When Daft Punk wasn’t bringing France’s touch on Electronic music to the masses, they were putting their own touch on vocal takes. Daft Punk’s singles have a character to them which feels human. The hooks are sung clear and coherent; nurtured by a funky kick you’d hear once and latch onto. But just how did robots connect into the hearts of red-blooded humanity?
While Daft Punk is made up of the humans Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, their albums are presented as music made by machines. As a robot, there is no sense pretending to be human, for one can see right through the perfection of it all. A machine designed to be flawless in calculation will never err, which is why electronic music sometimes turns people off — it’s too “repetitive” i.e. where’s the human-touch? Where is the flaw that I can relate to, as a fellow human?
The perfect response to this is found in their classic single, “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”. “Perfect” may seem like too strong of a word, but any dance song which lasts beyond a decade deserves the acclaim. Indeed, the song maintains particular relevance, having been heard by most of the United States after Kanye West sampled the song in his 2007 #1-charting single, “Stronger”. This is a song which repeats four lines for four minutes and by the end, it’s just as much Soul music as it is House. The song gets so heartfelt, but why? What is it that makes it so appealing?
In the beginning of the song, the lyrics are sung crystal-clear — you, as a listener, can make out every word. By the end of the song, however, the track has elevated in pitch and the robots are no longer reciting a programmed phrase — they are singing. Yes, they are singing, because they are making mistakes. There are pauses between phrases — some phrases are not even sung during “Harder, Better…”‘s frantic peak. Those four lines which the song had repeated with reassuring consistence now fade. It’s difficult to make out what’s being said; to decipher it, one has to rely on memory rather than the music itself.
Removing fractions of vocals to give the impression that this “robot singer” is flawed is, in itself, a robotic approach to making soulful music. This is the Daft Punk aesthetic: Music made not just by robots, but by well-intentioned robots; robots aware of, and trying to transcend, their robotic limitations.
So by the end, you’re in awe. What had been promised and laid before you is now gone. You long for when the song’s vocals were simple and robotic, all the while amazed at how these guys might just be humans after all. The last second of the song are two words from the line “Our work is never over” — “Never Over”. These words are sung in the same vocal style which built the song’s groove. It leaves a reminder: This feeling is never over.
Amongst the background noise, the search for something real will rarely yield anything beyond a glimpse. These robots, in all their perfection, found their voice only as the song was coming to an end. What their “voice” translated to was distortion of perfection. The more chopped-up the vocals became, the more it seemed like these robots were capable of empathy. In addition to impeccable production, this is a major reason the song sounds fresh even eleven years after its initial release (March 2001).