Widely considered the best Coachella set of all time, Daft Punk's 2006 Sahara Tent performance sparked the 2000s American EDM explosion.
Let's take a moment and give a toast to Daft Punk, who changed the face of live music ten years ago today at 11:00 pm on Saturday, April 29, 2006. This was the moment when the Sahara Tent imploded on itself as 40,000 people tried to squeeze into a 10,000 person tent for their long-awaited headlining performance. The resulting sensory overload of their show presented electronic maximalism at its most subtle and refined to an unexposed audience, catalyzing dance music's modern cultural domination.
The concert came at a precarious time for Daft Punk. Their third album,Human After All, arrived in 2005 to much fanfare but middling reviews. It was the band's first endeavor that did not result in an unqualified success. Before the set, media skeptics wondered if Daft Punk had reached their peak. This Coachella performance, however, swiftly changed the conversation. The music itself was impeccable: a well-blended medley of their greatest hits and back catalog. The legends traversed their entire discography seamlessly in the wide-ranging set, and at its core stood the structure of Human After All, anchoring all their music together and putting it all into their devised context.
More than just redeeming the band's reputation and setting the stage for their domination of pop culture, it also redefined the scale of live concerts. The Coachella viewers witnessing it for the first time watched as the visual sleuths behind the scenes slowly unveiled the grandiose capabilities of the stage they had designed. With the pyramid, production design firm Bionic League set a new standard of artistic achievement. It was a slap in the face to music fans and industry folk alike, reinforcing the importance of live production and inspiring new entrants into the market likeProduction Club, responsible for Skrillex's Mothership tour and many others. It showed the entire Coachella audience what the apex of electronic music achievement could look like, paving a road for Justice (working along Daft Punk's former manager Pedro Winter) and bloghouse.
Meanwhile, Daft Punk continued the string of 2006 festival performances with the Alive 2007 tour and live album. Its iconography is no accident: it seems like a concerted effort by Daft Punk (along with Paul Hahn & the Daft Arts team) to make a comparison to Pink Floyd, cementing the idea that their Alive 2007 tour is as significant as a production like The Wall.
This is the concert everyone and their mother claims to have been at, because everyone is just so sad they missed it. It also holds a personal significance to me, and many others in electronic music. My first steps into the electronic music scene came around the time of "Robot Rock" and theHuman After All leak (still remember reading Internet comments denying the leak was real because it didn't meet their expectations), but it was only when this YouTube clip of their Coachella set blew away my budding eleven-year-old mind that I started to engage into the community more deeply.
Daft Punk's 2006 Coachella set is to the explosion of dance music in the 21st century what the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria is to World War I. It was the spark that ignited the fire, a fire that still continues to this day. Philip Sherburne recently wrote an excellently-researched piece on the burst of the EDM bubble for Pitchfork, which explores Google search trend data to gauge the popularity of artists and their peaks. though he curiously doesn't include data about searches for the word EDM itself, which have never been more frequent than today. Electronic music will evolve, and though the sounds dominating the main stage will be different in a few years, rest assured a main stage will still exist.
Anyways, here's to Daft Punk. Celebrate them today: watch the set, watch their documentary Daft Punk: Unchained which tells their story far better than I could, and please listen to Daft Punk's Alive 2007 when you've got a moment. It's just too good.