It’s a special day for the little silver box that could.
Since it’s 3/03, FACT decided that it might be good idea to assemble our very own tribute to one of dance music’s most important synthesizers: Roland’s TB-303.
Released back in 1982 and marketed as a “bass line” synthesizer, the TB-303 was Roland’s attempt at manufacturing a gigging accompaniment for guitarists. Sadly for guitarists, it didn’t sound much like a bass guitar; thankfully for the rest of us, it sounded like something completely new altogether.
The TB-303 was mercifully simple to use – unlike, for instance, Roland’s mind-numbingly confusing MC-202. Covered in chunky performance knobs and flashing red LEDs, it sported a quite weedy single oscillator that could produce either a square or sawtooth wave, but this wasn’t its secret.
The thing that set the TB-303 apart from its competitors was that it was not only delightfully easy to program, with an intuitive sequencer on the front instead of a “proper” keyboard, but its “glide” and “accent” functions gave the sequences undulating rhythms that would come to define dance music.
There was also the cost. On release, it wasn’t cheap at almost $400, but it flopped, meaning that by the mid-80s you could pick one up for next to nothing. It made the synth a weapon in the hands of a new generation, raised on disco and electro music and finding their feet as house was starting to vibrate through clubs throughout the US and UK.
You probably know the rest of the story – in 1985, Phuture (Spanky, DJ Pierre and Herb J) recorded ‘Acid Tracks’, a 12-minute jam that re-defined house music and kickstarted a new genre. Before long, artists on both sides of the Atlantic were clamoring to re-create that squelch and its not been far from dance music of any kind since.
FACT has compiled a list of some of the TB-303’s finest moments, from Orange Juice’s 1982 track ‘Rip it Up’ – the 303’s first chart appearance – and Charanjit Singh’s idiosyncratic raga disco experiments to Daft Punk’s ragged classic ‘Da Funk’ and Aaliyah’s ‘Try Again’. Acieeeeeeeed!
Listen next: An exclusive playlist of Roland TR-808 classics