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We're Up All Night To Get Artsy

51st Street Speakeasy is hosting art show dedicated to history’s greatest robotic dance-music duo: Daft Punk.

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[Editor’s note: It was announced on May 15 that the show has been postponed until July 2.]

It’s safe to say that there are few musical artists in the history of pop culture with a more defined or recognizable visual character than Daft Punk. The persistent robotic persona, complete with their iconic and intricately designed helmets, are as much a part of the duo’s legacy as their groundbreaking, infinitely acclaimed albums, and arguably helped to spawn the trend of DJ’s and EDM performers putting as much effort into their visual image as their music.

Little wonder then why James Nghiem and Mike Allen decided that Daft Punk would be the perfect theme for the next installment of their longrunning pop-centric art showcase at 51st Street Speakeasy this summer. The original date, set for the first week of June, has been postponed to July 2 due to unforeseen circumstances.

“We’ve been talking about it for a really long time,” Allen said. “I think since even before they announced they were breaking up.”

With more than a dozen of these shows at the Speakeasy under their belts, each with a different, sometimes wacky, pop culture theme, Nghiem and Allen have built a reputation for curating some serious can’t-miss pop-art celebrations. In addition to more than 70 bespoke artworks on display (and for sale,) you can expect live music, costumes, films, and even custom cocktail creations from the bar in honor of the night’s theme.

“We’re always trying to make them almost like festivals in a sense, or just total celebrations,” Nghiem said. “It’s like mixed-multimedia art shows, full of things specific to each show. Like in the past we’ve had things like writers doing live readings or we’ve screened movies. For this one, we’ll have some DJ’s and we’ll be showing some of Daft Punk’s videos and films.”

Where some of the past themes have been darker or exceptionally niche (like the Kanye West/Metal Gear Solid mashup show “808’s and Solid Snake”), this time around the aim was to do something a little more fun and lively.

“Part of the reason we wanted to do Daft Punk this time was because the last one we did, last year, still in the middle of the pandemic, was Haruki Murakami, so it was a very introspective and very insular show,” Nghiem explains. “So now for this one, it’s like, things are more open. Let’s party!”

That “music’s got me feelin’ so free” attitude is set to be the driving force behind the night, with Nghiem and Allen looking forward to showcasing art from some established Oklahoman artists, but also from a number of more amateur creators just looking to have fun and make something to celebrate their own love of Daft Punk.

“I feel like a lot of new or first-time artists join our shows because it’s not a traditional gallery space where you have to already be established,” Allen said. “With a lot of the artists at our shows, sometimes this is the only time they ever show their art.”

The guys say that fostering that kind of encouraging, ground-level community among amateur artists was part of what kicked off the idea of these pop culture art shows all the way back in 2015 when Nghiem partnered with Speakeasy on a lark for a local art showcase all about “Street Fighter.”

“These ideas just get people excited,” Nghiem said. “It gets people making art who maybe haven’t made anything in a long time, and it just puts people in the same room together where they can talk and share a beer and just discuss their art and what they like about these themes that we put out there.”

Award-winning local painter Maurice Perez jumped at the chance to memorialize his musical idols with his piece “Over It,” presenting the robots as classic Disney-esque cartoon characters.

“It feels really great to just make something quick and fun,” Perez said. “And it’s Daft Punk. I couldn’t pass that up.”

The appeal for these shows reaches far beyond just the artists, though, with some of the events bringing nearly 1,500 people through the Speak’s doors in just one night, many looking to drop a little money on some cool, locally-made art of a subject they know and love.

That’s a huge plus when it’s all for charity.

“Every show, we partner with the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma,” Nghiem said. “Feeding people is something pretty much everyone can get behind, and dollars go a long way over there. The money we raise at these shows can go to pay for something like 7,000 meals.”

This time around, as the night is set to honor one of the biggest, most influential, and most crowd-pleasing acts of the past few decades, the expectations are high for a major turnout, and not just from people looking to get their hands on some awesome artworks. The festivities will be geared fully toward the party spirit that the band’s music was always built around, and you just might be surprised how far they’re willing to go to do it right.

“The Speakeasy guys keep telling me that Daft Punk is going to be performing,” Nghiem said with a wink. “I mean, I really doubt it, but we’ll see.”

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