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Topic: 808 The Movie

Jack Hertz

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808 tells the remarkable tale of how one small machine changed the course of music history, spawning myriad styles across boundaries of time and genre, its defining sound as resonant today as ever before. First introduced in 1980, the 808 fueled an age of explosive artistic creation that began with electro, hip-hop, and synthpop but soon erupted into such diverse forms as acid house, techno, drum & bass, and dubstep. Despite being produced in limited numbers before its sudden discontinuation by Roland in 1983, the 808 lived on, and more than three decades later, it remains a vital element in contemporary hip-hop and R&B as well as an ever-present influence on modern EDM and pop music.

Working in collaboration with pioneering producer/DJ Arthur Baker, Dunn and Noyer set Afrika Bambaataa’s Baker-produced “Planet Rock” as the 808’s entry point, the track marking the first globally successful use of the machine, as well as a milestone moment in the emergence of hip-hop. To tell the tale from there, the filmmakers spent nearly three years traveling the world, interviewing iconic artists and platinum-certified producers, GRAMMY® winners and cult figures, all of whom share their insight and memories of the 808’s impact. Many of the contributors ask the same question: why was the 808 discontinued so quickly, even as it was turning up on more hit records than any other drum machine? Now, in an exclusive interview with legendary Roland founder Ikutaro “Mr. K” Kakehashi, the filmmakers behind 808 have at last learned the surprising reason behind the mystery.

“Making a documentary about a drum machine, a piece of electronic equipment, is an interesting challenge,” said Alexander Dunn. “It has no voice of its own, so as a protagonist it’s rather difficult to mold a story around. 808 has really been a journey of discovery for me. One that led myself and the team to meet over 50 musicians and artists from all around the world, hearing their personal stories about the 808 and the music they created using its iconic sounds. Those artists and musicians are the real protagonists of the film and the 808, in the hands of our contributors, would change music forever.”

“When I decided to make 808, I could not fathom the journey of nearly three years it was about to take us on. My very own 808 journeyed with us and is now signed by the likes of Afrika Bambaataa, Rick Rubin, Phil Collins, Pharrell Williams, and more. It will stand as a symbol of this incredible immersive experience,” noted Alex Noyer. “Embarking on a partnership with Atlantic is a celebration of the reach of the story, a story so deeply rooted in music history for the last 30 years that this iconic company felt it was their story to tell, too. It became far more than simply a commercial venture for all involved, and the synergy that ensued has been both humbling and incredibly exciting.”

“I was still in high school when the 808 came out, but I was already a DJ in clubs all around Manhattan,” said Atlantic Records Chairman/CEO Craig Kallman. “When ‘Planet Rock’ was released, it transformed the dance and hip-hop scene. The average clubgoer might not have known that they were listening to a revolutionary technology, but they felt it and were completely energized by the sound. It’s amazing that one machine could change the face of modern music, but it did. I’m thrilled that Atlantic Films and Big Beat Records are partnering with You Know Films and the legendary Arthur Baker to tell this extraordinary story.”

“The making of 808 was a very personal journey for me: being able to reconnect and interview (along with Luke Bainbridge) many of my old DJ/producer friends, while helping get the godfathers of the early scene some overdue acknowledgement,” said Arthur Baker. “But the most special part of the filming was traveling to Japan, meeting and interviewing Mr. K and jamming on his 808 on my birthday. I feel very privileged to have had this opportunity.”  

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