It’s wild, really, that the 808 beatmaker, invented in over 40 years and only manfactured for a small window from 1980-1983, still manages to inspire of musicians and producers. Even with all the modern techniques, programming, ease of access, et al., the Roland 808 is still one of music’s most coveted pieces of gear. It’s not just for its rarity, either. The unique sounds of the 808 have simply not been replicated lo these four decades, and the number of ways it can be used in programming and production is still capturing the imaginations of many an artist.
The legend of the 808 is where we find Canadian indie artist, rx1f. As a composer, music tech enthusiast and sometime punk rocker, rx1f fell in love with the 808 and its capabilities via a documentary on the iconic programming kit. He decided to re-vamp not only his style and moniker, but also an entire album using the 808, amongst other things, to put a futuristic and decidedly electronic spin on his previous punk rock work.
This album is an end-to-end re-imagination of a maximalist indie punk album that I made with a friend a few years ago, which I can no longer bear to listen to…There are a lot of samples from NASA and other space-related sources on r8c180, you can hear planet sounds on pretty much every track.
The full album, r8c180, is due out in mid-November. The first teaser track, “Accidents,” delivers what the semi-reclusive artist promises, as it opens with a clip from a space launch and the 808-style starburst sound design we all know and love. Once the synths and supporting production come in, it becomes clear to anyone who knows that kit that pretty much all of this track was programmed on an 808. It’s astonishing that artists are still able to get so much out of this one machine.
Style-wise, “Accidents” is, indeed, very spacey, with an obvious vintage flare and, if we were to put a genre tag on it, it’s a combination of vitage electro-pop and post punk. The post punk, or “maximalist punk” bit comes mainly from the vocals, sung by rx1f himself. With a sort of smoky, Daniel Ash-from-Love-and-Rockets-and-Bauhaus quality, we can see the post punk/synth pop tie-in here. With all that 80s vintage style, “Accidents” still plays quite modern, however, and the juxtaposition of very human vocals and “music for robots,” as the artist himself puts it, is likely the reason. There’s a soul and a touch of relatable ennui, as the vocals call out to the void of space, that’s quite relatable for modern listeners.
The video for “Accidents,” dropped on rx1f’s YouTube page just a few days ago, reinforces that human/machine interaction and lends even more substance to that need for connection epxressed in the vocals. It seems it’s not just the 808 that fascinates rx1f, but the paradox between thinking and feeling, technology and emotion. Is there a balance to strike? Will technology facilitate humanity or is it bound to destroy us? It’s a question rx1f will likely explore more in the upcoming r8c180, though the answer continues to elude most of us. At least we know the 808 will always be on our side.