Daft Punk – Homework (Virgin album, 1997)


I was sat in my pokey little room in Eddington Tower at the University of Essex in Colchester in the autumn of 1995 when a guy from my economics course turned up out of the blue. I rarely had visitors but Michael wasn’t really popping over to hang out – he’d missed a couple of econometrics classes and hadn’t been able to understand the homework we’d been set. He knew I was the kind of dull student who always stayed on top of his homework, so he knew that if he wanted to catch up via the dubious act of copying someone else’s work, I was a pretty safe bet.

As well as sharing a degree subject or two, the other thing that Michael and I agreed on was dance music. I’d fallen head over heels into dance music properly in 1994 and since then it had become what I’d listen to whenever I got a chance. That and punk, which I’d gotten into after recognising the similarities to techno. On Michael’s visit I was just putting on a new 12” I’d picked up from Colchester’s Time Records earlier that week – ‘Da Funk’ by Daft Punk. I must have heard about that in a music magazine, as the campus radio station was only into playing indie, and the only dance music I listened to on national radio was the guest mixes that Pete Tong used to curate on Saturday nights. Back then I heeded the words written by journalists and would seek out records based on their recommendation. Something about the write-up of ‘Da Funk’ appealed to my sensibilities, especially in Muzik, and I probably ordered it in especially from Time when it was released.

Anyway, Michael was absolutely floored when the main hook of ‘Da Funk’ casually wandered into view. We listened to it maybe three or four times before switching to the B-side, the crazy squeal of ‘Rollin’ & Scratchin’’, which Michael thought was flat-out incredible. As well as weed (not my thing), Michael always had lots of cash on him thanks to his rich parents, and I recall he tried to buy the 12” from me on the spot. I refused, but let him copy my homework instead.


By the time Daft Punk issued their own Homework in 1997, my snobbish aesthetic meant that I’d turned my back on them upon Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo signing to a major label and dumping Slam’s Soma imprint. This meant I overlooked just how great that record was at first, but slowly caught up and became every bit as much of a fan as, it seemed, everyone else was among the dance music community.

It seems scarcely possible that Homework can be 20 years old, but it is. I had the opportunity to celebrate the anniversary of this seminal record by writing a lengthy piece for Clash, during which time I was transported back to my humble student hovel to recall vividly how jaw-droppingly brilliant Daft Punk were back in the day. That was half a lifetime ago for me, but my memories of that time are as clear as if they happened yesterday. And that sense of freshness, that newness, is what characterises most of Homework – aside from some flimsy house cuts that feel a bit basic now, most of this record sounds as innovative and uniquely placed as it did back then, something that few period dance music albums from the same period can boast.

Nowadays my daughters dance to ‘Da Funk’ on the Wii, I help them with their homework, I sold my ‘Da Funk’ 12″ for considerably more than Michael offered me, at Electronic Sound I write for the very guys whose words I thirsted over when they wrote for Muzik, and I feel desperately old and nostalgic most days.

Eddington Tower, University of Essex (right)

My piece for Clash can be found here.

(c) 2017 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Clash

Brian Eno – Reflection (Opal / Warp album, 2016)

I like to that that I was a very good student of electronic music history, all told. When I understood that synth music didn’t come into existence with the likes of ‘Tainted Love’ in 1981, or even with Kraftwerk’s experiments in the previous decade, I was fastidious about trying to absorb all of the points along the genesis of the genre. I’m still doing that.

At some point in the 1990s I went headlong into the work of Brian Eno, probably around the time of the the second Future Sound Of London album where they’d used some of Robert Fripp’s ‘Frippertronics’ on that record. You read up about Fripp, you get to Eno, but then again most electronic music roads at some point will likely lead you to Eno. As soon as I found out about his electronic music, my local library’s collection of his CDs was rapidly depleted.

I liked most of what I heard, but the one that jumped out was his 1988 album The Shutov Assembly. I remember renting this the same day as Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works II, and being surprised at how similar they both were; both being largely formed of weightless, serene pieces that seemed at times to border on the classical in their melodic content. Since then, The Shutov Assembly has become a go-to album for me at times when I need to chill the fuck out; usually this is at the start of an overnight flight back from the States, or a 4.15 train to St. Pancras before a Eurostar connection. I’m normally fast asleep by the start of the second track, ‘Alhondiga’. I know it’s a complete disservice to the album not to actually listen to it all the way through, at least not consciously, but I sure appreciate the album for helping me to sleep.

Over the years I’ve become an Eno collector, but not to the extent that I wish I could. Nevertheless, when the opportunity came up to review his new single-track Warp album Reflection for Clash, I was all over it. My review of this supremely beautiful record can be found here.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Tycho – Epoch (Ghostly International album, 2016)

“At its best, Epoch has a delicate, introspective fragility via overlapping waves of sound and crisp, dependable beats.” – Clash

As I’ve said a few times here, I’ve become something of a fan of the music issued by the Ghostly International label. One of their recent big releases was Tycho’s impressive Epoch album, representing the fourth record from Bay Area sonic prodigy Scott Hansen and his musical accomplices.

