i-D Magazine

i-D Magazine

808: the beat that changed music

A track by track look at the '808' soundtrack with Director Alexander Dunn and Co-Producer / Music Supervisor Matthew Jarman.

Chronicling the incredible story of the Roland TR-808 drum machine: a small but powerful piece of technology that changed the course of music history forever. 

You might not know what a Roland TR-808 is, but you sure as hell know what it sounds like. Hard, aggressive and with an internal, inimitable groove all of its own, this little machine redefined music in the first part of the 80s: transforming dance at a time when styles were changing and new musical movements meant new musical instruments.

The Roland TR-808 left such an large footprint in fact, it is now the subject of its own film, 808, released exclusively via Apple Music on 9 December. Directed by Alexander Dunn and featuring contributions from -- take a breath -- Pharrell Williams, Afrika Bambaataa, Questlove, The Beastie Boys, Damon Albarn, David Guetta, Phil Collins, Diplo, New Order, Norman Cook and Rick Rubin among others, it chronicles the cultural impact of the machine, culminating in a meeting with Roland founder Mr. Ikutaro Kakehashi in Japan. Accompanied with a soundtrack to rival any -- and out now via Big Beat Records -- it is a fitting document to the influence and legacy of this most iconic of musical instruments. 

Vice | THUMP - 808ies

Vice | THUMP - 808ies

Move Over 'Stranger Things,' This Ad for the Roland 808 Is All the 80s Nostalgia You Need

Today, August 8, aka 808 day, marks a yearly occasion in which we celebrate the Roland TR-808, one of the world's first programmable drum machines that's been responsible for the development of genres ranging from acid house to trap music. Produced between 1980 and 1984 by the Japanese electronic company, though still widely used today in both the studio and live space, the beloved piece of gear is still a cornerstone of dance music and was even the subject of a full-length documentary released earlier in the spring. The hardware was officially discontinued in 1983, and remaining models can either be in poor working condition, or exorbitantly expensive.

In lieu of today's holiday (um, why do we not have off work again?), we've come across an alleged Roland advert from 1980 that explains some of once-revolutionary features from the drum machine—the spot highlights features like built in memory and "realistic sounds"—as well as some synthy sounds reminiscent of recent smash hit TV series Stranger Things, as well as 80s motion picture Tron.