909 DAY celebrates the legendary Roland TR-909 Rhythm Composer. Learn the TR-909’s history, influence on music culture, and its indelible legacy.
Happy 909 DAY!
September 9th (9/09) marks the day music fans around the world celebrate one of the greatest drum machines of all time: the Roland TR-909 Rhythm Composer.
The iconic TR-909 Rhythm Composer has been at the forefront of electronic dance music since Roland introduced it in 1983. It has inspired countless artists, spawned the genres of house and techno, and shaped a myriad of hit records. To this day, the TR-909 continues to be a cornerstone of emerging electronic, pop, and hip hop genres.
For 33 years the TR-909 has been one of the most definitive sounds in electronic music and the beating heart of DJ culture. Roland
909 DAY is for everyone who loves this enduring sonic signature of dance music. Join the global music community and celebrate the TR-909 by tagging your social posts with #909DAY.
A Brief History of the Roland TR-909 Rhythm Composer
The Roland TR-909 Rhythm Composer is a programmable drum machine introduced by the Roland Corporation in 1983. It succeeded the legendary TR-808. Roland aimed to improve upon the TR-808 with higher quality sounds, sequencer improvements, and MIDI technology for synchronization. It was Roland’s most advanced and forward-thinking drum synthesizer at the time. Although, users preferred the more realistic sampled sounds of competing products such as the LinnDrum. After one year on the market, Roland ceased production in 1985, having built around 10,000 units. However, the influence of the TR-909 is still alive and heard to this very day.
Officially released in 1984, the TR-909 continued the tradition of its predecessor by using synthetic drum sounds instead of realistic drumkit reproductions. Though, the TR-909 had major differences. It was Roland’s first drum machine to integrate both analog and sample-based sounds. Roland used analog circuitry for the kick, snare, clap, rim shot, and toms. But the developers struggled to generate the perfect tone for the cymbals. Instead, they used digital samples of real cymbals for the hats, crash, and ride. And unlike its predecessors, the result boasted much more sonic clarity and punch, which has become staples of electronic and pop music.
The TR-909 was also Roland’s first MIDI-equipped drum machine. The ability to sync the 909 with external devices played a significant role in dance music’s move from the studio to live performance. By chaining together other instruments and processors, artists could perform tracks and mixes live. In addition, the 909 featured external memory storage and a step sequencer that can store up to 96 rhythm patterns or eight songs with multiple sections. It also offered various sound-shaping controls, velocity, and groove options such as “accent,” “shuffle,” and “flam.” These new features attempted to “humanize” the drum patterns, which also gave the 909 its endearing groove characteristics. The combination of all these features made the 909 the perfect tool for both the studio and live sets.
Unfortunately, musicians preferred more realistic drum sounds from expensive, sample-based drum machines like the Oberheim and LinnDrum. However, the 909’s technical constraints and affordability allowed underground musicians to experiment and use it in unconventional ways. The 909 eventually gained popularity in the lower-income neighborhoods of Chicago and Detroit where emerging producers used its unique sounds to pioneer the genres of house and techno.
The TR-909 Legacy
The TR-909 remains one of electronic music’s most revered instruments. Just as the TR-808 defined hip-hop, the TR-909 became influential in developing house and techno. To this day, the TR-909 continues to influence both the culture and industry of modern music.
The TR-909 found its niche when local DJs in Detroit and Chicago used it for their productions. The TR-909 helped cement the 4/4 beat firmly at the heart of dance music culture. One of the most notable producers who helped pioneer house music was Larry Heard, aka Mr. Fingers. His record “Can You Feel It” is regarded by many as one of the first house records. The track spread throughout Chicago, influencing the music that would take over the city’s club scene in the post-disco era.
In Detroit, innovators like Derrick May, Juan Atkins, and Kevin Saunderson, aka The Belleville Three, were using the TR-909 to craft early techno. Juan Atkins’ (Model 500) track “No UFO’s” captures the raw “Detroit Techno” sound influenced by visions of the future, technology, and the hard life of post-industrial Detroit.
The TR-909 also found favor among mainstream musicians in the mid-80s. For example, Phil Collins processed a 909 beat with his signature gated-reverb for his 1985 hit track “Take Me Home.”
Countless other artists released hit records that helped skyrocket the TR-909 into the commercial spotlight. For example, Technotronic’s 1989 hit “Pump Up the Jam,” Madonna’s 1990 dance track “Vogue,” Daft Punk’s not so subtly titled track “Revolution 909,” and numerous other great artists.
The TR-909’s impact on electronic music could never have been predicted in the labs of Roland Japan. Roland’s legacy drum machines will forever influence dance music culture, history, and innovation.
The continued desire for the TR-909 by a new generation of producers and performers has also inspired numerous clones and imitations. It’s a reflection of the historic status, usability, influence, and enduring quality of its drum sounds.