My review for Clash can be found here.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Clash

Documentary Evidence 2016 Top 10 Albums: 1. onDeadWaves ‘On Dead Waves’

“Posesses a stripped-back, nascent, haunted bluesy quality, which is both arresting and intriguing by equal measure.” – Clash

I would love to say that identifying my favourite album of 2016 was a trial so painful I almost gave up the whole notion of doing this, but that would be a complete lie. I always knew this one would be it, pretty much from the moment I heard it.

onDeadWaves is a powerful collaboration between Mute stalwarts Polly Scattergood and James ‘Maps’ Chapman. They first performed together at the Short Circuit festival back in 2011 and finally put this album together for release this year. As I noted in my review for Clash, the concept of two singers coming together when their lyrics are usually so uniformly downbeat is, at least on paper, a terrifying prospect. But it’s not like that in reality.

This is an album that is borderline profound, completely moving and inventive at every turn, full of mesmerising fragility and cavernous emotional depth, daubed with an oblique Americana; an album that makes you appreciate music slightly differently after its played with your emotions so effortlessly; a music delivered with an intimacy that feels like eavesdropping on private musings.

My review for Clash can be found here.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Documentary Evidence 2016 Top 10 Albums: 2. NZCA Lines ‘Infinite Summer’

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“An album chock-full of juxtapositions and deft emotional manipulations, held effortlessly together by Michael Lovett’s soulboy vocals.” – Electronic Sound

NZCA Lines were another band that I fell in love with as soon as I heard their new LP this year, and totally kicked myself for not having heard of them until the occasion of their second album, Infinite Summer. Michael Lovett, the brains behind NZCA Lines, has appeared on Metronomy’s albums and helped Christine & The Queens on the outstanding Chaleur Humaine. His is a prodigious talent, effortlessly creating addictive pop music with the same artsiness that made Chaleur Humaine a great example of the thinking listener’s electronica.

I wrote about NZCA Lines for Electronic Sound. Back issues of Electronic Sound can be found at www.electronicsound.co.uk.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Documentary Evidence 2016 Top 10 Albums: 3. LNZNDRF ‘LNZNDRF’

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“In thrall to the methods of Can, if not their actual sound.” – Electronic Sound

I heralded the trio of Scott and Bryan Devendorf (from The National) and Bryan Lanz (from Beirut) as my new favourite band upon the release of their self-titled album for 4AD earlier this year. It would the first of three such occasions where I made that claim.

This was a frighteningly inventive LP, formed out of the same sort of long-form improvised jams that Can used nearly fifty years before in the creation of their seminal early records, only then treated and manipulated to take on a relatively ‘composed’ form. The output was a sort of Krautrock / electronic hybrid whose details reveal themselves over repeated listens.

I reviewed the album for Electronic Sound and interviewed Scott Devendorf for Clash. Back issues of Electronic Sound are available at http://www.electronicsound.co.uk while my interview can be read here.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Documentary Evidence 2016 Top 10 Albums: 4. Reed & Caroline ‘Buchla & Singing’ // Erasure ‘From Moscow To Mars’

I felt a little conflicted about including these two on my list, for reasons which I will attempt somewhat clumsily to explain. I then reasoned that this is my list, I’m kind of really proud of what I’ve done to support both these releases, and so on the list they shall remain. I’ve also linked them together for the purposes of convenience.

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“It might have the look and feel of a futuristic tombstone, but From Moscow To Mars, as its title from the oft-forgotten single ‘Star’ indicates, represents a thirty year journey – a journey that the duo are very firmly still on with a new album in the works and plenty more rocket fuel left in the tanks.” – This Is Not Retro

“What emerges here is a distinct sense of loyalty – from Vince Clarke and Andy Bell to one another, and to the enduring art of writing emotional pop music.” – Electronic Sound

First up, the mammoth and some would definitely argue long overdue Erasure box. This was finally released in December after production delays and I reviewed this – atypically for me – for two places: Electronic Sound and then a slightly more personal piece for This Is Not Retro. I am, and forever will be, a massive Erasure fan first and foremost, so my ability to be objective about From Moscow To Mars is one possible conflict of interest. Personally, I think I pulled it off, but you can judge for yourself. The review for This Is Not Retro can be found here. Back issues of Electronic Sound are over at www.electronicsound.co.uk

The second reason for feeling slightly conflicted came in November when I found myself in Birmingham as a guest of the Erasure fan club at the official launch party for the boxset. I was there nominally as a guest but found myself helping out in a couple of ways – blowing up some very sorry balloons (I apologise to anyone who attended and laughed at those) while listening to Vince Clarke and Andy Bell soundcheck their set (including a new song) and then helping out with three hours of meet and greets. It was a special, and slightly surreal experience.

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Second, Buchla & Singing by Reed & Caroline, a charming album of compositions for the Buchla by Reed Hays with beautiful singing by Caroline Schutz. The album was released on Vince Clarke’s Very Records back in October to universal acclaim. I didn’t get to review this one, but trust me, had I done so I would have called it out as very special indeed.

I wrote the press release for Very Records for this album and enjoyed a very pleasant Skype chat with Hays in order to prepare that. Of all the things I have done this year, getting handed that job and helping support the release of Buchla & Singing – in a way somewhat different from just scribing a review – was right up there as a major career highlight, and I’m eternally grateful for the opportunity.

One of the best tracks on the album is ‘Henry The Worm’. Reed and I spoke about that track at length but I just couldn’t find a way of fitting it into the press release, so here is that little off-cut. I thought it was a nice story. Music sometimes needs to take itself less seriously.

“Around the time my son was born, I wrote a song that’s on the record called ‘Henry The Worm’,” explained Reed. “We named Henry, my son, after a little caterpillar that was crawling around a Mexican restaurant. When we saw the first sonogram I thought he looked like a little caterpillar.”

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence