Alexander Dunn’s documentary about the Roland T-808 drum machine is the kind of fact-filled film that reminds me there is so much about music that I don’t know. Like a lot of people 808 only really makes me think of Kanye’s polarizing album 808’s And Heartbreaks. I knew very little of the history surrounding the instrument going in to 808: The Movie, and they did a good job of not trying to get too technical and letting the musicians speak about it at length.
Narrated by longtime BBC DJ Zane Lowe, 808 goes back to the beginning-to Japan and the Roland company making early drum machines to go inside organs. That transformed into the first programmable drum machine that kicked off a revolution in the early 80’s. The beginning of hip-hop, house, electrofunk, crunk…it all started with this one piece of technology.
We get to hear from Afrikaa Bambaataa about making Planet Rock with Tom Silverman and Soulsonic Force. The way they talk about the 808 is the way cavemen probably grunted about the invention of the wheel. That album became a touchstone for all music that came after it.
Everyone from New Order to Questlove to Phil Collins chimes in with raves of the 808. It’s interesting to hear how those same interviews also credit Kraftwerk with helping build the sound that was so ubiquitous for a period of time.
My favorite interview subject is Hank Shocklee, who is also appearing for a Q&A following the screening of the film at Logan Theatre on April 17th. His level of excitement for the 808 is really something to behold. He talks about it like the missing ingredient in any great recipe (which is cinnamon, right?). No song is finished until you throw an 808 on there.
This is definitely an interesting watch, even if you have no interest in hip-hop or R&B. The sheer influence of this gadget is amazing.
And just for the heck of it, here’s one of my favorites: