British New Wave Pioneers, Duran Duran formed in 1978 in Birmingham, and after a series of personnel changes found lead vocalist Simon Le Bon and guitarist Andy Taylor, who joined Nick Rhodes, John Taylor, and Roger Taylor.
With their marriage of provocative visual elements and catchy high-energy songs, the band stood out immediately and harnessed MTV which had become a powerful medium for reaching a global audience.
Breaking the US did not happen overnight for Duran Duran, but when they readjusted their strategy to package themselves as a dance-orientated act it helped them bring their sophomore album, Rio, to a hungry new audience.
This was also due to the band embracing remixing, and creating different versions of their key tracks for formats including radio edits, video edits, and club edits for DJs to play.
The Duran Duran Sound
Much of Duran Duran’s sonic identity stems from creating music in the early 1980s, one of the most exciting times in the development of new and innovative instruments and studio technology.
Being musicians with a great deal of curiosity about technology really helped the band create some of their most popular tracks, as well as taking a slightly different approach with synthesizers, samplers, and other electronic instruments.
Roland Jupiter 4
Nick Rhodes’ Roland Jupiter 4 was an essential part of the Duran Duran sound from their 2nd album, Rio. Here’ Rhodes used the arpeggiator set to random on the intro of the lead single and title track.
This stuttery synth line gave the song an edgy feel, and it solidified the Duran production method of using arpeggiated synth lines almost like a click track that the rest of the band could easily track around.
Although Rhodes was a staunch analogue fanatic, he also loved the high-technology sound that the Fairlight gave Duran Duran records. Also, it offered editing flexibility that was unparalleled at the time.
The Fairlight allowed the band to use digital sampling in a way that really suited the aesthetic and context of the music. With Rhodes’ cutting-edge synth sounds it made sense to use something that offers a great deal of control.
Sampling has indeed come a long way since the Fairlight, and you can now get the features of a sampling workstation in the palm of your hand with the 1010music Blackbox.
- More about Sampling
Besides his favourite, the Roland Jupiter-8, Nick Rhodes loved the Elka Synthex which was an Italian-made analogue beast from 1981 with 8-voice polyphony, multimode filter, chorus, and cross modulation.
Most importantly, the Synthex was equipped with a 4-track monophonic step sequencer, which would have appealed to Rhodes’ love of sequenced and arpeggiated synth elements.
You won’t find a vintage Synthex for under $10,000 on the 2nd-hand market, but luckily Cherry Audio has a great recreation of this truly classic analogue synth.
- More from Cherry Audio
The legendary hexagonal Simmons drums with their modular head unit were first introduced in 1981. Although their sound was not realistic by any means, it certainly matched the theatricality of the musical landscape in the 1980s.
Roger Taylor didn’t use them exclusively as some drummers, but rather as additions that added that more electronic sound to his kit. You can hear the Simmons drums during the breakdown of Hungry Like The Wolf.
Luckily you can get great Simmons sounds without too much trouble these days with Reel Machines, the Addictive Drums 2 ADpak. The plug-in is easy to trigger from your keyboard or e-drum kit.
*Note that Reel Machines is an add-on for Addictive Drums 2
- More about Simmons
Aria Pro II SB-1000
Built for both comfort and speed, the SB-1000 was John Taylor’s main choice of bass in the early 1980s. The Japanese instrument company, Aria Pro designed the SB series with the body carved toward the head in a slope.
Another brave innovation was the Transmit Neck, which had advantages like sustainable resonance and gave the instrument a characteristically heavy but tight overall sound.
The SB-1000 also featured an active/passive switch that allowed you to switch between the two circuitry types.
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More about Duran Duran:
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- Roland Jupiter 4: Roland
- Fairlight CMI sampler (1979): Wikipedia
- Elka Synthex: Sound Gas
- Simmons SDS-V: EMEAPP
- Aria Pro II SB-1000: Talk Bass