Learning forever from 'Random Access Memories'

Daft Punk gave us art that wasn't meant to be in this world or this age, and the lessons we can draw from it are still maturing a decade later.

It's been ten years since the release of Daft Punk's Random Access Memories (or RAM), but this seminal work by a foundational act isn't through contributing to listeners. Until humanity's most industrious minds strip away the boundaries between fully man and fully robot will the lessons remain.

Alt: Just a screencap of the first two paragraph's of Nile Rodgers's Wikipedia page

Nile Rodgers is one of the greatest guitarists of all time, wrote many of the distinctive "chck" guitar riffs on Random Access Memories


Video embed thumbnail - 'In 1982, Nile Rodgers asked David Bowie a question'

Spotify preview 'Random Access Memories' - Embed meant as a track list, Spotify is unlikely to allow you to stream the full album from this widget.

The thesis is simple: we will never be robot perfect, but we can be better. Through music specifically, and with art in general. Humanity is still a young species, and Random Access Memories is for all time. We're on the way to killing most of the planet, but we haven't gotten there yet. We aren't capable of fully reckoning with the impact this will have. We identify regionally and culturally instead of cosmically. We often reach for violence. Random Access Memories was conceived of to branch an alternate timeline; to force an ephemeral and impossible moment in the year 2013. A moment where an album was made across international borders, on a globalized planet powered in part by iPhones and others. A world where the internet most definitely did exist.

Why then was that the pitch the robots—the robots is a term often used by Daft Punk collaborators to refer to the act's original human duo, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo—used to hook artists like Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers into featuring on the album the following?


Video thumbnail. Rodgers discussing being pitched the concept

They said something to me that blew me away. They said that they wanted to do an album as if the internet never existed. -Nile Rodgers

It's clear what this meant to Nile:

"Oh! Old school. Go in and play. Like the way we used to do it."

But to the robots I think it meant that and more. Lore that comes later describes an accident in the studio, an explosion of synthesizers. The accident and subsequent surgery left them none of their humanity. They were robots.

This lore puts that accident on September 9th, 1999, 9/9/1999. A few weeks later the New York Times wrote about a milestone in digital connectivity. That's compounding. Not only did the duo have to grapple with the loss of their prior lives and identities, they had to do so while reckoning a world that was plugging in around them.

Internet Users Now Exceed 100 Million (Published 1999)
Strategis Group, Washington-based market research firm, says number of adults using Internet in US has surpassed 100 million, up from 65 million in mid-1998; International Data Corp says it expects number of Internet users in US to grow to 177 million by end of 2003; says number of users worldwide is expected to grow to 502 million by 2003, from more than 142 million in 1998 (S)

NYT embed 'Internet User's Now Exceed 100 Million (Published 1999)

To the robots, 'as if the internet had never existed' didn't mean "go in and play the way the way they used to do it." I mean, of course they did, in a way, but they had bigger ambitions. The concept for Random Access Memories was meant to push the limits of their robotic identity experiment. It was a human voice lost in a robotic web spanning our planet; a human voice converted in a studio accident in 1999, a robot voice pushing its expressiveness to the extreme. RAM was meant to culminate Bangalter and Homem-Christo's career-long reverence for 70s and 80s dance and disco. It was a piece of media brought in from another timeline, one alien to any of us in 2013. We'd already had five iPhones by then.

This love for dance and disco was developed before the accident. The debut studio album Homework was released in 1997, and formed the basis for the group's relationship with Nile Rodgers.


Video thumbnail. Rodgers discussing Daft Punk dedicating Homework to Bernard Edwards

We've finally reached one of the real goals of the album. The production of Random Access Memories brought together titans of collaboration and awareness. Daft Punk's music has always been dance music. An unending throbbing bass beat to lose yourself to; the dance origins are reflected in every song in the album, but two of the titles make this clear: Give Life Back to Music, and Lose Yourself to Dance. Beyond that signature dance feel though, was reverence and gratitude. Just as they'd done on Homework wanting to pay tribute to Edwards and Rodgers himself, Random Access Memories shines with robotic perfection, even though everything is built with such organic and historical groove.

As Professor Goss would say: You gotta groof

We've also finally reached Pharrell. Both Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers are pretty universally regarded as stand-up gentlemen and pretty cool cats, but we're really trying to hammer the theme of collaboration and mutual respect, of love and awareness.


Video thumbnail. Snippets of Insterstella 5555 and Pharrell talking

Beautifully said Pharrell, and correct, but a little old-fashioned.

We all saw music as this gift, that was given to us.

It was originally given to us. By pure chance the concept happened out of thin air, coming out of some deep part of a brain trained for pattern recognition. Maybe it was "given" by birds or singing insects. Every moment after that though, was not a gift. It was work. It was a relentless torrent of human energy of lifetimes. Poured into and over every conceivable musical possibility. While there were rocks to be banged together, there were rocks banged together. While there are strings to strum, strings will be strummed. We built all this Pharrell. That's part of what the robots are trying to say. Why they work; they were made to. By pure chance we lost them in it as well.

Losing them in it though, that's the second act.

And we're not there yet.


