On January 20th, 1997 – 25 years ago today – Daft Punk released their debut album, Homework. They hadn’t planned to release an album, but they’d spent five months recording tracks and decided they had enough material for an album. In a 1997 interview, Thomas Bangalter stated that “The Homework title relates to the fact that we made the record at home, very cheaply, and very quickly and spontaneously, trying to do cool stuff.” Many of the songs on Homework had been made to play live in clubs, so the album has a raw, live feel to it.
In a 1999 interview with a Japanese magazine, Daft Punk listed all the gear used on Homework and even outlined their typical recording process. The gear listed is mostly vintage Roland, including a Juno-106, MC-202, MKS-80 and a TB-303 alongside a digital Sequential Prophet-VS.
For drum machines, they listed the LinnDrum and Roland TR-707, TR-808 and TR-909 as the drum machines used on the Homework. They used E-mu SP1200, Ensoniq ASR-10 and Roland S-760 samplers alongside a host of effects, sequencers, and mixers.
This article focuses on the synth sounds of Homework and how to recreate them using modern softsynths. I’ve recreated Da Funk and Around the World and the presets that I created for the remakes are available for free download at the end of the article. This is a follow-up to last year’s Daft Punk’s Discovery Synth Sounds article, which I recommend checking out after this one!
Da Funk was the first single to be released from Homework and was played live from as early as 1995. It features a distorted guitar-like melody playing over a relentless 4-to-the-floor beat before a famous acid-bass synth line ends the song. Before I start talking about where the sounds came from, here’s my remake, created from scratch with no samples from the original song:
The distorted synth line has a characteristic band-passed sound run through distortion, which creates a sound similar to an overdriven electric guitar. The melody is played in perfect fourths throughout, so the original patch likely had an oscillator tuned to a fourth.
The common belief is that the Da Funk lead synth sound is a Korg MS-20, but the MS-20 wasn’t listed by Daft Punk on their Homework or Discovery gear lists. There are no photos of them using a Korg MS-20 and they’ve never mentioned the MS-20 in their interviews. Although the MS-20 is a strong contender for the Da Funk sound because of its high-pass filter and the ability to patch in distortion. I think it’s more likely that they used their Roland Juno-106 or MKS-80, both of which have high-pass filters, run through a distortion pedal such as the Ibanez Fat Cat Distortion seen in the below live pictures:
The Da Funk lead synth also sounds like it’s been sampled and played back from a sampler. The beginning note of each phrase has a slightly different envelope time – the higher note’s envelopes playback faster than the lower note envelopes, which is characteristic of vintage samplers. The may have sampled the sound play a fourth, letting them play or program the melody using only one note. Note that I didn’t sample the sound for my remake, so the envelope times are a little off compared to the original.
I recreated the lead sound using TAL U-NO-LX, a software emulation of the Juno-106 run through Brainworx bx_greenscreamer plugin, which emulates an Ibanez Tubescreamer pedal. Onboard distortion and overdrive effects in guitar amp simulators like Guitar Rig or Amplitube would also be suitable. Most of the sound comes from the character of the distortion pedal, so experiment with different models for different sounds. Here is the sound before and after distortion:
- Single Line Clean 00:00
- Added Fourth 00:00
- Tubescreamer 00:00
Da Funk 303
Halfway through the song, the kick drum drops out and an acid bassline is introduced. Interestingly, the bassline wasn’t programmed with Da Funk in mind, it was just one of a few bass lines that Bangalter had programmed on his TB-303, and the one that best fit Da Funk.
“The bassline itself was from a 303 l’d bought in 1993. I’d just made all these random patterns, so when we were looking for a bassline, we listened to some of the ones I’d already programmed and took the one that fit best.” – Daft Punk, Musik (1997)
The Roland TB-303 is a monophonic bass synthesizer originally intended to emulate bass guitars, which it does a terrible job of. It was quickly discontinued, which allowed cheap units to fall into the hands of electronic musicians who favoured it for its aggressive, screeching filter and onboard sequencer. Because the 303 is such a simple unit with only one oscillator and one envelope, the magic lies in how you program the sequencer. Notes can be set to glide and this can be combined with big octave jumps to create dramatic slides.
