By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - French electronic dance music duo Daft Punk scored their first No. 1 album on the U.S. Billboard 200 album chart on Wednesday, as their risk to use retro technology paid off with fans.
"Random Access Memories," the highly anticipated fourth studio album from Daft Punk, sold 339,000 copies in its first week, according to figures from Nielsen SoundScan. That was the group's best sales week to date.
Digital downloads of the album were approximately 65 percent of overall sales, with 221,000 copies downloaded.
Daft Punk, formed by childhood friends Thomas Bangalter, 38, and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, 39, were at the forefront of electronic dance music in the 1990s, fusing synthesizers and computers to create music on hits such as "Around the World." Daft Punk became popular figures in the dance music field, known for wearing shiny helmets on stage and being elusive and unpredictable.
For the release of their latest album, they stayed away from big stages and instead launched it at a small music festival in the small Australian town of Wee Waa on May 17, which they themselves did not attend.
After the 2005 album "Human After All," Bangalter and de Homem-Christo said they took time out to explore "uncharted territories" in their field, waiting eight years before releasing "Random Access Memories."
"It's always been a quest (with the) making of each record, somehow reinventing ourselves a little bit, and this time we feel like it's the same musical influence somehow that we maybe had 15 years ago on our first record," Bangalter told Reuters ahead of the album's release.
"Random Access Memories" is not just an homage to the dance floor music of the late 1970s but an attempt to capture the actual time period itself, the duo said.
"If you listen to Pink Floyd records or the majority of the albums in the late 1970s, they were really experimenting with art, elegance, radicality and integrity," Bangalter said. "That was inspiring for this record, to try to do something that has certain elegance and certain experimentation to it."
The new album features numerous collaborators, including singer Julian Casablancas of the Strokes, veteran Italian music producer Giorgio Moroder and R&B singer Pharrell Williams, who lent his vocals to the raunchy dance floor track "Get Lucky."
ANALOG IN A DIGITAL WORLD
After inspiring a new wave of electronic dance music DJs in the past decade that has included David Guetta, "Random Access Memories" sees Daft Punk strip away all digital components, recording solely with live instruments onto analog tape in a studio setting.
"Digital technologies are more efficient at working on other aspects of music, like dynamic and energetic qualities," Bangalter said.
"In the same way that sometimes a film camera seems to grab a moment in raw emotion than with a digital camera, that's what analog tape usually is ... it tends to - and we don't know why - grab a magic moment that is emotional."
The risk of going analog appears to have paid off, as the duo topped the Billboard chart with the second-highest debut album of the year, behind only Justin Timberlake's "The 20/20 Experience," which opened in March with 968,000 copies.
"Get Lucky," which first premiered as a music video broadcast at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Southern California in April, has been streamed more than 33 million times globally on Spotify since its April 18 release.
Daft Punk led four new albums debuting in the top 10 of the Billboard chart this week. Darius Rucker, frontman of rock group Hootie & the Blowfish, entered the chart at No. 2 this week with his country solo effort, "True Believers," selling 83,000 copies.
Rock band The National landed at No. 3 with "Trouble Will Find Me," while rapper French Montana rounded out the debuts in the top 10 this week with his first album, "Excuse My French," at No. 4.
Rockers 30 Seconds to Mars landed at No. 6 the album "Love Lust Faith + Dreams," while last week's chart-toppers, Vampire Weekend, fell to No. 7 this week as sales of "Modern Vampires of the City" dropped by 64 percent.
(Editing by Eric Kelsey and Bill Trott)