Daft Punk, one of the most influential and popular groups to emerge in the past 30 years, have announced their retirement via a video titled “Epilogue” posted Monday morning. The duo’s longtime publicist, Kathryn Frazier, officially confirmed the split to Variety and declined to provide further details.
The eight-minute clip begins with a scene from the duo’s 2006 film “Electroma” that features the pair, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo — who for many years have concealed their features behind a robot concept — walking around the desert, wearing in their familiar space helmets and leather jackets. After a few moments, one of the members looks at the other, removes his jacket and reveals an energy pack on the back. The other touches a button on the pack. The first member walks away quickly, and then explodes.
The scene cuts to a sunset, or possibly a sunrise, as a choral version of the group’s song “Touch” plays.
The song is from the duo’s 2013 “Random Access Memories” album, which in many ways was a culmination of their career. The album, which included the global hit single “Get Lucky,” won the Grammy Award for Best Album the following year. The duo has largely kept a low profile since then, with their most prominent work being a collaboration with the Weeknd on two songs from his 2016 album “Starboy,” the title track and “I Feel It Coming.”
While their rep declined to say whether the duo will continue working together under different names or whether other new projects are in the works, it seems likely, considering the group’s famously contrarian and convention-mocking history, that they will continue to release music, videos and whatever other projects strike their fancy. It is even possible that this announcement could be the beginning of a new project.
Bangalter and de Homem-Christo met in the mid-’80s at school in Paris as teenagers and soon after began working together on music. They formed a rock band called Darlin’, inspired by the Beach Boys song of the same name, with their friend Laurent Brancowitz in 1992 and released a song on a compilation on Stereolab’s Duophonic label. The song received a negative review in the Melody Maker — which called described it as “a daft punky thrash” — and, in a move that would set the tone for the rest of their career, turned the negative review into their new band name. The two decided to focus on electronic music; Brancowitz left and ultimately formed Phoenix.
The duo set the sonic tone for the new group with their first single, “The New Wave,” released in 1994. It was followed the next year by “Da Funk,” which became a European hit single and formed the template for their debut album, “Homework,” released late in 1996. The pair, along with manager Pedro Winter, set a strong self-determined course from the beginning, demanding artistic control and ownership of their masters, which they have licensed to major record labels over the years.
The album was one of the best of the wave of mid-1990s electronic dance albums and lofted the duo, who at this point were still performing without disguises, to international stardom. They toured extensively and engaged in outside and solo projects and released a series of innovative videos around “Homework.” Around the turn of the decade, the duo concocted a comical story about being injured in an explosion and being forced to hide behind robot masks, and never appeared publicly without them.
The duo released their second album, “Discovery” in 2001, led by the single “One More Time” — the “disco-very” implicit in the title was no accident, as the album was more pop in nature than the debut and set a trend for upending expectations. Indeed, the duo’s following album, “Human After All,” was recorded quickly and arguably sounded like backing tracks — but those tracks became the basis for the duo’s galvanizing live dates in 2006 and 2007, which included a defining performance at the Coachella festival in April of 2006, a show that more than one dance-music writer has declared “the birth of EDM.” Performing inside an elaborate illuminated pyramid, the group toured internationally behind the album, releasing an explosive live album, “Alive 2007,” several years later. They re-emerged in 2010 with an orchestral soundtrack album for the Disney remake of “Tron.”
The pair spend the next several years upending expectations again: After defining themselves as the ultimate electronic act, they recorded all of “Random Access Memories” with live instruments and used no digital equipment whatsoever (except for the album’s mix). The album featured an unlikely raft of guest performers and singers, ranging from Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers and singer-rapper Pharrell Williams to 1970s singer-songwriter Paul Williams and musicians who had worked on Michael Jackson’s 1979 “Off the Wall” album.
The end result was a wide-ranging combination of futuristic and vintage sounds that brought the duo to new levels of popularity, taking the Album of the Year Grammy in 2014. The duo celebrated the win with a star-studded party in Los Angeles — complete with a lit-up dancefloor, a la “Saturday Night Fever” — after the Grammy ceremony that was attended by Beyonce and Jay-Z, Paul McCartney, Madonna and many of the album’s collaborators and other luminaries.
Apart from the two songs with the Weeknd, the duo’s musical efforts in the years since have been low-profile. But given their past history, it’s extremely unlikely that we’ve heard the last from Bangalter and de Homem-Christo, whether or not they’re working together, or as Daft Punk.