If you are an avid listener of electronic music, which I’m guessing you are because you’re reading this, then you must know about the TR-909 and its lasting legacy. It is our bible, without it, you probably wouldn’t be reading this, as there’d be no Four/Four. Every rave you’ve ever been to, probably would have never happened. Listen, you know where I’m coming from by now and if you don’t, it’s time for me to explain the importance of this iconic drum machine… the Roland TR-909 Rhythm Composer.
Created in 1983 by Japanese electronics manufactures Roland, the TR-909 is responsible for the creations of genres like house and techno. It’s predecessor, the TR-808 is also responsible for the birth of genres like hip hop, but it wasn’t until the 909 came around that artists like Inner City, Frankie Knuckles and Mr. Fingers started experimenting with its new sounds.
The drum machine features a 16-step sequencer and is partially analogue & sample-based. Here’s a fun fact for you, when it was first produced, the 909 wasn’t that popular because it didn’t sound as realistic as the Linn and Oberheim, both of which were very successful at the time.
Things obviously changed when tracks like this were being created using the machine.
The 909 was pretty cheap to purchase at the time, at $1,200. With only 10,000 of the units made, it’s driven the price of the machine up radically – you’d expect to pay about $4,000 for one today. We won’t be forking out that kind of cash for the original, but Roland have recently released the TR-09, a smaller modern remake of the machine for 1/10th of the price a 909 goes for.
I could try to explain what each sound on the machine was like, and its characteristics, but it would come across as pointless when you could just watch this video of Jeff Mills tearing it up to a crowd of thousands only using the iconic machine.
With well over 30 years under its belt and many influential tracks, 2016 saw Roland officially announced September 9 as ‘909 Day’. A day that will be celebrated by many of us music nerds for a long time. Although there were many drum machines about at the time, this box has outlived all of them and let’s be honest, you will never ever hear a thumping kick drum, better than that of the 909. This isn’t an encyclopedia entry about a drum machine, you can look up Wikipedia for that. This is just my opinion on the greatest drum machine ever made and why we wouldn’t have what we do today without it.