Video loop. One of the duo repeatedly exploding.

Not to fear, however, because though they were gone in 1999 after the release of 1997's Homework, they had been reborn as the robots, reflected in 2001's Discovery. Though the story would ultimately and devastating come to an end with the explosion of one of the robots, right now they were trying to make an album that came from an alternate timeline. One without an internet, remember?

Why no internet?

I can't say for certain Daft Punk would not have had the careers they did without the internet, but the music and lore is so well cemented in the people of the age because of how truly it represented what digitization was doing to us. In the absence of the internet the 70s and 80s music that the pair drew inspiration from would have been accessible, surely, but not as easily, nor in such vast quantities, and furthermore, not so easily manipulated, recut, remixed. Perhaps I don't know the intricacies of their production, and they never touched a network, and worked entirely off tape, but we would still be left with the decades of devoted fan performances and pages, tour and gig information and organization, merch stores, the list is virtually endless.


Video thumbnail. Pharrell talking

Don't miss your line

This focus on positive psychology and general "pansy shit" is in direct contrast to the nastier toll that digitization has had on us. Check this out I'm going to embed both the New York Post and an NIH paper right next to each other.

Grieving dad blames Instagram for daughter’s suicide
Instagram is complicit in the suicide of a young teen, says the victim’s father. “I have no doubt that Instagram helped kill my daughter,” says Ian Russell, who’s youngest, Molly, took her life in …

NYP Embed. Grieving dad blames Instagram for daughter's suicide.

The role of online social networking on deliberate self-harm and suicidality in adolescents: A systematized review of literature
Social media use by minors has significantly increased and has been linked to depression and suicidality. Simultaneously, age-adjusted suicide rates have steadily increased over the past decade in the United States with suicide being the second most common…

NIH PubMed. The role of online social networking on deliberate self-harm and suicidality in adolescents: A systematized review of literature

It's not complicated, social media, Instagram usually, is driving a pretty decent number of kids to suicide every year. At least one kid in every classroom in the United States is threatened with thoughts of self-harm due to it. Unmoderated discussions devolve intro hatred filled, racially charged flamewars with no effort. It's easier to share non-consensual explicit imagery.

Daft Punk gave us art that wasn't meant to be in this world or this age in direct response to the nastier side of the internet. The lessons we can draw from it are still maturing a decade later, and we won't collectively learn them for a long, long time. Nile Rodgers is an accomplished, lifetime, working musician. He's been forced to adapt for years as industry trends change and new technology becomes pervasive. It's easy to see this difference in production with a later collaboration that RAM unlocked. In later interviews he mentions he now has a handful of K-pop albums under his belt. His first was the album UNFORGIVEN, which he's featured in on the eponymous track, by the group LE SSERAFIM. There's a recorded conversation between Nile and the group where he and the members of the group actually converse for the first time, and it's clear that this collaboration is quite the opposite of the previously described concept the robots used to hook him. The idols are in a tiny remote meeting room in whatever offices their corporate wranglers are maintaining, and Rodgers is speaking from a studio. His contributions on the album must've been organized by his representation, and the tracks exchanged between production houses in the United States and Korea respectively. It wasn't 'old school'; he didn't go in and play.

YouTube embed. The LE SSERAFIM/Nile Rodgers interaction referenced above.

Nile Rodgers loves to play. He says this a lot, and it's something this author can personally identify with. I'm sure that in this collaboration its no different, but there's quite a bit of difference in musicality between Rodgers's work on Random Access Memories and the small line featured in the LE SSERAFIM track. I hope he get's a really tasty slice of the ridiculous pie that is the Korean pop market, but I wonder where he ranks that song in terms of enjoyability to play. His demeanor and charm shines far brighter in the cases he "did it the old way."

For more on the duality of Daft Punk's human/robot identity, this video is a masterpiece of it's own.

YouTube embed. Why "Random Access Memories" is a masterpiece

If you're unfamiliar with the album, it is of course recommended you listen to it in its entirety sequentially, of course, but the above video features some live snippets from the turntables the presenter has in front of him. If you can't be bothered to do the entire album, The Game of Love, Lose Yourself to Dance, and Get Lucky are probably the ones you should know, if you don't already. A favorite of this author is Giorgio by Moroder.

But everybody calls me ... Giorgio

Nile Rodgers is so funky. Nile Rodgers is so funky.

To all of you that made this record, thank you. That includes all the featured artists, who are typically readily credited, but the additional musicians as well. Jackson, East, and Genus betray my guitar experience as heroes. Robinson, Hakim, and Queen are unmatched. There's an entire orchestral section. Production staff. It's an easier narrative to tell with only a few front-men. Front-robots. The k-pop idols do do the multi-character storylines better.

There's nothing else to say. Album good. Love each other. Don't poke each other with pointy sticks or cyberbully. Lose Yourself to Dance.

We'll never be robot perfect, but at least there are Random Access Memories.


Life was one way before Random Access Memories, and completely different after.


Where not cited in place:

Daft Punk - The Collaborators Full Playlist

Daft Punk - Memory Tapes Full Playlist

Holy Trinities - Guitar

Daft Punk - Epilogue