Fat Boy Slim's Roland TB-303
What would you save? A Roland TB-303 Bass Line which was invented in the early 80s, to accompany gigging guitarists or keyboard players who wanted an automatic rhythm section. But it never caught on. It was very tricky to program and if you tweaked the cut-off frequency or the resonance too much it made this strange squelching sound which meant it was unfit for purpose.
However, that same strange sound made it very interesting to electronic music producers and DJs. A few who worked in Detroit started really experimenting with 303s and came up with these sexy weird noises that soon became the sound of Acid House. Up until then the nearest electronic sound we’d heard like it was probably the bassline of “I feel love” by Donna Summer. I was a 14 year old punk rocker when that song was out and I hated disco, but I was fascinated by that sound. I remember thinking “the machines are talking to me - is this what it sounds like to be on drugs?”.
So when I heard this new sound coming out of Detroit I quickly fell in love and wanted to know what machine made it and how I could get one. We didn’t have the internet back then, so I had to figure this out and soon discovered that they were in most junk/second-hand shops for about a tenner. This was cheap which made it accessible to me and owning one gave you street cred too, as it was a cool geeky thing to know about.
Something I love about them is that each one has a character of its own, probably due to the primitive electronics. The other cool thing is the more you abuse them the more interesting and sexier the sound is that you can make. You play them a bit like an electric guitar. I’ve been known to make the same facial expressions a guitarist makes when performing a solo, when I’ve been blissed out tweaking my TB-303.
When you hold this item, how do you feel? Like I’m holding a piece of history. And that I'm holding an integral part of my history as a music producer. Just at the point when it was the thing to own, I was there, had one and knew how to play it which helped me stand out.
It’s an enduring symbol of my identity. Like the yellow smiley which is timeless and slightly goofy the TB-303 stays perennially in fashion even though it was never quite mainstream trendy. Maybe that’s why it has a bit of an iconic status now. Both the smiley and 303 signify my happy stupidity in life and music.
I love my 303 so much that I even penned an ode to it called “Everybody loves a 303”. This machine was also the one used in “Praise You”.
Why is this item important to you? There is a certain amount of nostalgia I feel when I hold this 303 - and nostalgia can’t be bought back. If this particular machine did go missing, even though you can still buy them, I wouldn’t replace it because this is the one that means something to me. I would definitely shed many a tear though but it would just live in my memory.
In the days before the cloud and virtual access, I think you got more attached to physical things because you invested more in them. For example, I can remember where I bought certain albums, the feel of them, being excited to play the B side and even what they smelt like! So, when someone comes up to me and says “I’ve got all your records” I know that they’ve invested time and money in collecting them and I think yeah we’ve got an affinity here.
Whereas someone having access to all my music via streaming isn’t the same buy in. They haven’t invested as much love and so it’s easier for the music to be disposable. So, yeah, there’s a physical love when you spend time with an object that you can’t get from stuff being virtual. Like a relationship, if you have to fight for it, it means more.
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