How Daft Punk’s 2007 Aussie Tour Defined A Generation
The Nevereverland tour was the moment the Australian dance scene came of age.
By 2007 Daft Punk were on the verge of falling into 21st-century obscurity. Where ‘One More Time’ had once encapsulated the optimism of the new millennium; their last album released in 2005, Human After All, was not so well received.
Pitchfork had pulled their masks off and their pants down with a paltry 4.9 rating and it was hard to see where Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter were going next. Michel Gondry’s video for ‘Around The World’ was but a distant Video Hits memory and with Timbaland’s hit-making factory in full production, there was a sense that Daft Punk’s brand of animatronic house music might have had its time.
The very next year they released a Greatest Hits compilation entitled Musique Vol.1, not usually a sign of self-confidence and more often than not the last stop on the bus before the retirement village. But then the two did something they had rarely done in their thirteen-year career, they announced a tour.
Daft Punk had not toured globally since the Alive 1997 (Daftendirektour) and in recent years had adopted an enigmatic and elusive, if not downright hermetic, profile making their sudden appearance at the top of Coachella’s festival bill all the more intriguing. But if the build-up was somewhat subdued, their performance in April of 2006 was anything but and immediately took on the kind of mythical status that could, without hyperbole, be compared to Hendrix at Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.
Where once people had asked whether the guitar was really on fire, the details of Daft Punk’s performance in the Californian desert were just as vague and unbelievable. Yes there had been a pyramid, but it was a light show. It was gigantic, yes they were still wearing their helmets. It was a rave. Like a DJ gig. But not. The pyramid actually lifts from the stage and takes off like a rocket ship…It’s hard to explain.
Someone you knew, an office colleague with bags perpetually under their eyes or the bartender with The Chemical Brothers tattoo on their arm always claimed to have seen a photo of them without their helmets. But it was at home on their computer. Sceptics in the media questioned if it was even them behind their masks. Was this an elaborate episode of Punk’d? Was Ashton Kutcher wearing the robot costume? Most didn’t care.
Over the course of a year, they festival-hopped around the world and the stories from their performances grew into legend, substantiated only by shaky and warbled uploads of cinéma vérité on YouTube. So when Daft Punk’s illustrious manager and Chief Ed Banger Busy P finally announced their Australian extravaganza Nevereverland in 2007, a festival event that included the big players on the Modular records roster, the article on Music Junkee’s progenitor inthemix received over 50,000 hits in 24 hours. The hype machine had been building for so long that it became the fastest-selling tour of their career.
A Changing Of The Guard
But this was not a victory lap, per se. By the time Daft Punk arrived in Melbourne in December of 2007 it was a cordial meeting of the old guard and new guard. A passing of the torch.
With 2004’s Bright Like Neon Love, Cut Copy had announced Australia as the home of a new style of electronica. The warm synths were there, with shades of Alan Braxe & Fred Falke, but they weren’t interested in cinematic instrumentals like Falke’s ‘808 PM At The Beach’. Cut Copy were pop artists, crafting slices of quaintly romantic escapism that were seeped in ennui, like they were telling you a story after a hedonistic night at Rex Club in Paris. You could hear the influence of Daft Punk’s ‘Digital Love’ and ‘Something About Us’ on lovelorn tracks like ‘Saturdays’ and ‘Time Stands Still’, but Cut Copy were still too interested in the afterparty to take us to the dancefloor.
Luckily one year later two boys trained at Sydney’s Conservatorium of Music released an album called Beams that would almost single-handedly launch a new club scene in Australia. With ‘I Go Hard, I Go Home’, ‘Are You The One?’ and ‘Steamworks’ — an obvious homage to Daft Punk’s ‘Steam Machine’ — Julian Hamilton’s imposing, sonorous boom loaded The Presets into every DJ’s Serato and took the budding genre of electroclash and slapped a government-approved Australian Made sticker on it.
Bang Gang DeeJays, led by the formidable DJ Ajax, powered weekly dusk till dawn parties along the East Coast and Modular’s floodgates opened with the likes of Sneaky Sound System, Van She, and Riot In Belgium taking turns to add to the antipodean canon as our reputation amongst Europe’s house elite grew. In August of 2007, Midnight Juggernauts released Dystopia, a debut album with the one-two gut-punch of ‘Into The Galaxy’ and ‘Shadows’, and by the start of spring the momentum of this new breed of distorted house music was hitting fever pitch.
