In America, dance music has long been an acquired taste. Beyond high school mixer staple “Sandstorm,” the idea of techno often conjures images of sweaty dancehalls populated by longhairs slick with sweat and lavish mousse lathers, seeing all and remembering nothing through the clouded windowpanes of LSD and other designer drugs. The perception that electronica would rise from the basement raves to take over the world frothed and fizzled with the ebb and tide of the late 90s, and despite the best efforts of P. Diddy in the early aughts, the dream never revived.
Though if there’s any artist that could make it happen, it’s Daft Punk. Established in 1993, the Parisian duo has enjoyed a renaissance this past year: Kanye West sampled them in his #1 single “Stronger”; critically acclaimed French house heirs Justice cited them as heroes and an obvious influence; they debuted their second film, “Electroma,” at Cannes; and they visited the US for the first time in a decade to vociferous fanfare and praise. This past year may have well been the best in Daft Punk’s long history, and “Alive 2007” — a recording from one stop on the aforementioned world tour — is the crimson cherry sitting atop it all.
Without question, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter have proven themselves to be one of the best live acts in the world. While the idea of hearing house music’s finest duo remix and recontextualize their discography is appealing enough by itself, Daft Punk fully embraces the spectacle of the stage by mixing their set from within a 9-ton pyramid, illumined by a complementary lightshow to ensure all senses are thoroughly overwhelmed. As such, the album was originally envisioned as a DVD, but the band quickly reneged the video component, claiming they are prouder of their fans’ Youtube clips. Hence, “Alive 2007” stands alone as an audio document, raising the question of whether or not Daft Punk’s intensely looped and long-form live set can engage without the visual pyrotechnics.
The answer could be a yes or a no, but it’s a bit difficult to defend either way. On their studio albums, each track is distinct and individual, while here Daft Punk blends all of the elements together into one large, improvised amalgam, familiar fragments percolating to the surface fluently and frequently. Sometimes this design allows for inventive revisions of the Daft Punk canon, but without context the majority of the set seems monotone and repetitive — a common trapping of electronica. The extended vocal solo on “Touch It / Technologic” rides its groove a few minutes too long, and blending “Homework” snoozer “Burnin’” with the aptly titled “Too Long” sets the performance’s standard for boredom. Combining the first two tracks from “Discovery” and doing little other than condensing the runtime should also be a crime, especially when they’re two of Daft Punk’s finest and most versatile tunes (“One More Time / Aerodynamic”).
However, Daft Punk manages to keep things fresh by experimenting with their arsenal. In the middle of the set, a sample stuttered beyond recognition sutures itself to a lethargic, low-end beat, sounding like bells and strings from the ancient orient. As the marriage begins to quicken and coalesce, it instead reveals a brilliant synthesis of “Discovery’”s finest tracks, “Face to Face” and “Harder Better Faster Stronger.” A double-shot of Daft Punk’s best material mixed with some dynamic improvisation transpires to make the set’s ecstatic highlight, and one that nearly justifies the price of admission on its own.
Thankfully, “Alive 2007” isn’t exactly a one-trick pony: the heavy doom’n’gloom riffs of “Television Rules the Nation” fuse seamlessly with the trebly euphoria of “Discovery” highlight “Crescendolls,” and the set’s 10-minute coda condenses countless album staples into one bold and epic encore that sees the French house progenitors exiting with a bang.
Unfortunately, these instances are the exceptions, not the rule; the set often sees little else going on beyond taking the beat from one sample and mixing it with the riff from another (as seen on “Da Funk / Dadftendirekt”). And yet, the audience is clearly in their hands — endless waves of cheers and even applause are audible throughout, highlighting how Daft Punk is not unlike an arena act of the late 80s, the heavy metal pentatonics, aggro-riffing, and thunderous drumming thinly veiled by a glistening patina of electronica sheen. Simply put, in order to appreciate the experience of Daft Punk live, one has to be there, which is why castrating the video from this release is a somewhat dubious call. As Homem-Christo and Bangalter have said, the Youtube clips do better justice to Daft Punk’s live act than any other document out there. And despite a handful of gems worth salvaging, “Alive 2007” sadly does little to change that.