The TR-909 was born on 1983 in Osaka, Japan, and it was the first Roland drum machine to feature MIDI, which back in 1983 was a new technical standard that allowed electronic instruments to “talk” to each other, in other words, MIDI allowed the 909 to be synchronized with other devices.
However, at the date, the dance scene was not the same as it is today. Today’s techno and house vibe didn’t exist and because of it, the TR-909 passed by unnoticed and was discontinued after two years of production (with just 10.000 units made) because it was not a commercial success. Beyond MIDI connectivity, TR-909 also has a powerful sequencer, an external storage and a superior sound quality.
So, what was the problem? People thought that it wasn’t “real enough”. Producers and musicians at the time preferred more realistic sounds that would substitute a real drummer (and these sounds where offered by Roland competitors: Linn and Oberheim).
Despite the public’s first reaction, later on, musicians started to see the rhythmic potential of this synthesizer and the TR-909 was being purchased from many second-hand shops by people that ended up implementing some new ideas into the music scene.
That is why when we analyze many classic/early house and techno records, we see that the producers where starting to use the TR-909 at the “center”. And from 1985 onwards, it was often found at the heart of electronic music studios of producers from Detroit and Chicago. After that, the expansion of electronic music through other places such as London, Manchester and Berlin started, and it continued until this day, changing the dance scene forever.
Little did the TR-909 engineers knew that their machine was too ahead of it’s time and that it would take a few years and a few open-minded people to put it at the center of the new dance scene that was exploding. Thought it was a commercial failure at first, the 909 became influential in the development of electronic dance music as we know it today and in genres such as techno, house and acid and that is why it is so special.
The TR-909 is now used in many popular songs such as Innovator by Derrick May and Energy Flash by Joey Beltram, but the synth is mainly known because of Jeff Mills, that eventually became known as The 909 Wizard.