The story of The Rock Guitar of Hip-Hop: the Roland TR-808 35th Anniversary of the 808 - August 8, 2015 is #808day On August 8, 2015, Roland and the world celebrated the 35th anniversary of the TR-808 drum machine. While introduced in 1980, the production of the 808 was already cancelled three years later. This year, the documentary '808', directed by Alexander Dunn, looks back at the major influences and marks the machine has made in music. Already shown at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas in March, on August 8, 2015, the movie will premier in London at the British Film Institute. Below you find the story of the 808. Included are videos of some big hit songs, all featuring the 808.

What is the TR-808?
The 'TR' in TR-808 stands for Transistor Rhythm.

In 16 steps the 808 generates sounds using analog synthesis (no samples). The 808 is capable of storing 32 patterns through the step sequencer. Its max is the full 768 measures in which you can place accents on individual beats. It also features tempo and time signatures. The cool thing now, is that all the sounds are created through analog circuitry. While using this analog synthesis to create its sounds, among the complaints about the 808 one stood out: it didn't sound like a real drum kit. 'Too artificial,' was the common denominator at that time.

38 Years later, these limited sounds have proven themselves to be the most sampled, recorded, most iconic and best recognizable sounds in music. The 808 is probably the most famous drum machine ever made.

The 808 sold less than 12,000 units, and was in production for less than three years. In 1983 Roland cancelled production, also because the LinnDrum drum machine (Linn LM-2) appeared on the market in 1982 as the successor to the Linn LM-1, released in 1980. Although the 808 was about four times cheaper in price, and Roland sold more machines than Linn Electronics, the 808 did not have the digitally sampled sounds that were way more popular during those days. Hence, after three years, Roland ceased the production of the 808.
"The 808 is the Rock Guitar of Hip-Hop."

- Questlove

A quick 808-history
In 1963, Ikutaro Kakehashi, founder of the Roland company, was inspired by the Wurlitzer Sideman that was released in 1959. This device used tape loops that allowed users to play 12 predetermined drum patterns at varying tempos. In 1964, he introduced his version of a drum machine at the NAMM show: the Rhythm Ace R-1. This drum machine had no preset rhythms or patterns. When you pressed a button, you heard a corresponding drum sound. Watch it in the video below.

Ace Tone Rhythm Ace FR-1

From 1972, when Kakehashi officially started the Roland company, three rhythm machines were introduced: the TR-77, TR-55, and TR-33. These and a few other machines all led up to the moment in 1980, when Japanese electronic drum band Yellow Magic Orchestra debuted the Roland TR-808 on-stage with a song called 1000 Knives.

Yellow Magic Orchestra
Live at Budokan December 27, 1980

"The rhythm of the 808 has its own internal groove."

- Rick Rubin

The success story of the 808
In 1982, Afrika Bambaataa and the Soulsonic Force had released the Kraftwerk-sampling Planet Rock (video below). The song is filled with 808 sounds and is considered a classic in hip hop music. By the mid 80's the prices for a used TR-808 were so low that that you could get lucky and buy one for $100 - while the original retail price was $1,195.
That, and the fact that the 808 was used more and more by artists like David Byrne on his track Psycho Killer and the Beastie Boys on their 'Licensed to Ill' album, made the sounds of the 808 tremendously popular, especially in the R&B and hip hop scene.

Afrika Bambaataa & Soul Sonic Force - Planet Rock

The 808 in 2015
By now, artists like Pharrell Williams, David Guetta, Michael Jackson, Prince, Sly and the Family Stone, Diplo, Phil Collins, The Prodigy, Dr. Dre, Kraftwerk, Jean Michel Jarre, Cocteau Twins, Marvin Gaye, Luke Vibert, LL Cool J, Ice Cube, Kid Rock, the Beastie Boys, Rick Rubin and Puff Daddy all have used the 808 in the studio, creating huge hit songs and albums with it. The group 808 State actually named themselves after the TR-808.

This list of artists using the 808 could go on forever, but when checking this list below, you can probably directly sing the song that was created with the help of the Roland TR-808.
  • Marvin Gaye - Sexual Healing (1982)
  • Phil Collins - One More Night (1985)
  • Whitney Houston - The cowbell effect in I Wanna Dance With Somebody (1987)
  • Beastie Boys - Licensed to Ill (1986 album)
  • Paul Hardcastle - 19 (1985)
  • 2 Live Crew - Move Somethin' (1987)
  • Kanye West - 808 & Heartbreak (2008)
  • Lil Wayne - Lollipop (2008, snare drum sound)
"808" | The heart of the beat that changed music (Official Trailer)
The movie '808' features appearances and commentary from: Arthur Baker, Pharrell, David Guetta, Phil Collins, Lil Jon, Afrika Bambaataa, Norman Cook (Fatboy Slim), Rick Rubin, Diplo, Goldie and many more.

"It is crazy to think that a little machine like this, left such an important footprint in music."

- David Guetta

Video selection featuring the Roland 808
On the right you find the following videos that feature the Roland TR-808.
  1. S.O.S. Band - Just Be Good To Me
  2. Marvin Gaye - Sexual Healing
  3. Phil Collins - One More Night
  4. Paul Hardcastle - 19
  5. Whitney Houston - I Wanna Dance With Somebody
  6. 2 Live Crew - Move Somethin'
  7. Three 6 Mafia - Tear da Club Up
  8. YMO - 1000 Knives

Lil Wayne & Charlie Puth Nothing But Trouble
From the Soundtrack of the Documentary '808'

808 Day: Selected Events
On August 8th (8/08), the global music community will come together to honor the iconic Roland TR-808 drum machine, an instrument that's inspired countless artists and changed the face of contemporary music. The events will take place on what's been dubbed "808 Day," and festivities can be tracked on social media with the hashtag #808day.

Low End Theory is an influential, world-renowned L.A. nightclub that pushes the boundaries of experimental music. In celebration of 808 Day, they will be hosting the Low End Theory Festival 2015, an annual event now in its second year. It'll feature live music and production workshops with beat-making techniques and Roland synth demos, plus Roland-sponsored gear and T-shirt giveaways and surprises throughout the day.

Cutting-edge electronic music production and DJ school Dubspot is celebrating 808 Day on their New York and L.A. campuses. In honor of the TR that started it all, they're inviting all musicians to participate in beat production workshops and hands-on demos, and to enjoy artist performances, discounts on Roland TR-8s, special gear giveaways, and more!

Kerry Brown, a multi-instrumentalist, artist manager, record producer, engineer, composer, and founding member of L.A.'s Six01 artist collective, is sponsoring "8.08!" The event will take place at the Six01 Studio Sound Lab, and will feature live musical performances from David J (Bauhaus, Love and Rockets), Bon Harris (Nitzer Ebb), Brian Liesegang (Nine Inch Nails, Filter), and Kerry Brown (Catherine), as well as an art exhibition by CANTSTOPGOODBOY and Serj Tankian (System of a Down).
Recommended reading
Ikutaro Kakehashi and the Rise of the Rhythm Composer

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