Celebrating Daft Punk’s groundbreaking Coachella performance one decade later
It’s been a decade since the pioneering duo of Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, AKA Daft Punk, debuted their groundbreaking pyramid stage at Coachella 2006. This performance lit the fuse that would revolutionize not only how people listened and experienced electronic dance music, but also the level of production that went into EDM shows.
The investment into the stage and performance was seen by some as a big gamble. First off, little more than a year before this performance, Daft Punk released their third album Human After All, to mixed reviews. Secondly, building up to the performance, Thomas and Guy-Manual had been continuously asking for more funding to build the stage without letting anyone, besides those working on it, know what exactly they were doing.
To the unseasoned ear, electronic dance music can seem very repetitive and lacking in many of the features that make a “complete song.” It can be said that those who have not experienced electronic dance music in a live setting have a harder time appreciating electronic music on a day-to-day listening basis. Back in 2005, when Human After All was released, a much larger portion of music listeners had not experienced a live EDM show as compared to today.
In the recent documentary, Daft Punk Unchained, it was explained that going into the performance, most members of the Daft Punk management and production team were unsure how it was going to go. Some were saying that Daft Punk had passed their peak, which, along with no one knowing exactly what was about to happen, did not help dispel the doubts of organizers and investors. The festival attendees didn’t know what to expect either, yet a huge number — around 40,000 — were intensely curious and attempted to pack into the Sahara Tent, which was only designed to hold 10,000 that year, to see what all the fuss was about.
Luckily, as music journalist Michaelangelo Matos wrote in his book, The Underground Is Massive, there were those who believed that a lot of people were going to be there. Matos himself was one of the many that never made it into the tent, though he was still able to enjoy it because, he states, “Coachella organizers had the foresight to add extra stacks of speakers, as well as jumbotrons, for those left outside.”
It paid off, and then some. “No one had seen anything like that. No one had seen that level of production.” Matos explains in Daft Punk Unchained. “Everybody who was in the tent was texting everybody else: ‘You are missing this!…You’re missing the greatest performance of all time.”
In an article on cbcmusic, lighting designer Michael Figges describes the impact that the visuals of this performance had on the industry: “In the early days of electronic dance music, the audiovisual setup often consisted of little more than some speakers and a film projector. Shows slowly changed and grew with the genre, but most industry vets can point to one particular show in 2006 that changed the game for everyone: Daft Punk’s first appearance at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in their now-legendary pyramid.”
The article goes on to describe how the pyramid was the result of a collaboration between Daft Punk and Martin Phillips, a British ex-pat who runs a production company called Bionic League in Los Angeles. “We wanted to create a show, just the same as when you would go and see Pink Floyd,” Phillips says. “We hadn’t seen an electronic dance act coming out with a [cohesive] show, [where] the show is going to be pretty much the same show every night… We wanted to create a show. It would have a beginning, a middle and an end. We hadn’t seen anything like that.”
Ten years later, the influences of that performance can still be felt throughout the industry.