Melody Maker, 20 November 1997
UNDERGROUND/OVERGROUND, spectacle/black-out, in-yer-face/faceless, pop/music. Dance has to make its choices. Either it believes in its own unique power, rejecting stages, identification, authenticity and the audience/artist gap of reverence and tries to create a totally new kind of night out, or it can be just better rock'n'roll, filling stages with enough flash and bodies to kick shit off, still playing on the same ideas of spectacle and acceptance that rock thrives on.
The trouble tonight is that we fall between dance's radical potential and a trad need for "legitimacy"; on the one hand, music so heavenly it makes minds and bodies pop, on the other hand, a spectacle and set-up so dim and dull that hearts and souls wither. Torn between celebrating 12-inch culture and shoring up album culture, it sells both short.
Tonight, everyone's made to wait in a heaving Astoria til 11pm, then, a pause, a glance, and "is this them?" You have to applaud Daft Punk's successful stab at anonymity, but it's all very well being anonymous set behind a pair of decks in the middle of a dancefloor or perched above (as they were when I saw them tear up Glastonbury something fearsome this year), but when you're on a big stage, when people have stood for two hours looking stageward waiting for something spectacular, to simply slope on unannounced and start spinning out the hits isn't enough.
And it's a shame, because in terms of sheer ear buzz and booty quake they're phenomenal — harder, more concise and propulsive than the sometimes wayward LP "808 Revolution" sounds like just that, the four-to-the-floor thump speeding into pure electro-spark and hiss, the beats warping into levels of bitchy ruffness worthy of Mantronix at his finest.
A lot of Daft Punk's bite tonight is determinedly old-skool — 'Daftendirekt' and 'Burnin' come on as straight-down-the-line Bambaataa to this sourpuss, and 'Around The World' is the best diva-less disco ever. All night, Daft Punk have an uncanny knack of splicing the best chops together in a mixology that's never in service to correctness, but purely in the interests of the sheer, rubbery danceability of the groove. In many ways, they do to 20 years of dance music what Jon Spencer does to rock — purify, distil, amplify — and their retreat into the shadows is entirely in keeping with that history. But it's a con to perpetrate it in a venue made for visuals and, by the time an admittedly storming 'Da Funk' hurries us out, you catch the nothing lights, the empty screens, you catch yourself, and you have to wonder if this is £12 better than hearing it in a club, whether this crush and heat and fever are somehow improved by simply being in the same room as the people who make the sounds. If they're even here. If they aren't, it doesn't matter, and maybe Daft Punk count that as a victory. I call it a bank raid. Hands up.
© Neil Kulkarni, 1997