EDM pioneers Daft Punk showed true genius in building a mythology around their brand. For most of their near-three decade career, they performed under shiny robotic helmets and kept their true identities out of the public eye. But we bet you are as curious as we were to see what they really look like under the masks. Now that the duo have called it quits, you can.
After 28 years of bringing electronic music to the masses, Daft Punk announced the end on February 22, 2021. Fittingly for a duo who spent most of their career wearing outlandish disguises and shying away from publicity, the announcement took the form of a quirky in-costume YouTube video. There was no written statement from the duo themselves.
Mostly, the video was a clip from Electroma, their odd and experimental 2006 sci-fi movie. It showed the two disco robots walking out into the desert, before one of them exploded into smithereens. Then a graphic came on-screen that read “1993-2001.” It was over-the-top, strange, yet also tongue-in-cheek. Basically, everything Daft Punk have always been.
The internet was overtaken with fans and admirers bidding farewell to one of the most influential electronic dance music acts of all time. DJ Mark Ronson tweeted, “Daft Punk left the game with a flawless legacy. I would say enviable but impossibly unattainable is more appropriate.” Collaborator Pharrell Williams simply tweeted, “Forever legends.”
Daft Punk’s career hit its highest heights when they worked with Williams on the massive single “Get Lucky” in 2013. It also featured Nile Rodgers of legendary disco act Chic. They also collaborated with rapper Kanye West on his hit single “Stronger,” although they didn’t work together in the studio. Instead, West used a sample from Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” and built his tune around it.
Another career highlight for the pair came when they composed the score for the 2010 Disney blockbuster TRON: Legacy. They used an 85-piece orchestra and combined it with their electronic elements for a truly mindblowing piece of music. The soundtrack album went to number six on the Billboard 200, and critics and fans alike acclaimed it.
When it comes to their personal lives, though, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel De Homem-Christo have been notoriously tight-lipped over the years. It is known that both men have two children, but only the names of Bangalter’s are public knowledge: Roxan and Tar-Jay. Bangalter is married to French actress Elodie Bouchez, but Homem-Christo’s marital status is unknown.
Bangalter and his family have homes in both the high-end Marais area of Paris and in the Hollywood Hills. They divide their time between the two. Homem-Christo lives somewhere in the Paris arrondissement that includes Montmartre, a very classy neighborhood. The duo prefer not to say much more about their home lives, but they are slightly more open about how they grew up together.
During an interview with Rolling Stone magazine in 2013, Bangalter revealed, “I met Guy-Man in eighth grade. At the end of the year, we took a class trip to Pompeii, and in the car ride we began making up songs. When we got back, we recorded them with a little Casio keyboard.” The school they attended was Lycée Carnot, which boasts former French president Jacques Chirac as an alumnus.
Both members of Daft Punk came from affluent families. Bangalter’s father is Daniel Vangarde, a music producer and songwriter responsible for several hit songs in the ’70s. He wrote for acts such as Sheila and the Black Devotion, Ottawan and Gibson Brothers. Bangalter grew up in his father’s large apartment in Montmartre, which had a piano room and a room for studio equipment.
Homem-Christo’s parents weren’t in the music business; they ran a successful advertising company. His family name is famous in Portugal, though, even if for a questionable reason. His great-grandfather, a writer, has been labelled by historians as, “the first authentic and indisputable Portuguese fascist.” He was a man who counted Mussolini as a personal friend. Homem-Christo dryly told Rolling Stone, “I know him only from photographs, of course.”
Bangalter and Homem-Christo’s first stab at trying to make it as musicians came when they formed a rock band called Darlin’ with guitarist Laurent Brancowitz. The band only ever played two concerts, although one of the gigs was in the U.K. They were invited to play this show when one of their songs was featured on an E.P. released by Stereolab.
Darlin’ released one single and, in a scathing review published in U.K. music magazine Melody Maker, it was described as, “daft, punky thrash.” Around this time, though, Bangalter and Homem-Christo had experienced an epiphany in Paris’ rave scene. They cast rock music to the side and embraced electronica, naming their new act after the negative review quote, which they found amusing.
