Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter met in 1987 while attending the Lycée Carnot secondary school in Paris. The two became friends and recorded demos with others from the school. This led to the formation of a guitar-based group called Darlin’ with Laurent Brancowitz in 1992. Bangalter and Homem-Christo played bass and guitar, respectively, while Brancowitz was brought on board after the two sought an additional guitarist. The trio had branded themselves after The Beach Boys song of the same name, which they covered along with an original composition. Both tracks were released on a multi-artist EP under Duophonic Records, a label owned by the London-based band Stereolab, who invited the trio to open for stage shows in the United Kingdom. Bangalter felt that “The rock n’ roll thing we did was pretty average, I think. It was so brief, maybe six months, four songs and two gigs and that were it.” A negative review in Melody Maker by Dave Jennings subsequently dubbed the music “a daft punky thrash.” Instead of dismissing the review, they found it amusing. As Homem-Christo stated, “We struggled so long to find [the name] Darlin’, and this happened so quickly.” Darlin’ soon disbanded, leaving Brancowitz to pursue other efforts with Phoenix. Bangalter and Homem-Christo formed Daft Punk and experimented with drum machines and synthesizers.
In September 1993, Daft Punk attended a rave at EuroDisney, where they met Stuart Macmillan of Slam, co-founder of the label Soma Quality Recordings. The demo tape given to Macmillan at the rave formed the basis for Daft Punk’s debut single, “The New Wave”, a limited release in 1994. The single also contained the final mix of “The New Wave” called “Alive”, which was to be featured on Daft Punk’s first album.
Daft Punk returned to the studio in May 1995 to record “Da Funk”. It became the duo’s first commercially successful single the same year. After the success of “Da Funk”, Daft Punk looked to find a manager. The duo eventually settled on Pedro Winter, who regularly promoted them and other artists at his Hype night clubs. The band signed with Virgin Records in September 1996 and made a deal through which the duo licensed its tracks to the major label through its production company, Daft Trax. Bangalter stated that while the duo received numerous offers from record labels, they wanted to wait and ensure that Daft Punk did not lose creative control. He ultimately considered the deal with Virgin to be more akin to a partnership.
In the mid-to-late nineties, Daft Punk performed live without costumes in many places including the United States. In 1996, the duo was featured at an Even Furthur event in Wisconsin, their first public performance in the U.S. In addition to live original performances, they performed in various clubs using vinyl records from their collection. They were known for incorporating various styles of music into their DJ sets at that time.
“Da Funk” and “Alive” were later included on Daft Punk’s 1997 debut album Homework. In February of that year, the UK dance magazine Muzik published a Daft Punk cover feature and described Homework as “one of the most hyped debut albums in a long long time.” According to The Village Voice, the album revived house music and departed from the Eurodance formula. As noted by critic Alex Rayner, Homework brought together established club styles and the “burgeoning eclecticism” of big beat. In 1997 Daft Punk also launched their Daftendirektour to promote Homework in several cities throughout the world. For this tour, the duo used their home studio equipment for the live stage. As Bangalter stated, “Everything was synched up—the drum machines, the bass lines. The sequencer was just sending out the tempos and controlling the beats and bars. On top of this structure, we built all these layers of samples and various parts that we could bring in whenever we wanted to.” 25 May 1997 saw them perform at the Tribal Gathering festival at Luton Hoo, England, headlining with Orbital and Kraftwerk.
The most successful single from Homework was “Around the World”, which is known for the repeating chant of the song’s title. “Da Funk” was also included on The Saint film soundtrack. Daft Punk produced a series of music videos for Homework directed by Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Roman Coppola, and Seb Janiak. The collection of videos was released in 1999 and titled D.A.F.T.: A Story About Dogs, Androids, Firemen, and Tomatoes.