Documentary about an iconic drum machine

Due out next year, Planet Rock And Other Tales of the 808 tells the tale of the Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer, a drum machine introduced in 1980 that helped define the sound of hip hop, house, and most electronic music for decades to come. (via @chris_carter_)


  1. Don’t worry, Beschizza, I haven’t forgotten.  If I ever manage to dig up my old TR-505, it’s yours, baby.

    1.  ugh. really? I appreciate what they’re going for, but I could barely watch the whole trailer. And I love electronic music and avant-garde editing.

      1. I couldn’t agree more.  The editing makes the people being interviewed look ridiculous.  Who edited it, Tim & Eric?  I will be seeing the doc though when it comes out.

  2. I had the first 808 that came to the Chicago area.  Used to have to draw knob diagrams to save settings between songs, so it would take about a minute and a half between songs, which sort of slowed down the sets.  We learned to do long intros sans drums so I could spin the dials for the next song and if I made a mistake it was disastrous.

    But it sounded so good you could practically just start it and go have a cigarette and people would dance at the Lucky  Number, Exit or O’Banions. 

    Had one knocked off a table about 2 hours before a show. Dead.  Called a music store out in Roselle and drove like a maniac to get a replacement.  Only problem is the tempo calibration was way off so everything was about 20% too fast.  Doing live electronic music in those days was really a high-wire act.

  3. I love my 808.  Boomp  boomp  boomp.  Call me a snob but the sampled sound just isn’t the same as the real thing on its own channel.

  4. Big Black used a Roland drum machine.  Steve Albini would have the band stop and yell “drum solo!”.

  5.  The 808 was an instant success. I think the story of the failure in its own time Roland TB 303 Bassline is more interesting. Here is a documentary narrated by the same dude who did the “Amen Break” documentary.

  6. Am I the only person in the world more infatuated with the Roland CR models like the CR-77 and CR-5000?   I like that old corny Wurlitzer organ sound.

  7. On the PBS history of rock series, they interviewed the early hip-hop bands and asked who had influeced them A couple of the mentioned Kraftwerk (!!!!) for their pioneering use of drum machines.  

    1. That series was fantastic! The part in particular was Afrika Bambaata reflecting on the influence being Kraftwerk and how he wanted to know who “these funky white boys from Germany that had this futuristic sound” were. 
      Watch here:

      Skip to 7:35

      Recommended viewing for reals.

    2. Why the surprise?   Have you never heard “Planet Rock?”  It’s Bambaataa remixing TransEurope Express.

      Right up until they went out of business in the late 2000s, one of my local hip hop shops still carried vinyl of Trans Europe Express (EarWax, ATL.)

      I used to play “Numbers” in my mix of over 110bpm hip hop at an all black club.  It’s not like I was introducing (all of) them to it, it’s a pretty established hip hop track.

      oh, and PS the trailer video is super wack, imo.

  8. My brother worked a coop placement at a music store in 1990 or so, and they gave him an old TR-808 that was lying around that nobody wanted. 

    Boy oh boy that thing was fun fiddling around with.

    I think he sold it a few years back for a considerable amount of money.

  9. There’s a great feature length documentary (c. 1998?) about a bass line device from the same era. But I forget the name.

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