When it comes to sampling, the goal is to be able to swipe a rhythm, hook, or melody line and transform it into something bigger than it was. The success rate tends to be varied – who’s to say whether Mariah Carey’s ‘Fantasy’ actually improved on the all-time groove of Tom Tom Club’s ‘Genius of Love’ or which version of ‘Walk This Way’ is better between Aerosmith and Run-DMC. As sampling became more complex, more obscure riffs and references began to be plundered by vinyl geeks and record shop nerds.
When Daft Punk released ‘Robot Rock’ in 2005, it was immediately embraced as a platonic fusion of the band’s dancefloor-ready sound and a heavier guitar-music influence that infiltrated Human After All. While the album received mixed reviews overall, ‘Robot Rock’ was enough of a hit single to keep the duo’s reputation intact. At the very centre of the song is an instantly memorable synthesiser riff that continues to pulse its way throughout the entire length of the song. Where did that sound come from?
For the answer, you’ll have to jump into a time machine and head all the way back to 1980. If you happen to land in Philadelphia and head to some of the funk and soul clubs around the city of brotherly love, there’s a chance that you might encounter Breakwater, the eight-man band that fused R&B with rock. Their music ranged from slow ballads to P-Funk style jams to rock numbers, and as the 1980s approached, the band embraced modern technology in their quest to conquer the world.
Unfortunately, 1980 proved to be the final year of Breakwater’s contemporary career. When their second album, Splashdown, failed to find a mainstream audience, the band decided to disband, catapulting them and their discography into relative obscurity. It wasn’t until California rapper Murs dusted off the song ‘Release the Beast’ for the intro track of his 2004 album Murs 3:16: The 9th Edition that ‘Release the Beast’ was ever sampled. It wouldn’t be long for the song to land its second reference.
Just six months after the release of Murs 3:16: The 9th Edition, Daft Punk either coincidentally stumbled onto the same ‘Release the Beast’ sample or tracked down where Murs find the synthesiser riff. Murs slows the riff down and changes its key to alter the keyboard line’s flavour, but Daft Punk liked the original so much that they build the entirety of ‘Robot Rock’ around it.
Breakwater would later reform in 2010 after their most notable riff took off thanks to its inclusion in ‘Robot Rock’. Check out the original version of the keyboard line from ‘Release the Beast’ down below and compare it to the sample used by both Murs and Daft Punk.