The Roland TR-808 is one of the most distinct, influential and beloved instruments of the early Eighties, with the electronic rhythm composer used by everyone from Talking Heads and Afrika Bambaataa to Marvin Gaye and the Beastie Boys. Even Kanye West devoted an album title to the instrument’s unmistakable sound. In 2015, the story behind the landmark machine will hit theatres thanks to 808, a documentary that focuses on the Roland TR-808 and its cult following, and Rolling Stone has your first look at the film’s trailer.
The doc features interviews with many marquee drummers and artists who have utilized the machine, including Damon Albarn, Phil Collins, Diplo, New Order, Fatboy Slim, David Guetta, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Talking Heads’ Chris Frantz and Lil Jon. Talking about Bambaataa’s seminal “Planet Rock,” one of the first hits constructed out of an 808, Pharrell Williams says, “‘Planet Rock’ just did something else too. We never heard anything like that before.”
“The rhythm of an 808 has its own internal groove,” Rick Rubin says of the instrument that was the backbone of the Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill, while Questlove adds, “It’s the futuristic thing I ever heard. A drum inside a machine.”
The documentary also answers a question that has troubled music fans for years: Why was the Roland TR-808 discontinued so quickly at the height of its success and influence? In an exclusive interview, 808 talks to Roland founder Ikutaro “Mr. K” Kakehashi to solve the mystery.
“Making a documentary about a drum machine, a piece of electronic equipment, is an interesting challenge,” director Alexander Dunn said in a statement . “It has no voice of its own, so as a protagonist, it’s rather difficult to mold a story around. 808 has really been a journey of discovery for me. One that led myself and the team to meet over 50 musicians and artists from all around the world, hearing their personal stories about the 808 and the music they created using its iconic sounds. Those artists and musicians are the real protagonists of the film and the 808, in the hands of our contributors, would change music forever.”
808 was produced by Atlantic Films, You Know Films and Arthur Baker. An era-spanning soundtrack featuring many of the greatest hits produced by a Roland TR-808 will accompany the film.