I Was There: Daft Punk’s Coachella 2006 and the Return of the Future

Thomas Q. Kelley
16 min readAug 2, 2017
Daft Punk kill it on “Alive” tour at the L.A. Sports Arena, July 21, 2007. Photo by Thomas Kelley.

I started the Museum of Lost Tales blog in 2006. It kicked off primarily when I saw Daft Punk blow open popular culture at Coachella that spring. I had written for Lotus, BPM and XLR8R magazines in the 1990s and early 2000s, and the new technology platforms for self-publishing were very appealing. I did it primarily for fun. Eventually my blog would turn into Electrohound and then finally Ghost Deep, a digital magazine that focuses on rave history, technology, electronic art and music.

What follows are a series of journal entries on that morphing chronicle. Going back to 2006 through these posts should reveal just how rich and astonishing the return of techno and the rise of EDM has been in the new millennium, from Daft Punk to LCD Soundsystem to EDC, and onward.

Techno 2006, the return of the future —Sept. 16, 2006

2006 was the year that it all began to flow back into mass perception. Five years after 9/11, with a healthy economy, the shake-out of digital downloads and the persistence of grizzled artists and DJs, it seemed the time to get down was here again.

For five years we had to endure the whine and cheese of pop electronica and the return of rock chic. Moby, while a genius, had made techno too safe for corporate executives and investment bankers. He was right that America had already missed the creative peak of techno.

Testshot Starfish at Terra Byte, 2006. Photo by Thomas Kelley.

It was a sad commentary on America’s isolationism that it had mostly missed Orbital’s Brown Album and Underworld’s Dubnobasswithmyheadman only to catch both artists’ less spirited but refined follow-ups. When America finally learned it was part of a global community, it learned it by way of crashing jetliners.

By 2006, those dark clouds finally began to fade. In March, The Orb rocked the Frank Gehry-designed Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles. Local techno wonderboy John Tejada globetrotted tirelessly while breakbeat continued its comeback with the Plump DJs and the Stanton Warriors.

Sitting at the Terra Byte show at the L.A. County Arboretum in June, I could sense yet again a little bit of that giddy excitement from decades past. Like little jolts of electricity, the inventive, beautiful songs of L.A.’s IDM outfit Testshot Starfish and Sacramento’s Tycho compressed time to zero, gently calling up memories of past summers of love. (I would see Tycho play again the next year at Arboretum — hints of his breakthrough with Dive only beginning to show.)

Tycho basked the crowd in water color nostalgia, Arboretum. August 26, 2007. Photo by Thomas Kelley.

Still a murmur perhaps. But then months earlier it had been blasted right into my skeptical brain. Daft Punk had landed at Coachella like space invaders, showing what pure techno — trans-dimensional, electrofied, funky techno — was capable of. The beats punched the hips while growling synths melted into fist-pumping house magic.

The Los Angeles Times barely mentioned their performance, deaf to its significance. But it was obvious to anyone who ever rocked out to a technoid drum: techno wasn’t dead, it was fucking alive and kicking ass. Eminem was wrong about Moby and dead wrong about techno.

In fact, Kanye West had a weak performance earlier that day to my ears, showing off some of the downsides of live, rap pop — its self-infatuation, its rants, killing the party.

Daft Punk at Coachella 2006. Photo by Thomas Kelley.

When Daft Punk wrapped up, everyone stumbled away in a daze. One concert-goer shook his head, exasperated: “Mother-fuckers stole the show!”

As the kids pulled away from the parking lot, blasting Daft Punk on their car stereos, a blond teenage girl, probably born at the end of the ’80s when rave first came to be, cheerleaded to her friends as a truck crawled by playing ‘Around the World’: “That song is soooo classic!”

It’s more than 20 years since Detroit and Chicago started the techno revolution. An economic bummer and the War on Terror knocked the wind out of its sails. But things are looking up in 2006. It’s just a feeling, but I think we’re beginning to discover again the optimistic power of techno.

