September 9th is a special day for some. The date and number “9/09” holds a special significance, particularly to musicians, producers, DJs, and fans of electronic music as a whole, as they celebrate the creation of Roland’s iconic TR-909 Rhythm Composer every year on that date.
It may seem strange to some to dedicate an entire day every year to a simple drum synthesizer. But to lovers of electronic music the world over, 909 Day represents so much more than that. On the 37th anniversary of the TR-909, many are looking back at the monumental impact the drum machine has had on electronic music’s past, present, and future.
Built as the successor to 1980’s wildly popular TR-808 (another staple in music production, celebrated yearly on August 8), Japan’s Roland team set out to revolutionize the drum machine with integration of both analogue and digital elements. This meant expanding on the 808 to include not only analogue synth sounds like the kick drum and toms, but recordings of actual instruments like cymbals to provide a more well-rounded sound.
With the addition of MIDI, a new feature which allowed connectivity between machines in the studio, Roland foresaw that the TR-909 would be a game changer for producers, heralding an era where musicians could step out of the shadows of major record companies to craft and program new sounds all their own. The Roland team didn’t likely anticipate that those very sounds would give rise to new genres altogether.
THE SOUND OF HOUSE AND TECHNO
Before long, Roland’s TR-909 stood at the forefront of the fledgling house and techno genres, laying the groove and groundwork out for many anthems that still stand the test of time. Some instantly-recognizable tracks that the TR-909’s drum sounds were present on throughout the years: Joey Beltram‘s acid house classic “Energy Flash,” Daft Punk‘s “Revolution 909” (obviously), Jeff Mills‘ techno anthem “The Bells,” and, ironically enough, 808 State‘s dreamy house number, “Pacific State.”
While Roland’s TR-808 stands as popular as ever within the realm of pop and hip-hop to this day, the TR-909’s influence over the sound of house and techno remains omnipresent. The 909’s drum sounds and programming are still constantly used in new tracks, cementing it as perhaps the single most influential piece of equipment in electronic music, not to be replaced or succeeded by virtually any drum machine thereafter.
“Within the realms of house and techno, it’s almost certain that the Roland TR-909 has powered more tracks and live performances than any other drum machine.” – Roland
As a rhythm composer, the TR-909 has been used not only to produce and sequence its own synthesized sounds and recorded samples, but to sequence sounds from outside sources, via the MIDI connectivity it boasts. With so many budding genres in electronic music and beyond, there’s no telling how producers will use the legendary TR-909 (or it’s updated miniature version, the TR-09) next.
“There’s still no boundaries to electronic music; it’s still undefinable… The future of electronic music will be shaped by how we use technology.” – Jeff Mills on the TR-909
Roland is celebrating the 37th anniversary of the TR-909 on this year’s 909 Day by encouraging fans to use the hashtag #909DAY on social posts. They’ll feature their favorites on Roland’s official website to honor the Rhythm Composer’s legacy.