909rewind Vol. 16… Celebrate The 808

Welcome to 909rewind, a series from 909originals that explores the early musical careers of some of clubland’s biggest names, uncovering hidden gems and familiar classics from the archives.

We dive into an artist’s back catalogue to uncover rare singles, albums, productions, remixes and more… the tracks that helped shape their sound and set them on the path to legendary status.

This week, however, it’s the equipment that’s the star, as we track the development of one of the most legendary pieces of kit in electronic music history, the Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer.

It is ‘808 Day’, after all.

Launched in 1980, musical purists initially scoffed at the 808’s attempts to emulate real percussion, despite the keenly-priced unit promising ‘up to 768 measures of programming at a time’ and ‘more percussive variants and more effects than virtually any other unit on the market’.

Early advert for the Roland TR-808

But Roland founder Ikutaro Kakehashi’s infamous creation would go on to play a key role in the development of many of the genres in mainstream popular music, including hip hop, dance and R&B.

Its booming bass drum, in particular, proved an inspiration for the nascent techno and acid house movements in the mid- to late-80s. [Take a bow, 808 State!]

As Throbbing Gristle’s Chris Carter told Sound on Sound in 1997, “The 808 went on to appear on more records (probably) than any other drum machine in recent history, at times it seems as if every style of music has embraced the 808 at some point, with some existing because of it. Disco, hip hop, techno, industrial, electro, newbeat, rap, scratch, jungle and more.

“Over the years the 808 sound has gone out of fashion, come back in again, gone out again and so on and so on. All it seems to take is one or two high profile remixes or hits featuring an 808 and it’s hip again.”

For 909rewind Vol. 16 (8 + 0 + 8 = 16, get it?), we pay tribute to this groundbreaking, epoch-defining machine, by featuring a selection of tracks in which the 808 plays a pivotal role (yes, even Whitney Houston).

Happy 808 Day! 🙂

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