explained in a 2017 interview for Apple’s Beats 1, “but they had never played with their helmets, that was only just press photos before. And they had stopped playing, so everyone had in their head what it might be but we never saw it. And it was 100 times better. It was just insane.” Around 40,000 people attempted to get into the 10,000-capacity Sahara Tent at Coachella where Daft Punk were playing, according to the band’s manager Pedro Winter, and the band’s reputation was made.
“A lot of Americans, aside from ravers, hadn’t actually seen live electronic music before Coachella,” says Sherburne. “It was like a revelation for them because they had literally never seen somebody on stage with computers or synthesisers and they didn’t know it was possible. The other important thing was the spectacle, it was the pyramid, the light show...