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How To Get Daft Punk's Vintage Sound With Modern Gear

The robots' sound without the robots' budget.
January 30, 2014, 10:20pm

This article originally appeared in Noisey.

Hardware is expensive. And while those credit card applications in your mailbox might look like tasty propositions, you should trust us—we've made that mistake. And though we're not (yet) fully licensed financial advisors, we would suggest you find another way to pay for your G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome).

A ton of new analogue gear has hit the market over the past year, spearheaded by the portable Volca grooveboxes from Korg and stunningly cheap full analog synthesis from Arturia in the form of the Microbrute. But we will always be fascinated with the original equipment, the quasi-religious items of recent music history.

I'm talking about electronics which are part of modern music's mythology: Roland's TR-808 and TR-909 drum machines, the Linndrum and the creamy goodness of Moog synthesizers. Daft Punk are famous for their lush, analog sounds, jacking dancefloors the world over to the pulses of vintage circuitry. And because we're all obsessed with what equipment they used (rather than how they used it), vintage prices have soared astronomically in the last few years.

So how do you get the vintage sound with paying vintage prices? Join me on a journey to find eBay's best replacement options, so you don't need to spent the next 20 years looking for that deal of a lifetime.

DRUMS: Roland TR-808 / Roland TR-909 / Linndrum

These machines are electronic music, no doubt. Take a 909 bass drum at 128BPM, four to the floor, apply a dash of low pass filter and judicious hints of reverb and you've got a beat that'll entrall a room full of punters at 3AM like a psychic scamming a weeping widow. Daft Punk's heavy usage of them is not uncommon: broadly speaking, hip-hop is built on the 808, house and techno on the 909, and the quasi-realistic tones of the Linndrum have backed hundreds of pop hits. The originals are now worth thousands of dollars, and are… massive—huge hunks that take up your precious desktop/kitchen table/tour van space. So a ton of companies have taken up the challenge of recreating these boxes. MFB, Korg, Novation, Acidlab, x0xb0x and many more besides. OK, I don't have an 808 (and if I did, hell, I don't know if I'm man enough to know what to do with it). But I do have a Roland 909 AND a Novation Drumstation, which combines analog generation of most of the tones with PCM samples of the claves and cowbell.

Drumstation and Bass Station:

The Drumstation isn't a complete solution, however. One of the best parts about the 808 or 909 is the sequencer, so you'll need something to run that with. May I recommend the Korg Electribe, which features a 16-step sequencer and is easy to use, modeled on said original drum machines. It's cheap on eBay or comes new as the ESX1SD or EMX1SD.

ER-1-1 as sequencer:


Tanzbar
:

There's also German manufacturer MFB's Tanzbar, which isn't quite a true clone, but covers enough ground between the 808/909/606 that you might be satisfied with this one box.

POLY SYNTH: Roland Juno 106

The 80s were full of polyphonic synthesizers in two categories: the ones that the humble humans could afford, and the ones that ONLY Vangelis, Thomas Dolby, Stevie Wonder and Phil Collins could. The latter include the Jupiter 4, the Yamaha CS80 and the CMI Fairlight. Good luck finding any of these today, puny humans (though what the $20,000 Fairlight could do can now be done on any modern laptop).

Paul Hardcastle and the Fairlight:

The former category, the Akai AX series, Korg's Poly 800 and Roland's Juno series, were snapped up by floppy-haired synth acts and buzzcutted DJ producers everywhere. You'd have thought there'd have been enough Roland Juno 106 units produced to satisfy today's demand, but thanks to dodgy voice chips, their price remains high.

Here, thanks to some guy on Youtube, is some Daft Punk Juno action (Homework's "Rollin' and Scratchin'"):

I prefer the Juno 60 (but it has no MIDI support)—but for modern sounds, let's look to the great Dave Smith and his instruments. Dave Smith started a little company called Sequential Circuits, which produced the Prophet 5, Six Traks, Drumtraks, and the Pro One. He's still making synths today, and they're pretty sweet.

