Respect: Producers Pay Homage to Roland’s TR-909

Roland TR-909

Roland’s iconic TR-909 has often imitated but never duplicated. Partially analog, partially sample-based, the 909, which made history as the first MIDI-equipped drum machine, was introduced in 1984. While only 10,000 units were manufactured, this lil’ beige box gave forward-thinking producers in Chicago, New York, Detroit and London the ability to collectively forge the blueprint of hip-hop, house and techno.

All these years later the 909’s influence continues to be heard. We asked producers intimate with the Roland TR-909 to wax poetic about this magical machine that’s been the heartbeat of several generations.

Animated GIF created for Big Shot by Christian Petersen

DJ Pierre

What’s your first memory of the 909? “Sensation” by Ron Hardy around 1984/85.
Favorite song that uses a 909? “Strings Of Life” by Rhythim is Rhythim
Favorite song you’ve made with a 909? “String Free” by Phuture (me and DJ Spank Spank).
What would you say to Tadao Kikomuto, the engineer who developed the 909, if you met him? Are you proud of the 909 legacy? Did it accomplish what you had in mind from conceptual thought?

Michna

What’s your first memory of the 909? In 10th grade I bought Plastikman’s Musik. Obviously at that age I had no idea what he was using to make this magic.
Favorite song that uses a 909? Orbital’s “Halcyon On and On”
Favorite song you’ve made with a 909? “Increasing Ambition”
What would you say to Tadao Kikomuto, the engineer who developed the 909, if you met him? Impressive work and by the way, what’s your favorite song that uses a 909?

Andy Caldwell

What’s your first memory of the 909? I literally fell in love with the tone of the 909 kick drum in January 1993. I had been experimenting with different drum machines, the 606, 626, 707 and 808 but couldn’t figure out how to get the punch that I was hearing in all my favorite records. It wasn’t until one night I visited Randall Erkelens from Twitch Recordings in San Francisco that he introduced me to his beautiful TR-909 Rhythm Composer that I finally saw the light. All those luscious sounds! The kick, the clap, the rim shot, hi-hats! I was obsessed. I started combing the classifieds to buy one for myself and finally did about three months later for $300. I still own it to this day!
Favorite song that uses a 909? This is a very difficult question for me to answer, so many amazing records have been made with this beast, but there are two that really stand out for me. “I’ll Be Your Friend” by Robert Owens produced by David Morales/Eric Kupper/Satoshi Tomiie was for me the house record to end all house records. Still sounds incredible 24 years later. The other is “Energy Flash” by Joey Beltram. That was the first record I heard that featured the amazing clap sample from the 909, front and center. These two records defined genres that today are still growing and expanding. Incredibly neither could have been made without the 909!
Favorite song you’ve made with a 909? Just about everything I produce these days uses samples from this beast, so it’s almost impossible to pick a favorite but one that I’m really happy with would be “Hold The Line” feat. Lisa Shaw. I used the kick, clap and open hat sampled from my 909 into an MPC 3000 and then fed into my Ableton system.
What would you say to Tadao Kikomuto, the engineer who developed the 909, if you met him? I would offer him my first-born child. I’m not really sure how dance music (especially house) could have ever evolved to this point without the TR-909. If you were to remove the signature 909 sound from every dance record made since 1983 and replace it with something else, something inferior, it would sound thin, cheap, muddy and well to be honest…. shitty. You could go so far as to say, house music as we know it, wouldn’t exist. We owe him a debt of gratitude. There must be some sort of award for this dude. Give it to him! Thank you, Tadao! After that I would just probably ask him some normal questions like does he ever visit America or who’s his favorite band. You know, normal shit.

David Alvarado

What’s your first memory of the 909? I remember buying my 909. I had already been using an 808 and the fact it had MIDI was like discovering fire. I remember the feel being a bit more hearty than the 808 and was just amazed at how these primal clunky buttons could be manipulated to get so much articulation. It didn’t make sense, but it did. It was kind of like driving a tractor and the 808 was the sports car.
Favorite song that uses a 909? Hands down it’s Red Planet’s “Stardancer”
Favorite song you’ve made with a 909? The first releases I did on Stickman were me locked up in their basement for a week with a 909 and sampler. Could have been the 909 or the coffee and donuts; I tend to think it was the 909.
What would you say to Tadao Kikomoto, the engineer who developed the 909, if you met him? What in god’s name were you thinking?!

Demuir

What’s your first memory of the 909? My first memories of the 909 came with the introduction of Detroit techno and heavy hitters like Derrick May, Richie Hawtin, Kevin Saunderson, Juan Atkins, etc. I know my first impressions of the machine were how aesthetically pleasing it looked and so many knobs and buttons to push that make kick-ass beats. I wanted one so bad.
Favorite song that uses a 909? “It Is What It Is” by Rhythim Is Rhythim. The synth line comes alive under the jumping open hats. I remember having goosebumps when I first heard this track. The low-end beats and intricate drum patterns made on the 909 make this a cherished song in my collection.
Favorite song you’ve made with a 909? Definitely “When Far Apart” released on Mark Farina’s GLA label. I deliberately wanted jacked-up open hats only delivered by the 909. That sound is what is one of the distinct sounds that characterizes house music.
What would you say to Tadao Kikomuto, the engineer who developed the 909, if you met him? It would be a tremendous thank you! These sounds have changed my life and the lives of so many others.

Emika

What’s your first memory of the 909? The jungle raves I went to as a teenager in the UK played Chicago stuff too sometimes: Fingers Inc., Frankie Knuckles, etc. I probably heard the 909 first back then.
Favorite song that uses a 909? Aphex Twin’s “Heliosphan”
Favorite song you’ve made with a 909? “3 Hours”
What would you say to Tadao Kikomuto, the engineer who developed the 909, if you met him? Thank you.

