Studio: You Know Films / Atlantic Films
Reviewed by: Ara Andonian
If you're into music at all you quickly realize from the opening credits of 808 that this documentary is about to be next level. Welcome to the birth of a legend.
Mr. K, the man behind Roland, had no idea that his "programmable rhythm machine" would change the world. You've no doubt heard of the TR-808 and can maybe even name a song that uses the 808. In the early ‘80s these futuristic sounds helped catapult underground music to new heights. The story of the 808 is a trip down memory lane weaving through early applications of the its sounds with Afrika Bambaataa and Tommy Boy Records founder Tom Silverman making Planet Rock, to Rick Rubin flipping it on its head to make early Beasties and LL records, and other innovators who continued to elevate music with this box.
You'd have to imagine "real" drummers back in the day were angered and threatened by this new technology taking their spot in popular music. The TR-808 was soon seen as it's own instrument and not just a companion for recording demos. Trial and error. Success and failure. Audio heads learned tweaks and tricks through experimentation. The transformation of the sonic landscape was unraveling in front of the eyes of musicians, and producers who weren't afraid to try the 808 became innovators of a whole new sound.
808 tells the tale of how the underground’s brightest minds and the most popular artists of their generations used this magic machine for some of their most memorable creations. Gaye used the 808 in his own way on his biggest hit Sexual Healing and Collins used it most famously on Another Day In Paradise, arguably one of the most poignant songs in modern history. Their stories along with anecdotes from super producers Rick Rubin, Hank Shocklee (Bomb Squad), Diplo, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis and legends in the game like The Beastie Boys, Goldie and David Guetta bring to light the importance of a single piece of machinery that changed music forever. Remember when Rick Rubin reversed the 808 on Paul Revere? Listening to the remaining members of The Beastie Boys trying to break down how that particular beat was flipped is pure magic. From the house music scene in Chicago, Detroit and Europe, to the Miami Bass sound, through to the Dirty South with No Limit and Cash Money, the 808 remains.
Near the end of the film Mr. K talks about the 808's secret power that also led to its demise and it's a scene that will have you glued to the screen. Crazy to think only 12,000 TR-808s were ever made. You can still cop an original online for around $4000. Maybe with enough creativity the next generation of producers will find an even newer way to freak the 808.