First, here's the Dave Smith Instruments (DSI) Tetra doing John Carpenter's "Escape From New York":

Then there's the DSI Mopho x4, basically a keyboard version of the Tetra. They've both got four analog voices, but if you get them together (and you can muster the $$$), you'll have an eight-voiced monotimbral polysynth.

Instant Daft Punk Swirly Goodness:

BASS: Moog Minimoog / Roland TB-303

Daft Punk were actually one step ahead of you and I, for the father of Thomas Bangalter was none other than the premier producer of Eurodisco after Moroder… one Daniel Vangarde. Vangarde masterminded Ottowan, whose "D.I.S.C.O." is probably in your head even as you read those letters.

Ottowan - "D.I.S.C.O.":

When recording your debut album in your parents' house, it probably helps if one of said parents is a hit record producer. But even if Vangarde had no input whatsoever, what's certain is the teenage Daft Punk had access to a Moog Minimoog, the holy grail of analog bass synthesis and another jewel in the crown of modern music. Scores of synths have tried to replicate the Model D, not least the new incarnation of Moog, Moog Music, whose Voyager synth takes its styling cues from the original, but cleans it up and adds all kinds of MIDI and stability. Therein lies the problem—part of the appeal of the Model D is that it is RAW. It's a freaking beast. Sure, it can do smooth, creamy lines but the width of the waveforms is, for want of a better word, supremely vintage.

Minimoog bass magic:

Your best bet in this arena would be a number of Moog offerings (as the Voyager itself is a considerable investment). For straight-up megabass, hit the Moog Minitaur, or for a wider range the Phatty or Slim Phatty will give you much Moog goodness. But their newest keyboard release is the Sub Phatty, which meets all demands. It's $1000 and snarls, brawls, churns and grits as much as your hearts desires.

Add the new Moog Minifooger Drive pedal for DIRT and FILTER because it does these things well and is the right price:

Moogerfooger Drive:

As for the Roland TB-303, which Daft Punk use a bunch but most famously in the breakdown of "Da Funk":

There's a complete hardware reproduction, down to the exact specifications of the case. It's called the Bass Bot TT-303, and it has MIDI and hopefully, all the quirks of the original.

I've never actually used one, so can't vouch for it. I have used an Arturia Microbrute. It isn't the same as a 303. But here's what it is: an analog synth that's the same size as a 13" laptop, with a semi-modular patchbay, a 64-step sequencer in the style of the Roland SH-101. It has four oscillator shapes, HP/BP/LP filters and has a keyboard (unlike the Minitaur).

SAMPLING/SEQUENCING: Roland S760 / E-Mu SP1200 / MPC2000xl

Before computers, tons of grey boxes existed to help us map out MIDI notes and generally rid ourselves of extinct lifeforms like drummers and bass players. Those boxes are still around, but they'll cost you. Because of its role in both hip-hop and French Touch house music, the E-mu SP-1200 (hugely lacking in features and rocking at a 12-bit sample resolution) will set you back around $2000.

The delightful Alan Braxe explaining the E-mu SP-1200:

Manufacturers are currently suggesting that yes, we will use computers forever but that there might be a way to enjoy their superior portability, power, and options without burning our eyes out staring at the screens. Native Instruments' Maschine and Akai's MPC Renaissance are two recent options, both of which are dedicated controllers for proprietary software. My go-to sample/beats machine is the MPC2000XL, which I love in spite of the fact that the fader is broken and four of the pads don't work. It sounds fat, is super easy to use, and makes me feel like hip-hop. At least for their first record, Daft Punk used masses of sequencers to power their productions. Their live setup, as shown at the top, points to an Alesis MMT-8 controlling affairs. I'm not convinced by the form of these new generation of controllers. Use the hardware with the computer or it's a dead weight, completely useless. Likewise, the MPC software will open but petulantly refuses to output any sound without the hardware plugged in. So to round off this paean to analog vibes, the Doepfer Dark Time sequencer.

Use your computer for what the MMT-8 can do, but turn to the Dark Time for modular-style sequencing:

And when you've collected all of the above… start saving up for your pyramid to store it all in:

Davo mastered eBay so completely that they banned him. Find him on Twitter - @battery_licker