Parklife, a festival that had its roots in breaks, beats and turntablism pivoted gracefully to the rising tide of blog-house; deploying MSTRKRFT and Digitalism as well as unleashing a headlining performance from Busy P’s latest world-conquering spawn, Justice. People were literally hanging from the rafters of the tents as ‘D.A.N.C.E’, ‘Genesis’ and ‘Waters of Nazareth’ did for Parklife what Nirvana had done to the Big Day Out in 1992.
Locally, Muscles had released ‘Ice Cream’ a song that was simultaneously the most catchy and most annoying electro-pop song of 2007 and overnight he became a staple of every Stevie retail outlet in the country.
The Landing Of The Pyramid
So by the time the six metre tall pyramid covered in light bulbs arrived in Australia in December of that year, a meeting between Modular’s precocious hometown heroes and the robotic French demi-gods seemed overdue.
But what seemed like a natural culmination of events at the time has since come to be recognised as the party that defined a generation. Cut Copy performed ‘Hearts On Fire’ and ‘So Haunted’ for the first time ahead of the release of their seminal In Ghost Colours. The Presets debuted their earth-shattering anthem ‘My People’ ahead of Apocalypso and whilst Kavinsky and SebastiAn were the honourable guests of Busy P and Ed Banger Records, before the robots it was the local lads that reigned supreme under the shadow of the pyramid.
At first all you saw was the outline of their suits, flashing at the top of the pyramid like a religious apparition. But before your eyes had time to adjust to the technicolour lifeform in the sky Breakwater’s seismic ‘Robot Rock’ beat had done its best to crack the Earth you were standing on with the dragged echo of “ohhh yeaahhh” washing over the stunned masses. The bass was cranked so high it made your septum tremble and staring too long at the pyramid was as ill-advised as staring at the sun.
Some people danced, whilst many others stood aghast as if their brains were trying to process what was unfolding in front of them. The setlist was a masterful collage of Daft Punk’s legacy and also expertly reframed Human After All with ‘Technologic’’s repetitive phoneticisms sounding a lot less annoying over the driving disco guitar riff of ‘Touch It’.
In what was a genius stroke of cross-promotion, Kanye West’s ‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’ sampling single ‘Stronger’ had dominated commercial airwaves since its release in July so the highly anticipated mashup with the Discovery single and ‘Around The World’ arrived as a celebration for a song and sample that had lived in our collective consciousness for most of the year.
It is hard to imagine another act ever having the audacity to merge two of their biggest songs and actually creating something as spectacular as they did. Yes the performance was rehearsed down to the last drum loop and for those who had been tracking the tour’s setlists, there was an air of predictability to the proceedings. But the fact the big moments still landed so hard just reinforces how perfect their execution of Alive 2007 really was.
Some people danced, whilst many others stood aghast as if their brains were trying to process what was unfolding in front of them.
Nevereverland symbolised a musical meeting of the minds between the old masters of French house and the new kids on the block. Standing shoulder to shoulder with one of the most innovative and important acts in pop music history, Modular’s new wave showed the French standard bearers how bright our future was. Within the next year Ladyhawke would release ‘My Delirium’ and her cult-classic debut album. Bag Raiders would record a song that could easily be our new national anthem. Miami Horror would team up with Kimbra for one of the best disco-house songs of the century and In Ghost Colours and Apocalypso would be cemented as two of the greatest Australian albums of all time. This is not a coincidence, that summer Daft Punk and their 20 ton pyramid made a splash here that rippled for years to come.
Those that were there might still be able to see the groups of drunk kids singing the chorus to ‘Kelly’ as they shuffle forward at the drinks bar or recall the bitter taste of Carl Williams’s last batch of white hearts before the pill presses were dragged away. It was one of those rare, never-to-be-repeated collective experiences that galvanised the generation that witnessed it. And while the performance was rightly credited as an audio-visual marvel that birthed one hundred imitators, what should also be acknowledged is the fact that the Nevereverland tour might have been one of the most important cultural exchanges this country has ever had. It was the moment Australia’s electronic scene came of age.
Chris Lewis is a writer and critic based in Melbourne. He is on Twitter.
Photo Credit: Karl Walter/Getty Images