Happy 808 Day!

Aug 8, 2008 at 1:45 pm

(Written by Christian "Computer Love" Schaeffer; for another take on great moments of the 808, check out this blogpost from our sister paper in Denver.)

Today is one of those numerically magical dates: 08/08/08. It comes around once every one hundred years, and this century we’re using it to kick off the Olympics in Beijing. While that’s all well and good, music geeks worldwide are using today to celebrate the Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer drum machine, arguably the most famous drum machine ever made and an irreplaceable piece of electronic music history.

The 808 can be heard on countless hip-hop and R&B songs from the ’80s: it was relatively inexpensive and easy to program, and its signature kick-drum, snare and hand-clap sounds are imprinted onto our collective subconscious. Techno and acid-house artists resurrected the 808 in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and along with the Roland TB-303 Bass Line synthesizer, these wonderfully limited machines (and their many imitators) can be heard across many genres.

Marvin Gaye, "Sexual Healing":

Used units turn up on eBay for well over $1,000, but you can sample the 808’s work through the magic of YouTube. Music Thing has collected a number of great historical and instructional videos, including this ten-minute history of the machine that includes interview with Orbital and Arthur Baker. Below are some of my favorite examples.

[ANNIE ZALESKI says: EMAIL ME your favorites, and I'll add them after Christian's. Two of my faves are there...]

Whitney Houston, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”

Beastie Boys, “Brass Monkey”