DJ Sneak

What’s your first memory of the 909? I first watched my homie in Chicago use it like a sequencer, pulling samples from an Akai S900 sampler, and I was captivated by what he was doing. Eventually I bought my own, set up and started producing music completely analog and raw jackin’ which became my style.
Favorite song that uses a 909? I love the way David Morales use it in Black Sheep’s “Strobelite Honey” remix. It’s a great example of what the 909 can do and sound like.
Favorite song you’ve made with a 909? My first 30 vinyl releases were all made on a Roland 909 and Akai S950. I’ll let the fans choose one.
What would you say to Tadao Kikomuto, the engineer who developed the 909, if you met him? Domo arigato. House music owes you a lot. Bless you!

Phil Weeks

What’s your first memory of the 909? This is so long ago and my memory is so average so I can’t really be sure. Maybe a live set by Jeff Mills or Richie Hawtin. Even if I’m a house head, back in the day we were all together. I got mine around 2000.
Favorite song that uses a 909? Hard to say. From Daft Punk to MK, so many people used to use the 909. It was just common thing…I can’t pick up one track.
Favorite song you’ve made with a 909? I made also so many songs using the 909. Sometimes I use it fully and only, sometimes just a clap or hi-hat. Check my 909 Tools EP from PW04 — “Hooked On You,” “Acid Pattern,” “Sunday Groove” and “Harlem Shuffle.” You can also check this Underground Chronicles episode, showing a demo of the 909.
What would you say to Tadao Kikomuto, the engineer who developed the 909, if you met him? I would tell him to bring some more to it—nothing modern, nothing too technologic, nothing perfect. What we love about the 909 is all about its faults (sequencer imprecise, sounds always changing).

Rodriguez Jr.

Favorite song that uses a 909? Reese’s “Rock To The Beat.” Before this track got covered by a Belgian new beat producer, it was such a fantastic raw piece of dance music. Kevin Saunderson had the proper tricks to make it sound even better! 808 State’s “Pacific State.” This one will forever be in my top 10. It has the perfect balance I am still looking for.
Favorite song you’ve made with a 909? Tracks I produced with my former project The Youngsters, “Mellotron” or “Curtains,” both released on F-Communications.
What would you say to Tadao Kikomuto, the engineer who developed the 909, if you met him? I would give him a grateful hug for his contribution to music. The 909 is such an inspirational machine. I would also be curious to know how he decided about using these specific tones, envelopes and sound shapes.

Nightgeist

What’s your first memory of the 909? Producing our first hit “Hardcore Uproar.” Mark Hall, the keyboardsession player, came in with a beige box that absolutely ripped the roof off the place! I’ve never not used a 909 on a track since!
Favorite song that uses a 909? Hardfloor. The way that they used it on Acperience was on another level. Daft Punk too. What they did on Homework with a 909 was inspirational. If we had to pick a track it would be “Revolution 909.”
Favorite song you’ve made with a 909? “Tell Me What You’d Do,” which will be a future single. It is one of our favorite moments on the 909.
What would you say to Tadao Kikomuto, the engineer who developed the 909, if you met him? I don’t think I could speak. I think I would fall to the floor in awe of his brilliance. After all this man also created the TB-303!

JD73

What’s your first memory of the 909? A huge influence on me is the band 808 State from Manchester. I wore out their albums such as Ninety, EX:EL and Gorgeous which all used the 909 extensively. That’s my first memory of the 909 sound.
Favorite song that uses a 909? Too many to mention but tracks like Soul II Soul’s “Keep On Movin’,” Adamski’s “Killer” and S-Expresses’ “Theme from S-Express” would be among my faves at the time.
Favorite song you’ve made with a 909? I don’t own a 909 unfortunately so never made a track with a real 909, but I’ve made loads of tunes with 909 samples in!
What would you say to Tadao Kikomuto, the engineer who developed the 909, if you met him? If I was wearing a hat, I’d take it off to him! Seriously though, it’s an absolute staple of dance/electronic music. A classic much like the Minimoog, Prophet 5 or 808. Think I’d be in awe of him! I’d simply thank him sincerely for everything he’s done for the electronic music community and dance music in general, and I’d also ask him to have a word with the current designers at Roland and persuade them to bring back a real analogue drum machine (though the new digital TR-8 is very close to the original).

Malachi

What’s your first memory of the 909? I think it would have been dancing to Black Box’s “Ride On Time” at some wedding reception back in the ’80s!
Favorite song that uses a 909? Too many to mention but I would have to say Inner City’s “Big Fun,” which is an absolute classic. It still gets a lot of plays from me to this day.
Favorite song you’ve made with a 909? My debut track “Dream Of The Life” on Armada Music.
What would you say to Tadao Kikomuto, the engineer who developed the 909, if you met him? How did you manage to get those drums to sit so tight! Oh, and any chance of a 909 mk2?

Chuck Love

What’s your first memory of the 909? I met one in-person in the studio and was blown away at the sound.
Favorite song that uses a 909? Tie: Shannon “Let The Music Play” and Olive “You’re Not Alone”
Favorite song you’ve made with a 909? “Still Funky” features lyrics “Once upon at time, Jack brought his 909, and it was funky!”
What would you say to Tadao Kikomuto, the engineer who developed the 909, if you met him? I’d thank him for making the heartbeat of a generation or two.

Subscribe to Dispatch (It's Free!)
Sign up for our free newsletter and don't miss a beat!

Movement-Detroit

Enter your e-mail address to receive the latest dance-music news, artist interviews, exclusive DJ mixes, contests and much more.

Your information will NEVER be sold, shared or given to a third party.

Darren Ressler

One Comment

Add a Comment