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A Guide to Roland Beats

by Jason Gubbels

A Guide to Roland Beats

About this playlist

In early 1980, Japan's Roland Corporation, an electronic software and musical instrument manufacturer, released a programmable drum machine called the TR-808, intended largely to aid musicians looking for simple electronic beats for demo purposes. Unlike the nearly simultaneously released Linn LM-1 Drum Computer, Roland's beats weren't digital samples -- in fact, the beats didn't sound much like real drums at all. But it was far more affordable than the $5,000 Linn LM-1, and as is so often the case in popular music, consumers voted with their wallets. Hence, although many established performers embraced the world-class digital beats of the Linn Drum, it was the cheaper and simpler Roland 808 that quickly found favor within a burgeoning underground of hip-hop and dance producers.

Roland followed up the TR-808 in 1983 with the Roland TR-909, which incorporated samples and a 16-step sequencer even while retaining the fakey sound of the 808. Again, affordability paid off. And in between the release of both drum machines, Roland unveiled a bass synthesizer/sequencer known as the TB-303, halting production after less than two years due to a muted market reception. Several years later, DJs and producers would flip over the 303's simple oscillating pattern, using it as the bedrock of an emerging new style of dance music: acid house.

Our playlist takes a quick tour through some of the more iconic musical performances that owe their distinctive sound to the Roland Corporation. We've even broken things down by drum/bass machine to highlight each instrument, opening each section with a track that calls out the synthesizer in question by name. So, our 808 selections kick off with "Spanish Heart" from 808 State, the Manchester electronica outfit who so loved the Roland synth they named themselves in its honor. Our 909 cuts begin with Homework-era Daft Punk, who gave Roland a shout-out on "Revolution 909." And while our selections of 303-derived tracks obviously lean heavily upon acid house performers, Fatboy Slim launches things with an early big beat classic, "Everybody Needs a 303." Shout-outs to corporations rarely get so joyous.

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