Ratatat and 120 Days in Los Angeles — April 4, 2007

Norway’s 120 Days and New York’s Ratatat stoked the electronic fire Monday at the amply spacious Henry Fonda Theatre in Hollywood. Ratatat headlined on the heels of their critically acclaimed albums Ratatat and Classic, interlacing their intricate, sometimes baroque electric guitar over meaty electronic beats. Less Air and more Hendrix and Mozart rocking out with a drum machine, Ratatat is a natural hybrid of rock and electronica.

But getting the gig off to its start was the astonishing 120 Days, who are already a sensation in Europe.

Excelling as a live act, 120 Days jam over long, epic numbers with roguish abandon. Fusing techno’s hypnotic horsepower with a rock band’s raw swagger, the Norwegian quintet were a revelation in the hearing.

120 Days brought dream-tidings from the north. April 2, 2007. Photo by Thomas Kelley.

And yet their genius is shockingly obvious: fat beats, skitter-scatter snares and galloping high-hats riding under a diamond sky of bursting synths and guitar psychedelia. But it took young pups weaned equally on Led Zeppelin and Sasha to push it through with natural purpose.

And looking at the thin northern strangers with their long hair and engrossed playing style, it seemed the ghosts of early Pink Floyd had returned for the technicolor dreams of the day.

Stanton Warriors at Monday Social, Feb 6, 2007. Photo by Thomas Kelley.

Comparisons to Joy Division, New Order, and Spiritualized will come to mind too. But 120 Days are charting new territory, something close to Meddle-era Pink Floyd and Underworld’s Dubnobasswithmyheadman, yet far out in their own bewitching wilderness worshipping the sky under a midnight sun.

Egging on the neo-pagan ritual were the howlings of frontman Ande Meisfjord, coming on like a self-assured Iggy Pop, with vague messianic hints of U2’s Bono. An animated leader, he basked in the falling chords of his guitar while wailing into his microphone, often switching to keyboards, playing them as if he were steering a spaceship.

Supporting members Kjetil Ovesen (synthesizers), Arne Stöy Kvalvik (drum machine, drums) and Jonas Dahl (bass) worked their own magic as a thrilling instrumental presence.

As some in the crowd stood agape like statues turned to stone and others grooved madly like ravers under a full moon, it was clear that 120 Days are one of the great new acts of our age. Then again, it’s a bit Icarus, so they may very well crash and burn. Brilliant either way.

Speedy J at Droid Behavior, Dec. 16, 2007. Photo by Thomas Kelley.

At a slower click but no less hard, Ratatat rolled in with huge applause from the crowd, a mix of retro, rock, crusty, stoner, chin-stroking types, both racially and sexually diverse.

Electronic whiz Evan Mast and guitar maestro Mike Stroud didn’t disappoint them. Accompanied by minimal but lovely visuals, the pair rocked through their baroque, bass-heavy numbers with gusto. While Stroud writhed on stage, riding the pounding beats like a mad sorcerer, he gently melted in meditative repose for soothing tracks like ‘Loud Pipes’ and ‘Gettysburg.’

Playing on a calmer mood, Ratatat whipped the crowd with its booming, electric lullabies. April 2, 2007. Photo by Thomas Kelley.

Ratatat’s underground hit ‘Wildcat’ elicited the biggest response of the night while their already impressive repertoire ensured a delightful glide and fall into bliss. Before we even left the joint, we knew this was going to be an influential show, much talked about among the tragically hip.

The question is, among the music nerds at the show, how many of them would take that magic into their rehearsals, and what bright things would they add in the coming years to this new Big Bang?

LCD Soundsystem and Planningtorock — June 22, 2007

LCD at the El Rey, Wilshire, June 10, 2007. Photo by Thomas Kelley.

LCD Soundsystem returned to L.A. for three sold-out nights on June 10, 11 and 12. Filled with hipsters and aging ravers, the show on the opening night was less energetic than their visit last Spring at the Avalon.

James Murphy, the self-effacing frontman and mastermind behind LCD, was apparently suffering from a major bout of the flu. Pumped full of drugs, he soldiered on, bringing the crowd to a high enough pitch to keep fans satisfied.

But the real spectacle of the evening was the opening Planningtorock, Janine Rostron’s one-woman act, seemingly inspired by many years spent in art school dosed on LSD. You could call her the LSD Soundsystem actually, a performance art experience well beyond the pale of current cool. Some might imagine getting seizures from her flashing, geometric visuals too.

