Everything about their career defies time. They sample 70s music into house classic. After years of being together they’re still as relevant as they’ve ever been, and in a time where we are used to annual album releases, they’ll wait painfully long between releasing records. Homework in 97, Discovery in 2001, Human after all in 2005, and their latest album, Random Access Memories in 2013, shows their ability to use sounds from past eras. It was one of the biggest records of the year and even won a Grammy for being the best album. So let’s look at how Daft Punk uses classic sounds to make modern hits.
From computerized sound to acoustic instruments
Random Access Memories was made in a completely opposite way. Every single track except one, Doing it Right, was made recording live instruments. You can hear it in “Give Life Back To Music” (Random Access Memories). Notice the live drums, live guitar.
Even the synthesizers on this album didn’t come out of a computer. They ordered a massive analog synth to make all of the electronic sounds. All of the variations in the temperature and plugs would make every sound a little different, make it sound more alive. They used it on “Contact“ (Random Access Memories).
Random Access Memories: Going against established standards
Using live instruments and bringing in artists let Daft Punk experiment more. Instead of sampling live records, they could bring in the people that made those records, like Nile Rodgers.
“So it’s that single note thing in the middle of that chuck that makes the melodies and the licks just sort of jump out you because I’m playing a melody in between playing the rhyme, so you hear [Le Freak].”
Along with the rock, funk, and electronic influences, Daft Punk also made an orchestral arrangement of every song on the album. Most of them didn’t make it in but you hear it in songs like “Beyond” (RAM).
Random Access Memories: Innovative Recording Techniques
They also used intense microphone setups to get the sound that they wanted:
“When I came into the studio, everything was ready. I had three microphones and I said ’are they afraid one microphone would not work? so I asked the technican and he said ‘the one on the left is the old sound of the 60s, one of the 70s, and this is today’” (Giorgio Moroder).
They used 4 different microphones to record the kick drum and a standard of 2 microphones on everything else. That way they could combine the recordings of different microphones to get the sounds they wanted. For example, recording a piano, they’ll use two different microphones. They’ll take one and put it up by the hammers, near the keys. They’ll take the other and put it towards the back where the strings are. When they’re done they’ll take the recording of the hammer, put it in the center, and take the strings and put them on the outside to make a piano that sounds full.
Using computers also let Daft Punk manage an incredibly large number of tracks in one song. For example, the track “Touch” (Random Access Memories) is an absolute behemoth, they said it has 250 tracks in it. Listen to the wide array of sounds they used.
Daft Punks sound has advanced a lot over the years and it’s helped keep them relevant for an incredible amount of time. Their album Random Access Memories brought back a life to music that we hadn’t seen in a while. Their choice to use live instruments and recording brought a lot of character to the sounds. And they brought in some of the best players in the world to make these songs and explore new genres. They managed to make all these recordings with old school quality but bring in modern technology to make a record that sounds retro, but new.