Daft Punk’s debut album Homework didn’t come out until 1997. But the duo actually released several singles and played a number of shows across Europe and the U.S. in the years leading up to its release. As hard as it may be to believe these days, they performed at these gigs with unmasked faces.
In fact, in those early days, Bangalter and Homem-Christo’s faces could be seen on a select few publicity stills and even a magazine cover. By the time Homework came out, though, they had started their habit of donning masks or other face coverings in public. They would even show their backs to interviewers.
Amazingly, the duo chose to stop playing gigs after the touring loop for Homework came to an end. They released their second album Discovery in 2001 but didn’t actually play a live show as Daft Punk until the Coachella Festival in 2006. By that point, the fanbase had grown to almost cult-like proportions, with the aura surrounding the duo becoming close to mythic.
The Daft Punk that emerged in 2006 wore their now-trademark futuristic robot helmets. They had been introduced during the Discovery cycle in 2001, complete with a hilarious fictional backstory. As Bangalter told Remix magazine, “We did not decide to become robots. There was an accident in our studio.”
“We were working on our sampler, and at exactly 9:09 a.m. on September 9, 1999 it exploded,” continued Bangalter. “When we regained consciousness, we discovered that we had become robots.” This quote made it clear that Daft Punk were having fun with their robotic stage personas. In 2013 they revealed the thinking behind the helmets to Rolling Stone.
This interview was the most illuminating one ever given by the duo. As fierce protectors of their privacy and great believers in the idea of artists fostering some mystery around their act, the notion of them letting a journalist into their studio was unheard of. But that was just what they did on this occasion.
Regarding their helmets, Bangalter told the interviewer the reason to wear them wasn’t simply to maintain privacy. The shiny chrome domes have been likened to images seen on the covers of Isaac Asimov’s classic science-fiction novels. Therefore, the striking look was a way of making Daft Punk’s act the kind of theater that had once brought David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust persona or the makeup worn by Kiss.
“People thought the helmets were marketing or something, but for us it was sci-fi glam,” revealed Bangalter.” But there was also an extra level to it for the duo, who wanted to apply some elements of character creation to a real-world setting. Bangalter explained, “We’re interested in the line between fiction and reality, creating these fictional personas that exist in real life.”
In the end, the duo realized that concealing their identities paradoxically transformed them into much more than two regular guys playing electronic music. It made them larger than life. Homem-Christo deadpanned, “We’re not performers; we’re not models. It would not be enjoyable for the humanity to see our features, but the robots are exciting to people.”
The duo explained that they had different versions of their helmets that were used for different tasks. For example, the ones they wore when performing live were equipped with electronic communication and, crucially, air-conditioning. But the helmets worn at photo shoots or during music videos were made of materials that photographed better on camera.
As of 2013, a special effects company known for their work on Hollywood movies made the helmets. Bangalter claimed that the FX outfit had worked on the latest Spider-Man movie and agreed to sign non-disclosure agreements before working with the duo. Why? Because Daft Punk didn’t want the specifications of the helmets’ designs to leak.
Over the years, a number of fans have made their own versions of the helmets. Some people, looking to make a quick buck, have even taken to selling their bootleg helmets online. But, as Bangalter said, “The proportions are really hard to get right just by looking at pictures, so they all seem a little bit off.” The duo were always keen to protect their intellectual property.
The anonymity afforded by the helmets was, admittedly, also a selling point for Bangalter and Homem-Christo. During the Rolling Stone piece, the duo were able to take the journalist with them to a Paris café, then on the Metro train. Nobody paid them any attention whatsoever, which would have been impossible had their faces been known to the public.
“One thing I like about the masks is that I don’t have people constantly coming up to me and reminding me what I do,” admitted Bangalter. “It’s nice to be able to forget.” In truth, the duo were a rare case. They were incredibly famous. Iconic even. But they never had to deal with the paparazzi or the other trappings of worldwide recognition.