But for the most part, it was gripping stuff, obliterating the boundaries between rave, punk, classical and hip hop. Most telling, Rostron’s vocals were less melodic than rhythmic — elemental spasms sketching through the matrix.

James Murphy and crew on stage. Photo by Thomas Kelley.

After the crowd recovered from the Berlin sorceress of acid electronica, many obviously confused by her banshee howlings, LCD Soundsystem took the stage. Harassed by the El Rey Theatre’s security staff, we never quite locked into a tribal frenzy. But the renditions of ‘North American Scum’ and ‘Us vs Them’ got most to boogie and scream. Unfortunately, there was no ‘Someone Great.’ That would be saved for following nights.

Daft Punk destroys L.A. — July 22, 2007

Daft Punk provides prismatic view of technological change, digital cameras out in spades; crowd has worldwide eyes, the human face looks back at crowd on the sides of a pyramid.

Daft Punk at L.A. Sports Arena, July 21, 2007. Photos by Thomas Kelley.

When the beats kick in after a DJ regaled the crowd with Ed Banger electro house and The Prodigy’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up,’ then Ratatat, Daft Punk come on confidently, making good on the craze set off the previous summer with their Coachella techno bonfire.

Everyone promptly loses it and there’s no going back.

Like that, it’s welcome to the Cult of Daft Punk. The best things are spontaneous: Daft Punk gets their own hand sign in homage to their pyramid stage cockpit.

Then they give the crowd something no one could have imagined. They strip away the confinements of the arena by circling us in the wonders of streaking light. It’s a roller rink romance.

Video of “Around the World” light ring. Video taken by Thomas Kelley.

“My ears and eyes are having orgasms!!” commented someone on the video I uploaded to YouTube. “Best night i ever had,” wrote another, five years later. I imagine he may still feel the same today.

And by the end, after taking folks on an unforgettable journey, they go cosmic. With a touch of Tron.

And spacemen at an Interstellar Route 66 diner off the Rings of Saturn.

Giving it wings, with an air of Travolta and the Fonz and Thunderbirds, yet entirely new and entirely their own. “Daft” and “Punk” on the back of their jackets. Like a phoenix.

“What the Hell was that!?” we overhear a college kid say to his friend as we walk out. Daft Punk had changed the game.

And so came the flood.

Detroit techno legend Jeff Mills plays at King King, Hollywood, April 14, 2011. Photos by Thomas Kelley.

Jeff Mills: The Wizard shows the way in L.A. — April 14, 2011

Global techno trailblazer Jeff Mills returned to Los Angeles last night for a free show at Hollywood’s King King club. Sponsored by Scion AV, partnered with Droid Behavior, it was a too rare glimpse for SoCal locals of the master at work. Having just released his new album on Axis Records, The Power, the latest installment in his excellent “Sleeper Wakes” series, Mills brought a fresh crop of new material to his set.

Along with a Roland TR-909 drum machine and three turntables, he chipped out a virtual cave of abstract, liquid techno. His rhythms gracefully switched from driving trains and pulverizing stompers to start-stop breaks and funky backbeats.

Jeff at the controls, with TR-909.

His trademark taste for intricate high-hats and fractional time signatures was also on full display, exploding percussive patterns into endless exchanges of call-and-response like little eddies in a stream.

The result is something like string theory’s wild p-brane dimensional propagation — mini Big Bangs sparking infinite worlds. But this isn’t quantum techno for its own sake. It’s intensely danceable too, irresistibly so. Mills uses these musical forms to simultaneously ease his audience into a quiet place where contemplation can co-exist with kinetic action.

Infused in the double-helix DNA of Mills’ music is an equally powerful manifestation: his spatially dynamic tones and sparkling melodies. This often takes the form of parabolic strings or symphonic builds. Minor chords are a favorite but flashes of majors interject with brilliant points of light.

His classic ‘The Bells,’ which he used in his encore, is a prime example. It ranges through the downward to the upward like a marionette tacked to a spiral galaxy. Over the course of three hours at King King, Mills also explored a deep repertoire of melodic techniques and shapes.

Some synth lines twinkled above like stars. Others rattled forward and backward like sticks running along a picket fence. Staccato. Ostinato. Arpeggio. But these terms fail to capture the true magic of Mills’ art.

