Earlier today, Daft Punk announced their breakup with a video of an exploding robot, taken from their 2006 film Electroma. It’s a fitting epilogue for a duo that harnessed the power of sound and vision more than almost any other musical act across the last three decades. In addition to their string of iconic dance hits, much of their legacy as pop innovators can be seen through their weird and wonderful music videos. From the sad man-dog saga of “Da Funk” to the anime fantasia of Discovery’s companion film Interstella 5555 to the disco oasis of “Get Lucky,” Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo presented cinematic worlds that were giddy, moody, bizarre—that few others could ever hope to dream up, let alone execute with such imaginative panache. Here are some of our favorites.
“Da Funk” (1996)
Not so much a music video as a short film featuring a guy in a somewhat microwaved dog costume wandering through New York City with a boombox, “Da Funk” was the world’s first introduction to the clipped French house sound of Daft Punk. It’s not one of director Spike Jonze’s most recognizable videos, but the music—which Bangalter insisted at the time was influenced by listening to Warren G’s “Regulate”—and the visuals planted the seed that would make them synonymous with the limitless feeling of a neon-lit, after-hours metropolis. The misadventures of our hapless, be-crutched dog is all soundtracked by “Da Funk,” a song that hits hard but has just a touch of melancholy inside of it. The video established the chemistry that would carry the duo through their entire career. –Jeremy D. Larson
“Around the World” (1997)
By 1997, the American music industry had decided that something called “electronica” was going to be the future, and MTV viewers were presented with a dizzying array of options for how that future might look. The Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers struck first in 1996 with their videos for “Firestarter” and “Setting Sun,” suggesting that the future might be a bit like ’70s punk or ’60s psychedelia. Daft Punk’s “Around the World,” directed by Michel Gondry as he was coming into the peak of his powers, looked and sounded like something else altogether. With its five groups of costumed dancers—including skeletons, mummies, and in a sign of tricks to come, robots—in front of bright lights, each moving in tandem with an element of the music, the video showed that the future could be cute, funny, and campy all at once. It was fruitful in other ways, too, precipitating another collaboration between Gondry and Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter in their unforgettable video for side project Stardust’s “Music Sounds Better With You,” as well as influencing LCD Soundsystem’s “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House” video eight years later. –Marc Hogan
“Revolution 909” (1998)
Even at the beginning of their career, Daft Punk found new ways to pair music with images—and in the process, pushed forward the visual languages of not just dance music but pop, full stop. For the 1998 single “Revolution 909,” a hypnotic standout from their debut album, Homework, they could have opted for a video treatment that mirrored the track’s loop-heavy repetitions. Instead, working with director Roman Coppola, they embarked upon a narrative video with absurdist overtones.
Like how a telephone ringing in the next room might influence the direction of a dream, the video takes essential cues from the song’s curious mise-en-scène. On record, it begins with the muted sounds of a crowded party, heard as if from outside the venue, followed by police sirens, a stern warning to disperse, and screams; as the rave collapses into a raid, a well-timed filter sweep plunges us directly into the midst of a throbbing dancefloor, and the music begins in earnest. The video initially seems intent to simply reconstruct that same scene—but then a blood-red stain on a policeman’s shirt collar opens the trap door to an unexpected narrative digression of Charlie Kaufman-like proportions, taking us from the first green shoots of a sprouting tomato plant through B-roll of picking, sorting, shipping, and shopping. Cooking-show subtitles accompany the motions of a white-haired woman making pasta sauce in her kitchen; her Tupperware of spaghetti ends up in the hands of a cop eating in his car. Finally, a hasty slurp stains his shirt. Cue the déjà vu-like coda of cops busting ravers—except this time, the policeman notices the red splotch on his shirt, giving the young woman the chance to beat a hasty retreat. A tongue-in-cheek tale of farm-to-table to rave, it’s a precursor of all the ways Daft Punk would find to play with loops over the next couple of decades. –Philip Sherburne
“Something About Us” (2003)
Interstella 5555 is essential viewing for any Daft Punk fan: A full anime film soundtracked by the entirety of their second album, Discovery, created in collaboration with the robots’ childhood hero, manga artist Leiji Matsumoto, and director Kazuhisa Takenouchi. Each music video from Discovery is clipped from this movie, and “Something About Us” highlights one of its most affecting scenes. In it, a blue-skinned alien pilot named Shep is mortally wounded while on a mission to save a music group called the Crescendolls, who have been brought to Earth and brainwashed to perform for its human masses. Stella, the band’s leader, is still constrained by psychic blinders, unable to remember who she is until she takes Shep’s hand in his final moments, triggering a dream sequence of flying dandelions and blooming technicolor.
Daft Punk’s most spectacular visual gambit took the form of a giant pyramid with enough voltage running through it to power their native City of Lights. They premiered their monolithic live setup at Coachella in 2006 before lugging it around the world for the next year and a half, spreading ecstasy along the way. I was there at the Brooklyn show, and it still stands as one of the most hands-in-the-air joyous concert experiences of my life—an immense party conducted by a couple of robots from the future who were channeling ancient Egypt as they dialed into the euphoria of collective communion.