Screw No.367 ~ 808: A New Documentary About the Most Used Drum Machine of All Time ~ The Roland TR-808


Due out in 2015, the documentary film 808 tells the story behind this landmark drum machine the Roland TR-808. It features a diverse range of artists from Afrika Bambaataa to Phil Collins and from Damon Albarn to Pharrell Williams .

In 1980, when the Roland TR-808 drum machine was launched, only 12,000 units were sold. It was a commercial disaster for Japanese electronics manufacturer Roland. And yet, it went on to become a defining sound in hip-hop, dance music, pop and rock, right up to present day global artists such as Kanye West and Lil Wayne. Along with the Technics 1210 turntable, it is a single model of electronic manufacturing that has utterly dominated over its competitors ( a very rare thing) whilst being elevated to cult status by all those that use it.

The Roland 808 is heard everywhere from Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”, to Talking Heads “Psycho Killer”. It can even be heard on Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing”, a song that has a very special place in the hearts of Screw bloggers MacFlecknoe and Rico~San. With its booming bass beats and distinguished snares, it is within the world of hip hop and dance/club music that the Roland 808 really revolutionised music. “Planet Rock” by Afrika Bambaataa took the eerie synths of Kraftwerk and added the 808 beat to provide some serious muscle to his breakbeat experiments. Then there is Juan Atkins’ – Cybotron “Clear“, which laid the foundation for electro/house and completed the bridge between Kraftwerk and techno. Come the early 1990′s, it was in the bedrooms of small flats all over London laying the foundations for the Golden Age of Jungle. Of course, it is early hip hop which made the Roland 808′s name. And come the late 1980′s, the 808 was providing the fire and brimstone to Public Enemy’s musical and social attack on conservative America.

Roland TR 808

Here is iconic producer and dj A Guy Called Gerald, who only last year helped Roland in the development of new sound technology at their plant in Japan. A producer who’s almost peerless track “Voodoo Ray” echoed across the acid house explosion in the UK in 1988. He explains the impact of the Roland 808 on his music: ‘To explain, I was buying stuff cast out by the studios, so we’d go to second-hand shops and buy old instruments that were either broken or things no one wanted or used anymore. I had a TR-808 with no manual, just got it from the shop. I found it was easy to trigger the other machine I had, which was a Roland SH-101.

‘At the time, I got into the idea that if both machines had the same name, I believed they could talk to each other. I took them apart to see what they were and I realised you could go from ‘trigger out’ of the 808 into the clock on the SH-101. I noticed there was a sequencer on there, but I didn’t have the manual, so I was: “How do you work the sequencer? Where’s the trigger that’s playing the sequencer?” So it was through trial and error that I realised that you put it into the clock and that plays the sequencer. I started writing stuff, writing these little notes, but it was as if the main sequencer was in my head. I’d write things that way round at first, rather than trying to do my own melodies. It was an easy way of writing.’

A Guy Called Gerald’s former bandmate Graham Massey named their band 808 State after this little piece of electronics. “The sound palette of this machine made it a cut above the other drum machines around at the time,” stated Massey in a BBC4 Radio interview. “It has this devastating bass drum, which if you turn it up can absolutely shake a room.”

So do as the man says and pump up the bass on your EQ to the max and enjoy this rather brilliant 1980′s electro mix from The Unknown Dj aka Andre Manuel; pioneering producer of West Coast hip hop and exponent of the Roland TR-808.

The Unknown Dj ~ Back To 80 Mix

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Screw No.360 ~ R.I.P. John Holt

John Holt

John Holt, pioneering reggae solo artist and former lead singer of The Paragons, has died at the age of 69. “John died at 2.40am English time. [John's] nephew informed of his death,” his manager, Copeland Forbes, told the Jamaica Observer.

John Holt has been one of the pillars of reggae ever since he won his first prestigious talent show at the age of twelve, in 1958, in Jamaica. Talent shows were hugely popular in Jamaica at the time and unearthed many future stars. The shows were often featured on Jamaican national TV and radio. Holt notching up a record-breaking 28 titles, and it was these performances that sealed his first recording contract with producer Leslie Kong in 1962, who recorded Holt’s debut single, “Forever I’ll Stay”/”I Cried a Tear”.

