Tuesday, July 28, 2015

NZIFF 2015: Film 8; 808

Ladies & Gentlemen, May I present to you, the one, the only... Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer!

Whats its about? This documentary traces the origins of this iconic musical instrument and it's undoubted influence on many musicians who created history with its singularly unique sound.

You may not have ever heard directly of the Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer (Drum machine), but it's a device that shook the foundations of so many different musicians who found that it's theoretical limitations were in fact, the very reasons why they not only adopted the 808, but made it the foundation stone for a huge slab of songs that define the word 'classic'. Sexual Healing by Marvin Gaye, Planet Rock by Afrika Baambaataa, Licence to Ill (Album) by the Beastie Boys, Face Value (Album) by Phil Collins (alongside real drums - obviously!) are a few examples. Where it really took hold was with the Rap/Hip-Hop and Dance communities, who loved one key sound in particular - the ultra-low bass sound that added an x-factor to their recordings. Indeed, it's well argued by more than a few of the interviewees, that ''No 808? No Rap. No Hip-Hop. No Dance"

By reversing a cliched saying, "never let the story get in the way of the undisputed facts", here are a couple of them that make things even more interesting. The 808 got it's distinctive 'non-drum-like' sound from faulty transistors that were throwaways due to them not meeting the manufacturing minimum standard. That changed almost overnight when the manufacturing process improved, sending the defect rate from a then acceptable 3% to almost 0%! And considering that vital component was the key to the 808's sound meant its lifespan was over within 3 years. Only 12,000 TR-808's were ever built.

With over 50 different musicians, producers & artists attesting to its unique charms, the 808 has amassed a cult following which has now created both huge demand & high prices for anybody lucky enough to score themselves an original unit.

This informative and highly entertaining documentary delivers a tale that needs to be told, reminding us not only of the key people, but key instruments such as the 808 which are indisputable to their place in musical history...

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