Past Thoughts: The Daft Punk Pop Up at Maxfield Gallery

A neon Daft Punk Logo is flanked by posters featuring licensed Daft Punk Merchandise at the Daft Punk Pop Up at Maxfield Gallery in Los Angeles in February of 2017.

Back in February of 2017 (aka, a year ago), Daft Punk announced a collaboration between lifestyle purveyor Maxfield, and a couple of designers I’d never heard of (except for Hervet Manufacturier, more on him/them later) to open a pop-up shop in Maxfield Gallery across the street from Maxfield LA on Melrose Avenue.

The shop was slated to remain open for only eight days and feature merchandise from a variety of collaborators including:

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Which I guess it all said in the marketing material leading up to the shop’s opening, which raises the question, why did I bother to type all that out when I could just show you this amazing poster?

Daft punk pop up

Right, well, I guess I’m just a hard worker like that. Anyway, while the interior of Maxfield Gallery (not to be confused with Maxfield LA (across the street) is just four walls and a glass window looking out on Melrose, but they always manage to fill it with the coolest f*cking stuff on the planet as part of their pop-up and collaboration series and Daft Punk’s pop up did not disappoint.

Two 1/3 scale robot dolls monitor the line outside the Daft Punk Pop Up at Maxfield Gallery

Let me clarify: It did not disappoint from the standpoint of being an astonishing archive of the group’s creative output over the past two decades, even if I couldn’t wrap my head around a lot of the fashion collaborations that I, personally not being a trust fund hypebeast, wouldn’t be caught dead in. The walls were lined in officially authorized merchandise, but for the most part, it wasn’t anything that couldn’t be purchased from Daft Punk’s website itself save for certain items that pre-dated the formation of the site, such as the Medicom action figures, and the skateboard collaboration with Hervet Manufacturier, an item I regret not purchasing while I was there.

The aforementioned company revolves primarily around STUNNING furniture design for STUNNING prices that are STUNNINGLY worth it if you have that kind of STUNNING money. The brainchild of Cedric Hervet and his brother, Cedric is the creative third leg (still developing the dick joke on this one), of Daft Punk, responsible for helping Thomas and Guy-Man with the visual and story aspects of most of their endeavors.

Okay, that’s enough about sofas and skateboards, back to the Pop Up:

As previously stated, the walls were lined with merchandise found on Daft Punk’s website – things like candles, shirts, posters, skate decks, Christmas ornaments. And all that stuff was cool, especially considering the fact that to the extent I could tell, it’s all ethically made stuff (which matters to me), but the floor space was incredible, with a absolutely incredible array of artifacts from their past, including multiple iterations of their famed robot costumes as well as costume pieces pre-dating even discovery, such has Halloween masks worn prior to adopting their robot personas.

The helmets themselves were heavily influenced on anime characters and 1950’s American sci-fi with Guy-Man’s helmet a tribute to helmets worn by Scott Bernard and other characters from Mospeada (Robotech and Macross) and Thomas’ helmet being largely influenced by Addison Hehr’s design for Gort from the 1951 film, ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still.’ A myriad of versions of the duo’s coveted helmets have been made, so let’s go through what was there:

1. Discovery: 2001 – 2004

Most impressive were the fully-lit helmets from the Discovery Era (2001-2004). The helmets were designed in collaboration between Daft Punk (and probably Cedric), special effects make-up godfather Tony Gardner and his company Alterian Inc, and later modified by show design firm LED Effects. Initially, they were not lit and featured chromic visors, but later, LED Effects (now seemingly no longer in business) stuffed them chock full, at the time, groundbreaking LED matrix displays that could output any number of pre-programmed colorful lighting animations, or scripts, or recipes, or whatever you want to call them. Below are some examples of them in action:

Initially powered by heavy battery packs, the helmets were later converted to AC as, I speculate, they realized that they would never be used in public beyond one video done for publicity prior to the final iteration of the helmets in their full LED splendor. The switch to AC allowed for further electronics, removal of heavy backpacks, and the realization that power cords could be photoshopped out or hidden with camera angles in press materials.

Despite being used only for publicity in controlled settings, their vacuum-metalizing had shown some wear over the intervening seventeen years. You might guess that they were not treated well but their electronics remained in perfect condition, suggesting that the metal pitting was nobody’s fault, but simply a shortcoming of the processes available at the time. It’s also worth noting, that using these helmets basically rendered the wearers blind as the gauge of the wires and ribbons used was THICK. These helmets were heavy, and likely got pretty hot inside. I can’t help but wonder if they still work. It stands to reason that they should.

2. Human After All / Electroma / Alive 2007: 2005 – 2007

I’m unsure as to the order of events here with regards to what the duo decided to do first, whether it was the film Electroma, record Human After All, or sign a deal to go on a tour, but all two of these three creative endeavors necessitated an evolution of the Robots’ costumes purely from the standpoint of practicality. They couldn’t expect the electronic helmets to hold up to the physical rigors of a live tour or film production and perhaps they were over the hassle from the standpoint of marketing a new record, so all electronics were ditched in favor of lightweight fiberglass helmets that could easily be mass produced as costume pieces for a film and swapped out on tour should one be damaged. Added bonus, you could walk more than eight feet since you weren’t plugged in to the wall.

Also Daft Punk ditched the quirky fashion associated with the Discovery era and donned leather motorcycle suits designed by Hedi Slimane, who also photographed the Alive 2007 tour and whose photographs are used in the album art for the accompanying live album. His photography is decent, and he gets high points for shooting film. Love that grain. Additional costumes were developed in collaboration with Janet Hansen of Enlightened Designs, an early adopter of EL wire as costume element, for the Alive 2007 tour’s encore in which the robots lit up like programs from the 1982 Disney film TRON. This had the added subversive element of Daft Punk communicating subliminally with Disney that they wanted to collaborate on something, anything. A couple of lines of business at Disney eventually came calling, and the duo opted to score the sequel to Tron, TRON: LEGACY in 2010, which brings us to…

3. TRON: LEGACY: 2010

For their not-a-cameo-cameo in the film, the group wore new motorcycle-style suits that utilized scotch light fabric to create a glowing effect on film. This was decidedly lower tech than the costumes everyone else got on the film, which used actual LEDs for illumination. It also appears that the lights on the faces of the helmets were digital effects as there were no wires or any indication that these helmets were powered. Of slight interest is that the bezels on these helmets were noticeably thicker than previous helmets, which suggests a redesign from scratch.

Change one dimension…and you have to change everything else.

4. Random Access Memories’ Grammy Win: 2014 

On the day I went to the Pop Up, the costumes conceived for the Random Access Memories marketing and promotion were not on display (they showed up on a later date), however the white outfits worn for their Grammy win were. They were white with gold visors. Not much more to say about that other than that we’ve seen a continued evolution and refinement of the robotic elements over time, which hints at the notion that the robots are aging, not in a linear organic fashion, but rather, a cerebral synthetic fashion. They change with time, just like the rest of us, but as their appearance becomes more perfected and precise, their interests have become more organic and analog, and indicated by their music and pursuit of visual arts.

Well that’s about all there is left in my memory from the Pop-Up. Of course if you’re in LA, don’t not go to Maxfield because the Daft Punk Pop-Up is no longer there. The Maxfield Gallery consistently hosts amazing exhibitions and limited runs of merchandise and is a joy to check out.

Feel free to check out hi-res photos from my visit over in the gallery. As always, no license is granted to use them without my explicit permission. Thanks for understanding.

If you’re wondering if I got anything while I was there….I did. But I guess you had to be there. 😉

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