It was when Holt joined The Paragons in 1964 that his career really took off. Not long after Holt had joined, veteran band member Bob Andy quit the group. Holt was entrusted with the responsibility of composer and arranger. Roles which he had been born to fulfill. By 1968, the Paragons were Jamaica’s premier vocal group, with virtually every one of their releases a hit. By this stage, Holt had already begun a parallel solo career. A career which went into overdrive when The Paragons split in 1970. Holt went on to releasing an astonishing 37 solo albums, and whilst living Holt was elevated to iconic status in his native Jamaica.

Here is a brief sample of John Holt’s work which spanned all off five decades:

The Paragons ~ Paragons Medley
The Paragons ~ Man Next Door
John Holt ~ Stick by Me
John Holt ~ Ali Baba
John Holt ~ Police In Helicopter
the Paragons ~ The Tide is High

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Screw no. 359 ~ Clap Your Hand Say Yeah, The Button Factory, October 13th

Pennsylvania-based Clap Your Hands Say Yeah were in town for a show in The Button Factory last Monday. These guys are a different prospect live than on record. Their soft indie sound is given a far harder edge live and strains of post-punk almost emerge from the mix far more in this environment. For this reason – the energy and unexpected dynamics – I enjoy this gig even more than I expected. The sound was perfect, Alec Ounsworth’s off-kilter, slightly manic vocals perfectly filling the cube that is this venue – albeit a much posher cube than before.

While the opening is slow enough, really only warming up with third track “Satan Said Dance” and its endless refrain, they really kick into gear by “Coming Down”. This track shows a much harder, almost sinister side, with Ounsworth’s rambling incoherence falling over insistent pounding drums and bass, with layers of synth and guitar providing the melodies. The audience are certainly into it – it is a Monday night after all. The band keep up the pace quite well throughout, with “Into Your Alien Arms” and “Ketamine and Ecstasy” as highlights.

They end with “Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood” as you’d expect, with its breezy anthemic singalong chorus. Encores “As Always” and “Heavy Metal” bring things to a full close. I would’ve played those the other way around, although it was the last night of their tour and they probably wanted to end on a rocking note rather than more thoughtful and accomplished one. That was a mistake, as their performance didn’t exactly scream ‘end of tour’ in any case, preferring to keep it professionally competent rather than let loose. Also the length of the set – just over the hour mark, left a few checking their watches. It was worth the entrance fee certainly, but you were kinda left wondering was there more in the tank. And while they were never likely to tear up trees here, it was a more than decent show overall.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Heavy Metal, Live October 2014

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Screw No.358 ~ Rankin’s Orange Milk

Keith Rankin

Keith Rankin established Orange Milk Records with his friend Seth Graham in 2010. Rankin is a surrealist artist who creates all the artwork for the labels releases. In addition to his artwork he is a prolific producer going by the name of Giant Claw. Rankin’s Orange Milk label was set up initially to shine a light on the hidden music scene in his resident state, “We had been aware of a harsh noise phenomenon, particularly in Ohio where we had been livin”. In the four years since, the label has steadily developed with releases from artists from all over the US. There is no set sound to the label – straight up prog-rock sits alongside lo-fi pop releases, nestled comfortably beside ambient soundscape flourishes. It is as interesting a blend of music as I have heard on a label for quite some time. And it is encouraging to see more and more labels in the mould of Orange Milk coming out of the US, which has long played second fiddle to the bastions of electronic music in Europe.

