Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
808: The Biography of a Drum Machine
Roland TR-808 was like the Hammond B-3 of drum machines, except it was only
produced during the span of 1980 to 1984. Ironically, the seeds of its demise
were embedded in its ingenious design. Yet, it remains the drum machine of
choice across a wide spectrum of electronic music. Alexander Dunn chronicles
the instrumental role played by the programmable box of beats in the
development of hip hop, pop, house, and electronica in 808 (trailer
which opens tomorrow in Los Angeles.
Ikutaro Kakehashi Roland Corporation introduced the 808 it was not the most
lifelike sounding drum machine on the market. Yet, that sizzle in its sound
became a huge part of its appeal. Its distinctive character was baked in
through the deliberate use of faulty transistors. As the computer component
industry perfected its production techniques, defective transistors were no
longer available for 808 production, hence its premature demise.
course, that only adds to the mystique. Dunn recruits a genuine hall of fame of
pioneering hip hop artists and producers, who all credit the 808 for being the
crucial bit of hardware that made it all possible. In the process, Dunn gives
viewers a history of the rise of hip hop, essentially from a studio engineer’s vantage
point. Frankly, it is refreshing to strip away the excesses now associated with
the music in order to concentrate on the early innovators who were all about crafting
the beats. It is a gritty, organic perspective on the music that is often lost
in today’s glitz.
the film, Dunn talks to the likes of Afrika Bambaataa, Questlove, Hank
Shocklee, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Rick Rubin, and Mike D and Ad-Rock from
the Beastie Boys. However, we also hear Phil “Sussudio” Collins, who explains
how the 808 will play repetitive patterns indefinitely that would bore a
flesh-and-blood drummer (and he ought to know).
approach is pretty straight forward, but the animated transitions presenting
each track under discussion as a 12-inch single give the film a nice look and
should definitely appeal to the target demo. The way he brings the film full
circle with Kakehashi in Japan is also quite nice.
Dunn and co-screenwriter Luke Bainbridge make a
pretty persuasive case for caring about the 808 even if viewers are not fans of
Hip Hop, Techno, House, Crunk, Drum & Bass, Dubstep, Acid Rock, or EDM, but
it certainly doesn’t hurt if they are. For an expression of gear love, it is
quite tight, focused, and informative. Recommended for tech-savvy pop music
fans, 808 opens tomorrow (12/9) at
the Arena Cinelounge in LA and also releases exclusively on iTunes.
Labels: Documentary, Roland TR-808