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Instruments That Changed The Game: The Roland TB-303 Turns 30

 - Instruments That Changed The Game: The Roland TB-303 Turns 30 Photo: Steve Sims

30 years ago Tadao Kikumoto designed a little silver machine which by mistake and misuse would become one of the integral instruments in the development of electronic dance music – the TB-303. The little bass synthesizer with built-in sequencer was originally designed for bands or guitarists practicing without a bass player, but it was widely ignored or dismissed because of its sound, which was too far from emulating the sound of a real bass guitar. Even though bands and artists like Orange Juice, Imagination, Newcleus or Ice T incorporated the 303 in some of their songs in the early to mid 80s.

When Roland stopped its production only three years later, no one would have thought, that this little silver machine would soon be at the center of a new sound and a new globe spanning dance culture. But when a few young producers of Chicago’s burgeoning house-scene picked up used TB-303’s for a few bucks and started joyriding them,  playing simple note patterns over and over again and messing with the filter, resonance and cut-off like there was no tomorrow, the little silver box was born again.

Its distinctive endlessly tweakable liquid, squelching sound just fit perfectly with house music’s bare bones but funky rhythm-tracks, making for an even more intense, psychedelic and frenzied experience on the dancefloor. Acid house was born. A local phenomenon in Chicago at first, with dj Ron Hardy as its leading high priest at the legendary Music Box, it didn’t take long until acid house conquered the world and the nervous systems of a whole generation.

Since then the acid sound has been at the heart of electronic dance music, be it house, techno, idm drum and bass, dubstep or even pop while the original sound of acid house has seen several massive revivals so far. It doesn’t come as a surprise that The Guardian listed the arrival of the TB-303 as one of the 50 key events in the history of electronic dance music. A happy accident for our listening pleasure.


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