Techno pioneers Daft Punk try their hand at cosmic cartoons

They reinvented techno with an LP recorded in their bedrooms. Now Daft Punk are trying their hand at cosmic cartoons. Skye Sherwin reports

It was only a matter of time before French house music whizzkids Daft Punk delved further into film. Their music-video collaborations are trailblazers in the pop promo world. Da Funk, directed by Spike Jonze in 1997, was the simple tale of a dog-headed guy with only a radio for company, and managed to be witty, moving, even profound. Michel Gondry's visual accompaniment to Around the World featured comically dehumanised podium dancers with robot heads, which have since become the duo's customary get-up for public appearances. More recently, Daft Punk's soundtrack to Gaspar Noé's film Irréversible marked a complete stylistic turnaround.

At first glance, Daft Punk's Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem might seem a little throwaway. It's a Japanese cartoon by anime legend Leiji Matsumoto, worked up from a story by Daft Punk about an evil record producer from Earth who kidnaps blue alien musicians and manufactures them into superstardom. This is all set to music from their last album, Discovery, and has no dialogue.

Unlike the Japanese animated films that have broken through this year - such as the Oscar-winning Spirited Away - Interstella 5555 is a throwback to an earlier age. The animation has little movement, and the colours are unashamedly kitschy. For anyone who grew up in the 1980s, memories of Saturday morning cartoons like Cities of Gold or Jem (Synergy Power On!) are filtered back through some prepubescent haze. Nice as a club projection perhaps, but not exactly cinematic.

However, there's more to Interstella than mere nostalgia buzz. Daft Punk consists of childhood friends Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo. They were barely out of their teens when their first album, Homework, recorded in their bedrooms, reinvented techno. Now in their late 20s, they have masterminded their own Daft Music empire within Virgin records, and made the devil dance to the beat of their drum. Their presentation is not so much media-shy as canny. Photographed thus far only in the guise of robots, they have claimed they were turned into their cyborg alter-egos in a studio accident.

In person Bangalter is tall and dark, with a shaven head, a pair of ripped cords and a woollen pullover. He delivers mission statements with pre-planned ease. De Homem-Christo is more hamsterish, mostly silent. The dynamic recalls their clubland forebears, the Pet Shop Boys: one the mouthpiece, the other a clamp-jawed enigma.

"We had a very unexpected success with Homework, being a flagship of the whole electronic music thing," says Bangalter. "But when we emerged from that scene, hyped as being hip or whatever, we saw that it was a very post-adolescent world. The most appropriate way to go away from this skin-deep world was to go back to childhood. There's no notion of good or bad taste, of things that are not politically correct in the fashion world."

The source they turned to was Leiji Matsumoto's Albator, a sci-fi cartoon that transfixed French kids in the 1980s. "It's about space and cosmos and just spiritual, crazy shit. When we were five, watching the show, drawing spaceships, it was part of the building of our being."

With Daft Punk's generation coming of age, Manga is now ever more visible in the west. The Interstella story was woven alongside the Discovery album as an ironic take on showbiz machinations. Discovery evolved in two halves: the first upbeat, the second more sombre, fitting Interstella's changing mood with the track One More Time as the centrepiece of the film. "On the first, naive planet it's a very festive track, but on Earth, in a commercial environment, it becomes alienated, vulgar, obscene," elaborates Bangalter. So where does this fear of losing creative control come from? Bangalter ponders. "I'm trying to see if we're afraid."

De Homem-Christo suddenly jolts into life, uttering a single, determined line: "I don't think we're scared." Bangalter continues: "We wanted a flow of colours and music that doesn't stop, that's really influenced by music videos."

Audiences may have seen sections of Interstella in just this way, as it has already been shown episodically in the form of videos for the tracks from Discovery, all of which were released as singles. It's a smart marketing strategy for both the album and the film, worthy of Virgin entrepreneur Richard Branson himself (who, they say, is not the inspiration for their cartoon villain). They believe the film has resonance beyond the dance culture/Manga bubble, hoping that "kids can watch it, who have no clue about Albator, but they'll get it for what they feel: an imprint that stays very deep inside, and has importance for the rest of your life".

What all this may mean for future culture junkies, only time will tell. But with promo mavericks like Jonze and Gondry already established as feature auteurs, the floodgates are opening for musicians seeking to push the boundaries of sound and image. Discussion ends, and without further ado Bangalter bounds into the depths of his Paris office, no doubt eager to feed his "addiction to innovation". De Homem-Christo adds: "Thank you and goodbye."

· Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem is at Resfest on Saturday at the Watershed, Bristol (0117-927 6444), and goes on general release on October 24.


Skye Sherwin

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

CD of the week: Daft Punk: Discovery

Daft Punk's eclectic prog disco fails to work the magic of their debut, says Alexis Petridis

Alexis Petridis

09, Mar, 2001 @5:22 PM

Article image
CD: Daft Punk, Human After All


Dorian Lynskey

11, Mar, 2005 @12:57 AM

Article image
CD: Daft Punk, Daft Club


Dave Simpson

28, Nov, 2003 @2:21 AM

Article image
Tim de Lisle on the Star Wars franchise

As the world braces itself for a new bout of Star Wars fever with Revenge of the Sith, Tim de Lisle offers 40 reasons why the franchise hails from the dark side

05, May, 2005 @11:57 PM

Article image
Basement Jaxx on life as Glastonbury headliners

How does it feel to be chosen to replace Kylie Minogue at Glastonbury? Helen Pidd meets Basement Jaxx.

Helen Pidd

17, Jun, 2005 @9:45 AM

Article image
CD: LCD Soundsystem, LCD Soundsystem


Maddy Costa

07, Jan, 2005 @1:21 AM

Feature: Is dance music really dead?

They say dance music is dead. What, then, is going on in the thriving venues packed with British clubbers? Alexis Petridis takes his glowstick down from the attic and goes out.

Alexis Petridis

03, Oct, 2003 @11:54 AM

Article image
CD: The Juan Maclean, Less Than Human


Dorian Lynskey

01, Jul, 2005 @1:20 AM

Article image
CD: Jah Wobble: English Roots Music

(30 Hertz records)

Robin Denselow

31, Oct, 2003 @2:13 AM

CD of the week: Basement Jaxx

Basement Jaxx have gone for all-out camp fun. Maddy Costa can barely contain herself

22, Jun, 2001 @12:14 AM