303 synth parts are usually recorded by programming a 16-step sequence and changing the filter settings manually while the sequencer plays. The 303’s sequencer only has a three-octave range from C1 to C4 and the Da Funk bassline, which runs from F1 to F4, was likely sequenced in another key and transposed using the 303’s tuning knob to help it fit the key of Da Funk.
Below is my patch for Da Funk using AudioRealism’s ABL3 plugin, an accurate software emulation of the TB-303. Similar to the lead sound, the 303 in Da Funk has been run through a distortion pedal. The ABL3 plugin features onboard distortion which can be added via the small drive and distort knobs at the top-right, which I’ve cranked to almost the maximum settings.
- Da Funk 303 00:00
I also used TAL U-NO-LX to recreate the bass synth. It’s a simple patch using a single sawtooth wave, and the filter os closed almost all the way to let only the bass frequencies through. The ADSR envelope is set up with medium decay and sustain at halfway, which is applied to the filter and VCA to create a subtle plucking motion.
- Bass with Beat 00:00
The brass hit sample that plays through most of the song is from the Zero-G Datafile Three sample CD from 1992, where it appears as track 63, Dance Stabs. All credit to Aguila909 on Reddit for unearthing this sample!
The drums are a mixture of sampled drum breaks and programmed drum machines. The main beat is sampled from Vaughn Mason And Crew’s Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll and the drum fill at 0:23 is sampled from Barry White’s I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little More. The hi-hats that join the beat at 1:43 in my remake are from the Roland TR-909.
- Dance Stab 00:00
- 909 Hats 00:00
Around the World
Around the World is a classic French House banger that featured a Michel Gondry (of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind fame) music video. The song is simple and highly repetitive, featuring only one vocal line repeated 144 times in the full 7:44 album version. There are a minimal number of sounds in the track that get played in various combinations, proving that if the groove is right, repetition can work. Here’s my full remake:
Around the World is built around a simple bass sound that plays three different bass lines throughout the song. The main bassline shares a strong resemblance to the one in Good Times by Chic, whose guitarist Niles Rogers the duo would collaborate with on 2013’s Random Access Memories.
Daft Punk could have recorded the Around the World synth-bass on any of their synths, but I’ve recreated it in TAL U-NO-LX. To create the patch yourself, start with a simple sawtooth wave, lower the filter to 2.7 and crank the resonance to the point where it’s high but not quite screeching (6.89 in TAL U-NO-LX). Add a tiny amount of envelope modulation by raising the ENV fader to 2 and set the ADSR envelope with an attack time of 1, decay of 6 and no sustain to give the patch a subtle pluck. Here are all three basslines played using my TAL U-NO-LX preset:
- Bassline 1 00:00
- Bassline 2 00:00
- Bassline 3 00:00
Four funky lead sounds play throughout Around the World, with two only appearing during the outro. The main synth lead is a bouncy lead that uses high filter resonance and a synced delay effect to create a funky, rhythmic effect. I again recreated this sound using TAL U-NO-LX, this time with the square wave DCO waveform selected. Set the filter to 3, resonance to 6 and envelope modulation to halfway. The envelope has attack time set to 2, which works with the resonance setting to create a funky wah-wah sound.
- Organ 1 // Organ 2 00:00
The delay effect is a tempo-synced stereo delay with a 1/8th note delay time in the left channel and a dotted 1/8th note delaying the right channel. The mix level is 25%, feedback is 40%, and I adjusted the delay’s onboard filter to roll off the high frequencies. Here are my settings using Ableton’s Delay effect:
Towards the end of Around the World, the beat drops out and two new outro synth parts get introduced. The two sounds work together to create a musical sequence reminiscent of some later melodies on Discovery, such as Aerodynamic or Veridis Quo, both of which I covered in my Discovery Synth Sounds article.
- Outro Synth 1 00:00
- Outro Synth 2 00:00
- Layered 00:00