Happy 808 Day! Check out this documentary about the classic Roland drum machine
It being August 8th (8/08), it is customary to a groundbreaking piece of kit that still forms the backbone of much electronic (and indeed popular) music, close to four decades on from its launch.
Dubbed the ‘Fender Stratocaster of the electronic music world’, the Roland TR-808 was launched in 1980, and was only strictly ‘on the market’ for three years, being discontinued in 1983 to make way for the TR-909.
But while early critics pointed to the ‘robotic’ and ‘toy-like’ drum sounds, the 808 was soon immortalised in popular culture, providing the space age backing for everything from Marvin Gaye to Afrika Bambaataa, and from Phil Collins to the Beastie Boys.
Remember the classic opening scene of Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense, where David Byrne stutters across the stage to the rat-a-tat-a-tat sound emerging from his tape deck? That’s an 808 providing the beats.
As the New Yorker so eloquently put it in an article from last year, “the introduction of Roland’s magic box was indisputably the big bang of pop’s great age of disruption, from 1983 to 1986. The 808’s defiantly inorganic timbres … sketched out the domain of a new world of music”.
Check out this snippet of a documentary from 2001, The Shape Of Things That Hum, in which drum and bass legend Ray Keith, Orbital, Coldcut’s Matt Black and hip hop composer Arthur Baker wax lyrical about the ‘miracle machine’.
[Kudos to synthesizervideos and PayingDebtToKarma for the YouTube uploads, and of course to Roland for providing the soundtrack to a myriad of epic tunes]