Around the same time as the Rolling Stone interview, Daft Punk also spoke with GQ magazine. Bangalter once again spoke about the helmets, this time drawing a comparison with an iconic comic book superhero. Even though the hero that he mentioned has never worn a mask, he revealed that it was the idea of cultivating a secret identity that intrigued him.
Bangalter said, “I remember when I was a kid, I would watch Superman, and I was super into the feeling of knowing Clark Kent is Superman, and no one knows. We always thought as we were shaping this thing that the fantasy was actually so much more exciting than the idea of being the most famous person in the world.” The electro genius then had an intriguing question posed to him.
Interviewer Zach Baron asked, “Is there ever a moment where you’re like, ‘I have to put on the cape again?’” The wording of the question confused Homem-Christo slightly, but Bangalter understood. Baron was actually asking if their decision to make Daft Punk into superhero robots meant that they ever felt forced into always being those robots, whether they felt like it or not.
After some conversing in their native French, Bangalter turned to Baron and said, “No.” Homem-Christo added, “We work a lot, but we are not in the superhero costume,” before Bangalter finished his sentence with, “Every day.” In other words, they control when they want to be Daft Punk and have a healthy separation between their outlandish creation and their private lives.
As for what the pair look like unmasked, GQ’s Baron described them perfectly during his profile. He felt the duo looked like they should have been in a rock band. Bangalter was tall and thin, with a beard and receding hair. For the interview, he was wearing a suit jacket with black jeans, motorcycle boots and a large scarf.
By contrast, Homem-Christo was much shorter, with long hair that Baron felt made him look like a metalhead. He had pale eyes and a weary, almost bored demeanor, and was also wearing boots for the interview. To add a flourish, though, his had some gold spurs. Bangalter referred to him as “Guy-Man,” something everyone in their orbit also does.
Fittingly, the duo were opposite in personalities, as well as looks. Baron described Bangalter as a talker, someone who enjoyed waxing lyrical about his passions, such as technology, art and Star Wars. Homem-Christo would only pop into the conversation on occasion, though, preferring to let his partner do most of the talking. Bangalter was engaging; Homem-Christo was disengaged.
In fact, Baron felt Homem-Christo’s near-total silence was unnerving at first but grew to be intriguing over the course of the interview. Their contrasting personalities complemented each other, though. Baron wondered if that dynamic also applied to the creation of their music, with Bangalter as the one who generated ideas, while Homem-Christo acted as an editor.
After the release of their 2013 album Random Access Memories, Daft Punk played live at the Grammy Awards in 2014. They also won four trophies on that night and went on stage in their robot outfits to collect the Record of the Year gong. Or did they? It was soon rumored that the men in the helmets on this occasion were hired impostors or their close associates Paul Hahn and Cedric Hervet.
That same year, Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan dressed up as the duo to host the Country Music Awards in Las Vegas. This was a great example of how Daft Punk had become part of the pop culture landscape: crossover music artists with an invaluable element of pageantry and mystery to them. It’s especially impressive when you consider they once again stopped playing shows in 2010.
The final Daft Punk songs were released in 2016. The pair collaborated with The Weeknd on two songs: “I Feel It Coming” and “Starboy.” Amazingly, “Starboy” was the track that finally saw Daft Punk hit the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart for the first time. After this, though, Bangalter and Homem-Christo faded into purposeful anonymity again.
Both men have been applying their magic touch to other people’s music in recent years, though, mainly in the capacity of producer. Homem-Christo worked behind the scenes on The Weeknd and Gesaffelstein’s track “Hurt You” in 2018, as well as Charlotte Gainsbourg’s “Rest” in 2017. As for Bangalter, he has produced albums for Arcade Fire and Matthieu Chedid.
Bangalter also owns his own record label, Roulé, and has branched out into cinematography and direction. He directed an advertisement for fashion brand Co that starred his wife. The talented musician has also dipped his toes into film music, lending songs to movies such as Climax and Irréversible, both from director Gaspar Noé.