The angel’s in the details. This is no truer of any other electronica artist. It takes concentration to perceive the relentless brilliance oozing out of every second of Mill’s work.

The man. The master.

Whether it’s the micro-tribalism of ‘Gamma Player’ or the bottomless gravity of ‘Perfecture: Somewhere Around Now,’ sharp ears find grandeur through the small. It’s no different when it comes to his DJ mixes. They work fine as laidback listens, chugging along as one sips a drink, but they transform into an entire way of being when one surrenders their full attention. There are lulls and restful oases to be sure, but these only accentuate a syncopated acceleration into the now.

This goes right back to the roots of Detroit techno. It was birthed in the industrial aftermath of the American car boom. In the same state that gave us Motown, Iggy Pop and the stark blues of John Lee Hooker, electronic technology and the Detroit artists that subverted it gave us a musical splinter that has pricked open the planet.

Dancers in the storm, in the sea, mind and body.

This wasn’t always the case, but thanks to LCD Soundsystem, Daft Punk and others, electronica is finally receiving the kudos it always deserved. And yet the real heroes of this movement need fuller recognition, especially in their own country. Mills, who currently lives part-time in Paris, France — a city that has long supported artists’ artists — has set up camp there to pursue his vision. His genius is fed and celebrated by France’s mainstream press and elite aesthetes. Like Miles Davis before him, it’s a haven of sorts, somewhere to keep the dream alive.

So it’s a real gift whenever Mills performs in the States, much less a “homecoming” to the fantasy factory of Hollywood, California. Detroit-style techno is only recently experiencing a heyday of sorts in Los Angeles and there is no better time for Mills, who earned the nickname “The Wizard” as Detroit’s fastest turntablist and radio rival to the Electrifyin’ Mojo, to show the way. He gave a perfect grace note to that history at King King when he played Derrick May’s gorgeous classic from 1988, ‘It Is What It Is.’

The Wizard holds it down.

Another measure of the man’s greatness is his personal kindness. He seemed truly touched by the thunderous ovation and the fans who swarmed the stage after his set. One brought an X-101 vinyl record for Mills to sign, a tribute to his days as co-founder of Underground Resistance. Others wanted their picture taken with him or to get a snapshot of Mills holding the 909 drum machine.

Throughout, he was a model of sweetness and patience, extending his hand when strangers reached out across the void.

Major props also go to the Scion AV team for bringing Mills out West again and to local techno leaders Vidal and Vangelis Vargas of Droid Behavior (who perform by the name Raiz) for warming up the crowd with deep grooves and high-tech elan.

Their rhythms had the perfect swinging gaps to loosen up everyone’s joints. All in all, a very special night for L.A.’s electro lovers. Let’s make it happen again and again.

Insomniac’s visionary “Night Owl Experience,” June 22, 2013. Photos by Thomas Kelley.

EDC Vegas 2013 and the Night Owl Experience — Oct. 16, 2013

When I look back across the mountains of time over my 38 years, there are a handful of music events that stand out to me. Daft Punk’s performances at Coachella in 2006 and the Los Angeles Sports Arena in 2007.

Groove Armada and Underworld at the Hollywood Bowl, along with LCD Soundsystem’s last tour. Groove Armada at Giant. Eat Static at the Mayan. Kraftwerk at Coachella in 2005 and in 3D at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2012.

Organic in 1996 in Snow Valley with the likes of Orbital, The Orb and the Chemical Brothers. Many Moontribes in the desert, but most of all its two-year anniversary on El Mirage in 1995. CPU101’s Pyrotechno-Discoworks the same year. The first Electric Daisy Carnival in 1997.

Bumble Bees on stilts and wings.

Along with my Burning Man trip in 1999, I put Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas, 2013, near the top of that list. It’s a high enough peak to not only echo everything that has come before, but to punch through the morass to show us we’ve only just begun.

I gave up seeing my brother play at the 20 year anniversary of Moontribe with a lot of old friends, so it was a big decision to go. I’ve now had a few months to think about it, and it is still with me, the sights and sounds, the people I met, the spectacular visuals, the over-the-top productions from rides to stages to fireworks.

