Few musical groups have the power to bring worlds together like robot helmet-wearing French beatmasters Daft Punk. In the ‘90s, they merged the disparate worlds of techno and rock; the following decade, they created a dance-floor quake that was part disco, part heavy metal. Now, Daft Punk has bridged the gap between fan-boys and technophiles with their ambitious soundtrack and orchestral score for Tron: Legacy.
The duo of Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, as they're known sans headgear, provided the pulse-raising beats that drive the sequel to the 1982 original. In fact, as only their fourth studio album in nearly 14 years, news of the soundtrack prompted electronic musicians around the world to make their own fake Daft Punk tracks, anticipating what a futuristic vision coupled with the group’s cutting-edge electronic stylings might sound like. But with all the bogus "leaks" onto the internet, the real Tron: Legacy soundtrack explores an entirely new sonic direction for the electro maestros, juxtaposing their drum machines with the lush textures of a full orchestra.
The Hollywood Reporter recently met up with the Grammy Award-winning musicians at Henson Studios in Hollywood to discuss their first venture into film scoring, philosophies on the future and what happened behind the scenes on the set of Tron: Legacy.
THR: How did you get involved with this film?
Thomas Bangalter: We first heard that their people had tried to contact us without really succeeding, so we got back in touch with them. That was quite a long time ago around fall of 2007. I think we were really approached by [director] Joe Kosinski in the early process of the early research and development of the film. It wasn’t greenlit yet, and there wasn’t really a script per se. We were on tour at that time, and it took almost a year to decide whether we had the desire and the energy to dive into something like that.
THR: What made you think that this film would be good, even though you had no script and the production hadn't started?
Bangalter: You never know whether something will be good, but the interesting thing for us was that Joe was concurrently working on this film with Steven Lisberger, the director from the first one, for which we have great admiration and respect as a human being and the legacy of that film. Having Jeff Bridges on board helped too.
We were interested in the relationship between society and technology, and how the place of technology in the world had changed so much. The first movie in 1982 was a very colorful, hopeful, naive look at technology, and the power of the computer. Thirty years later, this new movie would be a dark and not-innocent look at technology. It was in common with how we feel about technology, which is this love-hate relationship with it. It can be wonderful and terrifying.
THR: How did you feel about all the fake Tron tracks that were being passed around on the internet?
Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo: As long as we’re putting out better music than what’s out there, then it’s not hurting us.
Bangalter: There’s a lot of expectations and fantasizing of what we are and what Tron is, and it can be an exciting thing and everyone can have their own different thoughts of what they would like it to be.
De Homem-Christo: And it has to do with the fact that we don’t do music very often and these big expectations of what Tron could be.
THR: What was your first experience seeing Tron as a kid?
De Homem-Christo: We didn’t go to the movies much as a kid, but I remember going with my parents, and my brother and me. We saw the posters, which got us excited. I was 8 years old.
THR: How did that first experience of seeing the original Tron influence the style of Daft Punk today?
Bangalter: I think Tron is a good example of minimalism. That’s what we liked with the direction of the new film. It can be huge film, but there’s a lot of negative space, so there’s this certain minimalist approach, that "less is more" feel, that we appreciate artistically.
There is also a timeless quality to it. In the first Tron, one thing that really resonates with us was the influences that it carried from the past. It almost looked like Georges Méliès silent film, Voyage to the Moon or Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. It was shot in black and white, and then animated, but also it was the first film that had computer graphics. This bridge of being something that looked like it was being made in the 1900s as much as something that looked like it was 20 years ahead of its time is always something that we really liked in art.
THR: There is an anachronistic feel to the soundtrack too. There are electronic elements, but there are rich textures to the strings as well. It’s got a Lawrence of Arabia feel to parts of the score.
Bangalter: It’s funny you mention Lawrence of Arabia, because when we started to look at that concept art, we actually started putting music together before we had the script. We thought of the digital world as being like a desert. Jeff Bridges' character almost looks like the Ten Commandments. We liked this idea of taking classic Hollywood scores and try to clash it against electronics and 1970s science fiction soundtracks with a much darker feel, like John Carpenter.
THR: Tron: Legacy deals with the idea that technology helps us create another doppelganger in the digital realm. With social media and interactivity as it is today, we all have another persona. How do your costumes reflect this idea of embracing another persona?
Bangalter: We really feel like The Wizard of Oz sometimes; we’re the guys behind the curtains pushing some buttons. We like this idea of stimulating the imagination and blurring the lines between fiction and reality. But technology is actually making this thing harder. In the same way that you’d have a magic trick 30 years ago, the same magician who does the same magic trick today in the digital age, it’s much more complicated to keep the secret, and to make the trick happen, because of this access.
THR: Would you ever do away with your costumes?
De Homem-Christo: This all existed before the costumes.
Bangalter: We feel like we’re building something aesthetically, so we like the idea of the evolution. So far, each piece of music or everything has been to expand it, instead of backtracking or trying to destroy what we have done.
THR: Are you working on any more soundtracks?
Bangalter: We never say never. We want to do more Daft Punk music. We’ve learned a great deal of things from this. We like the idea of having this addition to our palette. It definitely opened up some new possibilities of adding traditional instruments with electronic ones. We are trying to find every artform to express ourselves.
THR: What about a new Daft Punk record?
Bangalter: We just finished this thing, which was a challenge, and we’re now working on things to come.
De Homem-Christo: We like to keep things as a surprise. It’s always better like that.