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My Creative Hero: Daft Punk

Creative Agency
New York, USA
Michael Ashton, group creative director at Elephant on the long lasting influence of the producing duo

Michael Ashton is an award-winning advertising creative based in New York. He has worked on brands such as Amazon, Volkswagen, McDonald's, Greenpeace, Audi, PlayStation, and MTV.

LBB> Who would you say is your creative hero?

Michael> My creative hero(es) are a duo who make dance music: Daft Punk. 

These French musicians have won six Grammys, scored an Oscar nominated film, collaborated with legendary directors, been in video games and anime, sampled by artists like Drake and Ye, and they’ve even been knighted. 

Their music is innovative. And it sounds great loud. But they’re more than musicians. 

LBB> How long have they been important to you and what are your first memories of coming across their work?

Michael> I first heard their track ‘Da Funk’ on Australian radio station Triple J in ‘97. 

I was like “WTF is this?! Is this a hip-hop beat or techno? Vintage synths or something new?”

Back then I was heavily influenced by my older sister’s taste in music. I inherited her love for grunge and punk bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden. 

This was the first group I really loved without someone telling me I should listen to it. 

LBB> How did you go about finding more about them and their work?

Michael> Someone at a record store put me onto their album 'Homework.' It’s called that because it was produced in a home studio. This was long before making a whole album in your bedroom was the norm.’

I kept buying their albums and 12”s, and pretty much anything released on their record labels. That’s right, they didn’t only make music. Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo launched their own record labels Roulé and Crydamoure, respectively. 

The duo also released crazy music videos directed by Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry. So I’d then hunt out and follow their work. Gondry's behind-the-scenes videos are packed full of clever ideas and special effects. I loved Spike Jonze’s legendary music videos. And ‘Her’ is a pitch-perfect film, super relevant today with all the AI developments.

For me, Daft Punk is the gateway drug to other inspirational creatives.

LBB> Why are Daft Punk such an inspiration to you?

Michael> Well, I’ve always loved their music. So that taps on the reptilian part of my brain. 

But to think deeper about it, in my mind Daft Punk represents high-concept ideas that are brilliantly crafted. At work we try to always arrive at insightful, original ideas. And then we find the best collaborators, at the top of their field, to execute the work.

LBB> How else do they influence your approach to creative work?

Michael> They’re a huge source of inspiration for me in many ways. Innovative remixing and sampling. Collaborating with technically brilliant artists. Creating iconic images that stick in your mind. 

These days everything is a remix. Advertising. Design. All of it builds on what has been done before.

Daft Punk was innovative in how they remixed and sampled, making a new idea out of two old ideas, instead of rehashing something that’s been done before. 

Take their track Aerodynamic. It starts off with AC/DC’s Hells Bells bell toll, then cuts up a disco record from Sister Sledge, adds a solid 808 kick, gnarly electric guitar solo, and is topped off with some dreamy synths. Magic. 

Daft Punk always threw a heap of different influences and samples into the pot to create something fresh. 

At work we always aim to be innovative, even if we’re playing with old themes or deep-seated human truths. 

Daft Punk’s innovative sampling on their album ‘Discovery.’

But they also took their craft super seriously. When interviewing Giorgio Morodor about his life, he was recorded on a range of microphones from different eras. The idea was if Moroder was talking about the 70’s, they’d use a vintage mic from that decade. 

You wouldn’t notice on the record, but they still took the care in crafting the best recording. 

Giorgio Moroder recorded by Daft Punk with mics from different eras. 

And collaborating with the best is important. They’ve worked with Nile Rogers, Pharrel Williams, The Weeknd, Kanye West, Hedi Slimane, Kazuhisa Takenouchi, the list goes on.  

LBB> What piece or pieces of their work do you keep coming back to and why?

Michael> Even though they’re musicians, I come back to their visuals more these days. They know how to make an iconic image. Simple. Recognisable. Influential.

Take their robot disguises. You can spot them a mile away in photography, film, animation, action figures, or even silhouetted by the sun. 

And conceptually, the helmets hide the face, so you focus on the music instead of the person. I like that. Somebody shouldn’t be defined by their body. It’s your work that’s important. It’s what you do that should define you.

One piece of their work that keeps coming back to me is the Kanye track they produced called Black Skinhead. I’ve heard it (or blatant rip offs) on ads for Tempurpedic, Toyota, Guinness, Spiderman, and The Wolf of Wall Street. Once you hear it, you’ll never be able to unhear it.

Kanye West performs the Daft Punk produced Black Skinhead on SNL 

Sadly, Daft Punk are no longer producing new music. 

Thomas Bangalter recently made some classical music, so I’ll follow this thread of creative inspiration wherever it takes me. 

The orchestral music is composed for a ballet called Mythologies. I might like it — technically it’s still dance music. 

Work from Elephant
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