Hard techno and hardcore area.

Also inspiring was the art on display, much of it influenced by Burning Man, which continues to dig its cultural roots across the West. But different from Burning Man was a coordinated Carnivale or Mardi Gras element, including troupes of themed dancers and costumed characters, some on stilts, others puppeteering a giant octopus, big ballooning dinosaurs or a swarm of psychedelic bumble bees. Equally impressive were the outfits, masks and “kandi” jewelry of EDC’s “headliners,” the kids and veteran ravers that travelled from as far as Seattle, D.C. and overseas.

The musical acts were refreshingly varied, from the synth grrrl pop of LaRoux to the headbanging drum ’n’ bass of Ed Rush & Optical. EDC Las Vegas was never lacking in quality music despite the ho-hum of more discerning techno fans.

Booka Shade at the HARD stage.

HARD brought consistent energy to the party, starting with Alex Metric and throwback nut Jacques Le Cont of Les Rhythmes Digitales, reaching for big highs with Major Lazer and Empire of the Sun, and floating back down to earth with Booka Shade, who closed the first night with a feel-good remix of Tom Petty’s ‘I Won’t Back Down.’

The Neon Garden featured some of the festival’s more legendary acts, including Richie Hawtin, John Digweed, Dubfire, Green Velvet and Sasha. It also featured some of V-Squared Labs’ most inspired yet restrained visual graphics to date, from luminescent Yin Yangs to colorful geometric vibrations.

Richie Hawtin gets techy in the Neon Garden.

It had perhaps the least packed attendance of all the stages. This was in part due to the swiss-cheese perimeter of the space but also because of its aged-up sound. On the last night, I could hear Art Department from afar hooking the kids deeper and deeper into a positive education, playing Murk’s classic ‘Fired Up!’ to brilliant, bass heavy effect.

The puckish spirit of Hunter S. Thompson was ever present at EDC (see photo at end), not just as a stilt marionette. The Bass Con zone, with its Miyazaki-looking gas mask flower soldier, kept the hardcore beats pumping all weekend, providing that anarchic, heady edge that has always been Pasquale Rotella’s wink to the full-on.

The “Wide Awake” Art Car, a bus in the shape of a boom box, drove around with DJs blasting beats all night long while the Circuit Grounds contained a massive airplane hangar design that invited a coliseum vibe, the masses eating up sets by Benny Benassi, Fatboy Slim and Fedde Le Grand.

But the reason why the event truly blew me away was the climax of the whole weekend, Pasquale’s “Night Owl Experience,” a cutting-edge theatre of rave’s past, present and future.

The Night Owl abides in the Kinetic Field.

Jason Bentley worked with DJ Dan and The Crystal Method to assemble the hour long set with Pasquale’s creative guidance, which included classics like Josh Wink’s ‘Higher State of Consciousness,’ Robin S’s ‘Show Me Love’ and a Bassnectar remix of Underworld’s ‘Rez.’

When that last track came on at the end, I pretty much lost it, not just because it was brilliantly placed at the peak of the whole weekend — it was also a key track at the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London — but because all these young kids from around the country and the globe were probably hearing it for the first time, and loving it.

The Electric Daisy

Before the “Night Owl Experience,” Steve Angello played an appropriately accessible but powerful set, his Euro-house tracks benefiting from the firepower of the Kinetic Field’s gigantic sound system and V-Squared‘s beautiful visuals.

“EDC, I’ve played all over the world,” Angello said to the crowd. “And I’ve never seen anything like this!”

No arguments here.

As the animatronic Night Owl shot lasers out of his eyes and cocked his head, furrowing his brow or looking quizzically onto tens of thousands of dancers, spider webs, cater-pillars, flags, silver costumed circus artists, the casino elite of Las Vegas, and reportedly former Disney CEO Michael Eisner in the VIP rafters, it was pretty clear we had entered a new age.

Hunter S. Thompson puppet. Photo by Thomas Kelley.

Check out more of our stories at GhostDeep.com, a digital magazine focused on electronic music, technology, art and the history of rave.



Thomas Q. Kelley

Editor-in-chief at ghostdeep.substack.com. Rave historian. From Los Angeles, Memphis and Paris.