Daft Punk Confirmed to Play Glastonbury… in 1997
In the pre-robots era, two polite-looking young Frenchmen in tidy jumpers electrified the dance tent
Excitable rumours about who is playing Glastonbury have become as central to Britain’s biggest festival as camp fire chakras and toilet pyramids. And over the last five years, Daft Punk have been subject to more than their fair share. Even today, in the face of all contrary evidence, there are still some festival goers convinced that Daft Punk, fresh from the globe-straddling success of “Get Lucky,” played a secret after hours gig at Glastonbury 2013 to a selection of refreshed revelers.
Perhaps, then, it is no surprise that the band were rumored this past week to be playing the festival again in 2017, headlining alongside Radiohead and The Stone Roses. Festival specialist site efestivals claimed on Friday to have “what should be well-sourced information” that Daft Punk would top the Glastonbury bill on the Friday, coming just weeks after the discovery of the mysterious Alive2017 website whose source code is, apparently, “littered with clues” as to the Daft Punk tour next year.
But alas, festival organizer Emily Eavis dispelled those rumors on Thursday, October 20th, once again leaving fans sulking with disappointment.
Certainly, a 2017 Glastonbury gig would be pleasingly symmetrical for the Parisian duo, whose two live albums to date are titled Alive 1997 and Alive 2007 in nods to the years they were recorded. They also last headlined Glastonbury — well the Dance Tent anyway — in 1997, their only appearance to date at the festival. It is a gig that, curiously, some people doubt ever happened. “Can anyone confirm whether or not DP played Glasto in 1997?” asked one confused Reddit user three years ago.
Well they definitely did play, I was there. In 2013 Glastonbury booker Malcolm Haynes told the PrimaveraPro event that the duo’s Glastonbury gig was one of his favorites in the festival’s long history. “For me it was such a great gig,” he told me later. “I remember watching them from the mixing tower on the top level. The view was amazing, the tent was rammed. There must have been 15,000 people. The most memorable moments for me was when the bass kicked in, it was like England had scored in a World Cup. The roar from the crowd was deafening.”
Besides, there’s enough evidence out there to leave the gig’s existence in no doubt, including one brief YouTube clip and the official Glastonbury poster from 1997, which shows the band third on the bill for the Dance Tent, after The Orb and Primal Scream.
But the Daft Punk who headlined the Glastonbury Dance Stage on Sunday June 29, 1997 were a very different proposition to the band who revolutionized the field of live dance music with their groundbreaking Alive 2006/2007 tour.
For a start, this was the pre-Robots era, when the band were plain old Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, still a couple of shy French producers in their early 20s. And that was what we saw on stage: two polite-looking young men in tidy jumpers, hunched over banks of equipment and bobbing frantically. (If memory serves, I later saw a picture of them in stage in some very new looking Wellingtons.) Visually, their show had none of the jaw-dropping bombast of the Alive tour: there was no pyramid, no complex LED screens, just 1997 festival standard big screen animation, which seemed to consist largely of some ravey blobs.
Musically, too, Daft Punk’s 1997 live set was a world away from the sophisticated mash up of their catalogue that we would see in 2006-07. It was far more brutal, hard and amped up, closer to the smash-and-grab, high-velocity funk of Chicago house than the joyous stadium house of Alive 2007. The YouTube clip from Glastonbury 1997 shows Daft Punk playing the ascorbic techno of the Homework track “Rollin’ and Scratchin’.” It’s all screaming synths, juddering bass drums and slamming snares, overlaid with a nagging rap acapella. The same track, it is true, appears on Alive 2007, but there it is mixed in with three other tracks in what is probably the album’s most ferocious moment. In 1997 — as in evidence on Alive 1997 — “Rollin’ and Scratchin’” was fairly typical of their overall live intensity.
Another big difference with the band’s 1997 set was that it included (usually brief) covers of other people’s material. These, sadly, have been exorcised from Alive 1997, which is a 45-minute extract of a show at Birmingham’s Que Club on November 8, 1997. But there is a full, one hour 15-minute recording of the band’s live set at Paris’s Rex Club from earlier that year on YouTube, which includes covers of CLS’s “Can You Feel It?” and Giorgio Moroder’s “The Chase.” Their live set at the time also, intriguingly, included “Short Circuit,” eventually released on Discovery some four years later.
The raw musical intensity of Daft Punk’s live show spoke to their position in 1997. They were indeed a popular act. Homework, their debut album, had gone top 10 in the U.K. upon release some six months earlier, and “Da Funk” and “Around The World” were fairly sizable British hits. But they were still relatively cult, a big dance act who have bubbled up from the underground rather than the superstar band of today.
Their position in the Dance Tent — third on the bill to The Orb and Primal Scream (and just above Dreadzone) — seemed about right back then. The idea of them headlining the Pyramid Stage — as mooted for 2017 — would have been pretty ridiculous 20 years ago. Sure enough, the Dance Tent (capacity 15,000 to 20,000) was full for Daft Punk, but not uncomfortably so and there was room enough to shake a weary, muddy leg as the festival drew to an end. Given the alternatives — Ash, who replaced Steve Winwood on the Pyramid Stage, and The Bluetones, who headlined the Other Stage on the Sunday night — you might have expected it to be fuller.
Glastonbury, too, was a very different proposition in 1997. Official attendance that year was 90,000, as opposed to 135,000 in 2016. (Although it was still relatively easy to break into the festival in 1997, which makes the exact attendance difficult to know.) Tickets were just £75 in 1997, as opposed to £238 for 2017, and there was only one Dance Tent, as opposed to the full on Dance Village/Silver Hayes of today.
Some things never change, though: 1997 was known as the “year of the mud,” thanks to torrential rain in the days leading up the festival, which made getting around the site a labour-intensive slog — something that will be familiar to anyone who attended Glastonbury in 2016, 2014, 2011 etc. One reviewer in 1997 reports “a struggle to see Daft Punk, who I only heard from a distance as the Dance Tent was surrounded in a ring of mud.”
In the end, betting on mud to make an appearance at Glastonbury 2017 may prove more financially sound that taking a punt on Daft Punk finally putting those rumors to bed with a headline appearance. But despite the denials, we can continue to dream of a glorious Glastonbury/Daft Punk 20th anniversary reunion—mud, thunderous beats, and all.