Last week Rankin released Dark Web , an album inspired by the visual and audio experience of the internet. As an artist, he has become fascinated by how we perceive art in a modern technological world. “Something occurred to me when I came across some early Picasso charcoal drawings I had saved, and the next image in my folder was a vaguely abstract screenshot from a ’90s video game,” Rankin explains, “Comparing those two images, I realized that my sense of scale had been practically erased, and the only spatial confine of the art was the frame of the computer screen. On the net, the Mona Lisa is presented on the same platform and scale as an animated GIF, a massive Matisse mural, or floating web browser window. When I see an old painting, I usually have no clue how large it is in person. In a sense, not only has scale been lost, but so have many spatial relationships themselves – and not just in viewing art, but in the creation as well.” He adds, “I think most digital artists have been set free from the horizon line, and their blank canvas is that window, or a potentially endless void. That thought can be both liberating and terrifying, depending on your perspective.” Rankin also acknowledges that the roman statue on the cover of the album “is a blatant nod to the Vaporwave movement”, no doubt the two groups are post-dada brothers in arms.

Here are a couple of Orange Milk recent releases from Jerry Paper, Aidan Baker & Thisquietarm, and two tracks from Giant Claw’s Dark Web, which can be purchased here: Orange Milk records

Aidan Baker & Thisquietarmy ~ Mandarin
Giant Claw ~ DARK WEB 003

Keith Rankin

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Screw no. 357 ~ Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways

For their 8th album, Foo Fighters have decided to do something exceptional. A truly unique approach to an album, whereby each of the eight songs has been recorded in a different US city: Austin, Chicago, Los Angeles, Nashville, New Orleans, New York, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. Each location will provide a guest local musician. Not just any musician, but the likes of Chuck D, Dolly Parton, Gibby Haynes, Buddy Guy and Bad Brains – more local musical royalty than mere guests.

Described by Grohl to Q magazine as a “musical map of America”, this album could be seen as an epic paean to the great American music cities. It will be accompanied by an eight-episode HBO series, also called “Sonic Highways”, whereby each track will be subject of a one-hour documentary on the musical heritage of each city. It sounds ambitious, unique, and a hell of a lot of work for a band who only truly returned to great form on 2011’s “Wasting Light”, having wallowed in distinctly 6 out of 10 mediocrity since the late 90’s, only occasionally showing bursts of what made their first two records must-haves.

The HBO trailer has completely convinced me to get my hands on this series, which starts on Friday October 17th. Whatever the quality of the recorded output, the approach promises to deliver something phenomenal. Geography has always been a critical input into music and one that has always fascinated me. Throughout history, cities have been the birthplace of many genres, and for one old punk from the Mid-West who got to where he is via D.C. Hardcore and Seattle Grunge, to go on such an odyssey seems most appropriate. Hopefully we end up with a great album and a thoroughly compelling TV series that will interest fans of any genre from hip-hop, to punk, blues, country and beyond.

Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways Trailer

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Screw No.356 ~ Grant Lee Phillips & Howe Gelb

grant lee phillips howe gelb

A feast for amours of Americana will be served up this coming Saturday night in Whelan’s on Dublin’s Wexford Street. A double header from Grant Lee Phillips and Howe Gelb. The former the lead singer with Grant Lee Buffalo. Their heyday was back in 1993 with their glorious album debut Fuzzy. The melody of that title track still haunts me to this day. I’ll hand you over to the man himself who describes their first album as “the acoustic feedback howl of overdriven 12-string guitars, melodic distorto-bass, tribal drum bombast, the old world churn of pump organs and parlor pianos.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. The defining sound of Grant Lee Buffalo.

Then their’s Howe Gelb. The man who is often credited as being the Godfather of modern Americana. He’s a founding member of Giant Sand whose backing band went on to become Calexico. Although Gelb prefers to refer to his Giant Sand project as a collective rather than a band. “I just liked the idea of having this kind of removed world, this brotherhood—the idea of a band being something more than a front person or dealing with the throes of fame.” The Godfather has over 50 album’s to his name under various guises and last year saw the release of his excellent solo offering The Coincidentalist.

Either on their own would make for a special night but together they are bound to produce something extraordinary.

Two of the best from two of the best.

Grant Lee Buffalo ~ The Shining Hour

Grant Lee Buffalo ~ Fuzzy

Giant Sand ~ Stranded Pearl

Howe Gelb ~ Vortexas

Welcome to the desert

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